Monday, 19 May 2008

Michael Temman, keynote speaker at The Japan Times-University of Tokyo Symposium 'Challenges for English-Language Newspaper in East Asia' is the very epitome of the ex-pat.

Short-cropped hair, dark skivvy, grey jacket, no tie. Hands - note the cropping; mine is slightly closer but the visible hands are a give-away - in motion. A noisy foreigner, the image says. You don't need to listen to him, because we'll protect you.

His attire is pure cliche: TV comedian out for golf. Sure, he can drive his Lexus, his black-glassed BMW - like a yakuza operative - but he's not one of us. He's outside the system. He can't vote. He can't have his name on a 'head of household' certificate.

But we'll label him the 'keynote speaker' - that'll make him feel important. Seattle Jew is watching, too:

[T]he World University Rankings for 2006, issued by The Times Higher Education Supplement, the weekly education magazine published by an affiliate of The Times of London, shows that only three Japanese universities are in the top 100. They are Japan's top-notch national universities — University of Tokyo (ranked 19th), Kyoto University (29th) and Osaka University (70th)

And if you want to download the PDF on the broadsheet's website, don't worry about getting up and fixing a cup of coffee. You might even have time to go to the bathroom. Don't be uncomfortable! These shots show the lamentable download speed - taken about a minute apart.

When it comes to racing cars, Japan makes the fastest, the most fuel-efficient, most robust cars. Ditto for laptop computers. Most LCD factories are either owned by Japanese companies or are built under license.

When it comes to information - Temman tells us - the Japanese are slow. They have no interest in faster, more accurate, more investigative stories. That would only upset people.

The journalist's maxim: If it's news, somebody's bound to get upset. Nothing could be further from the mind of a Japanese newspaper editor, according to Temman:

Now I would like to explain why Japan is ranked about 30 or 40 in the [annual press freedom index].


[T]he closed nature of the "kisha" (press) clubs. Kisha clubs ban foreign journalists from getting news from government organisations. Despite harsh criticism from foreign correspondents, the European Union, the European Business Council and a lot of American organisations, the Japanese government shows no interest in reforming this archaic system.

Temman then points to other blocks to the free flow of information:

  • Strong nationalism causing self-censorship
  • Editors won't take responsibility for stories on the emperor
  • Difficulty in writing about war history, or
  • Teachers who refuse to sing the national anthem
  • International divorced couples - the foreigner (especially men) have no visitation rights

Temman notes the death, in 1987, of journalist Tomohiro Kojiri, killed by rightists in the Kobe office of Asahi Shimbun, a major daily. He had written about emperor Hirohito's wartime responsibility. The two men "were never arrested. The investigation ended after 15 years (when the statute of limitations expired)."

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