NAHA, Okinawa — Of Okinawa’s two major newspapers, one — the Ryukyu Shimpo — admits it has an anti-military stance and the other — the Okinawa Times — claims it merely reflects the attitude of the island’s people.
They both say they fairly report the news. It’s not their fault a good deal of the news about the U.S. military presence is unfavorable, they say.
“In our 60-year history, we have never produced our paper under the banner of anti-American, or anti-military,” said Satoshi Yagi, assistant managing editor for the Okinawa Times. “What is wrong is wrong; this is what we focus and shed light on.”
The Okinawa Times, published since July 1, 1948, has a circulation of 200,000.
“It is hard for us to figure out why some people view our paper as biased,” Yagi said. “If people say our way of reporting is biased, I would like to see a concrete example.”
He denied the paper shapes public opinion, and it conducts reader polls every five years.
“As far as the military bases are concerned, our polls indicate the majority want a gradual reduction of the bases,” he said. “Those who demand an immediate and total closure of the bases are very small in number and have become smaller and smaller over time.”
He said the Okinawans have a unique perspective concerning the military.
“Okinawa was under U.S. military occupation for 27 years,” he said. “During the occupation era, newspapers were published under censorship of the military and the human rights of the Okinawan people were largely ignored and taken lightly.
“We, the local media, have reported their voices, which we believe contributed to the military changing its approach toward crimes committed by its members,” said Yagi.
That is why Okinawans react to crimes committed by servicemembers more vocally than mainland Japanese, he said.
But on the flip side, he added, “When it comes to individual interactions with Americans, Okinawans are more open and welcoming.”
He said subsidies from Tokyo, meant to “ease” the prefecture’s burden of hosting more than half the U.S. troops in Japan, are a fact of life.
“Voices are raised when they suffer from noise or crimes committed by military members. And it is our job to cover the voices of the community and people we serve.”
Media critics claim that some time ago a journalist organization on the island passed a resolution to actively campaign against the bases.
It’s probably a misconception confused with the formation of the now 700-member Council of Mass Media Labor Unions of Okinawa, organized in 1969 to take part in the movement to return Okinawa to Japan, said Kan Miyagi, the council’s secretary-general.
“Our slogan today is for the revision of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the reduction and removal of the military bases,” he said. “This is what we believe in as labor union members. But can we force [newspaper] management to comply with the union’s goal? Of course not.”
He said each media outlet chooses its own editorial stances and questioned whether any newspaper was biased.
“To oppose the existing newspapers on Okinawa, a right-leaning newspaper, Okinawa Jiho, was established in 1968,” he said. “But it had to close the business because they could not get support from Okinawan readers.”
One newspaper on Okinawa makes no bones about its anti-base stance.
Takeshi Kakazu, editor in chief of the Ryukyu Shimpo, said his paper’s goal is to be rid of the military.
“The ideal for Okinawa is to become a military-free island,” he said, claiming the editorial position reflects the sentiment of the Okinawans.
The Ryukyu Shimpo is 115 years old, dating from September 15, 1893. Its current circulation is about 205,000.
Like other papers in Japan, the fate of Ryukyu Shimpo was controlled by militarism that swept through the country during World War II, Kakazu said. It was put under control of the Japanese Imperial Army from 1940 until May 1945.
“Military bases on Okinawa were formed in a way that created strong anti-military sentiment among Okinawan people,” Kakazu said. “Every single Okinawan who survived the Battle of Okinawa was taken to concentration camps when the war ended. By the time they were released from the camps, many of them found their homes had been enclosed with barbed-wire fences.
“Much of the military bases on Okinawa are on land that was forcibly taken from residents,” he said. “Considering these facts, we cannot help but to deny the legitimate presence of military bases.”
Kakazu, however, denied that the paper is biased against Americans.
“People may say that highlighting a trespassing incident by a servicemember is not fair, but from Okinawan people’s standpoint, a stranger breaking into their home is just as frightening as a robbery attempt,” he said.
“One thing we want people in the military to understand is that the Okinawan people are very sensitive to crimes committed by servicemembers,” he said.
However, the anti-military sentiment should never be mistaken as anti-American. “Okinawan people are more pro-American than any other people in the rest of Japan.”