Japan's Most Exclusive Clubs

Friday, December 12, 2008


To be a reporter in Japan is to navigate the unique and often troubling system of Press Clubs - known there as Kisha Clubs. With thousands of them attached to everything from government agencies to corporations, many argue the Kisha Clubs foster a dangerously close bond between reporters and those they cover. OTM producer Mark Phillips reports from Tokyo.

Comments [11]

Gary Ostroff from Teaneck, NJ

I thought this was a fascinating and well produced report. I am intrigued by the comments here that suggest that it was itself a bit of collusion, but not convinced. At any rate, it was window into a world within Japan that is clearly difficult to penetrate.

Interesting the notions of Free Press that exist throughout the world!

Dec. 06 2009 01:12 PM
Allan Murphy from Tokyo

A first class report. One consequence of this control of information is the absence of investigative journalism – no equivalent of “60 Minutes”, Bill Moyers or “On the Media” (!)

Japanese officialdom abhors spontaneity. Important business meetings are preceded by “nemawashi” in which a meetings’ outcome is choreographed. No surprises. During the summer, fishermen were irate about rising gas prices and they had a “spontaneous” one-day strike – except that it was announced the week before so fish shops and consumers were scarcely inconvenienced. It’s a typical Japanese solution to a problem: controlled protest. Similarly, in most cases, union and management negotiations have long been amicably settled before workers have a ceremonial protest with their fists in the air as a sign of solidarity.

As the world’s #2 economy, Japan deserves more coverage because things really are quite different here.

Thank you for a consistently interesting and thought provoking program. Season's greetings!

Dec. 22 2008 08:32 AM
Michiyo from Tokyo

I know some "journalists" who defend Kisha Clubs, which discriminate against foreign media, magazines and freelance reporters.

What if American journalists who cover the US state department would not let Japan's media in? The big problem here is it is journalists working for Japan's mainstream media set rules on who can cover prime minister's office, government ministries or police, etc. Most of those who work for the mainstream media are amateurish, while some freelance journalists like Uesugi are muckrakers. Not surprisingly, Japan's major newspapers and broadcast media look the same and sound the same. I wonder why some Japanese people are still buying these newspapers and watching TV news.

Worse, the mainstream media ignore mounting criticism of Kisha Clubs. They can't even discuss it.

Dec. 20 2008 12:27 PM
Michiyo from Tokyo

Mr. Phillips did an excellent job. I believe this is one of the best shows in the OTM.

Dec. 20 2008 11:52 AM
Ted from Tokyo, Japan

Excellent article, good coverage of the relationship between the weeklies and the "regular" newspapers.

Most Japanese I know are aware that the papers feed them garbage on most subject, but they read them for the sports, race results, and TV Schedules.

Fear not there is even less news on NHK and the rest of the electronic media than in the papers.

Dec. 19 2008 08:34 PM
Windy from Japan

This was an excellent piece. But I have to tell you, this kind of criticism of the kisha club never gets on the air in Japan. Many people in Japan don't know what the kisha club is, and most don't know how it affects the news they receive every day.

Takashi Uesugi is one of the few authentic journalists in Japan who openly denounce the club. But even he doesn't get much opportunity to do so on TV....

Dec. 17 2008 08:33 AM
Adamu from Tokyo

I would also like to submit that this piece was extraordinarily well-done, considering the difficulty of parachuting into a foreign country and hoping to write about an obscure topic.

I was especially impressed by the restraint shown in the tone. Many criticisms of this practice focus only on the oddness of the backscratching and the exclusion of foreign media (which is usually the corporate interest at work). But this focused on the effects on Japan's discourse and actually gave examples (though possibly flawed) of how this distorts news reporting.

There are lots of other stories on Japan's media to be told, so I hope Mark will apply for another grant soon!

PS: I remember Jake Adelstein from his Washington Post Op-Ed about the yakuza in which he claimed his life was in danger. Glad to hear he's still OK.

Dec. 17 2008 02:33 AM
Adamu from Tokyo

And isn't cherry-picking examples exactly the deceptive approach taken by every reporter trying to throw a monkey wrench into reasoned debate?

How about this one: "the bailout scoop went unpublished for a couple of days" because of the blackboard system. Is that an example of "encouraging responsiblity"?

The reporter can be faulted for choosing the wrong example of a story that broke first in a weekly and later turned into a real story. But ironically, far from disproving the story's thesis, his mistake actually illustrates the confusion and opacity created by the kisha club system. When all the news originates from murky anonymous sources and first appears in seedy tabloids, how can readers make an informed decision of what to believe?

The story was not one-sided. Part this piece was actually devoted to a ham-fisted interview with the newspaper association, and they got to make their case.

These practices are a form of collusion, pure and simple. When someone is guilty of forming a cartel do we insist that reporters talk with other members of the conspiracy and present their views as respectable? No, they are properly condemned as criminals.

But such an attitude from a mainstream journalist can only be expected -- complain about yellow journalism and divert attn from the commercial media's responsibilities. Old media are being trampled by technological progress, leaving only organizational advantages as sources of value. It is wrong to try and stay in business by keeping a stranglehold on information. The kisha club system is only a more visible form of the same behavior that goes on in the US. Allowing that there is value in having a large commercial media to fund journalists and produce journalism for the public, commercial media have a responsibility to act ethically and responsibly.

Dec. 17 2008 02:02 AM

Holy #@%$ -- Japan has NEWSPAPERS!?

Where is this "Japan?"

Dec. 16 2008 10:39 PM
Joel Breckinridge Bassett from Tokyo

As a business journalist working in Tokyo and knowing many Japanese journalists and how they work, I was very disappointed with OTM's report on Kisha Clubs. The piece appeared to be based on Usugi Takeshi's talking points discussed in "The Collapse of Journalism" with a sprinkle seasoning of other similar voices presented as 'the truth'.

This is exactly the approach which Mr. Usugi has been criticized in the Japan press for, talking with a few disgruntled ex members of Kisha Clubs and presenting it as fair balanced reporting. Did Mark Philips go out and talk extensively with current members and ex-members without choosing sides to find both the good and the bad of the Kisha Club system? From the sound of it, I think not.

One good thing you can say about Kisha Clubs is they promote responsibility. In the segment the allegations from the weekly tabloid magazines of Prime Minister Aso's and his family construction business, which he has no connection with, are just allegations without merit. To present weekly tabloid magazines as strangely heroic for running such stories the mainline Japanese press supposedly won't run and saying it is a paradox of Japanese journalism is absurd, irresponsible and highly ironic coming from OTM. Did it occur to Mr. Philips that it might be screaming yellow journalism instead?
Next time please do your homework.

Dec. 15 2008 11:00 PM

This was a terrific, well-produced, and eye-opening piece that embodies the best of that this show has to offer. Insightful, interesting, and even witty, please consider replaying this in the place of any radio dramas or sing-a-longs you may be preparing for the year-end episodes.

Dec. 15 2008 10:43 AM

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