Lack of Journalism Training Hurts Objectivity

Article excerpt

Byline: Takehiko Kambayashi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Kenichi Asano, a professor of journalism at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, spoke with Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about current issues in Japanese journalism. A former reporter for Kyodo news service who served as its bureau chief in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1989 to 1992, Mr. Asano has written several books on journalism.

Question: Japan's mainstream media wield enormous influence in society. Yet there are few opportunities for journalism education in Japan. How and where are Japanese journalists trained?

Answer: To get a journalism job, university students have to take the entrance exam of a news organization, which is similar to a civil-service exam - a paper test and an interview. Those who have journalistic experience or have learned journalism probably make up less than 1 percent of total applicants.

Few universities offer journalism classes, and only a few scholars teach media ethics and journalism. Many of the small number of such scholars, however, befriend the major media. To do this, they avoid criticizing the major media.

There are some professors who used to work for a major news organization. Their influence, not scholarly publications or studies, helped them get the position, which are thus a considered "amakudari" [literally, "descent from heaven," meaning easy work for retired professionals].

Speaking of training for a reporter: They are taught how to write an article or take photos during about two weeks. It's just token training. In effect, it is a process of indirectly telling them to devote themselves to their company for 24 hours a day. After that, each reporter is assigned to a regional office. At first, most reporters start on the police beat. They write stories using information provided by police. In Japan, reporters cannot meet with or call those arrested. Moreover, they very often write articles by getting information from the police in private, not at a news conference. Then, reporters who have written "exclusives" are promoted to a political, international or business desk.

The same practices of information gathering are seen not just on the police beat but other beats as well. Whether they cover the prime minister's office, bureaucrats, political parties or powerful business groups, reporters try to get along with those in power in order to obtain information and write stories. …