The Asahi Shimbun’s fourth “Press Council for Tomorrow,” a round-table discussion, was held at the Asahi Shimbun Tokyo head office on July 25. The title of the latest discussion was “Is the press fully able to grasp the Trump era?” In response to reports from Asahi reporters in the U.S. and comments from Professor Yoshiko Kojo at the University of Tokyo graduate school, the council’s four public editors (PE) from all walks of life participated in the discussion with directors and reporters from Asahi’s editorial departments. The discussion included the role of media amid the spread of “fake news.”
Yoshiko Kojo (Guest commentator, professor at the University of Tokyo graduate school specializing in international relations, former president of the Japan Association of International Relations)
The media should provide reports examining the possibility of alternatives to the present political establisment
What is happening in U.S. society? Before the U.S. presidential election began, the Asahi Shimbun documented the divisions in U.S. society through reports and feature articles. Through this reporting, the Asahi Shimbun conveyed what Japanese readers wanted to know about former U.S. President Obama’s focus on the divisions in America while calling for a unified America during his first term. There are various types of divisions: age, gender, race, educational background, and place of residence (city versus countryside). How have these divisions changed? I want to know whether these divisions are becoming wider or narrower.
Politicians, experts, and the media did not recognize the seriousness of these social divisions. I was struck by a comment by one expert who pointed out that the American people were so averse to the election of Trump that they didn’t notice these divisions.
I wonder whether the media was able to adequately report on the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Europe. When we discuss Europe, we tend to focus on the European Union (EU). However, there are people who complain about the political establishment, which leads to criticism of the EU. I wanted the media to report more on what was happening in each country in Europe, not just the EU.
When reporting on Trump’s victory, the Asahi Shimbun’s emphasis on the public’s complaints about their vested interests and the existing political parties was appropriate. Although President Trump became rich through his businesses, there seemed to be no strong resentment of him among the public who perceived the president as opposed to their vested interests.
I think Japanese newspapers allocated insufficient resources to reporting on the U.S. presidential election in a meaningful way. People in the U.S. and Japan share the feeling that there is no viable alternative to the existing politic establishment, so what happened in the U.S. could take place in Japan as well. In both countries, many people work hard to make ends meet. They don’t like the current political establishment, but there is no other choice. I want newspapers to write more in-depth articles that examine how we can overcome this reality.
Shiro Nakamura (Asahi Shimbun general editor)
- One of the strengths of newspapers is investigative reports that utilize technical expertise to collect data. Good examples are reports on the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen, which required a lot of resources and time to unravel.
- Digital media also needs this high level of journalistic quality. In order to counter fake news on the internet, it is important to swiftly report accurate information.
- It is important to correct fake news, but it is as important to know how and why such news is fabricated.
Michikazu Kono (Born in 1953, public editor, president and editor of Hobonichi Learning Space, an online newspaper)
- Americans gave up hope of rising up from the depths of poverty. They felt that Trump and Sanders, who appeared fresh in their eyes, could make a difference in their lives.
- Major newspapers such as the New York Times seem to be rapidly losing people’s trust. The white middle class relies more on TV and social media.
Keiko Kojima (Born in 1972, public editor, celebrity, and essayist)
- I still remember an impressive remark by a New York Times chief editor, “In order to reach a broader readership outside liberals, we pay special attention to the ‘tone’ of articles.”
- It is important for reporters to show their sincerity in their articles. This will help gain people’s trust.
Shigeo Matsumura (Born in 1959, public editor, chief editor of the Asahi Shimbun Seibu (western) head office in Fukuoka Prefecture)
- We need to deal with the growing resentment of conventional media.
Makoto Yuasa (Born in 1969, public editor, social activist, professor at Hosei University)
- To readers, the speaker is more important than the content. We need to be consistent in our approach to speech and behavior.
- To avoid being made a fool of by fake news, we need to create a dialogue between newspapers and readers.
Seeking Trump supporters’ voices
Ryuichi Kanari: The Asahi Shimbun New York bureau correspondent.
- I am participating in this round-table discussion via video from Youngstown, Ohio, where President Trump often holds rallies. The town is located in the Rust Belt region where the unemployment rate is high.
- Ohio is called a swing state that is considered key to the outcome of presidential elections. During the last presidential campaign, I interviewed many people at diners and bars in this town to see who was supporting presidential candidate Trump.
- Based on these interviews, I created a report titled “Trump Kingdom.”
- After reading Kanari’s “Trump Kingdom,” I realized that it was the white middle class that was supporting candidate Trump.
- At first, the U.S. media was waiting to see how the campaign would develop, but after candidate Trump won an overwhelming victory in New Hampshire, the atmosphere changed and the media, including major papers, began reporting on who was supporting candidate Trump and for what reasons.
- There are people in Japan who are similar to the American people I saw in the Rust Belt. These Japanese people feel that no matter how hard they work, they can’t improve their lifestyle and have no hope. (Abridged)