Japanese Television Shuns Koizumi Critic for 'Going Too Far'; Commentator Takes His Political Views Elsewhere

Article excerpt

Byline: Takehiko Kambayashi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

TOKYO - It has been nearly two years since Minoru Morita, one of Japan's most requested TV commentators, vanished from the screen.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington late last month, Japanese journalists looked to many analysts, who seemed to agree tacitly not to criticize Mr. Abe despite his weak leadership. But once again, Mr. Morita, chairman of Morita Research Institute Co. Ltd., was bucking the tide.

Clad in a kimono, Mr. Morita used to appear daily on a morning news program of Fuji Television, giving viewers his interpretation of actions and events in Nagata-cho, the heart of Japanese politics, with quotations and proverbs. His style helped the program become one of the country's most-watched, and his name became a household word.

Mr. Morita says his criticism of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi cost him his well-paying TV job as major news outlets shunned him. Others in the business agree.

Even when Mr. Koizumi basked in an unprecedented degree of public support with approval ratings above 80 percent, Mr. Morita remained one of a dwindling number of commentators who took a harsh view of his policies.

"In my view, Koizumi was the most irresponsible and frivolous prime minister in Japan's postwar history. The former premier took a stable Japan and destroyed it; and after it had collapsed, he simply walked away," Mr. Morita recently wrote in his Web site column.

In a country where people avoid confrontations and try to smooth out personal relations, Mr. Morita was seen as "going too far." His appearances on live television plummeted while Mr. Koizumi was in office.

A forgotten episode

TV Tokyo invited Mr. Morita to a debate with Heizo Takenaka, then Japan's economic minister and a Koizumi confidant, on its "World Business Satellite" program, but Mr. Takenaka refused to appear with the analyst, TV staff told Mr. Morita.

A public relations official at TV Tokyo says no one recalled the 2002 program. The incident that Mr. Morita described was unlikely to have taken place, said the official.

"It seems the staff member may have given Mr. Morita a false impression. ... It is inconceivable that we would avoid inviting someone

to our programs just because he or she was critical of the administration," he added

In August 2005, when Mr. Koizumi's plans to privatize the government's postal service were rejected in the House of Councilors, he swiftly dissolved the Diet's lower house. Mr. Morita told viewers of a Fuji TV news program that the prime minister had violated Article 41 of the Japanese Constitution, which states: "The Diet shall be the highest organ of state power." The political analyst argued that the prime minister had to comply with it.

No one challenged Mr. Morita, but his words apparently angered the prime minister's office, as few major reporters have contacted him since then.

A public relations official at Fuji TV did not say why Mr. Morita had not been invited since, but she said: "As for TV personalities of individual programs, each program decides to employ guests so that its programs can give viewers diversified perspectives."

Collusion with power

Mr. Morita's disappearance from television did not surprise many observers because the Japanese press and broadcast outlets are widely criticized for self-censorship. They are "in collusion with those in power," said Yasushi Kawasaki, a retired journalism professor and former political reporter for NHK, Japan's public television. "The problem is the media's weakness rather than the strength of authority figures."

The biggest problem in Japan, Mr. Morita argued, is that the major outlets "look the same and sound the same, and they, in effect, have become integrated with political power" just as they were a World War II propaganda machine for the Japanese Imperial Army. …