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Interviewing a Canadian Newspaper Columnist: Areas of Interest in Japan and Current Situation of News Media in Canada

post date : 2021.09.29

The Foreign Press Center Japan (FPCJ) has started a new series of Interviewing Press in 2021. We interviewed participants of the fellowship programs for journalists planned and operated by the FPCJ, and asked them about their areas of interest in Japan, as well as the current situation of the news media in their countries. Here are the unique views of journalists who have actually visited Japan and gathered news firsthand, and who are currently working in the changing media industry around the world.


Mr. John Ivison, Political columnist for the National Post


He visited Japan in 2015 for the fellowship program for journalists organized by the FPCJ. We asked him about his areas of interest in Japan, and the current changes that the news media is facing with the widespread use of social media.The National Post is one of Canada’s leading national papers, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. When visiting Japan, Mr. Ivison covered the topics of Japanese diplomacy and security, historical perceptions, and Japanese public policies for dealing with an aging society.


Canada’s Relations with Japan are stronger than ever

Q. When you came to Japan, you covered Japanese diplomacy and security, historical perceptions, and Japanese public policies for dealing with an aging society. How did you get interested in those topics? Has your impression of Japan changed after your visit to Japan? How do you look at Japan today? Are there any other topics you would like to report on?

When I accepted the FPCJ invitation to travel to Japan in November 2015, it was nearly three years after a similar visit to Beijing and Shanghai, right before Xi Jinping had assumed office.
And there was a great deal of optimism that he was someone with whom the West could do business.
I left China in January 2013, appalled at the levels of pollution, impressed by the country’s technological achievements and sanguine about the prospects for peaceful co-existence. Even when it came to the dispute over the Senkaku islands, I was persuaded that the Chinese had a point.


Three years later, my visit to Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, courtesy of the FPCJ, convinced me I had been naïve in thinking that the Chinese were interested in liberalizing their political or economic systems. Speaking to people with first-hand experience of the China file, like Shinzo Abe’s special adviser Tomohiko Tamiguchi and former diplomat Kunihiko Miyake, convinced me that China is less interested in co-existence and more focused on hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Miyake pointed out that by fomenting ugly, populist nationalism, Xi is making the same mistakes that Japan itself made 80 years ago.


Seeing China through the Japanese lens opened my eyes to the threat to world peace posed by Xi’s current trajectory – and the interpretation put forward by Taniguchi and Miyake has been borne out by subsequent events. Since my return, I have frequently urged the Trudeau government to take a more realistic line on China – one based on the evidence before our eyes, rather than on wishful thinking. Prime Minister Trudeau was particularly disposed towards the Chinese because his father (former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) established diplomatic relations with Mao’s regime more than 50 years ago. But even he has been forced to reassess that rosy view, after two Canadians were detained in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver.


While relations with China have chilled, those with Japan are stronger than ever.
As I said in my article in 2015, the choice for Canada should have been simple – one side wants to remake the regional order by power politics and military might; the other would like to preserve the rules-based order by consensus. It took Trudeau far too long to reach that conclusion. It took me less time – and for that I have to thank my visit to Japan.
Climate change, COVID and the rise of China are the stories of our times. As regards Japan, it is the emergence of a concerted resistance to China’s expansionism that is my main interest.



News publishers’ negotiations with web giants like Facebook and Google are continuing around the world

Q. With the widespread use of social media, the establishment of new media outlets growing in popularity, and also the pandemic, the situation surrounding news media has been changing greatly. In your company or the region you work in, what kind of impact do you see in particular, for instance, a change in the number of your subscribers, diversification of reporting formats, etc.? How are you responding to those challenges, and what do you see in the future for media in your region?

The news media in Canada has been assailed by social media, and COVID has accelerated trends that were already killing newspapers. Around 215 Canadian titles have ceased publishing in the last 12 years, leaving just over 1,000. Many are struggling. Publishers keep cutting operating costs – mainly people – yet they can’t keep pace with the decline in advertising revenue. Ironically, readership remains high. Younger people are often portrayed as people who don’t read the news, yet surveys suggest the increased access to news through digital platforms means that readership has rarely been higher.


The problem is that they don’t pay for content and the problem that only a few premium publications have cracked is how to monetize that interest. Negotiations with web giants like Facebook and Google are continuing around the world. Australia has legislated payment by the companies that garner 80-90% of the advertising revenue (the web giants) to content providers like newspaper publishers. Similar legislation may follow in Canada, where the government has also provided public funds to keep publications afloat. My personal view is that a deal will be hatched between governments, web companies and publishers that will keep the industry alive. Governments realize the perils of civic ignorance, having witnessed the rise of Donald Trump on a platform of disinformation. Healthy democracies need a healthy media. But I am less optimistic about the future of newspapers as a business. Having given our product away for free for so long, we have not yet found a way to convince people it is worth paying for.


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