By: Kenji Hall, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Corporate slush funds. Managers making sexual advances on female employees. A company president resigning amid rumors of illegal business activities and an extramarital affair.
Japan’s weekly tabloids have never shied from chronicling corporate corruption, scandal, and misdeeds — however speculative.
But the targets these days aren’t just run-of-the-mill companies: They are Japan’s national newspapers.
The scrutiny has focused on Yomiuri, Asahi, and Nihon Keizai — three of the country’s largest newspapers — and underscores the antagonism between the tabloids and the more establishment-friendly national dailies.
A sampler of allegations since January:
* The news magazine Shukan Shincho said tax officials were investigating Yomiuri on suspicion of using unreported finances to fund sales centers.
* It also said an Asahi bureau chief resigned after charges he sexually harassed a young, female reporter.
* The weekly Shukan Gendai said an editor at Nihon Keizai had sent an e-mail to executives and shareholders calling for the president to quit over allegations of possible involvement in a subsidiary’s unethical business activity and an extramarital affair.
* Shukan Shincho accused Asahi of plagiarizing material from an Internet site in a widely acclaimed front-page column.
Nihon Keizai confirmed the editor’s e-mail but disputed the accuracy of its claims. Asahi and Nihon Keizai both have demanded apologies, corrections, and compensation for parts of the stories about them. The Yomiuri has filed a libel suit against the Shincho, claiming the allegations were “groundless.”
For both sides, the stakes are high.
The national dailies, whose business empires encompass radio, television, and publishing, dominate newsstands, airwaves, and bookstores. But they are facing increasing competition from small and medium-size publishing houses in the overcrowded book and magazine markets and have been unable to prevent erosion in their share of the news weekly business.
“This is a battle of commercialism,” said Akira Aoki, professor emeritus at Tsukuba University. “The smaller publishers’ weekly magazines are winning out in the weekly magazine sector, which the major newspapers used to have exclusive control of.”
Four independent weeklies — Shukan Gendai, Shukan Post, Shukan Shincho, and Shukan Bunshun — now comprise more than half of the news weekly sector.
“One of their strategies has been to criticize the dailies in reports and columns, and they have done so without sticking to high journalistic standards,” Aoki said. “The newspapers can’t counter in the same way because their standards are relatively higher.”
While the smaller publishers have had some success, they remain virtual outsiders. That’s because the dailies have for decades tightly controlled access to the halls of power in Japan through the press club system.
Organized in most government ministries and offices, the clubs arrange special privileges for member journalists, such as off-the-record briefings and interviews. The clubs usually protest when nonmember tabloids and foreign journalists are allowed in at briefings.
The clubs have been blamed for cozy ties between officials and beat reporters who occasionally keep negative details out of print to stay on good terms with sources.
Deprived of access, the small tabloids and magazines fill their pages with sensational and, at times, salacious stories — and clearly relish the chance to print charges of transgressions by government officials or the big dailies.
The weekly Shukan Bunshun takes shots at the national dailies in a column called “Untrustworthy Newspapers.” Seigo Kimata, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said the 10-year-old column tries to convey the public’s complaints about practices of the major newspapers.
“All of the newspapers print the same stories. Their news is so similar that we’ve been told that if independent weeklies like ours weren’t around, Japan’s newspapers would resemble Pravda,” Kimata said, referring to the former Soviet Union’s Communist Party newspaper.