Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Reaffirming Russia's Remote Control: Exploring Kremlin Influence on Television Coverage of Russian-Japanese Relations and the Southern Kuril Islands Territorial Dispute

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Reaffirming Russia's Remote Control: Exploring Kremlin Influence on Television Coverage of Russian-Japanese Relations and the Southern Kuril Islands Territorial Dispute

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article examines Russian television coverage of Russo-Japanese relations and the Kuril Islands territorial dispute between October 2010 and February 2014. The article has three aims: to further understanding of Russian government influence over television; to illuminate Russian priorities in bilateral relations with Japan; and to assess the prospect of current territorial talks resulting in a compromise. While there are good economic and security incentives for both sides to agree to a settlement, nationalist framing of the territorial dispute on Russian television presents an obstacle to resolution. A territorial compromise would contradict television's nationalist framing of the dispute and undermine Russian leaders' credibility as defenders of territorial integrity. Findings suggest that public opinion as well as government influence shapes the content of Russian television reporting on the Kurils and relations with Japan.

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A marked improvement in Russian-Japanese relations began in 2012. Since 1945, conflict over the sovereignty of four islands that Russia calls the Southern Kurils and that Japan refers to as the Northern Territories had inhibited ties. Stalin occupied the four islands, situated between the Japanese island of Hokkaido and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, during the closing phase of World War II. (1) For the nearly 70 years since then, the dispute has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal peace treaty.

This article examines coverage of the changing diplomatic dynamics between Moscow and Tokyo on Russian television news. Specifically, it asks whether improving political and economic ties between Russia and Japan since 2012 are reflected in reporting on the Kurils dispute and/ or coverage of bilateral relations on Russian state-controlled television. In answering this question, the article seeks to further understanding of government influence over television content in Putin's Russia.

Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency in May 2012 began a remarkable turnaround in bilateral relations with Japan. Over the previous eighteen months, already cool relations had plunged to subzero temperatures when on November 1, 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev became the first serving Russian (or Soviet) head of state to land on Kunashir, the second largest of the four disputed islands. (2) Following in Medvedev's footsteps, several senior Russian officials--including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov--also visited the disputed islands in 2010 and 2011, drawing diplomatic protests front Tokyo. (2) To the surprise of commentators and diplomats in both countries, in an interview with foreign journalists just prior to his re-election in March 2012, Putin offered to restart peace treaty negotiations with Japan. Using a term employed by judo referees to begin a match, Putin announced that if he became president, "we would give the order 'Hajime'" on negotiations. Sparking optimism for a settlement in Japan, Putin stated, "We don't need victory, rather we need to reach an acceptable compromise, something like a tie." (4)

Putin's Japanese counterpart at the time, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, responded to the Russian president's conciliatory overtures in kind, by dropping his government's aggressive rhetoric towards Russia and agreeing to new cooperation on travel and fishing in the disputed territories. In recognition of Russian aid to Japan following the Great Tohoku Earthquake in March 2011, and as a symbol of warming relations, in July 2012 Tokyo gave the dog-loving Putin an Akita puppy, which Putin named 'Yume' (dream in Japanese). (5) Noda's successor, Shinzo Abe is continuing to build on positive developments in bilateral relations. Since Abe's return to office in December 2012, both he and Putin have devoted considerable time and energy to deepening cooperation and trust between their nations as a precursor to resuming territorial negotiations. …

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