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Suga pick for special adviser may reflect desire to sway media narratives



The Cabinet approved on Tuesday the appointment of the deputy head of editorial writing at Kyodo News as a special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, an unprecedented decision for a role that is typically reserved for high-ranking bureaucrats or politicians.


Meiji Kakizaki, 59, has been a reporter since 1984 and joined the Kyodo News wire service in 1988. Born in Akita Prefecture, from which Suga also hails, he has never held public office before. The two have known each other for more than 20 years, since Suga became a Lower House lawmaker.


The appointment, which puts the journalist in charge of policy evaluation and will be effective Thursday, could be a reflection of the prime minister’s desire to sway media narratives in favor of the administration — something to which he has devoted almost eight years as chief Cabinet secretary, fending off questions from the press in daily briefings.


By keeping a confidant who has experience within the news media as an aide beside him, Suga may be hoping Kakizaki will offer a direct liaison between the Prime Minister’s Office and political reporters, replacing Eiichi Hasegawa who handled public relations as a special adviser for Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe.


According to sources, Suga asked Kakizaki to become a special adviser when he was running in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election, after Abe expressed his intention to step down.


In an interview with the Weekly Bunshun released online on Aug. 31, one day after the media first reported Suga would be running in the LDP race, Kakizaki lauded Suga as Abe’s successor and gave him a rating of four out of five stars, pointing out that he lacks a viable successor but crediting him for offering stability.


In 2013, Kakizaki served as a temporary member of the health ministry’s board on independent administrative agencies. He resigned from his role at Kyodo News on Sept. 16 and will leave the company Wednesday.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato emphasized in a briefing Tuesday morning that the government felt Kakizaki’s experience as a reporter and a member of the health ministry board made him appropriate for the advisory role.


“The Suga administration is right now pushing administrative reform by tearing apart bureaucratic sectionalism, and mindsets constrained by precedents and vested interests,” Kato said in response to a reporter who pointed out that Kakizaki had expressed criticism of the Abe administration. “We’re expecting Mr. Kakizaki to provide his opinion and advice, and report on evaluation of as well as points that need improvement in the government’s policies as a whole based on his knowledge and experience as needed.”


Journalists in Japan often participate on advisory boards for government agencies and have previously been appointed as executive secretaries to the prime minister.


However, special advisers rank more highly and are considered to be among the prime minister’s innermost circle of aides, who have considerable authority in policymaking discretion.


“It’s been decided that the employee will leave the company by the end of the month,” Kyodo News said in a statement to The Japan Times regarding Kakizaki’s appointment, adding that the wire service “strives for fair coverage and that principle will not change.”

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