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PM’s Office’s “sophisticated” media strategy

  • 2015-12-11 15:00:00
  • , Yomiuri
  • Translation

(Shukan Toyo Keizai: December 12, 2015 – pp. 48-51)


 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s favorite TV program is “Prime News” on BS Fuji, a two-hour daily talk show where political and foreign affairs issues are discussed in depth. His favorite commercial TV stations are NTV and Fuji TV and favorite newspapers, Yomiuri Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun.


 There used to be a predetermined order of the prime minister’s TV appearances, alternating between NHK and a national commercial network, meant to preclude picking and choosing by the powers that be, but the Abe administration has disregarded this rule, preferring to deal with individual requests at its own discretion.


 Certain members of the media criticize this for “a lack of sense to win broad support from the public and approaching only media outlets supporting the prime minister.” However, media experts point out that this is actually not a matter of personal preference, but based on a grand strategy of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence (Kantei).


 During the first Abe administration, the prime minister proposed various reforms but was unable to win the public’s support. Media outlets did not trust him, thus contributing to the lack of support from the public. Abe learned the hard way that unless public opinion changes, it will not be possible to implement dramatic reforms.


 The goals of the second Abe administration are legislation of the state secrets protection law and the security laws, and ultimately, constitutional revision. The first step it took was personnel changes at NHK, replacing four members of the Board of Governors with Abe allies and appointing Katsuto Momii as NHK chairman.


 In October last year, two female ministers were forced to resign in light of political fund scandals, but this failed to do serious damage to the Abe administration. For some reason, the media were all reporting on the increase of the consumption tax rate to 10% at that critical juncture. Media insiders reckon that the government had something to do with this. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Abe’s political secretary Takaya Imai are thought to be behind this tactical move.


 Tokyo Institute of Technology Associate Professor Ryosuke Nishida notes that “while there was overconfidence and vacillation in the media strategy of his previous administration, the second Abe administration has become more sophisticated based on its past mistakes and a trial-and-error process.”


 The slogan “a society of dynamic engagement of all citizens,” coined by Imai, has been criticized for vagueness, but Imai believed there is news value in an awkward expression like this – better to be disliked than to be ignored.


 Immediately after the security laws were passed, there was renewed emphasis on Abenomics, helped by such new expressions as “a society of dynamic engagement of all citizens” or the “new three arrows.” TV is being used for its timeliness and newspapers for broader coverage. “Reporters are being led by the nose with the new jargon,” according to a political reporter.


 Another key person in Kantei’s media strategy is Cabinet Secretariat adviser Tomohiko Taniguchi, a former Nikkei Business reporter who is involved with writing speeches for Abe. Together with the experts, Imai and Taniguchi probably produced the final draft of the Abe Statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II last August. The keywords “aggression” and “colonial rule” were used very skillfully here and there in the statement in an indirect way.


 Keio University Professor Koji Matsui, deputy chief cabinet secretary and speechwriter during the Yukio Hatoyama cabinet, points out: “The rightists and the leftists, Japan and China, everybody was given consideration.” Matsui adds: “Even though certain characteristic phrases were used, sometimes the subject is not mentioned, and sometimes the subject is highlighted on purpose. This indicates the involvement of highly skilled speechwriters.”


 Kantei is choosing Abe’s media engagement very carefully, and Abe himself is making use of new media, such as the Internet and Nico Nico Doga, in light of the unmistakable decline of traditional media. (Summary)

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