Where news goes to die

When is the news not news? Often when it happens in Japan, unfortunately.

Japan’s mainstream media’s job is to serve as a safety valve for the sanitizing of hard news that can no longer be overlooked and has been properly vetted by the organizations being reported on.

This does to relate to baseball, I promise, but first some background.

Yesterday’s news today

Japan’s biggest political scandal at the moment is how factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party concealed income from fund-raising events. All of Japan’s mainstream news outlets “broke” the story on Dec. 1, 2023, from “sources” revealing the news.

Had this been U.S. news, it would have broken nationwide 25 days earlier. But Japan’s mainstream media’s news rules prevented that.

The story was broken by the Communist Party’s Daily “Akahata” lat Nov. 6. But the only way a mainstream Japanese outlet could build on that story would be to wait for an overseas outlet to attribute Akahata’s reporting, so that the news “came from overseas” or go in search of confirmation of the previously known story so that

  1. Never credit any reporting to another outlet.
  2. Never report hard news unless it can be avoided—”hard news” here referring to news that will make government or business sources uncomfortable.

These rules can contribute to a wall of silence, the kind that was observed over the Johnny Kitagawa sexual abuse scandal.

While a colleague at the day job said Japan’s mainstream media doesn’t sit on real news, she then went on to explain how the sexual exploitation of young boys by Kitagawa at his talent agency, often talked about for decades in Japan, never made news in the mainstream media in Japan until it was broken by the BBC in March 2023.

Johnny come lately

“It had been reported in weekly magazines as far back as 1999, but the big news outlets weren’t going to touch it out of fear of severing their connection with the nation’s most influential talent agency,” my colleague said.

When the news broke overseas, years after the death of Kitagawa, whose agency was charged with covering up the details of his sexual abuse of young boys his agency developed and represented, the agency held a press conference, armed with a list of reporters and outlets that would not be permitted to ask questions.

In a report by Reuters, National broadcaster NHK apologized for not following the story, contributing to continued abuse within the agency.

“This issue had been reported frequently in weekly magazines and other publications, and the Tokyo High Court’s ruling on the fact of sexual assault was confirmed in 2004. But NHK’s awareness over this issue was wanting, and we never followed up with deeper reporting or chose to take it up.”

– NHK statement

The Reuters article cited a third-party committee, whose report said, “that Kitagawa had sexually abused hundreds of boys and young men.” The committee faulted the media for its silence.

But silence is what Japan’s media is good at.

Silence is golden

Stories that could have serious impact on the way big companies operate get shelved until they are useful. In the before time, when I was an English teacher looking for class material, I seized upon a story about a fire on Japan’s Maglev test line in Miyazaki Prefecture. When I presented it to my class, one student, who worked for JR, Japan’s national railroad said, “I was there.”

He went on to say that it had happened a year earlier but had not been reported. What had happened in the time in between was a question about where to lay track for Japan’s first Maglev Shinkansen, with LDP kingmaker Shin Kanemaru.

Kanemaru had been pushing to have it run through his political stronghold, Yamanashi Prefecture, but was at that moment embroiled in a wave of corruption scandals, and one student suggested that the news was released to tip the balance in favor of another maglev route.

So what about baseball?

What this has to do with baseball is MLB teams having conversations with players who are currently under contract with Japanese teams. It is not against the rules for a Japanese player to have dinner with scouts and executives from MLB teams, but it would be a huge black mark and a sanctionable offense. In the past, when confronted with undeniably evidence, MLB has prevented teams from signing international players for a time.

When Shohei Ohtai was posted, 28 teams submitted offers to negotiate. The two teams that didn’t were the Colorado Rockies, for reasons unknown, and MLB’s best bargain hunters, the Atlanta Braves, who were barred from signing international players that winter.

MLB is aware of the talk, because it acted to remove suspicion of tampering by forcing its teams to terminate their working agreements with pro clubs in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico.

But what it didn’t do is sanction any teams. The Japanese media has pointed the finger at the Los Angeles Dodgers, saying in one article by Nikkei Digital “29 MLB teams have reason to be angry.” The story quizzed MLB scouts, and I can confirm that scouts from a number of teams are indeed pissed. But being pissed off doesn’t mean evidence, and that is where Japan’s media is stuck.

To be fair, Japan’s mainstream media IS interested in this story, but it is not so interested in getting to the bottom of it that is willing to confirming information about the Japanese players being contacted by MLB teams. Even though it is against no rule for a player to talk to an MLB team, some feel, they would be tainted by association with MLB teams that break the rules.

The fear of unfairly tainting a player and risking the wrath of his team, that might then retaliate against an outlet’s beat writers, nothing happens.

MLB teams cheat, and Japan’s media lets them, rinse, repeat.

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