Politics & Security
TIME Magazine Carried a Good Interview with PM Fumio Kishida, so Does the Headline Matter?
TIME magazine created controversy with a mismatched headline over Mr Kishida's interview, but the content is less biased, says US affairs expert Yoichi Shimada.
Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has objected to the headline TIME magazine used for an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida published just days before the G7 Hiroshima Summit. TIME's headline misleadingly implied that Japan is seeking to become a military power and major military player.
Rather, the Foreign Ministry explained, Japan is now increasing defense spending in order to strengthen its deterrence capabilities. It is doing so with Chinese military expansionism and hegemony in mind, along with that of other countries. Therefore, the headline in the US news magazine does not accurately capture its intentions.
Some observers believe that TIME is trying to stigmatize Japan on the eve of the G7 summit. Prime Minister Kishida is hosting the gathering as Japan chairs the G7 in 2023.
But how should we really assess this media kerfuffle?
Timeline of TIME's Headline Changes
The original TIME headline read: "Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Wants to Abandon Decades of Pacifism and Make His Country a True Military Power."
That was the headline used on the digital issue of TIME up until May 10. However, the Headline "Japan's Choice" was added for the issue of the magazine carrying the Kishida interview that went on sale May 12. Meanwhile, the earlier headline became a subtext below the new one.
What It Says in the Article
The article itself says that despite his "dovish persona," Kishida has set about "turning the world's No. 3 economy back into a global power with a military presence to match."
He has also shown his determination to stand up to China, Russia and North Korea, the writer of the article argues.
Furthermore, in the interview Prime Minister Kishida relates his childhood experience of learning about the atomic bombing of his hometown. He talks about hearing the stories of his grandmother's experience and the unspeakable destruction the atomic bomb caused. He adds, "This childhood experience has been a major driver of my pursuit … of a world without nuclear weapons."
The article suggested that this core belief of the prime minister might be contradicted by his stance on increased defense spending.
After the original article appeared, the Foreign Ministry objected to TIME that the headline differed considerably from the substance of the article. Then on the afternoon of May 11 the headline on the digital version of the Kishida article was changed. It's now reads, "Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Is Giving a Once Pacifist Japan a More Assertive Role on the Global Stage."
How should we evaluate the TIME commentary and the Foreign Ministry response to it?
Yoichi Shimada, professor emeritus at Fukui Prefectural University, is an expert on US affairs. He says:
I get the impression that the commentary itself is not extremely biased. The expression "military power" in this case has the nuance of a "militarily strong country" that bolsters its defense capabilities to protect the nation. It is not the same as the "military superpower" tag used to criticize China, Russia and so on.
Rather, the Foreign Ministry is concerned that national defense capabilities are seen in a negative light. Meanwhile, clinging to Article 9 (of Japan's Constitution) and making too much fuss about the matter is more than likely to create the misperception that Japan "has a guilty conscience."
In most cases, US media organizations allow the contents of interviews with heads of state to be confirmed by the party concerned in advance of publication. However, they do not offer headlines for review since these are determined just before publication.
Shimada's conclusion is: "It's important for the Japanese government to not get flustered and maintain a dignified stance."
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(Read the article in Japanese.)
Author: Yukan Fuji
Yukan Fuji is a print and online media related to The Sankei Shimbun.
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