Asami Sudani
(Professor Glenn Scott), School of Communications

Although they share a geographic proximity and certain cultural values, the people of China and Japan often struggle to understand each other. In the past year, several anti-Japanese activities, such as mass protests, have been aimed at Japanese organizations in China. These cases have underscored the need for more efforts to reach mutual understandings. Certainly such pressures prompt a review of how the institutions of mass communication operate. China operates under what scholars (Hachten & Scotton, 2002) describe as an authoritarian media system while Japan’s is thought to be more western and capitalistic.

This study looks principally at Japan’s media and begins by testing the political commentary of Masamichi Hanabusa (2005), who confidently declared during turmoil last year that Japanese people have a better understanding of Sino-Japanese tension because of greater freedom of speech and media autonomy. The study poses this research question: How much variance in ideas and opinion do Japanese media consumers actually find in reports about tensions with China? To answer that question, this researcher conducted a quantitative content analysis, a popular method in mass communication research (Riffe, Lacy & Fico, 1998; Neuendorf, 2002), of newspaper coverage of an ongoing Sino-Japanese conflict over rights to an island between the two nations. All news reports (a total of 77) published from July to November, 2005, in four Japanese newspapers were analyzed according to sourcing and messages.

The study found that, contrary to Hanabusa’s claims, the Japanese reports provided a narrow view of events, virtually always reporting from the Japanese government’s point of view and relying mostly on the same government sources. The reports lacked any sources from international organizations. This finding fits with observations of several media scholars who have found that the mainstream Japanese media can be constrained by pressure to conform to government and public opinion (Ito, 1993) and by the tight, economically cautious rules of a newsgathering process relying on kisha [reporters] clubs (Farley, 1996; Feldman, 1993; Freeman, 2000). The findings suggest that nationalistic, economic, and cultural pressures can operate to counter some of the promises of free speech in Japan.

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