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The Challenge of JanJan in Participatory News
[Forum presentation] Ken Takeuchi, JanJan's president, in the third 'Asian Perspective' session
Ken Takeuchi (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2005-06-28 15:15 (KST)   
Ken Takeuchi, left, takes a question as Livedoor's Tabata Shintaro and Chia Hao Hsu from Taiwan listen on at the COEX Conference Hall, June 25.
©2005 Nam S.Y.

Ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Oh, it is my great honor to participate at this forum.

I am Ken Takeuchi from Japan and President of Japan Internet News Co.Ltd., which is the publisher of Internet news media JanJan. Our company is so small, having only 10 staff, that we can not afford a full-time president. Besides being a president, I am also the chairman of editorial board, spokesman, writing instructor, and a handyman who runs the errands.

I visited OhmyNews for the first time in August, 2001, when I was invited to talk about the press club system in Japan.

At that time, I was the mayor of Kamakura City, 50 kilometers south of Tokyo. Together with Nara and Kyoto, Kamakura is one of the three ancient capitals of Japan. The first warrior government of Japan was established in this city, Kamakura. The warrior government lasted for nearly 700 years since and even today continues to influence Japanese people's mentality.

When I was the mayor of Kamakura, I abolished the city's press club, which gave certain reporters exclusive access to news releases. Instead, I created a new media center that was open to all reporters. Breaking the press club system had never been achieved in Japan.

Before becoming the mayor of Kamakura, I was a journalist for the Asahi Shimbun for 27 years. My experience over those years taught me that the press club system was the problem, and spoiled journalism in Japan. After becoming the mayor, I decided to close down the city's press club. It was a problem, not only in Kamakura but also in central government ministries. I intended to call people's attention to this broader problem of the press club system all over Japan.

My work was introduced to South Korea by an OhmyNews citizen reporter who lived in Japan. At that time, South Korean media was also facing the problem of a closed-door press club, a relic of the colonial period. As OhmyNews was pushing for an open media, Mr. Oh invited me to visit his office to talk about my experience in dealing with the problem of the press club system in Japan.

It was at that time that I first came to know OhmyNews. I was astonished and excited by Mr. Oh's revolutionary concept of "every citizen is a reporter." I cried out "That's it!" I believed that this was exactly what we needed to change in Japanese mass media, which had lost the power to write anything of real importance.

After returning to Japan, I talked to my journalist friends about OhmyNews, trying to persuade them that we should also create an alternative media in Japan as soon as possible. Many of them agreed with me that the idea of OhmyNews was important and meaningful; however, no one took any real action. The reason was because the financial prospects for Internet news media were not clear at that time.

After retiring from the post of mayor, I decided to take action by myself. Fortunately, the CEO of a large software company showed understanding to the importance of alternative media and offered financial support to create a company. Japan Internet News Co., Ltd. was established in 2002, and in February 2003, internet news JanJan published its first issue online. Three years after OhmyNews was created in ROK, citizen-powered Internet news was born in Japan.

Two years and four months has passed since its birthday. In order to help you to get a picture of JanJan's current situation, I would like to show you a slide show. Although it is growing steadily, JanJan has not yet been able to make a big progress as OhmyNews has shown. What is the difference? I am searching for the answer.

There are many reasons causing the differences in internet journalism between Japan and South Korea. I셝 like to discuss some of those elements with you.

One possible reason is the credibility of mass media. In a recent lecture in Japan, Mr. Oh Yeon-ho made the following remarks --- 쏧n POK, ever since the military dictatorship period, people has long lost their trust in the mass media. But in Japan, mass media are still seen by many to be a credible source of information. This is a difference between the two countries. I do not agree completely with Mr. Oh on this point. Japanese mass media might have more trust from their readers than their counterparts do in South Korea; however, mass media in Japan are also facing with serious problems.

The collusive relationship among press, government and industry has become noticeable in recent years; as a result, independence of news media became questionable. During the last three decades, this trend has become stronger and stronger. The main reason is because of Japanese media policy by government itself and the government party (mainly the Liberal Democratic Party). The government uses two systems, press club system and resale price maintenance system, to protect the privileges of mass media, at the same time, it launches bashing campaigns to block out reports which humiliate the government. The Japanese government has successfully controlled newspapers and TV broadcastings by 쐁arrot and sticks strategy.

TV stations in Japan are gradually losing their function as news media, but instead become highly entertainment-oriented media. Newspapers also voluntarily restrain from reporting news that are against government interests and the business community. Many Japanese people are aware of those changes in the media. In terms of the losing media credibility, I don셳 think there is a big difference between Japan and POK.

Another reason is often said to be the high penetration rate of internet in South Korea. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)셲 report in 2004, South Korea achieved the world셲 highest internet penetration rate of 61.0% and its broadband penetration rate of 24.9% also topped the world ranking. In Japan, the internet penetration rate was 48.3% and the broadband rate was only 14.1%. In terms of internet infrastructure, Japan is a long way behind South Korea.

However, due to Japan셲 large population, which is 2.7 times of South Korea셲, the absolute number of internet users in Japan is higher than South Korea. Yet, the number of JanJan셲 citizen reporters and website hits are very small compared with those of OhmyNews. Judging from those facts, I don셳 think that the internet penetration rate is the reason why JanJan hasn셳 been able to make as big progress as OhmyNews has done.

Then what on earth is the reason? I think it is the difference in the national character between South Korea and Japan. In my opinion, people in South Korea all have their own ideas and opinions and tend to speak out what they think in frank words. On the other hand, Japanese people often hesitate in expressing themselves. Even when they do speak out, they tend to choose ambiguous words.

Japanese people have traditionally believed in the importance of social harmony. The famous Prince Shotoku (AD574~622) who established the oldest constitution in Japan, said that 쐆armony is to be valued, and contentiousness is to be avoided. Many Japanese people tend to avoid arguing with others, not to speak out one셲 own opinion, and are easily overwhelmed by the majority. In general, Japanese people are not good at expressing their opinions.

Mr. Yasushi Haga, a famous linguist and honorary professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, wrote about the characteristics of Japanese people in his recent book. He described Japanese people to be 쐌ild tempered, shy, not pursuing the root of things, hardworking, sensitive, group-oriented rather than personal-goal-oriented; focusing on domestic issues rather than foreign affairs; choosing submission over attack, harmony over conflict, realistic interest over idealistic principle. He called Japanese as 쐏eople of Concave Culture, in sharp contrast with South Koreans as 쐏eople of Convex Culture.

In the Age of Internet, this concave characteristic has handicapped Japanese people, preventing them from riding the tide of personal media revolution.

The other possible reason is the bad image of internet. In Japan, message boards are very popular to post anonymous messages. For example, the largest message board in Japan has 7 million users and 400 million web hits per month. However, this site is flooded with libels, slanders, copyright violations and even terror announcements. It is basically a lawless area. Offensive right-wing rhetoric prevails in this site, and the liberal newspapers, magazines and intellectuals are constantly under fierce attack.

The owner of this site has lost many lawsuits and has been ordered to pay expensive compensations. However, since this website is operated by an individual instead of a company, the owner refuses to pay the compensations by simply arguing 쏧 have no money to pay, and continues to run the site. It is said that this site is supported by advertising revenue, with customers mainly from pornography sites, customer loan businesses and online casinos.

The concave characteristic of Japanese people, which I mentioned before, is accompanied by an inclination to talk and behave irresponsibly when they are not named. It is as if people want to let their stresses out by doing so. With the spread of internet, this dark side of the Japanese characteristics has become visible.

In fact, these kinds of message boards have slowed down the development of internet media in Japan. Because of their bad images, the impression that internet is not worth believing, has become deeply rooted in the minds of many Japanese people.

JanJan aims to be a responsible citizen-powered media. Two processes help to ensure the responsibility: First, citizen reporters must register under their real names. Second, all articles are checked by professional editors before they are posted on the web. JanJan has turned three-year- old in this year, and my new challenge is to 쏪apanize JanJan, which means JanJan grows up from a mere copy of OhmyNews into an different internet news that really reflects the Japanese characters and cultures.

JanJan셲 goal is to achieve 500 thousand views per day by 2006. By accomplishing this goal, JanJan will be a powerful news media which can influence public opinions, stronger than other Japanese major newspapers. I would greatly appreciate if you could share your ideas and advices with me for JanJan셲 further growth.

Thank you very much for listening.

- The Challenge of JanJan (PPT) 

©2005 OhmyNews

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