Unanswered Questions


Robert D. Eldridge

On February 22, Ms. Ganaha Masako, who presides over the Ryūkyū Shimpō-Okinawa Taimsu o Tadasu Kenmin-Kokumin no Kai (Prefecture and National Movement to Correct the Ryūkyū Shimpō and Okinawa Times), sent letters to the editors of both of these newspapers requesting them to answer a series of questions about their reporting, with a deadline of February 28. The deadline passed with no answers to the questions, and hence no accountability of their reporting.

 

The date that the letters were sent was significant. It was the one-year anniversary of the incident when two violent anti-base protesters entered Camp Schwab illegally, provoked and fought with our Japanese security guards, and were detained and arrested. More significantly, it was the day when the two local newspapers finished writing their stories about the “unjustified detention,” which formed the headlines the next day.

Unfortunately for the newspapers, the morning’s events were captured on surveillance camera video at the new main gate of Camp Schwab. It showed not only that the lead protester, Yamashiro Hiroji, chairman of the ironically titled Okinawa Heiwa Undō Centaa (Okinawa Peace Action Center), had indeed crossed the line, both figuratively and literally, but that reporters from the local newspapers, who formed part of the “team” of reporters from each newspaper who cover minute-by-minute, day-by-day, in a positive, glowing, and friendly manner the activities of the protest movement.

These reporters are physically and ideologically close to the protesters, sharing tents, meals, and drinks with them, and also adopting their slogans. They are so close that one time on November 22, 2015, a reporter from the Shimpō covering the protest at Henoko actually wrote “we have to stop the construction.”

This is a clear violation of the Canon of Journalism adopted on June 21, 2000 by the Nihon Shimbun Kyōkai (Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association), of which the Shimpō is a member. The posting was deleted afterwards, but it is an unmistakable indication of the stance of the reporter who is supposed to be neutral.

It is also a violation of the Shimpō’s own creed. For example, the company’s policy (shaze) includes: “unbiased…fair reporting,” and its editorial stance is: “the maintenance of fair, quick, and quality [reporting] and the development of a healthy public opinion.”

This lack of neutrality and objectiveness perhaps explains why the newspapers chose to misreport and misrepresent the above incident, the detention of February 22, 2015, by publishing an untrue story, and continuing to do so afterwards as well, despite the release of the surveillance video on March 9 which showed what in fact took place.

It was due to the release of the video that the Japanese public, Okinawan citizens, and local readers came to know the truth: not only did the protesters lie, but so did the two newspapers whose reporters were on the scene covering the incident. Rather than write a correction and retract their story, the Ryūkyū Shimpō and Okinawa Taimusu continue to ignore the need to explain their role in the intentional false reporting and apologize to the readers.

This lack of accountability triggered Ms. Ganaha to publicly challenge the newspapers and demand they take responsibility for the misreporting. Personally, I would also like to see the newspaper’s retract their story and also publicly apologize to the readership and to this writer, who was dismissed for having released the video. Both letters can be viewed in full online at: http://www.okinawa-tadasukai.com/open_letter.html.

Again, this type of intentional misreporting, lying, denial, and false stories goes against the Canon of Journalism, and even the newspapers’ own nominal creeds and policies. They may never recover from their egregious mistakes of February and March 2015, nor should they be allowed to, without the above apologies. In my case, I give them until April 1 this year to issue me such an apology, when new leadership can be expected at the two papers.

I have written in these pages before that one of the roles of an objective and fair media is to serve as a check on the powers of the government. This is why the media is called the “Fourth Estate.” It is unfortunate and suggests the media is actually undermining democracy when the media itself has to be monitored by the citizens to tell the truth and be impartial. (It is also a violation of the contractual obligations the newspapers have to the readers, who purchase a newspaper or subscribe to them, to report the truth. Not doing so is likely selling a faulty, spoiled, or broken product; the purchaser would expect a refund. Here, the readers deserve a refund for the numerous copies the Shimpō and Taimusu has sold on this and other intentionally incorrect and misleading stories. Indeed, readers may want to take out a lawsuit if the two local newspapers do not immediately apologize and make amends.)

As someone who had a long connection with and who once respected these two newspaper, I encourage the Shimpō and Taimusu—who both read the Sekai Nippō, and hence this column—to immediately apologize, retract and correct the stories, make amends, and distance themselves from any one group and remain objective if they possess any sense of journalistic integrity, professionalism, and commercial honesty. I do not personally think these two highly irresponsible newspapers need to be “destroyed” as some have called for, but instead, fixed. If they do not reform themselves, as they appear to be incapable of doing so far, readers—who are leaving in droves—will continue to do no longer read or purchase the newspapers, and there will be greater demands for the papers to be boycotted or closed outright. And that is good for no one.

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