When I first started this blog back in September, I planned to write about Japanese news stories rarely seen abroad, and that’s exactly what I did. I wrote posts such as Woman hurls dog from sixth-floor apartment and Car ploughs into 33 nursery school children. However, as you would have seen from my recent posts, I rarely mention the news anymore, because quite frankly I found it all rather depressing.
Sometime before Christmas I dug up a Steve Pavlina article on overcoming news addiction which prompted me to go without my daily dose of depression. My Business Studies teacher back in high school stressed that we should read the newspaper every day and stay on top of current affairs, but Pavlina lists 13 reasons to the contrary including my favorites:
News is irrelevant. How many news stories are relevant to you personally? Virtually none.
News is predominantly negative. Which headline gets your attention: “Another blissful day” or “Murderous rampage on the subway”? In order to keep you plugged in, news has to shock you out of your complacency. In practice that means it usually has to scare or worry you. News’ primary marketing method is fear.
News is marketing. Think this; don’t think that. Fear this; worry about that. Yes, yes, we’re all gonna die. Make me feel afraid, so then I’ll buy the sponsors’ products to feel better. Global warming won’t seem so bad when I’m driving my new car and popping my anti-depressants. Pump me full of fear; then sell me the cure.
So now that I don’t follow the news, it’s sad to see how people around me are affected by what they see, read or hear in the news. For example, I know a lot of people who were so brainwashed by the media’s take on 9/11 that even suggesting a conspiracy theory provokes angry reactions.
As another example, the media in Japan portrays the Chinese to be anti-Japanese, and many of my students believe it to be true. This combined with sensationalized stories of foreign crime in Japan has made them fearful of foreigners. Most of them consider easing immigration laws to allow foreign workers to come in and relieve the burden of an aging population to be an absolute last resort.
Social activist Arudou Debito, a naturalized Japanese citizen, has written an interesting article for the Japan Times entitled “The Mythological Crime Wave: Public perceptions of crime and reality do not match”, in which he gives examples of how the media is misleading the general public.
For example, there were in fact very few Asahi Shinbun articles on murder in 1985. Yet there were some thousand plus articles in 2000, despite the later date’s lower murder rate!
Particularly when talking about foreign crime, this “news value” changes with the side of the linguistic fence. For example, the Mainichi Shinbun on February 8 headlined in English: “Number of crimes committed by nonpermanent foreigners declines in Tokyo”. The same article’s headline in Japanese: “Foreign crime rises in the provinces: Chubu Region up 35-fold in 15 years”.
On talking about this with my wife Mami, she agreed and added that many news reports involving women include the term bijin, or ‘beautiful woman’, simply because it has a different impact. Which would you rather read? “Woman robs bank” or “Beautiful woman robs bank”? Unfortunately Mami still can’t shake her own news addiction and this blog’s top commentator, Mike McKinlay, gave up on his news diet after just two days!