Recently, half members of the Japanese House of Councillors were elected on 10th July. On that day, Dave Spector, an American TV producer and commentator working in Japan, gave TV programmes candid advice tweeting that special shows on the election after the election are “completely useless” (1). His tweet gained more than 42,000 retweets and 27,000 likes on twitter and even made news on it. What he pointed out on the tweet was quite convincible; it is indeed too late for voters to know the facts on the political parties and organisations after they voted since they can do nothing when they watch the programmes.
Some TV programmes reported that quite a few voters voted for “DPJ”, which changed its name to “DP” and no longer exists, and some of them also wrote “No Political Parties to Support” on voting paper by mistakes without knowing it was the name of the political organisation. Most TV programmes focused on bribery and foul plays of particular politicians rather than policies itself, making people looking away from the actual political work the politicians had done. This kind of information should be broadcasted or wrote before the election to let the voters know before the election but the media only reported these facts after the election, which can be meaningless for those who are unsure about Japanese politics. The reason why the media only reported the election is because it is forbidden for the media to report the election situation or facts related to the election before the voting by law; instead of trying to serve the voters by reporting facts and reality about political parties and organisations to let the voters choose the appropriate candidates and parties to vote for before the election, they do not even oppose the law to do so. The most irritating thing before, during and after the election was that many media reported political news as infotainment, news programmes mixed with entertainment. They often distort understandings of the political world of the people; the media often exploit entertainment factors within information to get higher ratings and advertisement rates to get more advertising fees from sponsors.
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth and its first loyalty should be to the people (2). However, infotainment sometimes reports factors far from the fact or in the grey zone and lead people to get the fact wrongly. Even though the essence of journalism is a discipline of verification, infotainment often is reported with few or no evidences, letting the credibility of the news content poor. In many cases, infotainment is more unreliable than ordinary serious journalism expressed by trusted news media. The audience also knows this fact—they often regard infotainment just as a kind of entertainment but not a kind of informative journalism. However, some of them, or they sometimes, cannot distinguish the serious hard news from infotainment and soft news.
One reason is that the media which have been considered as “serious” TV or newspapers also began to adopt infotainment and soft news on their programmes and columns. According to Hughes (2005), serious journalists “are awash in ‘news’ programs focusing on celebrities and the entertainment industry, and ‘soft’ magazine-type stories that are a far cry from the hard-news coverage” and “absorbing the fallout from a number of sensational ethical scandals,” ending up to “cast doubt, albeit unfairly, upon the credibility of the journalistic profession as a whole (3)”. Eventually, the audiences take soft news for hard news and misunderstand that even soft news can be hard news since the report is picked up on the established and relatively trusted media.
Another reason why the audience have no idea if the report is based on serious journalism or infotainment is simply because the media literacy of the people is not high enough to survive in the highly informed society. “Amidst the richness of narrative technology available today both to produce and to consume media, we now find ourselves in the midst of a very large landscape in which the lines between entertainment, information and advertising are veritably indistinguishable (4),” Julie Gray, an Israeli writer points out. Some would argue, however, that infotainment style news reports certainly catch the audience’s eyes and make them get interested in political world rather than to report “difficult” political dynamics with a plain and lame explanation.
However, reporting only soft news including arranging hard news to be softer just to get the audience’s attention lets the people erodes the intelligence and interests of the political concern. Without reaching hard, serious and genuine journalism, the voters content themselves with keeping away from the reality and issues. Although infotainment style news is easy to take a look and understand the basics, it should be worked only for children or youth who do not know the basic concept of politics but not for responsible independent voters. Only with low level knowledge given by infotainment news, democratic politics would be filled with populism because the voters certainly choose candidates and parties which insist simple policies which is easy for uneducated people to understand, which could even become extremist including racist, homophobic and Islamophobic. For instance, Donald Trump, an American president candidate from the Republican Party, proposes policies which can be regarded as extremism such as deporting immigrants from Latin America and those who have Islamic believes. Besides, political world is far from funny but serious. Reporting only soft news would lead the audience to misunderstanding and misleading correctly understanding the truth and real political situations. Politics is directly connected to the livings of the nation; it is not wise for people to decide politicians with funny TV shows but they should choose the earnest, honest and active statespersons with deep comprehensive.
In Japan, there are still quite a few hard news media including TV programmes and newspapers such as NHK, Nikkei Newspaper and Yomiuri Shimbun. However, there are also many soft news media on TV programmes, newspapers, magazines and the Internet such as World Surprising News, Tokyo Sports, Weekly Gendai and Rocket News. The headlines of soft news are indeed so eye-catching that no one can help but check the contents, but they usually have lower quality than hard news. Soft news cannot be proper textbooks to learn the serious incidents and political situation due to its lower credibility than hard journalism. Japanese youth often have little knowledge on Japanese politics and are not very interested in political situations; eventually they tend to watch infotainment TV shows when they check the political world. It is not quite bad—it is still better than not having any interests on politics at all—however, these infotainment news media tend to lean on the left side and do not give the youth chance to reach to conservative political views since the media believe that the youth only want to get out of the current situation thinking that the contemporary politics sucks. It is an old myth like that amongst students during 1960’s and 1970’s, when they occupied university campuses to oppose the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States. Currently, these former students generation is the main working forces in society from political world to families. The youth is always against the establishment—they can be now against leftist criteria.
It is sarcastic that the reason why the youth has dissatisfaction on the society is at least partly because of the media. The youth needs deeply comprehensive news sources to consider the political situations and to decide the appropriate political stance. The media only report that Japan is leaning on right-winged national security policy and the nation including a part of the youth protests against the regime. However, other youth realised that there has to be a reason why Japanese politics has become conservative; but few numbers of media describe the reason. Taking a look at these left-winged media, the audience is ushered into simple anxiety over war without knowing the real concern from the outside of Japan.
Some Japanese leftist students established an organisation called SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) to oppose expanding the national security policy promoted by Prime Minister Abe. They are enthusiastic about calling for “peace” and “no war”, but do not seem to actually know the basics of international relations. They claim that they gained many supporters mainly from university students, but the others, who are most of university students and the youth, reacted with a sneer to this movement since the organisation did not appear to be a genuine political movement with firm ideology or doctrine. After all, this movement was just like 1970’s student uprising—other than the core members, most of the participants really had no idea about what they were protesting against.
To sum up, infotainment style media report news with more arresting headlines and contents to catch the audience’s eyes while they are less accurate due to making the news better-looking than the severe journalistic media; that causes confusion amongst the audiences since even trusted media currently tend to make hard news soft news. These criteria affects the youth in a bad way by giving biased political views and this situation is too unhealthy for the society to properly understand the current political world and decide the competent candidates in the elections. Moreover, it is needed that the media provide a chance for the voters to reach balanced information.