Political economy perspectives on a model for media that supports diversity

Professor Yoshihiro Oto of the Faculty of Humanities continues his research on the media from the perspective of political economy. He is studying the ideal model of media that is indispensable for people to lead a democratic social life, and he hopes to give some of the fruits of his research back to society.

Wilbur Schramm from the US is said to be the father of communication studies and describes this field of study as the intersection of academic fields. It is a field that is formed by the intersection of various academic fields. I undertake research on how media can and should interact with society from a political economy perspective.

Take, for example, the establishment of activities by a democratic local media outlet based in a specific region. They may visualize the region’s issues and become a platform for realizing the region’s aspirations. The local media may also become a platform that brings together wisdom for solving issues at local levels.

It is interesting to investigate and study this process, and it can also provide many hints for other local communities. My interest started when studying cable television in Oita Prefecture’s Oyama-cho (presently part of Hita City) as a graduate student.

This research suggested that the role of television was changing. When television broadcasting was first started, the main role of television in provincial areas was as a means of obtaining information from central areas such as Tokyo and from overseas. With the appearance of cable television, which adopted an independent production model, events being held in the regions, the activities of people living in those areas, and other topics were primarily televised.

The establishment of local cable television provided a new media space for issues unique to those places. This had a profound impact in terms of promoting awareness of local issues, and building momentum for local change and revitalization.

Previously national centralized media had focused on nation building, but there was a disjunction between these national and international issues and how they could be actioned in the context of local communities and their values.

Media issues revealed by awareness survey

Democracy is supported by diverse opinions, and media plays a critical role in expressing and sustaining that diversity. However, research to date has also revealed challenges facing the media. Research conducted by academics in the Department of Journalism specializing in social psychology suggests that there may be some issues with national media coverage of Okinawa.

In an awareness survey about local media coverage in Okinawa conducted in February 2023, a total of 1,000 responses were received from both mainland Japan and Okinawa. In the question about whether Okinawa’s media understand public sentiments in Okinawa, many people in both mainland Japan and Okinawa answered “Yes.”

On the other hand, in the question about whether mainland Japan’s media understand public sentiments in Okinawa, approximately 70% in respondents from mainland Japan and approximately 80% of respondents from Okinawa answered “No.”

From this response, it could be deduced that the public mistrust mainstream national media, and also understand that local media, which handles the local community with sincerity and expert local knowledge, is recognized as reflecting true public sentiments.

Discovering new business models for the media

In an ideal media model, local issues would be covered by local subject-matter experts that provide accurate information in order to support democratic social discourse.

However, Japan’s stagnant economy and aging population have caused financial difficulties for Japanese media organizations, such as declining advertising revenues. In order to maintain financial stability, there is a trend towards media organizations consolidating to take advantage of economies of scale.

Consolidation tends to result in content that is less local and more tailored to the average consumer of the media, silencing local voices and often resulting of popularist content that has general appeal but that does not reflect diverse local opinions. As a result, the media cannot fulfil its inherent social responsibility to provide reliable information while maintaining social diversity.

It is important to discover new sustainable business models for media that allow the media to reflect local and diverse opinions while continuing to self-regulate and remain true to their function in a democratic society as enshrined in the Japanese constitution and other legal rights.

It is hoped that, in conjunction with discussions with members of the media, the research currently being conducted in the Department of Journalism can help to propose a political economy model that reconciles the competing demands and constraints placed on media organizations in Japan and promotes local diversity in media coverage.

The book I recommend

“Shiso no Boken: Shakai to Henka no Atarashii Paradaimu”(Adventures in Ideology: A New Paradigm in Society and Changes)
compiled by Kazuko Tsurumi & Saburo Ichii, Chikumashobo

This book was compiled by Professor Kazuko Tsurumi who taught me when I was in graduate school. It advocated the importance of reconsidering the modernization and social development of Japan since the Meiji era from a non-European perspective and serves as my academic background.

Yoshihiro Oto

  • Professor
    Department of Journalism
    Faculty of Humanities

Born in Sapporo City in 1961. Completed the doctoral program in Journalism at Sophia University’s Graduate School of Humanities in 1990. Took on several positions—such as working at the research institute of the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan and as a visiting scholar at Columbia University—before assuming his current position in 2007. Specializes in media theory and information society theory. Other concurrent appointments include serving as the director of Sophia University’s Institute of Media, Culture and Journalism, visiting researcher at the General Affairs Research Bureau of the House of Representatives, councilor of the Open University of Japan, and chairman of the Association of Broadcast Critics.

Department of Journalism

Interviewed: October 2023

Sophia University

For Others, With Others