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Japan’s media is failing in its public watchdog duty

The legacy media tends to amplify certain scandals and misconduct while totally ignoring others
A file picture of a vendor handing out extra edition newspapers to pedestrians in Tokyo on Aug. 7, 2016

A file picture of a vendor handing out extra edition newspapers to pedestrians in Tokyo on Aug. 7, 2016. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)

Published: November 03, 2023 04:19 AM GMT
Updated: November 03, 2023 04:36 AM GMT

The recent news about an eccentric elderly man taking people hostage with a firearm gained widespread global media attention because Japan is typically seen as a peaceful nation where gun ownership is rare.

However, recent scandals involving non-profit organizations (NPOs) and the misuse of public funds, despite Japan's reputation for high levels of honesty and low levels of corruption, received little to no coverage in both national and international media.

Just yesterday, the Shinguru-maza Forum (Single Mothers’ Forum) headquartered in Tokyo disclosed that some 8 million yen (US$53,000) couldn't be accounted for over a span of four years, from 2019 to 2022.

It was an unsettling discovery as the organization, led by its chairwoman Chieko Akaishi, is a certified non-profit organization dedicated to aiding single-parent households. It was established in 1980 with the noble objective of supporting single mothers and their children.

The finger of suspicion pointed at a former employee, who was responsible for overseeing the financial records but had manipulated and falsified the accounting entries.

The organization promptly assembled an independent committee to conduct a thorough investigation, ultimately leading to the dismissal of the employee in question.

A subsequent inquiry revealed that numerous donations received by the organization had not been duly documented in the records. Furthermore, certain funds were withdrawn from the account without proper recording, and cash earmarked for deposits never materialized as per the books. This alarming discrepancy has been now verified and acknowledged.

Following consultations with legal advisers, the corporation took the decision to terminate the employment of the individual on Oct. 3. The organization is in discussions with law enforcement authorities regarding the likely pursuit of criminal charges.

In light of this and the recent disconcerting cases we have been reporting on, two pressing questions come to mind.

Firstly, why do most cases involving the misappropriation of public funds and misuse of public donations receive limited attention from the media?

Notably, even well-documented scandals such as the Akai Hane donation scam, which is an organization well-recognized within the Japanese school system, are often buried and forgotten by the mainstream media.

Secondly, a puzzling pattern emerges when considering the prevalence of embezzlement within the ranks of those working for NPOs and organizations that rely on public funds or solicit donations.

Despite being a relatively small portion of the workforce, individuals in these roles seem to be disproportionately susceptible to financial misconduct.

This raises an intriguing question: what factors contribute to this vulnerability, and how can we address this issue to maintain the integrity of these organizations and the trust of the public they serve?

We cannot stress enough that the first victims of these scandals are the very NPOs that actually do a remarkable job in helping disadvantaged individuals, as well as Catholic aid groups who struggle with their charity work as donations shrink.

Japan has never witnessed a public debate on this issue.

Even more intriguing is the stark contrast observed when we compare the public's response to the recent public fund scandals with the passionate street demonstrations witnessed during the tenure of former prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

These fervent protests were orchestrated by politically motivated activists and, perhaps, ordinary citizens seeking to voice their collective discontent regarding the alleged squandering of public funds.

The baffling question that arises here is why have we not witnessed similar displays of public outcry on the streets of Japan in response to recent financial improprieties that we have reported.

It's imperative to acknowledge the persistent influence exerted by traditional media, often referred to as "legacy media," by amplifying certain scandals and misconduct while on the other hand totally ignoring others.

Despite the expanding digital landscape, these conventional media entities still exert considerable sway over public perception.

This influence becomes even more evident when we consider the stark contrast in public awareness between the scandals surrounding former Prime Minister Abe and the virtually non-existent knowledge among the so-called “man of the street” (as verified by myself through on-the-street interviews in Japan) about the Akai Hane scandal, the Colabo scandal, and the recent NPO's fundraising endeavors to support single mothers.

This biased selection and prioritizing of certain news instead of others raises questions about the role of legacy media in shaping the narratives that capture the public's attention in an era where traditional media seems to have lost most of its clout.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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