Media experts discuss Japan's inability to explain itself to the world

October 06, 2015

On Sept. 28, The Genron NPO invited three prominent media experts to express their views on Japan's growing inability to have its voice heard globally. The speakers were Kiyotaka Akasaka, president of the Foreign Press Center/Japan, and former U.N. undersecretary-general for communications and public information, Hatsuhisa Takashima, president of The Tokyo Club, and formerly representative of the Japan International Broadcasting Inc., chief commentator at NHK and press secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Hiroki Sugita, managing senior writer and former Washington bureau chief of Kyodo News.

Low awareness in quality information transmission

Serving as moderator, Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO, first noted how Japan appears to be losing ground in the international community because it does not speak out clearly and offer specific solutions to global issues.

Seasoned journalist Takashima agreed and said the greatest weakness of Japan lies in its citizens who do not realize that they are directly linked to such efforts to disseminate information. Hence, he said that top priority should be given to changing people's awareness.

Akasaka of the Foreign Press Center, meanwhile, noted that if there are any active domestic discussions, people overseas are unaware of them, thus leading the world to assume that Japan does not have a global voice. He therefore stressed the importance of Japan having media tools that are influential worldwide, such as the Foreign Affairs magazine of the United States, together with nurturing talented individuals with a global perspective.

工藤泰志Kudo then recalled the days 14 years ago when he established The Genron NPO, alarmed by the declining presence of Japan in the international arena. He asked if Japan's presence in the world has risen or fallen since then.

In response, Sugita assumed the ground has been cultivated for Japanese citizens to think and argue more about international affairs centering around Asia because Japan has become affluent and an increasing number of people travel overseas.

However, Akasaka pointed out that the number of correspondents of overseas media stationed in Tokyo has decreased by 50 percent over the past decade.

Renovation of domestic governance

In order to strengthen Japan's global presence, Takashima noted the need to restructure the country's governance, starting from the Prime Minister's Office. "This is because there is no true leader that can draw up a government strategy and bind all the ministries together," he said. He further noted that official development assistance (ODA) must be strategically utilized, since Japan, serving as a backdrop, supports the actions of globally active Japanese. "Establishing a reliable relationship with any counterpart nation will lead Japanese candidates to gain support when they stand for positions at international organizations," he added.

Sugita of Kyodo News explained that the economic and political chaos over the past decade or two limited Japan's thinking about its global presence, "but then, Japan today puts too much stress on security or economic matters, and neglects the United Nations and multinational diplomacy. Such conditions, in turn, are leading Japan to decrease its contributions in the areas of environmental preservation, arms reduction, human rights and so on."

Akasaka noted how Japan's contributions in various areas are highly recognized abroad, though Japan, as a country, does not demonstrate enough leadership or innovative ideas. As a breakthrough, he noted the need to create a platform that would allow Japanese citizens to address global issues, and for Japan to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, especially by tackling such recent serious problems as immigration.

Japan as a 'solution provider' and 'order creator'

As to the question of what the rest of the world expects from Japan, Akasaka noted how it is hoped that Japan will become an active player and speaker on establishing peace and order in Asia, and the rest of the world. "At the same time, the world expects Japan to check China's actions so that Beijing respects global values and order," he added.

As some good examples of global solutions, the discussants noted how advanced Japan is in disaster prevention as well as public transportation systems. With global interest in such areas growing, the speakers noted that Japan could hold international conferences and take follow-up future actions. "Creating a discussion platform for such issues, like Britain's Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) and the so-called Davos conference (the World Economic Forum headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland), will generate unceasing interest in Japan while intensifying arguments in the global arena," said Akasaka.

In the area of public relations, Sugita and Takashima acknowledged the importance of government publicity, and said that the information released by the Japanese government is too skewed to the details of history, thus diverting interest from the true concerns of international society. The two discussants shared the view that it is imperative for Japan to think about and to inform the world how it intends to contribute to world peace and development.

Akasaka further noted the responsibility of local governments in not creating a smooth flow of information from Japan to the world and said, "More foreigner-conscious information should be disseminated about Japanese tourism and culture, by inviting overseas media people to Japan so that they can understand the true profile of the country." In terms of training those in the Japanese media, Sugita stressed the need for reporters to have a broader perspective, not one limited to the areas of politics and economy, as well as acquiring the skills to write logical sentences in an internationally accepted manner.

In closing the discussion, The Genron NPO's Kudo said that his organization is set to launch full-fledged discussions on how Japan should contribute to global agendas and how to disseminate information on such Japanese initiatives to the world.

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