A junior Sankei reporter on working the Prime Minister beat

While we are covering first-person accounts of reporting on Japan, I will post a translation of a recent blog post by Sankei reporter Kaori Fukushima. She offers some details of her work covering the prime minister.

[Reporter Blog] Working the Prime Minister beat (1)

by Kaori Fukushima
2008.10.15 00:19

I don’t have time right now to write anything that delves deeply, so I’ll pass on that by way of talking about something light. Let me tell you about some of the lingo and code words used in the Politics section.

This has nothing to do with my job on the PM beat, but today I worked on “toriteki” (tr: transcription) (actually I was forced into it). “Toriteki” is shrot for “tekisuto wo toru,” in other words transcription from a tape recording. It consists mainly of watching live Diet or Budget Committee interpellations and transcribing what is said. It takes time and is quite a pain in the neck, so the beat reporters, i.e. the younger members of the Politics section, are mobilized to do it. As a freshman in the Politics section, I count as a younger member.

Since Sankei is currently serving as managing secretary (the press club administrator), I also have to set up the PM’s daily press availability (burasagari) and tend to some other related matters. This job entails gathering around the PM, asking him questions, and writing down his answers. We call the midday burasagari the “hirubura.” The evening busagari thus becomes “yorubura” — basically we use words that only political reporters would understand. The press club administrator for newspapers and wire services is in charge of setting up the hirubura, and the administrator for the TV stations takes care of the yorubura. The administrator calls the PM’s secretary and asks, “What’s going on with today’s hirubura?” and he will reply “11:30 AM” or some other time. However, they cancel quite often, claiming they are too busy, such as on days like today when interpellation sessions were scheduled for both the morning and afternoon. Usually, the administrator (that’s me) asks the first question, but I am never on TV because there are no TV cameras in the hirubura.

Another job is the “evening agenda.” That is when the PM leaves his offices and meets guests, attends meetings, or dines with his secretaries or his inner circle. Beat reporters follow the PM on his evening agenda and wait outside the restaurants or bars until he is finished eating. Right now, with the weather as nice as it is, I don’t mind so much, but I am a little worried about how to handle this evening agenda in the dead of winter.

The best(?) part about being a beat reporter is definitely the “PM-bura,” i.e. the PM’s press availability. Such a reporting style, permitting journalists to stand no more than a few dozen centimeters away from the most powerful leader in the nation and freely ask questions, I think is hardly seen elsewhere in the world.

What’s more, it generally takes place twice a day. As long as they are part of a media organization with membership in the press club, there is no exclusion of critical media organizations. Sankei has often been excluded from press conferences at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, but [here] media orgs that ask annoying questions are OK, though whether the questions will be answered is a separate issue. Still more surprising, the reporters asking the questions are not veterans but young beat reporters in their 20s and 30s.

There is absolutely no way that [Chinese] Prime Minister Wen Jia Bao or President Hu Jin Tao would ever allow such green reporters to gather around him and ask questions. [US] President Bush doesn’t do it either. China and N. Korea may be different, but most foreign democratic countries would never do this. But this system actually exists in Japan, and as far as I can see, I have to think, “Japan’s politics are quite open, and in fact very casual.” This is of course only the system, so I am not sure about the true substance. Still, considering how Japanese newspapers lampoon the PM in cartoons and such, it reminds me of the how good a country with (a certain level of?) press freedom is.

In my last entry, some commenters offered criticism that the level of questions is too low. Looking at some scenes, I acknowledge that there may be no avoiding such criticism. The time is short, and it may be too great a task for young reporters to draw out the day’s most critical public comment from the PM. In that sense, beat reporters would actually love to leave everything to the senior (キャップ)veteran reporters. If you think you have a question that should be asked to the PM, please post it in the comments section. It might be reflected in my questions. By the way, you can see the full text of the PM-bura for free on the web!

<2008/10/14 19:06>

Fukushima’s blog, titled Vignettes from Beijing and the Kantei

(thanks to Aceface for the link!)

4 thoughts on “A junior Sankei reporter on working the Prime Minister beat”

  1. Right on! I can just see a Japanese Jon Stewart watching a clip of this exchange and just staring in silent amazement afterward.

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