University of Tokyo
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In this paper I explain the role of Japanese media role in investigating,
uncovering, and mediating scandals. I mention how scandal mediations in
Japan reflect the Japanese mediascape, journalistic norms, and also the
overall societal value system. While giving numerous examples of past
scandal mediations, I will also emphasize the role of non-elite,
semi-mainstream tabloids (shūkanshi),
representing the main platform for initiating the process of making (real or
imagined) social defects known to the Japanese public. Finally, I will
propose a structural model for the scandal mediation process, consisting of
transgression leaks to media, scandal processing, transgression leaks to the
public, and the climax.
Japanese media and society; scandal theory; scandal mediation;
journalistic norms; corruption and media; Japanese weeklies.
The paper was supported by the Research Project Development
of the Czech Society in the EU: Challenges and Risks (MSM0021620841).
The media as social institutions generally have mechanisms at their
disposal to both support the establishment and to challenge it. The latter
is accounted for by media watch-dog theory, where media provide visibility
and accountability by turning the dealings of elite power groups into public
knowledge (e.g. McQuail, 1992). In reality, media certainly are the key
channels in the communication of meanings, often engaged in uncovering
political and corporate corruption and other forms of social transgressions.
The role of media however does not always reflect the ideal of social
guardian, and the logic of scandal mediation is marked by interlocking
mechanisms, informal contracts and players holding each other in check
positions. According to many observers, media's interest in scandal is
generally shaped by 1) received news values, 2) the way of media's
self-understanding of their social role and 3) market forces (McQuail,
In this paper I focus on the process of scandal mediation in Japanese
media. I am aiming to offer a window into the interplay of those factors
that typically define and shape Japanese scandals. I will analyze the
structure of the process based on data collected from Japanese mainstream,
non-mainstream and other media sources. First of all, it is necessary to
introduce a few definitions and approaches for better understanding and
analysis of scandals.
'Scandal' Definitions and Approaches
Researching on scandal is possible from more than one academic
perspective (the fields of study worth mentioning in this respect are law,
history, social sciences/sociology and most frequently media-communication
studies). However, the phenomenon of scandal is often viewed as too
frivolous and too fleeting to arouse serious academic attention and there
exists not much academic research on scandals. Yet, a few scholars have
focused on scandals in various contexts and produced a certain amount of
literature. Let me quote a few definitions and explanations of the term.
'Scandal is an event in which the public revelation of an alleged private
breach of law or a norm results in significant social disapproval or debate
and usually reputational damage' (West, 2006: 6). 'A media scandal
occurs when private acts that disgrace or offend the idealized, dominant
morality of a social community are made public and narrativized by the
media, producing a range of effects' (Lull and Hinerman, 1997: 3). John
Thompson (1997) offers 5 stages of scandal: 1.transgression of certain
values, norms, moral codes, 2. secrecy, 3. disapproval, 4. public expression
of disapproval, 5. reputational damage.
Regarding the initial procedures of scandal, the point of departure
is always a transgression of social norms reflecting the dominant morality
(Lull and Hinerman, 1997). The next essential element, also included in all
mentioned definitions, lies in crossing the ambivalent border between
private and public: the action of certain individuals is publicly
articulated and circulated by communications media. However, the rules of
recognizing certain conduct as violating the public trust (by transgressing
the dominant shared norm) are not fixed and often serve only as guidelines
for journalists and editors. Besides, in many public scandal cases, the
violation of conventional norms was actually permitted within the intimate
domain of a community - this phenomenon becomes most visible in cases of
cover-up scandals (West, 2006). Moreover, the popularity, personality and
public image of the 'wrongdoer' can also shift the boundaries of public
tolerance against the transgression. The public therefore - theoretically
speaking - has the power either to denounce the transgressor and put a
shaming (stigmatizing) label on him/her, or pardon the conduct as a mere
Apart from the media and the public, there are hired professionals
(lawyers, PR experts etc.) that can and actually do influence the
development of scandals once they break, and moreover, there also exist
other 'in between' agents in society that take a hold of scandals before
they actually break. In the case of Japan, one of them would be the
advertising agency or (in the case of the entertainment world) the celebrity
agency office, or jimusho (see below).
At any rate, in order to give shape to scandals, media have to publicize
(mediate) the transgression, whereas prosecutors and police can criminalize
it. The former leads to public discussion, the latter leads to indictment
and arrest. I will now briefly introduce some academic approaches to the
scandal phenomenon, along with their characteristic features.
The etymology of scandal goes back to Greek, Latin and Judeo-Christian
history and thought, and was originally used in a religious sense in the
Greek version of the Old Testament (Thompson, 1997). The term appeared in
English and Romance languages in the 16th century and was used in two
meanings: as an art of conduct leading to damage to the religious reputation
of a religious person, or as a form of obstacle, hindering religious belief
(ibid.). The scandal in its original sense thus already contained its basic
motive: namely the transgression of moral codes and damage to the identity
of a community.
Not all scandals are 'mediated' (gossips and rumors can also initiate
scandal), however their mediation and circulation is usually possible only
thanks to communications media technology (Lull and Hinerman, 1997) and
their main modes of transition: print, audio or audiovisual. Scandal
mediation is a matter of publicizing transgressions: media can
initiate (fuel, relativize, hold back) scandals. However, once a scandal is
on, the public and its awareness is the essential player; scandals can
proceed only if they awake (and hold) public attention, disapproval and
discussion. According to Thompson (1997), without public responses there is
no scandal. Scandals are thus (co-)produced by both the media and the
audiences (the term 'scandal' usually points at both the mediation process
and the public outcry as a social reaction to it). Scandals are shaped and
mediated as an integral part of news with entertaining/'educational' impact
and combine more formats in a hybrid way (hard news, soft news and everyday
Scandal is a form of media event. It is shaped and constituted by
mediated forms of communication. It is therefore a more or less manufactured
event, constructed in and by the media. Scandal mediation is a structured
complex process and has always a narrative structure with a beginning
(scandal emergence), middle (scandal mediation), and end (scandal climax
with damages and apologies). Furthermore, scandal narrative is always an
open story (text) with many twists and turns, strong characters, competing
interpretations, allegations, 'what-if' speculations; and the story can
eventually shift its focus away from the central actor to other individuals
('snowball effect') or it can trigger political or public debate on some
originally unrelated 'higher grade' issue (Tomlinson, 1997). Scandal
narrative is organized around the amorphous line of pursuing the truth but
can die without any actual resolution (e.g. as a result of shifting public
attention to a new scandal). Scandals are intertextual (they inform and feed
each other) and are perceived individually, depending among others on the
public image of the transgressor (Lull and Hinerman, 1997). Once shaped into
a narrative form, scandals are converted into marketable commodities
consumed by audiences – and they lead to significant profits if they succeed
in attracting, informing and entertaining. Emotion-arousing events and human
interest stories are therefore sought-after by news media. Generally,
scandal mediations have to be concretized, personalized and detailed,
usually with some socially significant, negative connotations.
Scandals are 'rituals', whose mediations serve as an articulation and
regulation of dominant moral codes and values, where socially influential
media (along with the church and the state) come to play a major role in
constructing and controlling the moral discourse (Thompson, 1997). Scandals
attend to the process of periodic 'moralization' (supporting dominant
values, reinforcing norms, reaffirming the status quo and maintaining social
order). People inevitably respond to scandals in the form of moral
reflection, which eventually may lead to a larger 'moral panic' in a
society. The media enforce behavioral rules by imposing feelings of guilt
(which derives from individual reflection of wrongdoing) and shame (which is
a socially constructed, permanent condition that stigmatizes and makes the
shamed person publicly undesirable) (Lull and Hinerman, 1997). Based on the
instinct somehow inherent to all human beings, which can activate the
pleasure of viewing downfalls of the Other, media for one thing offer a
compensation alternative to the public by showing power/culture elites being
persecuted, but for the other, they simultaneously produce an amorphous
atmosphere of constant fear: the 'atmosfear' that anybody can be shamed and
persecuted for defying given conventions, or (as Japanese media often
vaguely proclaim) when one's behavior becomes 'antisocial'.
Scandal Mediation and the Case of Japan
The underlying conduct of scandal does not differ much from culture to
culture. However, the recognition of certain behavior as being questionable
or scandalous is a somewhat culturally-specific issue. Regarding the moral
framework and the perception of 'truth', the Japanese cultural value matrix
does not define binary oppositions (good-bad, order-chaos, clean-dirty, and
also private-public) in the same way that the western world tends to do, and
it rather prefers to evaluate transgressions separately and according to
given circumstances (Morris-Suzuki, 1998). An important role is in this
context also played by the centrality of deeply-rooted values such as
loyalty (sometimes being taken to extremes), trust, regret and its
demonstration, specific forms of social obligation and so forth. Besides,
social group norms in Japan are often claimed to be much more important than
the overall legal framework. Avoiding a leak of scandalous information in
order to maintain the group can thus be considered public morality. Japanese
institutions and corporations often rely on internal rules and 'norms of
silence' (West, 2006). If the process of private conflict resolution fails
(or if the information simply leaks to the public via whistle-blowers),
these norms find themselves in conflict with overall public norms and the
scandal is born, causing multiple damage to the community.
Apart from the general social framework, the societal and organizational
framework has a decisive impact on scandal mediations in Japan. It is above
- The political and economic environment
- The structure of media institutions and media ownership patterns
- The 'information cartel', set up by media organizations and based on
the keiretsu business ties model (Freeman, 2000)
- The institutional relationship between mainstream newspaper media and
their sources, administered by the Japanese Newspaper Association (Nihon
In this environment, specific journalistic values and norms are likely to
emerge. One of these is the often discussed 'reporter's club' (kisha
kurabu) system, which plays a key role in the scandal mediation process.
Limited membership, sanctions in case of violating restrictive in-group
norms and other aspects have a significant impact on the control of
scandalous information flows.
Typology of Scandals Based on Public Involvement
According to Tomlinson (1997), scandals are 'middle-order events',
meaning that their subject matter is somewhere between the borders of fairly
trivial and extremely serious. Really serious 'high order' issues (global
problems like wars, genocide, poverty, etc.) will rarely become 'scandalous'
because they cannot be condensed into a behavior of one symbolic individual.
On the other hand, 'low order' issues are also not likely to appear on the
agenda, since they fail to catch and hold public attention.
In this and other respects, Japanese scandals do not differ significantly
from other cultures. In the case of low public involvement scandals (the
public feels more like an observer than a participant), the everlasting
issue is corporate and political corruption (in Japan most notably: illegal
financial transactions, false statements in financial and fundraising
reports, shady sources of donations, bribery, and eventually the private
lives of political figures). Not only in Japan is political corruption
widespread among nationally elected officials and prominent bureaucrats, and
this phenomenon might have contributed to low public involvement and a
rather indifferent Japanese public.On the other hand, high public attention
and public disapproval are usually won by those scandals which directly
affect the citizen/consumer (medical malpractice, food poisoning, false food
labeling and product defects, environmental pollution, various forms of
sexual harassment, personnel/customers info leaks etc.).
Another sensitively perceived scandal type is the cover–up and exposure
scandal: big influential companies, but also Ministries try to control
information leaks or apply pressure on media. According to Karel van
Wolferen (1989), Dentsū
has controlled media information flows in order to protect clients (e.g. the Morinaga powdered milk contamination case in 1955, and the Taishō
Pharmaceutical cold medicine case in 1964-5). In order to maintain good
relations with industries and suppliers, the Ministry of International Trade
and Industry obstructed the spread of information on Minamata disease
in 1956-68 (Wolferen, 1989). Similarly, The Ministry of Health did not
immediately order the withdrawal of dangerous products from the market
(pharmaceutical companies using thalidomide in 1962-3 and using unheated
AIDS-tainted blood products in 1983-1986) (West, 2006).
An average public involvement rate represents education/academia-related
scandals: (most recently the 'sekuhara' [sexual harassment] scandal
series involving the Waseda social club , the Kokushikan University
soccer club , and the Kyoto University American football club
) (West, 2006). Mainstream media minutely cover these kinds of events
because the transgression is often legitimized by the arrest procedure. Low
public involvement is typical for minority-related scandals and
discriminatory expressions (most notably Tokyo governor Shintarō
Ishihara's 2000 'sangokujin' case, 2001 'jinkaku' case, 2000 'babaa'
case, or Muneo Suzuki's 2002 'racially homogenous Japan' case).
Japanese civil groups and NGO's often protest immediately and exert
pressure, eventually resulting in legal defamation suits, but the chance of
success, as with the media coverage of such protests, is usually low. There
are only few taboo-related scandals to be found, since they represent very
low public involvement, not to mention the fact that mainstream Japanese
media traditionally tend to avoid sensitive social topics (e.g. burakumin,
right-wingers, yakuza, pornography etc.). There exists a certain
amount of religious scandal related mainly to new religions, with the Sōka
Gakkai sect being the
most frequently addressed subject in non-mainstream tabloids.
Conversely, a special category of minimal social relevancy but
surprisingly high public involvement (the public feels more like a
participant than an observer) is represented by celebrity scandals. They are
to be counted as a major component of Japanese popular culture. Japanese
celebrities, including active performers (singers, actors, entertainers),
fake performers (tarento) and sports stars, are the main actors in
scandal mediations. The most typical cases drawing the attention of media
and the public are divorces/marriages, sexual affairs/obscene behavior,
suicide attempts and drug use. The general information flow however is
usually managed by the celebrity agencies (jimusho) they belong to. 'Johnny's',
'Up front' and other showbiz-news gatekeepers protect their clients and
themselves from scandals by putting pressure on media networks and
threatening tabloids with restrictions on first-hand access to the showbusiness industry (West, 2006). However, once a scandal is born, these
agencies turn from protectors to persecutors, publicly imposing an embargo
on their celebrities and expelling them from 'the stage' for a period of
'Bottom-Up' mediations and the Role of the Shūkanshi
Scandals are primarily kept private by elite mainstream media (Farley,
1996). The initial platform for publicizing them lies in the foreign press,
freelance reporting, and most significantly in non-elite, non-mainstream
publications. Sports, opinion, and tabloid newspapers, altogether amounting
to a circulation of 5 to 6 millions, are the prime movers of scandals in
Japan. Apart from weekly tabloids like Sunday Mainichi or Shūkan
Asahi, which are owned
by one of the big dailies, the most prominent scandal instigators are
weeklies, owned by larger publishing houses – most notably the Shūkan
and Shūkan Shinchō
or photo-tabloids Friday (Kōdansha)
and Flash (Kōbunsha).
The general mainstream press in the first instance ignores the tabloids'
scandalous revelations but, depending on circumstances, it may eventually
start to cover the case (see below).
Let me point out a few examples of scandal mediation in postwar Japan
where the above mentioned 'bottom up' mediation has occurred. These cases
vary in the amount of media coverage, social importance and context. Some of
them even cannot be regarded as scandals in their original sense. The
intention here is to point out how certain private matters
(transgressions/sensations) have been more or less intentionally kept
uncovered and finally went public through other than Japanese mainstream
Minamata Case (1956-). Chisso Corporation's chemical factory
leak of methyl mercury resulted in serious mercury poisonings in Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture. The Japanese Ministry of International
Trade and Industry obstructed the investigation. The real attention to the
Minamata case was brought by a foreign photojournalist (ex-Life journalist
W. E. Smith) in the beginning of the 1970's.
Black Mist Case (1969-71). This was a series of game fixing and
bribes scandals in the Japanese professional baseball league. The scandal
broke after the investigative activities of the Shūkan
Post magazine and was
consequently broadcasted on a FUJI TV news program.
Kakuei Tanaka Case(1974). In the mid-1960s Tanaka was
involved in (among other practices) making doubtful land deals. His case
was investigated by reporters Takashi Tachibana and Takaya Kodama,
published in Bungei Shunjū
and only then did Japanese mainstream media touch upon the story.
Lockheed Case (1976). Kakuei Tanaka and others accepted
bribes from Lockheed Corporation in return for having Japan's All Nippon
Airways purchase the Tristar model of passenger plane. The information was
released by the American Securities and Exchange Commission and initially
published by the Los Angeles Times. Only then did mainstream media
publish the whole story.
Miura Case (1981-1984). The wife of Japanese businessman
Kazuyoshi Miura was allegedly murdered by street robbers during a trip by
the couple to the USA. Three years after the incident Shūkan
Bunshun ran articles
indicating that Miura had actually been involved in the killing.
'Sugar cane' Case (1987). The governor of Kyōto
Prefecture made an inappropriate statement regarding a situation where a
typhoon had damaged sugar cane fields in Okinawa. The incident, provided
wire service, was left untouched by mainstream media. However, local
newspapers in Okinawa and Hokkaidō
did publish the story and only then the governor offered his apologies and
media made the case into national news.
Recruit Case (1988-9). Prime minister Noboru Takeshita and other
Diet members and business leaders were involved in insider trading and
receiving shares from the Recruit Company in return for political favors.
Mediation of the transgression was obstructed because many journalists had
also taken bribes, including the president of Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
The scandal was initiated by the Kawasaki local branch of Asahi Shimbun.
Uno Case (1989). Prime
Uno had an extramarital affair with a geisha. Later, she contacted
Mainichi Shimbun to provide them with a story that was briefly
mentioned in Mainichi's sister magazine Sunday Mainichi. Two
days later, the Washington Post reprinted the article, which
triggered discussion in the Japanese Diet and consequently led to coverage
in the Japanese mainstream press. As a result, the treatment of women in
Japan became an issue on the political agenda while Uno resigned his post.
'Dogeza Hatsugen' Case (1990). Then LDP secretary general Ichirō
Ozawa made an inappropriate statement regarding the postwar relationship
with South Korea just ten days before the official visit of the South
Korean President to Japan. Japanese media did not print Ozawa's name,
however the Korean media did publish details including the politician's
name. The Asahi Shimbun also did mention Ozawa as the author
of the statement but they immediately came under strong pressure from
within the kisha club.
The trucking company bribed more than 100 politicians in return for
political favors. Details including the list of bribed politicians were
known to club reporters but stayed unpublished for many months due to
'norms of silence'. The scandal was initiated by Shūkan
and mainstream media started publishing the story after the prosecutor's
office had issued warrant arrests. Ichirō
Ozawa, Noboru Takeshita, Shin Kanemaru and others resigned ('snowball
effect'). The incoming prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa also resigned,
partly due to his own involvement in the scandal, published later in
Masako Owada Case I (1993). The story of Princess Masako's
engagement to the Crown Prince was kept secret because of the information
embargo imposed by the Imperial Household Agency. However, among others
Reuters and Associated Press leaked the information to foreign
media. Only then did the Agency and Japanese Newspaper Association lift
the embargo and send the same information to Japanese media through
Japanese wire agencies Kyōdō and Jiji.
Foreign media also leaked information concerning the engagement of Emperor
Hirohito in 1958.
Toa Ilbo Case (1995). The Tokyo bureau of a leading Korean
newspaper received an anonymous document, confirming inappropriate
statements regarding the historical relationship with Korea, made by the
Management and Coordination Agency's director during a Cabinet Press Club
conference. Toa Ilbo contacted Asahi Shimbun, which did not
confirm the allegations. The Korean paper then published the story, which
was later picked up by Mainichi Shimbun and Tokyo Shimbun.
As a consequence, both Japanese papers were barred from all club
activities for one month.
Tochigi ijime Case (1999). A teenager in Tochigi
Prefecture was bullied to death. Media misinformed the Japanese public
about the incident by quoting incorrect police reports. The real
background of the incident was investigated and published after 5 months
FOCUS and the local branch of Sankei Shimbun.
Masako Owada Case II (2004). The Princess became a topic
when she was diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder. The story was
initially picked up by foreign correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry from
The Times in London and only then did Japanese mainstream media
publish the story while referring to the foreign source, followed by
Japanese tabloids like Shūkan
The main issue here is the ambivalent position of tabloids (shūkanshi)
in Japanese society. They actually did uncover many corporate, political and
other scandals, or re-investigated wrongly elaborated reports, whereby they
gained certain credibility and legitimacy among the Japanese public. Their
performance can make an impression on print media standing by the public,
monitoring wrongdoings of all sorts and therefore fulfilling the ideal role
of media serving as social guardian and democracy watchdog. This impression
however gets distorted if we examine many cases of 'media injuries' –
serious false accusations, resulting in legal categories of insult and
defamation (most infamous is the case of Yoshiyuki Kōno,
being stigmatized and wrongfully accused by tabloids of serious crime in
1994). In many cases, the weeklies are brought to court and financially
penalized (they are as a rule represented by their publishing houses). The
resulting damages however are rather small, if any, and under such
circumstances it is often worthwhile for shūkanshi
to run the risk and publish rumors or half-truths, not to mention the gains
being made from beneficial negative publicity (Gamble, Watanabe, 2004).
Scandal Management and the Japanese Mediascape
Finally, I will put the 'bottom-up' pattern into the context of the whole
scandal mediation process. While using the theoretical background outlined
in the beginning of this paper I will try to highlight the developmental
logic and modus operandi of the 'scandal management' process in the
Japanese context. At the end of this chapter a diagram is enclosed to
illustrate the structure and complexity of the whole process.
Transgression Leak to Media
Every scandal requires some form of an information leak (a revelation
with/without real intention) through a variety of channels: insiders,
whistle-blowers, often financially motivated anonymous reporter/non-reporter
sources, opposition members of political parties or factions. Scandalous
information in a 'fixed' form (tapes, photographs, kaibunsho or
'mysterious documents', etc.) is the most 'reliable' source for scandal
(Thompson, 1997). Generally the revelation must allege some kind of private
breach of norms and must be personalized.
In the case of a violation of dominant social/moral norms it is primarily
media who get involved; in the case of a violation of law it is the
prosecutor's office and the police (West, 2006).
Scandals are therefore (often simultaneously)
processed on two levels: the symbolic/mediated level, where an occurrence
becomes an 'event', and the repressive/legal level, where an occurrence
becomes a 'criminal act'. Especially in cases of power-related scandals,
Japanese mainstream media are likely to ignore the story, previously
released by tabloids, take the 'see no evil' approach and eventually block
the information. This is caused on the one hand by the kisha clubs
that are obliged to behave in accord with the 'information cartel' logic,
and on the other hand because of political pressure, eventually leading to a
revoking of the broadcasting license.
Mainstream media are also unlikely to carry out any investigation that would
uncover corporate secrets (e.g. under pressure from advertising agencies and
other 'zaikai' business
circles). Non-mainstream media, also depending on internal and external
factors, pick a scoop, take the initiative in investigation, and directly or
indirectly inform other subjects (foreign media, prosecutors etc). Their
risk lies in the reliability of leaked information and tips from informers
(e.g. from the police). The information is evaluated in terms of estimated
profit and eventual financial damage. In most cases it financially pays to
be sued for previously released untruths or half-truths, however according
to West (2006) it is not preferable for shūkanshi
to be sued by an ordinary person. Prosecutors obtain information from other
sources (police, tabloids) and start an investigation. Media thus partly
determine (set the agenda) what information reaches prosecutors. According
to West (2006), prosecutors can be under pressure from public opinion (e.g.
in the case of Sagawa Kyūbin
in 1992 they allegedly faced a public backlash after the soft treatment of
the corrupt Shin Kanemaru). They can also be under political pressure (in
cases where a politician is involved) and as a rule they maintain good
relations with the police (West, 2006).
Transgression Leak to Public
Non-mainstream media deepen the investigative reporting, speculate about
the 'truth' ('what-if' questions) and gradually update the agenda with new
twists and turns. Further framing of events tends to selectively reveal and
emphasize negative aspects, critically re-examining transgressors' past, or
adding new individuals to the scandal agenda ('snowball effect'). The
general mainstream press ignores the tabloids' scandalous revelations but
depending on circumstances it eventually starts to cover the case. Such
circumstances are often (1) the arrest and indictment of transgressor
(prosecutors/police enter the scene), (2) foreign pressure (foreign media
enter the scene and reveal the story first, however often based on
information from Japanese tabloids), and (3) domestic pressure (the overall
public climate and the public's voice can become influential if major
agreement in supporting/disapproving the individual in question is
achieved). The mainstream media often publish the story while referring to
foreign/external sources. In the case of newspapers, scandals are generally
handled by the social affairs section (shakaibu) and not by the
political section (seijibu) (Farley, 1996), which usually keeps such
scoops off of the front page. In the case of a TV broadcast, scandals often
become an issue on the agenda during the morning 'wide show', while again
referring back to the daily press. Foreign media can publish the story
first, based on their own investigations or on information previously
released in Japanese tabloids (e.g. the Princess Aiko in-vitro
conception story in 2001 was broken by the London Independent but
only based on information in Uwasa no Shinsō;
Uno scandal was revealed by The Washington Post only after being
contacted by Mainichi staff etc.). Few scandals break from other
media such as internet discussion forums (e.g. Channel 2) or from
individually posted video clips (e.g. YouTube, Twitter). They are sometimes
picked up by the larger media and circulated on a global scale.
Climax: Apology and Damage
Not all stories lead to resolution. Some stories are unreliable, based on
bad tips, or fail to give rise to criminal/moral charges. In cases of false
indictment, media are sued and brought to court, and are represented by
their publishing houses. If a transgression is acknowledged, media uniformly
and in detail cover the final part of the scandal including apologies,
dismissals and criminal prosecution. The climax usually comes in the form of
a mediated press conference. Generally, press conferences are carefully
orchestrated, constructed pseudo events, used 1) to improve the actor's
image by updating the fan base, 2) to announce sensitive information just
before it would otherwise turn to scandal or, in cases where it is too late
to manage the situation, 3) to ritually denounce the wrongdoer (West, 2006).
Press conferences start up the process which aims to restore the alleged
wrongdoer's reputation and make his/her future comeback possible.
Celebrities, along with their agencies, politicians and corporate heads
demonstrate deep regret, apologize, resign, and (in cases of court trial)
pay a fine and get a suspended sentence (they rarely go to jail). Japanese
media do not impartially report all these events but they also judge the
adequacy of the apology, while focusing on every minutiae of the performance
(frequency and length of bows, appearance of tears, physical appearance
including clothing, gestures, utterance style, word usage, etc.).
Transgressors are subsequently sent to 'exile' and are not allowed to go
immediately back on stage (either political or showbusiness). Showbusiness
agencies entirely block all transgressors' activities for a period of time.
Similarly, political actors are also ritually exiled from the public sphere
(West, 2006) and can conceive their next election campaign as a kind of
purification ritual (misogi) (Wolferen, 1989) . The exile period
usually differs according to the agency's strategic decision. Apart from
this in-group decision and the legal nature of the act, once again the
social responses and moods can significantly influence the impact of a
scandal and the period of exile. The output of such responses often lies in
the tension between the public image of a star and the perception and
expectation connected with him/her. Certain roles in evaluating of moral
transgressions also have to be ascribed to deeply rooted gender-related
expectations in Japanese society.
Summary and Diagram of the Scandal Mediation Process
The diagram below (Figure 1) illustrates the scandal flow from the moment
of transgression occurrence until the final leak to the public via
mainstream media. During each phase of the process there are dual sets of
forces facilitating the flow and/or trying to get an information under their
control. First, an informer forwards certain compromising data to media
(domestic/foreign) and/or to non-media agents (police/prosecutors). It is
then in the first place the power circles (sei-kan-zai), mainstream
media (through their kisha club reporters and informal contracts
between sources), influential advertising companies linked with power elites
(most notably Dentsu) and celebrity agencies (most notably Johnny's), who
make significant efforts to block or manage the information flow, depending
on the extent of their involvement. At the same time, the information can be
leaked to the Japanese public from the outside (foreign media) or from the
inside (non-mainstream magazines shūkanshi
that are not part of the media/power front line). If the information spread
is unmanagable (and/or if the transgression was meanwhile legally
acknowledged by the state authorities), the mainstream media, along with the
representatives of the power/show business platforms concerned, finally
approach the public themselves, usually via a mediated pseudo-event (press
Figure 1: The Scandal Mediation Process (Larger
Image) (Diagram produced by the author).
There have been other attempts made to revise and upgrade
the 'media watchdog theory' in connection with media's performance during
scandals. Unsurprisingly, these upgrades are rather 'downgrades': the role
of Japanese media has been perceived as the one of 'guard dog' (Krauss,
1996), 'lapdog' (Wolferen 1989; Krauss, 2000), 'trickster' (Pharr, 1996) or
'co-conspirator' (Freeman, 2000). Very suitable for Japanese mainstream
media is the notion of 'muzzled watchdog', introduced by Rodney Tiffen
(1999) in the context of Australian media scandal coverage: the mainstream
media have vast access to information channels but only very limited
possibilities to make certain information public. While maintaining
consensus with elite sources, they often do not cover, but rather cover up
scandals (Wolferen, 1989) and pursue (mediate) transgressions only if the
situation becomes in some respects 'inevitable'. On the other hand, Japanese
non-mainstream, non-elite media (most notably the shūkanshi
magazines) usually perform the 'trickster' role, focusing primarily on
selling copies and therefore seeking and initiating scandals of all sorts.
While considering the output data of this paper, I lean
towards a conclusion that significantly overlaps with James Lull and his
opinion on Chinese power elites: they cannot control media, manage news and
hide scandals, but they try. Apart from media's ever increasing desire to
sell as many products as possible without consideration for factors other
than commercial gain, this might be one of the main reasons why not only
Japanese media often fail to live up to the ideal role of democracy
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