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Progressive News vs. Corporate News

SNA (Tokyo) — Running the Shingetsu News Agency, a recurring theme among some of our critics is that they feel that our news service is politically biased. It’s now time to clear the air. We are guilty as charged. We are indeed politically biased… and so is every other news agency on Earth.

There are those who tell us that they are looking for an “objective” news media service. They want a media that will simply give them the facts and dispense with biased opinions. We are here to say that a such a news media does not exist, and it cannot exist.

So what does that mean? It comes down to the issue of “news value,” which can never be separated from the people making these judgments.

Let’s posit an example. Today in Tokyo there were more than a million events that might easily be reported by a news service. Among these events, the editors of news services covering Tokyo might choose two, three, or maybe six of them to write about and to present to their readers.

But which of those million events to report? Which are the ones that the readers really need to be told about? There’s simply no way to make that judgement that doesn’t include human, institutional, and usually commercial biases.

That means that even a news service that writes in a flat, dry, and factual tone is not actually “objective,” but rather implicitly shaping a public argument. They have biases, but they are not being open about what they are.

That said, there is certainly an important distinction to be made between “fake news” and professional news. The latter might indeed be shaping public perceptions in terms of the facts that they choose to present, but they do make a serious effort to ensure that the facts that they publish are indeed facts. Every news organization necessarily makes mistakes, but professional news organizations always have the goal of publishing only things that are factually accurate, and so to preserve their long-term credibility.

The sleazy purveyors of “fake news,” however, have no interest in whether or not the information they publish is factually true or false, only that they can derive some immediate political or other advantage from making people believe what they have published.

What most progressive news organizations like SNA have in common with most mainstream corporate news organizations is that we are trying to publish only the information that is—as far as we can determine—factual and true.

But what sets us apart from them is that we advertise our bias rather than deny it. The SNA is biased on the side of democratic forms of government, suspicion of oligarchies and other concentrations of public power, and have a commitment to fairer, more decent, non-discriminatory societies, aiming at the common benefit of all humanity.

Our argument is that the corporate media, though it pretends to be unbiased, in fact largely serves the commercial and political interests of the major corporations which own them. Their particular selection of what constitutes “news value” inherently serves nationalism, the establishment, and the monied elite.

How does this play out? A very instructive recent example was the case of Ingrid Martinussen, arrested and held for twenty days on false charges of importing illegal drugs into Japan.

Which news organizations focused their attention on the case? Only the Norwegian media and the progressive SNA. The Norwegian media’s interest was nationalistic—a member of their own tribe was treated unfairly in a foreign land. For the SNA, on the other hand, we saw it as a case of the victimization of an ordinary, innocent person, which highlighted serious problems in Japan’s criminal justice system as well as the nation’s destructive and irrational “war on drugs.”

And why did every single corporate media organization outside of Scandinavia decide that the story did not have sufficient “news value” to report to their readers?

The answer, unfortunately, is that Ingrid Martinussen, as just an ordinary foreign student living in Japan, wasn’t considered an important enough victim to warrant their coverage. She is not enough of an elite figure to deserve their defense.

Similar cases demonstrating the injustice of Japan’s legal system have received extensive corporate media attention, but only when the victim is indeed a member of the corporate elite.

How many mainstream journalists were tasked by their editors with wall-to-wall coverage of Carlos Ghosn’s encounter with “hostage justice”? In 2015, when Toyota executive Julie Hamp became the victim of Japan’s irrational approach to the drug war, the corporate media was all over the story. The elite tribe rallied to the defense of one of their own, with even then-US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy intervening on Hamp’s behalf.

The SNA does not begrudge the fact that the international corporate media defended Ghosn and Hamp against unjust treatment; we just wish that they would do a better job extending their protection to ordinary citizens who don’t have a lot of money or power, but who are equally worthy of their efforts.

For the SNA, our tribe is—our open bias is on behalf of—decent, kind, and worthy people from any nation and of any income level. As a progressive news agency, we aim (as do most professional journalists) at presenting the facts, but our selection of stories, our conception of what has news value, is likely, for the reasons explained, to be different on many occasions from the corporate media.

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