Tessa Morris-Suzuki. The CIA and the Japanese media: a cautionary tale.

Sep 17, 2014

When Japan surrendered at the end of the Pacific War, the occupation authorities pledged to democratise the country. They carried out many reforms and introduced a new peace constitution, guaranteeing human rights and freedom of expression. The reforms had a profound and lasting effect, but there was also a less democratic side to US-Japan relations in the immediate postwar era.

It has long been known that the occupation authorities chose to retain media censorship for their own purposes. But new dimensions of US media manipulation in postwar Japan have come to light in a large number of CIA documents declassified over recent years.

Today, the Japanese media is riven by fierce infighting, as key national newspapers swing their weight behind the current Japanese government’s campaigns to rewrite history and reopen nuclear power stations. In this context, the information revealed in the CIA files has disturbing contemporary relevance.

The declassified documents on Japan are now available online (http://www.foia.cia.gov/). One person who figures prominently in their pages is Ogata Taketora, Deputy Prime Minister in the Yoshida government of the early 1950s. Ogata began his prewar career as a journalist with the Asahi newspaper. But when Japanese freedom of speech crumbled in the face of political repression, Ogata joined the government, becoming head of Japan’s wartime intelligence bureau. He was purged during the occupation, but was soon depurged and elected to parliament.

In 1954, Ogata sponsored the creation of a Japanese “Central Investigation Agency”: a private venture run by leading figures from the main Japanese news agencies. The funding came from the government, and the Agency’s main role was “feeding information to the recently-formed intra-Cabinet body, the Anti-Democratic Activities Countermeasure Council”.

The Agency operated from the offices of Japan’s Jiji Press Agency, and its board of directors included leading figures from the two main postwar news agencies, Jiji and Kyodo.

US intelligence documents on this media-government collaboration survive because Ogata was himself a registered high-level CIA informant, passing damaging information about his political rivals to the Americans in return for sensitive US information to use in his political battles at home.

But Ogata was not the only important Japanese figure engaged in murky arrangements with US intelligence. Another was Shoriki Matsutaro, the immensely influential owner of the Yomiuri newspaper, who in the 1950s became head of Japan’s State Security Committee and its Nuclear Power Commission.

Shoriki had begun his career in the prewar police, where, as a report on the CIA files notes, he gained notoriety by “his ruthless treatment of thought cases and by ordering raids on universities and colleges”. After leaving the police he took over the presidency of the bankrupt Yomiuri, revived its fortunes, and went on to be closely involved in the information policies of the wartime government.

Investigated for war crimes, Shoriki was released without trial in 1952, and not long after began what was to be a new and covert element in his career: a role as an informant and propaganda agent for the CIA under the code-names PODAM and POJACKPOT-1. By now his empire included not only the Yomiuri, but also Japan’s first commercial TV station, Nippon TV.

At least one other senior member of Shoriki’s business empire also seems to have been working with the CIA.

Shoriki was particularly useful to the USA because of his enthusiastic collaboration in a propaganda campaign to persuade Japan to adopt nuclear power. By 1955, the media mogul had “committed his empire to a full blast favourable treatment of the atom, not neglecting to feature himself as the Prometheus who was bringing this fire to Japan”. Part of the campaign was a massively publicised touring “Atoms for Peace” exhibition, which Shoriki conceived and largely funded, with wholehearted CIA backing. Shoriki helpfully came up with the idea that Japanese artists could be employed to “rework” the information that the CIA provided for the exhibition “to play down or conceal [the] original source of this material”

The exhibition was just one of a litany of clandestine connections between Japan’s leading media magnate and the CIA.

In the run up to the 1958 general election, for example, the Yomiuri’s owner and the CIA hatched a bizarre scheme to import US colour TV sets (then the latest high-tech invention) to Japan so that they could be set up in public, ostensibly to demonstrate the new technology, but in fact to broadcast propaganda for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. (The TV sets were shipped, but sadly arrived to late for the election).

The relationship went well beyond Japan’s borders: in one case, Shoriki expressed willingness to send a Yomiuri correspondent to Syria so that the journalist could serve as a CIA contact there.

Today, the Yomiuri, now Japan’s most widely sold broadsheet newspaper, is a leading participant in Japan’s media and history wars. Vocally supporting government approaches to history and to nuclear power, the newspaper presents itself as a guardian of media integrity, fiercely attacking competitors for failing to correct errors of reporting.

But the Yomiuri’s own response to the explosive content of the CIA archives has been a deafening silence.

The newspaper has never apologised or conducted an investigation, and has never explained how extensive this secret relationship with a foreign intelligence agency was, nor when it ended.

Two large questions emerge from this sorry history. In how many other countries did the CIA have similar relationships with leading media moguls? And just what sort of back-door relationships between politics and the media are still at work in Japan today?


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