Broadcasting Politics in Japan: NHK and Television News

Broadcasting Politics in Japan: NHK and Television News

Broadcasting Politics in Japan: NHK and Television News

Broadcasting Politics in Japan: NHK and Television News


The aftermath of Japan's 1945 military defeat left its public institutions in a state of deep crisis; virtually every major source of state legitimacy was seriously damaged or wholly remade by the postwar occupation. Between 1960 and 1990, however, these institutions renewed their strength, taking on legitimacy that erased virtually all traces of their postwar instability.How did this transformation come about? This is the question Ellis S. Krauss ponders in Broadcasting Politics in Japan; his answer focuses on the role played by the Japanese mass media and in particular by Japan's national broadcaster, NHK. Since the 1960s, television has been a fixture of the Japanese household, and NHK's TV news has until very recently been the dominant, and most trusted, source of political information for the Japanese citizen. NHK's news style is distinctive among the broadcasting systems of industrialized countries; it emphasizes facts over interpretation and gives unusual priority to coverage of the national bureaucracy. Krauss argues that this approach is not simply a reflection of Japanese culture, but a result of the organization and processes of NHK and their relationship with the state. These factors had profound consequences for the state's postwar re-legitimization, while the commercial networks' recent challenge to NHK has helped engender the wave of cynicism currently faced by the state. Krauss guides the reader through the complex interactions among politics, media organizations, and Japanese journalism to demonstrate how NHK television news became a shaper of Japan's political world, rather than simply a lens through which to view it.


Either neoclassical economists have ignored (or missed) an essen
tial ingredient of every society; or if they are correct, the enormous
investment that every society makes in legitimacy is an unnecessary

—DOUGLASS C. north, Structure and Change in Economic History

Once it was said that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and newspapers and journalism functioned as an institution that watched over authority with the support of the people. However, today when television is widely diffused, the circumstances now are being created in which “television is mightier than the pen.”

—SHIMA nobuhiko, Media kage no kenryokusha-tachi [Media’s Powerful Shadow People]

Where’s the television cameras? Where’s NHK’ I won’t talk to newspaper reporters. I want to talk directly to the people. … I hate the biased newspapers!

—PRIME minister sato eisaku at his final press conference after serving seven years, eight months in office, June 17, 1972

The two most powerful institutions affecting the lives of citizens in advanced industrialized democracies today may well be the state and the mass communications media. the relationship between these two, and how

I adopt a variation of Eric A. Nordlinger’s definition of the state in his On the Autonomy of the Democratic State (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 11: all those roles that are authorized to make and apply binding decisions upon any and all segments of society. I take the state to mean political authority in its broadest manifestations, including, but not exclusively confined to, government. in contrast to Nordlinger, I emphasize “roles.” the state is composed of more than just bureaucratic officials. Politicians who derive influence from

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