What the Hyakuta Incident Taught Us

Robert D. Eldridge, Ph.D.

 In the previous essay, “The Media Situation in Okinawa,” published on July 21, I discussed the background to the “Hyakuta Incident” in regards to the structural and ideological problems of the Okinawan media and why they continue to exist in the way they do, which was the likely reason behind the comments by the novelist Hyakuta Naoki that the local media should be destroyed.


 I ended the essay with by pointing out that the Okinawa media is out of control and failing to serve as a healthy four estate in society, and is thus endangering democracy, which can only exist with the freedom of expression and an informed public.

 In this essay, I explore the failure of the media in Japan and in Okinawa in particular to seize the chance that the criticism by Hyakuta and others to reflect on its current and past mistakes and try to improve for the future.

 As many readers know, Hyakuta, a well-known conservative commentator, speaking on June 25 at a study group of younger members of the Liberal Democratic Party seen to be in favor of constitutional revision and close to Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, opined that the Okinawan media was “indeed dangerous,” adding “the two newspapers there should be destroyed.” He later stated his remarks, which were made during a question and answer session, were in jest, and that was the discussion moved on to other topics, the media—Okinawan, mainland Japanese, and foreign correspondents alike—expressed outrage. Even the hosts of the study group were sanctioned by the party leadership.

 What this writer found most surprising about the “Hyakuta Incident,” however, was not his comments—for there are many people, both in and outside of Okinawa and in and outside the ruling party who feel as he does that the media/newspapers in Okinawa should be destroyed—nor was the strongly negative reaction of the two newspapers—issuing a protest statement, partnering with their business allies such as the Asahi Shimbun to see condemnations made in their editorials, and speaking before gatherings of their allies in the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan—but how easily general public seemed to accept the media narrative as to what took place and why they were outraged.

 The gist of the criticisms is that the above comments and other remarks made during the talk were offensive to Okinawa, that they were a threat to democracy, a free press, and the freedom of speech, etc.

 In none of the criticisms did the media acknowledge the background to the comments—that there is in fact biased and intentionally misleading or outright wrong—and that they themselves might be responsible for the distrust that the public has toward the media.

 Sadly, rather than seizing upon this opportunity (and many other chances it has had before) to correct itself and regain public trust, the Okinawan media and their professional allies in general circled the wagons, Thai quality Soccer Jersey Supplier – Buy Cheap wholesale jerseys Online. so to speak, in a sort of “collective self-defense” and have been firing out in all directions ever since.

 The media’s irrefutable irresponsibility (through both commission as well as omission) in reporting to date, in part caused by ingrained ideological biases and other individual or group flaws, opaque organizational and professional interests, and business or other outside influences and pressures, which is made more severe in Okinawa due to the hyper anti-base and anti-government agenda and existence of a nearly closed market in Okinawa described in the previous essay, led to the situation where a leading commentator has had to criticize the Okinawan media (as has this writer, several times, for the sake of disclosure).

 I personally have more friends in the media than I do in any other sector of society, with perhaps the exception of academia where I spent many years. Journalism is (or seems to be) a calling for many of these acquaintances and their colleagues. The media is made up of beautiful, thoughtful, and caring people. I hope these attributes can be further brought out by doing the right thing—reflect, accept criticism—constructive or otherwise when it is due and especially when it is unwelcome, and be open and honest in one’s reporting.
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 on’t hide facts, don’t tell only one side of the story, don’t cave in to group-think whether it be pro- or especially anti-government (which is all too easy—that is your role, after all, to be in part a check on the government).

 At the same time, don’t place yourselves so high on the pedestal that you are above anyone else in society and think you are immune to criticism (as is the case with the Okinawan—and mainland—media’s reaction to Mr. Hyakuta’s comments). You should be as open as any other actor or organization in society, perhaps even more so, to criticism.

 Some in the media claimed they were “chilled” by the comments of Mr. Hyakuta and the members of the LDP study group. However, I was even more frightened by the power the media demonstrated immediately after the incident.

When a private citizen is unable to criticize a media outlet without harsh retribution, what rights do any of us have? The media violently criticized his remarks as a “challenge to democracy” but to me, the current state of the collusive and hurtful media represents the bigger, and indeed, greatest challenge. Do we have to be told by the media what to believe? Should they set our parameters for us?

 Having experienced combined and coordinated media attacks myself by the local media here in Okinawa in recent months for speaking the truth, I had a good sense of how things would play out, predicting in my own mind what would happen, but even I was shocked at the media wrath that befell Mr. Hyakuta and the members of the LDP study group, and indeed, the Abe Administration itself. As a result, I am increasingly worried about the ability of the media to reform itself, and will discuss why and how in the next commentary.

Eldridge was born in New Jersey, U.S.A., in 1968, and graduated from the Department of International Relations, Lynchburg College, Virginia. He earned his doctorate from Kobe University Graduate School of Law in 1999. From 2001-2009, he was a tenured associate professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School of International Public Policy, and from 2009-2015, served as the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7 (Government and External Relations), Marine Corps Installations Pacific in Okinawa. During this time, he was one of the proposers of Operation Tomodachi at the time of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. He is the author of numerous works including The Origins of U.S. Policy in the East China Sea Islands Dispute (2014) and is working on several books about the current situation in Okinawa.