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The Japanese Media System

Hallin and Hardy define ‘media system’ as a group of media institutions and practices

that are understood as having a relationship with each other. Media systems are concerned with

the political, social, economic, and cultural systems of a country or a society. In this system, the

media may be part of the state but always part of society.

The concept of media systems became paramount when Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm

proposed the first typology of media systems in their book, Four Theories of the Press. Since

then, analysis of media systems is focused on the relationship between society, media, and


Japan’s Media Landscape

Japan is one of the Asian countries in the world considered as a First World country. It

joins South Korea for the title, but it has held the distinction earlier and longer compared to its

Asian neighbor. The Japanese media is both similar and different compared to its Western

counterparts (North American/European). The Japanese media system consists of many forms of

media, like many countries that operate within the bounds of the law. The country enjoys a

variety of media and its forms as it is consumed by the society it serves.

Like many Western nations, Japan boasts of a thriving broadcasting scene. It has a

booming press culture. The country has five national daily papers (which publish morning and

evening news), a financial paper, and newspapers catering to its diverse regions. There are also

sports newspapers, specialty newspapers, and other forms of print media.

says that Japanese reporting is excellent. The robust Japanese newspaper industry is thriving
since people read at least one newspaper every day ( The five leading

publications in Japan are Sankei Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi

Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun.

The Japanese people also patronize television and the internet as their medium of

entertainment and information. The televisions scene is also vivacious – there are six national

television channels. They are the NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, translated as Japan Broadcasting

Network), Nippon Television, Tokyo Broadcasting System, Fuji Television, TV Asahi, and TV

Tokyo. Eight radio stations rule the Japanese airwaves with four AM Stations (NHK Radio,

Japan Radio Network, National Radio Network ) and four FM stations (NHK-FM, Japan FM

Network, Japan FM League and Meganet).

Japan’s Media System

According to Rohrhofer, the Japanese media system is a mix of Liberal and Middle Line.

In her paper, she used Roger Blum's 'extended comparison approach.' This approach includes

three descriptions of the media systems, with the corresponding description that stretches into

nine categories/dimension. These nine categories include the political system of the country,

political culture, freedom of media, media ownership, media financing, political parallelism,

state control over media, media culture and media orientation.

Based on Rohrhofer’s representation and conclusion, Japan got six scores of B or Middle

Line. The categories include political culture (ambivalent), media censorship (public/private)

media financing (market/state), political parallelism (middle), state control over media (middle)

and media culture (ambivalent). Two categories were marked down as about the Liberal Line

(A). Categories, where Japan got a Liberal line, are the political system (democratic) and media
orientation (commercial). The only category where the country got a middle between the two

types is freedom of media, which is described as no/occasional censorship.

It is easy to summarize and look at a glance the type of media system Japan currently has

using this conclusion, This summarized and categorized version makes an easy comparison not

just to its neighboring country’s media systems like in the study but also to other countries in the

different parts of the world.

Media Ownership and Ownership Trends

Based on the conclusion of Rohrhofer, Japanese media is a commercial industry.

Media ownership in Japan is mostly private and commercial. Aside from the NHK,

private companies own most Japanese media companies. Families and private individuals with

experience and background in media are the heads of these private companies. Company boards

and presidents govern the majority of media companies in Japan, which is almost entirely out of

control from the State. Apart from a few binding laws regarding privacy, national security, social

order, defamation, and protection of the youth, many companies do not follow the State and is

almost independent. Another reason for this independence is the manner the media acquires its

funds for sustainability and development.

In terms of private Japanese media companies, most media companies are conglomerate.

A Japanese media company is not just an owner of a particular medium. Instead, the company is

a conglomerate that a TV station, a radio station, a newspaper and a publishing house for

commercial mediums like magazines and other materials. Television stations are considered as

‘sister companies’ to their newspaper counterparts and projects the same news and tone. For
example, TV Asahi’s sister company is Asahi Shimbun. Both outlets represent liberal and left-

leaning political stances in the press.

The exemption to the rule is the NHK. The NHK is publicly funded by the government

and in extension, the Japanese taxpayer. The corporation is state-owned, and in extension, its

funding is also correlated with the public purse.

Media and Government Relations

The Japanese government is a democratic system, and its political culture is ambivalent.

Meanwhile, the Japanese media is a commercial industry, and its funds are derived from the

Japanese people as consumers rather than from State. Its culture is also ambivalent.

At a glance, it can be described that the relationship between the Japanese government

and the media is the same as in other countries. In general, the association is a symbiotic one,

with the government relying on media conglomerate and its people to push favorable news. On

the other side, media conglomerate try to influence government to get news stories and scoops


Rohrhofer commented that the state “does not have much influence or possibilities for

control” of the media. One reason for the independence between these two entities is partly due

to the media ownership in the country. It was stated that many Japanese companies are

commercial and are run by stock companies. Private people own these stock companies.

Although there are many cases where a top NHK official transcends into the board rooms of

these media companies, these people left the NHK, and in extension, public service. In a way,

the public NHK influences the private sector, but they do so as private individuals rather than a

sitting public official. Another reason for the media’s independence from the State is the source
of funding. Since many Japanese media companies are private and commercial, they earn their

profits by sales revenue (50%), followed by advertising profit (30%).

Meanwhile, the NHK is in the reverse situation. Since it is owned and funded by the

government, it is sustained by public funds. NHK’s funds were majority derived from

broadcasting fees (97%). Also, their budget needs the annual approval of the Japanese

parliament. With the NHK’s source funds and ownership, it serves as the media arm of the State.

Both entities have an ambivalent nature. However, there are instances where the

government negatively influences media, and in some cases, curb press freedom.

Philosophy and Freedom of the Press

The relationship between the Japanese media and government goes beyond their

ambivalent natures and their relationship via ownership and source of funds.

The Japanese government guarantees the freedom of the press and forbids censorship.

This declaration is expressed in Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan. However, there are ways

that the Japanese media, government, and politics circumvents censorships and inflict damage to

press freedom using indirect methods and to exercise legal control. For instance, broadcast media

is very highly regulated. There are many things not to do when reporting news in Japan. These


 No offensive remarks or allusion to any political party or the Imperial family

 no usage of the forbidden words. Any forbidden words spoken on-air will be censored.

 Any remark or words that will offend other people. These remarks may pertain to

physical appearance such as ‘fat,’ bald’ and others.

 Blurred images, i.e., car plates, faces, and others on news coverage in the name of


Japanese media have freedom of the press to a certain extent. Within the Japanese media,

there are so-called "press clubs" or kisha kurbau. This "club" or association of 12 to 300

reporters among different media outlets are under one politician or government agency. This

“club” is a long-standing tradition and is considered by critics and foreign journalists to be a

hindrance to Japanese news reporting. The members are characterized as close to each other and

to the politicians they are associated. It is implied that there are close collaborative relations in

how "press clubs" work. According to Kirsch, "press club" events are intimate, invitation-only,

and very informal activities for people who know and benefit from each other.

Using the “press club," the government or any politicians help control the amount and tone

of news. In essence, the “press club” acts as the funnel between the government, agency or

politician and the media. “Press clubs” are the traditional way of getting news. Many reporters or

working in the media outlets want to get the news and treat it the way the agency or politician

wants it (toned down, with omission or sanitized) instead of cutting the connection. The presence

of “press club” is also evident when reading newspaper headlines since most of the writers know

each other and often come across as very similar to each other. The “press club” serves as a form

of self-censorship that set the tone of the news or coverage and makes investigative journalism


Another form of self-censorship is “sontaku,” a Japanese social practice of pleasing others,

especially figures of authority or superiors. “Sontaku” involves preemptively acting in

accordance to the superiors or authority's whims. This strategy has to lead to many dismissals of

critics from their shows and media outlets.

Limiting press contact to those who were perceived as critics while giving special privileges

and news access to favored journalists/reporters is one classic tactic of the government.

In reverse, many journalists who are freelance or foreign correspondents are discriminated,

knowing these people will report facts as they see it and don’t have the connection or

relationship that reporters who belong to a "press club."

Another form of controlling the press is the government pressure, particular from the ruling

party. The party is Prime Minister Abe's Jiyū-Minshutō party (translated as Liberal Democratic

Party, known as LDP). Two reported incidents to include:

 TV Asahi. Two commenters on a TV Asahi program suggested to a viewer to vote out

the party. When LDP came back to power, the network nearly lost its license (Kirsch,

2016). The party also have taken other actions such as demanding apologies and placing

a boycott in the form of withholding the Prime Minister’s appearance.

 Asahi Shimbun. Asahi Shimbun is the left-leaning newspaper with the second-largest

readership of newspapers in Japan. Following the negative and backlash about the

coverage of the 2011 Fukushima incident, the newspaper decided to take an opposite

approach, taking investigative journalism as a focus for the paper. Asahi Shimbun

published a piece about comfort women in 2014, which it later retracted. The newspaper

got a public backlash from Prime Minister Abe, saying it was "misreporting" and it

damaged the image of Japan.

The most evident show of power is the State Secrets Law of 2014, also known as the

“Protection of Specially Designated Secrets Act of 2014”. To sum, this law requires that ‘state

secrets’ must not be reported to the media. Ministers can designate which are ‘state secrets,’ and

those deemed as such will have the status for 60 years. Reporters who encourage civil servants to

leak information will get five years of imprisonment. Meanwhile, the whistleblower will get ten

years. The government claims it is for security and intelligence purposes, but critics say that the

law can also be used to stifle dissent or intimidate the press.

The lack of independent press watchdog during these media happenings is another proof.

Also, any appointee to the post will always be associated with bias with the ruling party.

Another evidence is Japan’s declining rank in the “Freedom of the Press Index,’ by Reporters

without Borders. The index runs annually, with journalists and reporters ranking countries based

on the state of freedom of the press in the said country. In 2009, Japan’s rank was 17th in the

world. By 2013, the rank dropped to 53rd place, and in 2016, it further dropped to 72nd place.

This year, it recovered slightly, ascending to the 67th place.

Coverage of International News and Its Role

Japan has two dedicated English-language daily newspapers: The Japan Times and Japan

News. There are also foreign/international newspaper outlets that print their editions in Japan

while others are shipped from overseas. These international newspapers are often complimentary

copies of hotels, mostly catering to an international audience. Aside from hotels, there are also

bookstores and kiosks in urban stations which sell them. A study by Cho and Lacy examined the

coverage of international news in the country. They found out that Japanese newspapers who
cover international news rely on wire services for their global copy of news. These newspapers

also devote more space to global reporting regarding conflict and disasters.

Treatment of foreign news is explored in the comparison of a Chinese event within the

lens of US and Japanese reportage. Based on the results of Lee and Yang’s study, it was found

out that the Japanese lens of covering international media is more straightforward and direct

compared to its Western counterparts. In the study, Kyodo (referring to the Japanese press) leans

more on providing factual accounts of daily development rather than highlight the ideological of

the Chinese subjects. Besides, Kyodo is less prone to use quotations from the field connecting

the news story to other events or ideals and looking for support for the ideology.

The major newspapers and television station also cover international news. The broadcast

is in Japanese and English.

Technology Development

Japan is one of the countries known for its technological development in many areas. In

many respects, many media and technology enjoyed today were conceptualized and developed in

the Land of the Rising Sun. The expectation of continuing technological developments from the

country is no different.

Most associated technical development events are aligned with products and services.

Dentsu reported that “five major Tokyo-based TV networks jointly started an ad-supported and

free streaming video service, named TVer.” As a service, TVer has 170 programs in its roster.

Every episode is available for viewing for almost a week. Episodes can also be downloaded, and

according to the report, TVer is patronized by ten million people as of December 2017.
The public broadcasting company, NHK, is trying simultaneous online broadcasts, which

is possible after the government revamps the Broadcast Law. In its current form, the law

prohibits the company’s online simultaneously streaming. The NHK is also started giving

4K/8K Super Hi-Vision Satellite regular service, which started on December 1st, 2018

AbematV, another free TV live service, was launched by CyberAgent and TV Asahi.

E-commerce giant Rakuten will launch cellular services this year. It will become as the

fourth mobile network operator in Japan.