Control of Mass-Media in Japan and Korea Essay

When broadcasting began in the post war era in Japan and Korea the two countries were vastly different in national resources and characteristics. Japan was one of the most established democratic nations in the region and became one of the world’s economic powerhouses. On the other hand Korea was recovering from war and civil unrest under a militaristic authoritarian government. Even though these large differences existed, both Japan and Korea similarly deterred the media’s role as a watchdog of government and created an environment in which the media was dependent on the government for its operation.

In order to illustrate this statement I would like to explore the similarities between these two countries which are: lack of diversity in views and opinions across the media, and existence of government control. Furthermore, I would like to highlight the differences in method of control which are: the indirect method in which Japanese government instigated ‘self-censorship’, and how the Korean government contrastingly clinged to direct control of media and heavy-handed censorship. These differences will be outlined through comparison of Japan and Korea in their media guidance system and restructuring of broadcasting.

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This essay will focus on broadcasting media from the post-war era to the fall of authoritarian government in Korea, as this outlet held vast influence at the time. Traditionally, in western notion the role of mass media has been conceived in terms of informing the electorate on public issues, enlarging the base of participation in the political process and watching over government behaviour. # However the messages that were disseminated by Japanese and Korean media in the post-war era did not include many opinions or commentary regarding political issues.

Kwak described the situation of Korean media as ‘politicisation of news content which almost completely ignored the opinions’. # Similarly in Japan, although press freedom was guaranteed, Sugiyama comments on Japanese media as “(Media outlets) refrain from aggressively expressing opinions. This results in the affinity of contents”. # The above statement suggests that the western notion of journalism was discouraged and media’s role as a ‘watchdog’ did not develop in Japan and Korea. For both Japan and Korea, departure of occupational government gave an opportunity for the state to take control of the media.

Japan experienced American occupational control of media from 1945-1952 and Korea experienced it during the Japanese occupation period from 1910-1945, as well as American occupation from 1945-1948. When Japan and Korea regained sovereignty in July 1952 and August 1953 respectively, both countries introduced a new system of media governance that enabled the state to coerce media outlets to favour the government. In Japan, the independent regulatory committee of broadcasting, Radio Regulatory Commission (RRC), which was established by allied forces was dissolved by Japanese government in July 1952.

American occupational government’s aim to deter Japanese government from ‘influencing or controlling’ the media by establishing independent regulator was undermined by this decision. # Thereafter, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications took control of broadcasting regulation. Luther and Boyd denotes that this action caused “… a form of codependency between governmental officials and broadcast personnel developed to the point of often discouraging broadcasters from being overly critical of governmental actions”. Similarly in Korea, through strict licensing policy, censorship and violence, the authoritarian government gained power to disseminate propaganda to retain their legitimacy. As Kim and Shin states “Structural changes in the Korean press and its orientations have been unilaterally defined by the dominant political power”. # Thus similarly with Japan, Korean government took a pivotal role in guiding the broadcasting due to media outlets’ heavy reliance on government in order to continue its operation.

Inherently the systems put in place in Japan and Korea forced the media industry to place news coverage with a one-sided ‘establishment’ stance that never questioned the way the country is operated. Nevertheless the method implemented to avoid broadcasters from having political stances and opinion were different in Japan and Korea due to style of government; one being democratic and one being militaristic authoritarian regime. Freedom of press is enshrined in Japan’s political system by the 1947 constitution. # Oppositely in Korea, dictatorial government ruled by

Chung-Hee Park and his predecessor Doo-Hwan Chun, freedom of press was suppressed in the name of ‘anti-communism’ and ‘social responsibility’. Thus while Japan pursued indirect control that ‘encouraged’ self-censorship, Korean government took more direct measures to censor media outlets. The systematic method in which government blocked the broadcasting of unfavorable news was different in Japan and Korea. Japan homogenised the media’s view through the use of Press Clubs (also known as Kisha Clubs in Japanese) to promote self-censorship.

On the other hand, Korea created strict guidelines on reporting in order to contain any report that may harm their legitimacy. Japanese government effectively utilised the print media and broadcasting media’s affiliation to control the news contents that went on air. Kisha Club is a news gathering association of reporters from specific news organisations, whose reporting centres on a press room set up by sources such as the Bank of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the police etc. The clubs are only open to accredited members, mostly reporters from major newspapers. The exclusive Kisha Club system also allows the government to keep the reporters in line, as their memberships can be easily taken away. Japan currently has six terrestrial stations that consists of one public broadcaster and five commercial broadcasters. All five of these commercial broadcasters are affiliated and have a close relationship with Japan’s national newspapers: TBS with the Mainichi, NTV with Yomiuri, Fuji Television with the Sankei, TV Asashi with Asahi, and TV Tokyo with the Nikkei.

This close relationship enhances the effectiveness of Kisha Club because as Sugiyama states “These commercial stations prefer to use news dispatched provided to them by their affiliated newspaper companies rather than set up their own news departments”. # Through this mechanism Japanese government tactically enforced self-censorship to media outlets without any direct action, because breaching the Kisha club rules has clear demerit of not being able to receive information from reliable sources.

Contrary to self-censorship that the Japanese government pursued, the Korean government enforced strict guidelines on reporting to suppress messages that may harm the regime’s legitimacy. Under Chung-Hee Park’s regime, broadcasters were obliged to provide regular reports on their business, finance and programming to the Ministry of Information (MOI). # His successor Doo-Hwan Chun intensified this control by distributing ‘guidelines for reporting’ which was delivered daily.

These guidelines forced broadcasters to avoid reporting about controversial issues and topics. # Moreover the Ministry of Culture and Information secretly ordered press owners and presidents of public broadcasters to dismiss journalists who refused censorship. # Thus the Korean government used ‘hand-in-hand’ tactics to avoid any potential risk of broadcasting unfavorable news; while the Japanese government, through indirect control, instigated self-censorship and made broadcasters conform without dismissal of staff or loss of license.

Continuous structural changes in Korean broadcasting and lack of structural changes in Japan provides further insight into how Korean government seeked to gain complete control, while Japanese government instigated subtle but effective indirect control. Since broadcasting began in Korea television went through several structural reform. KBS which began as a state-operated channel became a public broadcaster in 1972. Under ‘Basic Press Law’ in 1981 which enabled government to cancel registrations for media channels, commercial station TBC was absorbed into KBS and the ownership of commercial station MBC was handed over to public bodies.

As a result, all existing broadcasters were placed under the umbrella of public broadcasting. Won affirms that this action consequently “denied the media its self-regulatory role as a watchdog and as a forum for the expression of various opinions on controversial issues”# Contrastingly, in Japan the government did not see the need to put forward such drastic changes, because the government contained the broadcasting stations by enforcing ‘voluntary standards’ on commercial television and possessing power over public broadcaster’s budget.

Japanese commercial broadcasters are required to follow ‘Broadcasting Law’ and they are required to articulate voluntary standards to maintain the appropriateness of their programming. Noble states that this has in practice amounted to a single rule: ‘Do not offend or challenge anyone- public figures, government officials or viewers. ’# Moreover, the only public broadcaster in Japan, NHK, which earns its revenue from subscription fees collected from the public is still dependent on the government for its operation.

The board of governors are appointed by the Prime Minister of Japan and NHK’s yearly budget and any fee increases must be approved by the Diet. As a result, NHK is “autonomous from, but somewhat accountable to, government”. # The fact that Korea enforced mergers of broadcasters shows that the government feared increasing autonomy of commercial broadcasters and wanted to enhance its sphere of control by placing them under public broadcasting. Contrastingly even today Japan has not seen any drastic changes in terrestrial networks since its inauguration.

Through effective indirect control, Japan has prevented the public from knowing too much about the state’s media management. As a result of systematic media monitoring established by the state, lack of opinion towards government became a feature of news broadcasting in these countries. However the differences in the method of state-control of media; Korea being more directly involved and Japan being more indirectly involved, led these countries to different paths. As a result of the indirect mechanism that the Japanese government utilised, Japanese broadcasting did not see drastic changes.

Key features such as Kisha Club and voluntary standards still remains and discourages investigative reporting in Japan today. Contrastingly the Korean government’s direct method of involvement consequently alienated the public and as democratisation came into place, restrictive laws were lifted and commercial television began once again. Comparison of Japan and Korea, which were of different economic and political standing, shows that any level of state involvement in media can inherently harm freedom of expression and harm the role of broadcasting in society as an important platform to disseminate and convey public opinion.