Sannenzaka Correspondence

CNN effect exist in Japan? Reflecting on the “Nippo” Issue

The CNN effect refers to the notion that the establishment of 24/7 international television news networks during the 1980s and 1990s has had an impact on foreign policy, national security, and international conflicts. The Gulf War, in particular, is often cited as a prominent example where television coverage was influential, and the debate on the merits of this effect has recurred in subsequent international conflicts.

Richard N. Haass, who served as a member of the National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War and currently leads the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a foreign policy think tank, points out that the rise of CNN changed the daily news cycle. The news programs broadcasted worldwide via satellite 24 hours a day provide information not only to domestic audiences but also to foreign diplomats involved in the conflicts. The synchronous nature of this coverage imposes stricter deadlines on diplomatic officials, altering their schedules significantly.

For instance, during the Watergate scandal, which was a domestic issue, the newspaper media of that time had clearly defined deadlines and printing times. However, the era of the CNN effect, facilitated by satellite networks, demanded round-the-clock coverage, and necessitated consideration of time differences when dealing with diplomatic issues and international conflicts. These challenges have become even more potent in the present era, where news agencies and newspaper media utilize websites and videos to a greater extent. The extent to which media coverage actually influences policy decisions has been repeatedly debated, and a crucial aspect is the issue of government influence and control over the media. Governments, particularly during military conflicts, may consider media manipulation as part of their operational strategy. The autonomy of the media can impact enemy military intelligence, making it a highly complex issue.

Even in countries like Japan, an ally of the United States, the independence of the country’s international broadcasting by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) has frequently been questioned. NHK World operates under government control despite being situated in OECD countries, thereby relinquishing its democratic autonomy as a news organization. This is based on the belief that international news coverage directly affects national interests. On the other hand, there are cases where media outlets such as newspapers conduct independent reporting based on their own investigations. Sometimes, magazine media (which in Japan often have strong ties to advertising) may appear to present exclusive reporting, but in reality, they lack autonomy. This article examines the debate surrounding the CNN effect and evaluates the extent to which Japanese news organizations influence policy. While the existence of the CNN effect is acknowledged by many diplomatic people, it is challenging to apply a uniform criterion for assessment, making it necessary to examine its applicability on a case-by-case basis.

CNN effect

The research on the CNN effect has presented various effects to demonstrate the potential influence of real-time international television news on foreign policy. Among the most widely recognized effects is the agenda-setting effect of the CNN effect. The agenda-setting effect refers to the ability of news reporting on impactful events occurring in foreign countries to stimulate public opinion demanding a response to those events and to influence political elites.

However, there are also criticisms suggesting that this effect can incite emotional public opinion and lead to actions contrary to national interests. While the agenda-setting effect is widely acknowledged, many studies have identified other effects as well. Livingston, who conducted typological categorization of the CNN effect, defines it as the influence exerted by news media that engage in global coverage and real-time reporting of unfolding events on diplomacy and foreign policy. He examines the case of Somalia as an example where the CNN effect was observed. In that case, the U.S. government had been providing food aid to Somalia since the previous year before media started reporting on the crisis in Somalia in August 1992. Livingston highlights that it was the government’s actions, rather than the media coverage, that led to increased news reporting, including CNN. He argues that attributing the agenda- setting effect to the CNN effect in the case of Somalia is an overestimation.

Moreover, Livingston presents the Accelerant and Impediment effects as the influences of globalized television news on the decision-making process of foreign policy. The Accelerant effect refers to the shortened time for making policy decisions towards other countries due to global and real-time television coverage. The Impediment effect refers to hindrances in the progress of foreign policy due to two factors. Firstly, emotionally charged and alarming news reporting can shape a negative public opinion towards military interventions, leading governments to limit access to combat areas in an attempt to portray wars as clean endeavors. Secondly, global and real-time media coverage can jeopardize the safety of military operations. In other words, the Accelerant and Impediment effects imply that news reporting can stimulate public opinion and cause political elites involved in foreign policy to either accelerate or restrict policy progress.

On the other hand, Robinson argues that there is a more powerful effect than the Accelerant and Impediment effects proposed by Livingston. This effect is one that urges policymakers to choose a certain direction in their policies. Unlike the assumption of public opinion reaction seen in Livingston’s argument, this effect refers to the direct pressure exerted by news reporting on political elites to change the direction of ongoing foreign policies. Robinson acknowledges the importance of political elites in decision-making regarding foreign policy while recognizing the impact of global events reported by real-time communication technologies on domestic audiences and political elites as the CNN effect. He suggests that the degree of agreement among political elites and the extent to which the direction of foreign policy is determined play a crucial role in determining whether a strong CNN effect is observed in situations where globalized television news reporting, including CNN, is intensive. In other words, according to his research, intense news coverage can influence foreign policy only when there is insufficient consensus among political elites and when the direction of policy change is not adequately shared or determined.

Thus, the CNN effect can be defined as the ability of impactful events in foreign countries to be reported and stimulate public opinion, thereby exerting some influence on foreign policy. The aforementioned studies are conducted to specifically elucidate what this some influence entails. However, in practice, these studies have revealed through verification that the impact of news reporting on foreign policy is limited. It can be said that research on the CNN effect has faced challenges in demonstrating its effects effectively. Robinson also points out that the debate surrounding the CNN effect in the 1990s was a result of increased autonomy in the media after the end of the Cold War. He argues that the firm anti-communist stance shared between policymakers and news organizations, as well as government-controlled media reporting, became unsettled. This led to a shift towards news-driven foreign and security practices.

However, by the 2000s, Robinson suggests that there was a resurgence of alignment between the media and the government, particularly in the context of the so-called “war on terror.” However, It can be said that such discussions experienced a certain backlash as the underlying assumptions of the war on terror were subsequently questioned.

Media controlling in Japan

In Japan, the influence of media coverage on foreign and security policy has been debated in relation to specific cases. However, one notable characteristic is the prevalence of government-led information dissemination.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is perceived as a special agency, and the number of journalists involved in diplomatic issues is extremely limited. In fact, the position of the Ambassador to the United States holds higher prestige within the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs compared to the Vice-Minister. Additionally, even major media organizations with thousands of journalists have only a few correspondents stationed overseas, indicating a highly restricted domain. Most of their reporting aligns with government policies, and given that Japan has never explicitly become a party to military conflicts since World War II, it is doubtful whether there is a “CNN effect” of significant magnitude. While this is primarily a domestic issue, there have been instances that highlight a climate of media control.

For example, the abnormal incident where a journalist from the Mainichi Shimbun was arrested through the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed the existence of secret agreements that contradicted publicly disclosed information during the reversion of Okinawa from US military rule to Japan in 1971.

There have also been cases where reporting by NHK, which confirmed the cover-up of the “Nippo (daily reports)” created by the Self-Defense Forces, functional equivalent to Japan’s national military, received recognition by receiving the Newspaper Association Award (considered one of the highest honors in the Japanese media industry). As a result of the intense media coverage, the then Minister of Defense was forced to resign. However, it should be noted that these issues were initially raised by activists outside the journalist community on social media, and the media organizations did not voluntarily initiate the investigation. The confirmed existence of the “Nippo” contained descriptions implying combat activities that the Self-Defense Forces are not supposed to engage in, leading to a serious crisis.

In such cases, unless there are initiatives from the legislative or judicial branches to address the issue, the media may be reluctant to pursue it, even if it concerns the executive branch. Therefore, it is questionable whether there is a CNN effect of significant magnitude in these circumstances.

From these examples, it becomes clear that the CNN effect is a topic primarily limited to news networks of superpowers like the United States. It is doubtful whether the CNN effect is applicable to various countries’ media. The coverage of the “Nippo” issue had minimal impact on the actual content of foreign and security policies, and despite the seemingly dramatic outcome of the Defense Minister’s resignation, it is unlikely that it had any substantial influence on the policy itself.

CNN effect does not exist in Japan

The concept of the CNN effect, which examines the influence of media coverage on foreign policy and security issues, has been extensively discussed and debated. While the original discussions on the CNN effect primarily focused on the role of American news networks, it is crucial to consider the unique context of Japan and its media landscape when evaluating the applicability of this theory.

Research conducted by scholars such as Robinson and Livingston has shed light on the complexities of media influence in international affairs. The studies referenced highlight the potential for media coverage to shape public opinion, influence policymakers, and even impact military interventions. However, when applying this framework to Japan’s context, several factors come into play that challenge the notion of a strong CNN effect. One distinctive characteristic of Japan’s media landscape is the prevalence of government-led information dissemination. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a prominent role in shaping Japan’s diplomatic messaging, and the number of reporters assigned to cover foreign policy matters is significantly limited. This controlled flow of information often leads to a media environment that is aligned with the government’s policies and less likely to challenge official narratives.

Consequently, the degree of media independence and its potential to drive policy decisions may be more restricted compared to countries with a more pluralistic media landscape. Furthermore, Japan’s historical and cultural background significantly influences its approach to international affairs and security. Since World War II, Japan has maintained a pacifist stance, with constitutional restrictions on engaging in military conflicts. This historical context, combined with societal attitudes, shapes the public’s expectations and perceptions of Japan’s foreign policy and security issues. As a result, the potential for media coverage to influence public opinion or trigger significant policy shifts may be more limited.

Moreover, the specific incidents, such as the arrest of a journalist for revealing secret agreements or the cover-up of the “Nippo” reports by the Ministry of Defense, demonstrate a media environment that is subject to control and limited in terms of investigative reporting. While these cases generated public attention and even led to the resignation of a government official, it is important to note that the impetus for reporting often originated from external actors, such as activists or social media discussions, rather than media organizations themselves. This suggests that the media’s ability to independently drive policy change or exert a significant CNN effect may be constrained within the Japanese context.

While the CNN effect has been a subject of extensive study and debate, applying this theory to Japan’s context requires careful consideration of the country’s unique media landscape, historical background, and cultural factors. Japan’s government-led information dissemination, limited number of foreign policy reporters, and societal attitudes toward security issues all contribute to a distinct media environment that may dull the potential for a strong CNN effect. The incidents, while significant, should be seen as exceptions rather than indicative of a pervasive and consistent influence of media coverage on foreign policy and security in Japan. To fully understand the dynamics of media influence in Japan, further research is needed to explore the interplay between media, government control, public opinion, and policy decision-making in this specific context.

Steven Livingston (1997) Clarifying The CNN Effect: An Examination of Media Effects According to Type of Military Intervention, Shorenstein Center Research Paper Series. Harvard University.

Piers Robinson (2005) The CNN Effect Revisited, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22:4, 344-349

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