A very interesting article has appeared in the Japanese-language Asahi today introducing the results of its investigation into a scandal involving Sankei Shimbun and another newspaper paying people to attend government-sponsored forums to educate people about the Supreme Court’s new lay judge system. It turns out that the practice of “co-sponsoring” these forums with regional newspapers is widespread, as is the practice of bribing people to participate (11 events managed by 4 newspapers were tainted). I won’t translate it since I suspect it will appear in Asahi’s English version after the Monday press holiday, but here’s a brief summary:
Headline: A dependence on government agencies for ad revenue was behind the “attendee mobilization” issue at regional newspapers
In the past decade or so, local newspapers have seen their ad revenues from regular companies drop significantly as their readership loses out to the larger papers. Newspapers have seen their total share of ad revenue drop from 21% to 17.4%, and regional papers have been hit harder than the major national ones. So in 1999 advertising giant Dentsu, who has a significant stake in the success of local newspapers, organized a “National Regional Newspaper Liaison Council” (office conveniently located a block away from Dentsu headquarters). The council was established as a network to collectively seek out ad suppliers (though looking at their website you’d think they existed only to co-sponsor government forums). The administrative director, managing researcher, and other positions are staffed by senior Dentsu employees.
The arrangement goes like this: The Council or Dentsu receives a contract from a government agency to hold an event to promote “understanding” of a new policy among the general populace. They then farm out operations to the local papers, who manage and report on the event in exchange for placement of ads/official announcements from the government agency.
Cosponsoring these events with local newspapers do benefit the agencies trying to get the word out about their new policies to the outlying regions, but that is only if people actually attend them. A promotional document provided by Dentsu to the Supreme Court for its forums on the lay judge system boasted attendance of “200 people or more.” A person involved explained: “The newspapers apparently felt pressure to get people to attend or else their orders from the Council would be reduced.” An employee at the ad department of one of the newspapers involved went so far as to name names: “We felt nervoud since we were co-sponsoring this with the national government. We were told by Dentsu to fill the room. Of course, the Council and Dentsu deny that they ever put any such pressure on the newspapers.