Japanese Media loves to cover the Kake Gakuen issue. But the question is whether this issue is illegal or not.
The phrase “fake news” has been spread throughout the world by United States President Donald Trump. It reveals an aspect of today’s democratic societies quite well. Media have started telling us, “the government isn’t telling us the truth,” “the government is hiding something.” Criticism of political administration has become a media cliché. But Trump has turned the focus back on them, alerting us that “the media isn’t telling the truth.” Instead of grumbling at dinner or in a private meeting, he has loudly called out the media in broad daylight.
With the US falling into these behaviors, it was only a matter of time before similar things started happening in Japan, as we are constantly copying the United States. In fact, the truth is, the essence of today’s democratic society is that we cannot deny the possibility that any and all information we get might be “fake news.”
The construction site of the Veterinary Faculty of the Kake Gakuen
Judging by what we currently know about the Kake Gakuen issue, it’s not such a major problem that the media should be making a huge fuss about it every day. I don’t know the details of what happened inside the Cabinet, or what was going on inside the Ministry of Education, but one could make a close enough guess.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe probably said something like, “Get them to hurry up with the construction of the new veterinary school,” then the Cabinet Secretariat passed this on to the Ministry of Education “expressing the will” or “using the name” of the Prime Minister, and within the Ministry they probably let it be known that this was a “request from the top.” Or it could be different. We don’t know the reality of the situation, and I don’t expect we will figure it out.
So these requests to “show us the facts” are fairly pointless. We have to figure out what “facts” means here, and even that is fairly ambiguous. It’s not like someone overrode all objections, abused their authority, and forced the hands of others, and so on. So no matter how hard the matter is pushed, a narrative like that is not going to emerge as an objective fact. But the media say, “show us the facts,” and when no new facts emerge, they say, “The government is covering up the facts”. They say the “fake” is coming from the top rather than from themselves.
I’m not going to claim that the government has made good excuses for their handling of the situation, nor that President Trump has the right idea on how to handle the media. But in a situation like this where we can’t objectively determine where the “facts” are, I must protest that saying that “the facts are not clear yet, so the government must be hiding something” is itself quite “fake.” The excessive coverage of this issue in the media lends credence to the idea that the media is creating “fake news” to criticize the government.
We are living in a difficult age. It’s not an age where we sort facts into black and white. We won’t be deciding the transfer of Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo through the discovery of extra “facts” either. In this age, if we can plausibly show whether or not something is fake, get popular support and influence the debate, that should be enough. But it must be made clear that this itself is the essence of democratic politics.
Keishi Saeki is a professor emeritus, Kyoto University.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)