Press freedom

Japan: Hey. What are you doing?

Me: Just reading the news.

Japan: Anything interesting?

Me: Nah. Same shit, different day.

Japan: Yeah?

Me: Yeah. Although, there was one story I read recently. It said that there has been a huge drop in the amount of your press freedom.

Japan: Ah, yeah, that.

Me: Apparently you now rank seventy second out of 180 countries. Six years ago you ranked 11th. What happened?

Japan: Well, it seems that my current government has not exactly been staying away from, interfering and pressuring media outlets. Politicians have advocated punishing news outlets that have critical views of the government. Television presenters who have spoken out about the government have been removed from their jobs. Journalists have reported that they have been marginalised or silenced following pressure from politicians.

Me: So the political administration wants to keep people uninformed?

Japan: Well, I think that’s what most governments want. If the media reports the facts about something, governments are very unhappy if they don’t match their narrative, policies and aims.

Me: But for your lawmakers and officials to be so open about this is not good. It feels like something dictatorial governments do.

Japan: Right, yeah.

Me: So, how do your people feel about it?

Japan: Good question. I’m not sure if people know a lot about it because the government isn’t keen on the idea of everybody knowing everything. I mean, it’s not so dissimilar to other countries it’s just at the moment it seems more covert and dishonest.

Me: I really don’t like this.

Japan: Look, it’s nothing new. Governments all over the world are pretty good at getting in the way of the truth. Recently, after the earthquake in Kyushu the NHK Chairman and friend of the government, Katsuto Momii, gave instructions that the public broadcaster should only give the official government line when reporting on the nuclear reactor situation in Kyushu.

Me: Why?

Japan: To make sure that the government’s version of events get lots of airtime.

Me: And, therefore, not the whole truth.

Japan: Yeah, whatever that is.

Me: Hmm. So what are we going to do?

Japan: Well, i don’t know. There’s not an easy solution. The historical precedent for when people are generally helpless against the government controlling the direction of a country through its media isn’t a fun one.

Me: But this is just so amazingly shit. I like you. You’re a well made, amusing, interesting, bizarre, cultured nation and your leaders are actively screwing over its own media and people. This is not making the world a better place.

Japan: True.

Me: So where does this go next? News outlets being more forcefully censored? More dodging of the truth? And where does that lead?

Japan: Erm, well, if you factor in the new state secrets act, the potentially dangerous change in the interpretation of the constitution and the increase in military spending along with the perceived aggression of the USA, China and North Korea, well, in a worst case scenario…

Me: War, what is it good for?

Japan: Absolutely nothing.

Me: What a fantastic group of arseholes your government seems to be.

 

<THIS MESSAGE HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS>

 

 

 

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May 27, 2016. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Constitution

Japan: What are you doing?

Me: Reading your constitution.

Japan: A good read. Why are you doing that?

Me: Well, I heard that some people want to change it.

Japan: Not exactly. My right wing government wants to reinterpret part of it.

Me: Reinterpret? Which bit?

Japan: Article 9. The Renunciation of War.

Me: Hang on. Let me find it. “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes”.

Japan: Yeah, that bit.

Me: There doesn’t appear to be much room in there for reinterpretation.

Japan: I agree that it would take quite a linguistic and cognitive leap to think that bit means “War is OK now” but the right wing fellas keep blowing off steam about helping our allies.

Me: Who are they?

Japan: The USA’s foreign policy and anybody who doesn’t like China.

Me: So why don’t they just make an amendment to the constitution?

Japan: See Article 96.

Me: “Amendments to this constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all members of each house and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast.”

Japan: See the problem?

Me: The bit about it being submitted to the people for ratification?

Japan: People are nice aren’t they?

Me: Right, yeah, I generally find most people have a natural aversion to death and war.

Japan: So far 1.6 million people have signed a petition against the possibility of the government claiming that “War is OK now”.

Me: A petition?

Japan: See Article 16.

Me: “Every person shall have the right of peaceful petition for the redress of damage, for the removal of public officials, for the enactment, repeal or amendments of laws ordinances or regulations.”

Japan: See. People are nice.

Me: So, your media must be all over this story.

Japan: Oh yeah, but they aren’t only reporting the right wing government view.

Me: OK.

Japan: So, at least one politician actually stated that mass media should be punished if they make erroneous reports about the reinterpretation of the constitution and that companies should voluntarily refrain from advertising with media that report the “wrong information”.

Me: “Article 11: people shall not be prevented from enjoying any of the fundamental human rights.”

Japan: Yep.

Me: “Article 21: Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.”

Japan: Right.

Me: Hmmm. So, can I have a go at this reinterpretation thing?

Japan: What?

Me: Here. Look. Article 45 and 46.

Japan: “The term of office of members of the House of Representatives shall be four years” and “the term of members of the House of Councillors shall be six years.” What’s wrong?

Me: Well, they shouldn’t even be in office. The old governments should still be in power.

Japan: …?

Me: I’m thinking in dog years. Just a reinterpretation.

Japan: Are you saying my law makers are animals?

Me: Or the term of office is now 337.2 years.

Japan: Eh?

Me: If you think of it as four years on Uranus.

Japan: Shall we do a predictable arse joke?

Me: I’m just reinterpreting the constitution.

Japan: Well…

Me: How about this one? Article 49.

Japan: “Members of both Houses shall receive appropriate annual payment from the national treasury.”

Me: And how much debt is your treasury currently in?

Japan: About one quadrillion yen. Approximately ten trillion US dollars.

Me: So, what would be an appropriate amount for the treasury to pay them?

Japan: Well, er…

Me: I guess it depends on the interpretation of the word “appropriate” doesn’t it?

Japan: Yeah, look, none of this matters anyway.

Me: Why?

Japan: Look down at the bottom.

Me: “Article 99. The Emperor or the Regent as well as Ministers of State, members of the Diet, judges, and all other public officials have the obligation to respect and uphold this constitution.”

Japan: Yep.

Me: So…But…Does that mean it’s unconstitutional to reinterpret the constitution?

Japan: …

Me: …?

Japan: I guess that’s open to interpretation.

July 15, 2015. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Comfort Women

Me: Can we do a quiz about comfort women?

Japan: Erm…?

Me: Great. What are comfort women?

Japan: A euphemism.

Me: Correct. What for?

Japan: Well, I’d rather not say.

Me: Correct again.

Japan: Really?

Me: Yes, but i would have also accepted ‘the systematic sexual abuse of women by the Japanese armed forces in military controlled brothels during World War 2’.

Japan: I prefer my answer.

Me: That’s not really a surprise. Which countries were involved?

Japan: A few but mainly Korea, China and Taiwan.

Me: Correct. Is there any evidence of this happening?

Japan: Well, it depends who you ask.

Me: Correct. Can you give an example?

Japan: Well, if you ask historians who are not ultra conservative Japanese men then you’d probably be directed to all sorts of evidence, yeah, sure, no problem. Otherwise the answer would tend to be more towards the negative end of the evidence based spectrum.

Me: Correct. Have any of your prominent politicians or leaders ever apologised for any of this?

Japan: Oh, lots of times of times, yes. All sorts of apologies for this issue and other aspects of World War 2 and allsorts. It was a shitty period of history for everybody wasn’t it?

Me: Correct. So, why is it an issue now?

Japan: Well, you see, it doesn’t matter how many times a politician apologises for something if a different sociopath in a suit stands in front of a microphone a few years later and denies it all. It’s like if one guy punches you in the face and his friend apologises for it and then a little later on the first guy comes back and says, “Fuck off! I never punched you in the face”. It waters down the apology somewhat.

Me: Correct. Can you give me an example of a recent denial of any punch in the face, as it were?

Japan: Well, there’s too many to choose from really. A few years ago my current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said that the issue of comfort women should be about whether or not the women were forcibly taken out of their homes, or if they didn’t want to go but felt compelled to by their environment instead. Then there was the Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, who said that these so called comfort women were “necessary” to give soldiers a chance to “rest”.

Me: OK. And who would possibly be offended or insulted by such comments?

Japan: Well, people from other countries who care about the issue. Women. Sentient beings. Peace. Intelligence in general.

Me: Correct. And what does your current government make of all this?

Japan: The prime minister has commissioned a panel to investigate the validity of previous government’s apologies and statements to determine if they need to be revised.

Me: Correct. Recently what did your public broadcaster NHK say about it all?

Japan: The head of NHK said that they will refrain from reporting on the issue until the government stance on the situation becomes clear.

Me: Correct. Is the current right-leaning conservative history-revising government’s view clear?

Japan: It’s about a clear as a clear thing in a clear shop with a sign attached saying, “Hi there. I’m clear.”

Me: Correct again. You’ve done really well. Congratulations. You’ve won a ticket to the inaugural World Let’s All Stop Being Dicks Conference.

Japan: Right, er, OK. When is it?

Me: Erm, let’s have a look at the ticket here. Ah, yeah, there’s no date on it. You’ll just have to fill that bit in if it ever takes place.

Japan: So, you’re denying the existence of something before it’s even had the chance to happen? Wow. You’ll fit right in here. Do you want a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

March 25, 2015. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

State Secrets

Me: I understand you’ve recently introduced a new law called the State Secrets Act.

Japan: That’s right.

Me: And why was this done?

Japan: To increase the security of information.

Me: So, your information wasn’t safe?

Japan: Well, not safe enough, no. I think now it’s much more difficult for people to gain access to information that my government doesn’t want people to otherwise know about.

Me: And what would happen if somebody found out and published this kind of information?

Japan: They’d be put in jail for at least ten years.

Me: Really? Wow. That seems a little severe.

Japan: Well, on the face of it, yes, but if there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the whole Edward Snowden, NSA, leaks thing it’s that governments hiding things is very important and if somebody were to publish something the government doesn’t like –

Me: Such as the truth?

Japan: Such as the truth, then we wouldn’t want that person to spend a few weeks trying to piece their life back together in the transit lounge of an airport and then live the rest of their life in forced exile, would we?

Me: So it would be easier to just throw them in prison for ten years minimum?

Japan: Exactly.

Me: It seems that your government has quite a bit of power in this situation.

Japan: Well, not really. I would like to point out that it’s not the government that decides what is or is not considered a state secret.

Me: So, who does?

Japan: Bureaucrats.

Me: Bureaucrats?

Japan: Yes.

Me: Who employs these bureaucrats?

Japan: Well, the government, of course.

Me: But –

Japan: You see, what we’re trying to do here is avoid any problems of transparency.

Me: But this will mean there’s less transparency.

Japan: Exactly. If there’s less transparency there’s less of a chance of having any problems with it.

Me: And are there any plans for an independent oversight committee to judge and overrule the decisions about what information should or should not be withheld from public knowledge?

Japan: Oh yes, probably, but, you know, you can’t rush these things, can you?

Me: Especially when increasingly reactionary forces are just making things up as they go along?

Japan: Well, yes. That’s the very essence of government.

Me: So, this must have created quite a lot of debate?

Japan: Oh yeah. Huge debate.

Me: The lower house debate was live on TV, wasn’t it?

Japan: It was. Until NHK had to end the coverage for other scheduled programming at which point the government just rammed the bill through with the help of the coalition anyway.

Me: And then it went to the upper house of parliament for more debate?

Japan: That’s correct. Then they voted and passed it into law.

Me: And how long did that debate last?

Japan: Oh, a few hours.

Me: And this occurred at a time when the people could watch and evaluate the pros and cons of the arguments with sober reflection?

Japan: Kind of…

Me: When was it?

Japan: Friday night.

Me: And how long has this potentially society affecting discussion been going on?

Japan: Erm, a couple of weeks.

Me: Is that all?

Japan: Well you have to be decisive about these things. Timing is everything.

Me: How long have your politicians been debating about the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP?

Japan: Three years.

Me: And are they any closer to forming any opinions?

Japan: Oh, there’s plenty of opinion. Most of it conflicting conjecture voiced by angry men in suits in front of microphones. Oh, yeah, loads of opinions. Too many really. That’s the problem with democracy.

Me: And so what do your people think about all this?

Japan: Who?

Me: Your people?

Japan: Oh them. They’re great, aren’t they?

Me: Yeah, but what do they think about the State Secrets Act?

Japan: Ah, erm, some people protested about it but not many and not for very long.

Me: I guess they didn’t have much time.

Japan: Right.

Me: And everybody else?

Japan: Er, well, most people seem to be working quite a bit, possibly too much. Or they’re quite often preoccupied with the screens of their mobile phones. Or buying stuff. People like stuff, don’t they?

Me: Right…

Japan: Look, don’t worry. What they don’t know can’t hurt them.

Me: And now there’s less chance they’ll know anything.

Japan: Exactly. See. I’m just making things safer.

Me: Well, thanks for building a better world to live in.

Japan: No problem.

December 13, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Politics

Me: How’s things?

Japan: Not bad.

Me: Can we talk about your politics?

Japan: That’s a bit dull isn’t it? I mean, politics is so concerned with itself and its own opinions. It gets a bit repetitive and boring.

Me: But perhaps your politics is new and different from what i’m used to. Who are the major political parties?

Japan: Well, there’s the LDP and the DPJ.

Me: What?

Japan: The Liberal Democrat Party and the Democratic Party of Japan. Then you’ve got the JPP, the TPJ and the NKP not be confused with the NRP.

Me: Hang on –

Japan: And then there’s the PLP and the JCP –

Me: They sound like industrial chemicals.

Japan: They might as well be. Then we’ve got the YP, the SPP and who can forget the OSMP?

Me: I don’t know. Who?

Japan: Well, most people actually.

Me: And which one of these collections of letters is the biggest and most popular?

Japan: Oh, the LDP.

Me: What? Really? The Liberal Democrats? Ruling you, Japan? I would have expected a conservative party.

Japan: That is the conservative party.

Me: Sorry?

Japan: The LDP is a conservative party.

Me: So they’re not liberals?

Japan: Nope.

Me: And they’re not Democrats.

Japan: That’s right.

Me: But they’re called the Liberal Democrat Party?

Japan: Yes.

Me: So which party is liberal?

Japan: The DPJ.

Me: And how liberal are they?

Japan: Slightly. Very slightly. Ish. Almost.

Me: Is anybody else on the left?

Japan: A couple tiny parties, yeah. The JCP for instance.

Me: …?

Japan: The Japanese Communist Party.

Me: Right, that’s pretty left.

Japan: Oh, yeah, all the way left. Leftfield. Lefty.

Me: And the others?

Japan: Most of the other smaller parties compete throughout the political right-left spectrum for as many votes as they can. They usually do this by annoying everybody during the run-up to an election by driving around in cars or vans with loud speakers throwing bullshit indiscriminately into the ears of the general public at deafening volumes.

Me: Why?

Japan: So they can form coalitions after the elections and pretend to be more important than they actually are. Especially as the LDP always wins.

Me: The LDP always wins?

Japan: Pretty much. They were in power almost continuously from 1955 to 2009 and they’re in power right now.

Me: Wow. How did they do that?

Japan: Well, it helps if your father or a relative is already in power at local, city, prefectural or national level. Then you quite quickly climb the ladder of politics and just keep the party going.

Me: But people vote for them. They must reflect people’s views in the first place. There must be a lot of public consultation and communication going on?

Japan: Erm, yeah, if you mean policy makers and politicians employ “experts” to do “research” to find results that they were already looking for and which are beneficial to their view of things in the first place then, yeah, there’s plenty of that. Masses of it. It’s a whole industry.

Me: And do the media criticise, harrang and question these politicians?

Japan: Hmm, they don’t really like doing that too much. It’s difficult isn’t it?

Me: Why?

Japan: Well, because they’re in power and checking the facts takes time. People don’t have so much of that so it’s much easier to just repeat what the guy in front of the microphone said.

Me: Don’t those guys in front of the microphone ever say or do anything stupid?

Japan: Oh, yes, of course. At least one of my high ranking politicians will say something idiotic that either panders pathetically and hopelessly to a popular opinion or insults, angers or annoys vast swathes of people on a national and/or international level almost every month. It takes a few decades of selective inbreeding to produce a political class that has this level of diplomatic and political incompetence yet still remain in power. It’s an achievement in a way.

Me: So, the political class stay almost continuously cosy, handing out jobs, contracts and research in order to keep themselves and their family and friends in places of power, money and influence?

Japan: Right.

Me: Meanwhile, a docile mainstream media, too pre-occupied with grabbing headlines and seeking sensation so they can make a profit, toes the official line or just regurgitates what it’s being fed to a public that long ago stopped expecting anything to really change because it doesn’t matter who you vote for, a group of politicians will always form a government.

Japan: Sounds about right.

Me: …

Japan: So, is all this new and different from what you’re used to?

Me: Actually, it all sounds horribly familiar.

June 19, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.