What is My Role?

Portrayals of Citizenship in Japanese Broadcast Journalism

Jun Tsukada, Graduate School of Information Sciences, Tohoku University [About | Email]

Volume 16, Issue 1 (Article 4 in 2016). First published in ejcjs on 30 April 2016.


The objective of this research project is to understand how citizens are portrayed in Japanese broadcast journalism. While content analysis is commonly employed in political communication research, few studies have focused on the portrayal of citizens in broadcast media. In the context of the political apathy that is increasingly seen to characterise Japanese citizens, this project examines how broadcast media and their representation of citizens in the news can (or cannot) be associated with such civic traits. Three evening news programmes, PSB, commercial, and local broadcast media were selected and analysed over a three-month period. It was discovered that while ordinary people appeared regularly on broadcasts, the sociopolitical attributions associated with them by the media were overwhelmingly non-political. The depiction of citizens, for the most part, replicated past research, where citizens were seen to express their impressions and feelings, showing little intent to engage in democratic politics, rather than being portrayed as engaged political actors.

Keywords: mediated citizenship, political apathy, democracy, framing, Japan.


This study is driven by an interest in understanding why Japanese citizens often fail to engage in politics as active/proactive political agents. Despite the constitutional legitimacy of voting rights, as well as a long-standing dissatisfaction towards the national government, citizens of Japan often choose silence as their primary means of political participation.

Examining the conditionality, in other words, of why people participate in politics is by no means a straightforward task. The context underlying political action or inaction can encompass various elements, such as culture, history, education, and political systems, which may all contribute to constituting and shaping the political foundation of society. While many of the aforementioned domains have received attention in academic literature seeking to understand why people participate in politics (c.f., Al-Kodmany et al 2011; Gerodimos 2010; Shen & Liang 2014), how the media contribute to (or detract from) civic participation has not been a prominent topic of discussion in Japan. In an attempt to add to the growing body of knowledge regarding political participation in Japan, this paper examines the phenomenon from a media perspective. Past research points out the potential over how the depiction of citizens in the news can influence how citizens think of themselves in a democracy (Lewis et al 2004). Therefore it can be argued that it is important to explore how citizens are represented as political entities in the media. What are the normative attributions associated with citizens in Japanese broadcast media on a daily basis? How can such portrayal be associated to the political behaviour seen amongst the citizens of Japan? This project approaches this question in the Japanese context.

Political Context

Since March 11, 2011, contemporary Japan has faced a series of challenging situations. Stricken by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and engulfed by subsequent tsunamis of massive scale, Japan was battered by natural forces that triggered one of the worst nuclear disasters in world history. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, to this day, continues to diffuse potentially harmful nuclides into the environment. While the reconstruction process of the tsunami-battered coastline is difficult enough, the deactivation of the nuclear plant remains a very critical issue, with no guarantee of remedy nor a definite timeframe for completion. This triple catastrophe, originally deriving from the massive earthquake but worsened by the subsequent tsunami and nuclear catastrophe, is commonly referred to in Japan as ‘311’.

Although Japanese citizens, especially those in the Tōhoku area, have already faced innumerable concerns and challenges resulting from the disaster, Haseba (2013) postulates that the greatest challenge Japan has yet to face regarding 311 is a political one. According to Haseba (2013), if we have learned anything at all, particularly with regard to how the nuclear issue was brought about and has been handled so far, it is the need to demand information disclosure from the institutions that are seen to have caused the nuclear catastrophe, now acknowledged as a man-made disaster (NAAIC 2012). The challenge we face, Haseba says, is building or rebuilding Japan under a more democratic and transparent political system that will prevent similar political catastrophes, which, in the past, have undermined public health and safety by promoting other interests (Hasegawa 2004).

Haseba’s remarks are not in isolation. In fact, his work reflects the conclusion of a report submitted by the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAAIC). NAAIC is an independent investigative body appointed by the Japanese Diet to examine the institutions and process behind the nuclear catastrophe. In its July 2012 report, the group concluded that the nuclear catastrophe was essentially man-made. It suggested the root cause lay in the highly secretive collusion amongst the ‘nuclear village’, composed of lawmakers, regulators, and private factions, which not only permitted, but sustained the problematic nuclear policy, while misleading—or, as some have said, deceiving—the public about its potential danger, undermining the health and well being of Japan’s people and environment. The report went on to call for more transparency and accountability in the policy-making process, which is something long overdue in Japanese politics (Inoguchi & Jain 2011).

Despite these public aspirations, the conservative Liberal Democracy Party (LDP) administration, led by Prime Minister Abe, has moved the country in a right-leaning direction since December 26, 2012—in the process, as critics point out, often working contrary to public opinion. One striking example of such ‘strongman’ administration was the willful promotion of a state secrecy bill. This bill essentially grants the government the right to declare what a ‘state secret’ is, and was passed through both houses of Parliament in late 2013. The very swift manner in which the bill was passed left little time for deliberation, sparking protest among leading opposition parties, the Japanese media, and international media and organisations (UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights 2013; The New York Times 2013; Human Rights Watch 2013). This state secrecy bill can be seen not only as pushback against the conclusive report by the NAAIC, but also as further consolidating the control of information and secrecy, Jyōhō-tōsei, with the government and bureaucracy (Repeta 2013).

A continuation of this strongman policy by Abe can be seen in a recent reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which renounces the use of force as means of settling international disputes, pledging to never maintain land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential. This restatement again sparked controversy, not just over the content of the bill itself, but the manner in which the administration bypassed formal procedures, rendering the conventional political process irrelevant (EIAS 2014). As Craig Martin of the Japan Times remarked:

The prime minister is seeking to circumvent the constitutional amendment procedure mandated by the Constitution itself, and to dictate a radical change to the meaning of fundamental principles in the Constitution by way of Cabinet fiat, with no Diet debate or vote, and no public approval. The very process violates fundamental principles of constitutionalism and the rule of law, while the substance of the proposed reinterpretation does further violence to these principles. (Martin 2014).

This forceful and highly controversial political dance has, in essence, made it possible for the Japanese Self Defence Forces to engage in military action overseas for the first time since World War II, again in opposition to the wishes of a large majority of the public. But even though such conduct added to the context of the revelations regarding the man-made nuclear disaster in exposing the divorce between Japanese political positions and the will of the public, circumstances appeared insufficient to spark the general public to respond. The majority of the public remain largely apathetic to political engagement, choosing silence as their conclusive form of action at this significant post-war political juncture.

Japanese Democracy

Japanese democracy was ‘implemented’ at the end of World War II by the Occupational forces led by the United States (Dower 2000). Since then, Japanese democracy has experienced relatively little political turmoil, governed for the majority of the post-war era by the Liberal Democracy Party (LDP) (Inoguchi & Jain 2011). According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and other organisations evaluating democratic barometers, Japan is regarded as a free or full democracy (EIU 2013), boasting sufficient regulatory and institutional requirements to be recognised as a democratic society. Within the boundaries of Articles 12 and 21 of the Japanese Constitution, Japanese citizens are free to practice their democratic rights, including voting and engaging in political activities when they feel that their civic interests have been undermined.

One of the notable traits of Japanese democracy is that citizens appear to be highly discontent with the country’s political atmosphere. According to polls conducted during the past few decades (1970–present) by the Japanese Cabinet Office, citizens appear to be dissatisfied with how the national government has been conducting its affairs: 60–80% of Japanese citizens consistently view that the government’s actions do not reflect the public interest (Government of Japan Cabinet Office, 2014). Datasets reflecting such discontent are commonplace (i.e., Hirano 2012; Zenkyo 2009; Kobayashi 2005b; NHK 2014) and this dissatisfaction amplified since 311 (Edelman 2012, 2013), likely because citizens perceive that the state has continued to neglect or fail to reflect public concern in the aftermath of a natural and political disaster.

Despite their harsh evaluation of the government and their discontent with its representation, Japanese citizens are simultaneously seen to show little or no action/reaction towards political affairs. According to data obtained from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication (2012), voting rates of national elections have hovered around 50–60% for the past two decades. Local elections show similar attendance; voting rates stayed around 50–60% in the 1990s and 2000s, but have sunk below 50% in the past few years. Statistics regarding civic engagement show a glimpse of an even more dispassionate public. For instance, according to a consecutive poll (1973–2013) initiated by the Japan’s sole public broadcaster, NHK, Japanese citizens appear to show considerable hesitance when it comes to engaging in political affairs. When asked what social activities they have taken part in besides voting, approximately 50–70% answered that they did nothing, while some responded that they had made gestures such as signing petitions (20–25%) or participating in demonstrations (0–4%). Ironically, 2013 marked the highest response by citizens who said they did nothing (71.5%), on the first polling occasion after the political revelations and mounting political challenges that have surfaced post-311 (NHK 2014).

Why Japanese citizens are seen to be distant from politics has been discussed and analysed from diverse viewpoints ranging from a cultural-political perspective (Maruyama 1961; Yanagida 1976) to the state of civic society (Avenell 2010; Nakano 1999; Ogawa 2009) to the lack of citizenship education (Davies et al 2010; Jōji Keihatsu Jigyō no Arikata-to Kenkyūkai, 2011; Kobayashi 2005a). The national government seems to acknowledge this civic trend, and addressed the matter in a ‘Citizenship Kyouiku Sengen/Citizenship Education Declaration’ report in 2006. The objective of this report was to emphasise the importance of educating students to use their democratic rights, becoming citizens who actively participate in society. Interestingly, this initial report, which was submitted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, presented the importance of citizenship in the context of economic performance. Additionally, there have been a handful of experimental initiatives among elementary through high schools in Japan, aiming to nurture citizenship from an educational standpoint (Fujiwara 2009; Hashimoto 2013; Mizuyama 2010).

While political apathy in Japan is a familiar attribute that has been analysed by many scholars using diverse perspectives, one often-overlooked viewpoint within this subject is the media. Few studies have questioned how media portrayals of citizens can and should be taken as a potential contributor to this civic apathy. The objective of this paper is to examine this very narrative: how are citizens being portrayed in the media regarding their citizenship role, and can such portrayals be associated with this civic feature of political detachment?

Citizenship and Media

Traditional media are still broadly viewed and trusted by the Japanese public (IICP 2014). Although the Internet has unquestionably altered the paradigm of information flow around the world, the actions and operation of the major media outlets still remains a focal concern, as can be seen by the continuing analysis of conventional media formats worldwide (Messner & Distaso 2008). How the media depict a social issue is thought to have an impact on how the citizens/viewers perceive and interpret the issue presented. This phenomenon has been long been discussed and researched, resulting in theories such as agenda-setting (Mccombs & Shaw 1972), framing (Iyengar 1991), and cultivation theory (Gerbner 1998). Although numerous media analyses using such theories have been conducted over the past decades, the association between media and democratic citizenship is a framework rarely employed by media scholars (Hopmann & Shehata 2011; Lewis et al 2004, Wahl-Jorgensen 2013).

Democratic citizenship remains a complicated and thus incoherent concept (Wahl-Jorgensen 2006). While it carries with it multiple dimensions and roles that are ascribed to citizens, that understanding is not always shared. Some of the basic features regarding democratic citizenship include the ‘right’, the ‘duty’, and the ‘identity’ of being a citizen. Coleman and Blumler (2009) explains this in their three dimensions of citizenship: 1) legal-judicial citizenship; 2) political citizenship; and 3) affective citizenship. The legal-judicial mode of citizenship “refers to one’s official membership in a political community, and its compulsory laws, regulations, and customs” (Coleman & Blumler 2009, p.4). It specifies the inherent role and/or obligations that a citizen is born with or is required to abide by when entering a societal entity (i.e., state). The second dimension, political citizenship, refers to an “active constituent of a body politic, capable of exerting democratic influence upon fellow citizens as well as the political state” (Coleman & Blumler 2009, p.4). This mode of citizenship, according to Coleman and Blumler, comprises three primary means of behaviour: information gathering, deliberation, and action (2009, p.5). Unlike legal-judicial citizenship, in which certain features can sometimes be mandatory (e.g., taxes), political citizenship assumes and/or expects an active and voluntary participation by citizens, utilising the aforementioned means. Lastly, there is the dimension of affective citizenship. This feature of citizenship is “concerned with mobilising feelings of civic belonging, loyalty, and solidarity” (Coleman & Blumler 2009, p.5). It is constituted and nurtured by emotions, political values, actions (e.g., national anthems, flag waving), and other symbolic repertoires that bond and motivate the citizens to act or engage in social matters (Coleman & Blumler 2009, p.5).

These concepts and modes of citizenship are only a few examples of the multi-dimensional aspects of citizenship, which continuously expand and evolve (Wahl-Jorgensen 2006). Depending on the nature of democracy and/or the political system, the notion of citizenship, together with the normative role of the citizen, can also vary (Stromback 2005). Unlike legal-judicial citizenship, which can often be clearly stated, explained, and even fought over via civic struggles, the latter two dimensions of citizenship can adopt various forms and relevance according to the given societal context, without a clear mandate stating the expected modes and means of citizenship. These—the political and affective modes of citizenship—are of particular interest for this study. As mentioned earlier, the notion of how an individual perceives his or her role as a citizen in a democracy is thought to have an impact on the motivation and justification of political action and/or apathy (Berger 2011; Parker 2003; Westheimer & Kahne 2004). In this regard, democratic citizenship is crucial if we are to approach the question of political participation, and it is of interest of this article to understand the role the media play in shaping this civic feature. Thus, it is important to understand what ‘kind’ of citizenship is being represented and promoted via the public airwaves and in print.

One of the few studies that has confronted the question of media depiction of citizenship was Houston’s analysis. Houston (2007) examines how the U.S. media depicted citizenship, additionally investigating how the media depiction of citizenship has influenced the citizen’s perceived role in society in the context of long-standing political apathy. He concludes that the media mostly depict citizens as isolated individuals, thus not associating individuals with citizenship or political identity (Houston 2007, p. 122–123). But he goes on to postulate that such media portrayals may not have had much actual impact on the way citizens perceive citizenship. He explains the media may not have had much impact on the perception of citizenship because of “the infrequency of citizen depictions in the media and the inherent complexity of the citizen concept” (Houston 2007, p. 130). In other words, the very fact that the media did not incorporate citizenship in their news reporting from the outset may have contributed to the low impact of citizenship portrayals by the media. For instance, while late night comedy news is highly political and provides a variety of political information, “it leaves citizens out of the picture” (Houston 2007, p. 132). Such programmes may enable citizens to accumulate knowledge regarding a political issue, but may understandably fail to convey the political matter as one’s own, responsible conditionality. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the definition of democratic citizenship remains a contested matter, and that complexity, explains Houston, may also have contributed to how citizens have failed to process depictions of citizenship in the media.

Perhaps the most important study to examine how citizens have been represented in the media are Lewis et al.’s 2004 analysis of U.S. and UK broadcasting content, employing a deductive approach. In the context of low voter turnout and a general hesitance regarding political matters in the UK, the authors set out to examine “whether the routines and practices of journalism might actually contribute to producing a passive, disengaged citizenry”(Lewis et al. 2004, p. 153). They examined how citizens are represented in broadcast journalism, via vox pops, and through the representation of public opinion polls. After examining more than 5,000 programmes in which citizens were represented in broadcast media, they conclude that:

Citizens are, on the whole, shown as passive observers of the world. While they are seen to have fears, impressions, and desires, they do not, apparently, have much to say about what should be done about healthcare, education, the environment, crime, terrorism, economic policy, taxes and public spending, war, peace, or any other subject in the public sphere. The world of politics is, in this sense, left to the politicians and the experts (Lewis et al. 2004, p. 163).

Analysing citizen representation in daily media has not been a prominent topic within Japanese media studies either. There was an unusual degree of focus on the question how the Japanese media portrayed the triple disaster of 311. But yet again, incorporating citizens/citizenship in the theoretical framework remains a mostly untouched narrative. This study approaches these very questions: how are Japanese citizens represented in broadcast journalism with regard to their normative and/or political role in a democracy? Can this representation be associated with the state of political apathy and inaction among the Japanese population?


Three news programmes were selected for this study: NHK’s News7, TV Asahi’s Hodo-Station, and Miyagi TV’s Obandesu. The programmes were selected based upon their organisational features and popularity during the time of analysis (April-May 2014). NHK’s News7 (a 30-minute programme) is the most-viewed evening news programme in Japan, aired by Japan’s sole Public Service Media group, NHK. TV Asahi’s Hodo-Station (a 60-minute broadcast) is the second most popular news programme, and is aired by a major commercial broadcaster, TV Asahi. One main interest in juxtaposing these two national broadcast networks was to compare how the major public and commercial broadcasters portray a citizen with regard to their normative attribution. Traditionally, public service media/broadcasters, due to their organisational features, are expected to reflect a more citizen-centred approach in their content, compared to their commercial media counterparts (Cushion 2010). The final programme investigated here is Miyagi TV’s Obandesu (a 60-minute programme). Miyagi TV is a local broadcaster located in Sendai/Miyagi Prefecture. Although it is a subsidiary of one of the major commercial media organisations (Nippon Television), it was incorporated in the study to examine whether there are noticeable discrepancies between local networks and the aforementioned national broadcasters regarding their depiction of citizens/citizenship. Obandesu is one of the more popular evening news programs in Sendai city, which is why it was incorporated into this study. Thirty-six instalments of news programmes were examined in this study, comprising 12 randomly selected days between April and June 2014 on which each of the three programmes under study were investigated.1

The analysis in this project is based upon ‘instances’. An instance is counted when an individual—whether public, private, or a representative of an entity—is allocated a media spot of more than two seconds to talk about and/or discuss the matter at hand. An instance may range from vox pop (or ‘voice of the people’) street interviews about the weather, to interviewing citizens about their thoughts on a particular topic, to briefings of prime ministers at a press club. Each instance is counted and then categorised according to the variables below:

1. Identity

Identity is the feature in which the individual is ascribed in the media frame (e.g., political citizen, public figure, witness, student, expert, etc.).

2. Responsibility Frame/Solution Frame

Drawing from the work of past literature (Iyengar 1991; Semetko & Valkenburg 2000), an instance will be categorised under a Responsibility Frame/Solution Frame when the individual is clearly designated as a subject who is seen as responsible for and/or the solution to the political issue at hand. Any vague specifications have been excluded. Only instances regarding political matters are counted, and these instances must clearly state who is responsible, and who is a solution.

3. Other Settings

Certain other settings were also applied.

  • If a single individual is interviewed once and later reappears, it will be counted as an additional instance (if lasting more than two seconds).
  • Only instances in which the individual speaks with his or her own words will be counted (voiceover captions will be excluded).
  • Telephone interviews have been included only when speaking in actual voices.

Additional coders have not been employed for this project because the variables employed are relatively straightforward, with a focus on quantity rather than on evaluating or distinguishing between specific media frames or discourse.

Research Questions

The objective of this project is to understand how ‘citizens’ are depicted in broadcast media. To actualise this, four research questions have been formulated.

Lewis et al.’s (2004) study revealed that citizens are primarily depicted in the media as observers, not necessarily as active and able political agents. One criterion that is crucial in evaluating the relevance of citizens in news media are their overall appearance as political beings. RQ#1 will focus on the quantity of instances in which a citizen has been assigned and interviewed as a political agent .

RQ#1: To what extent are citizens designated by the media as political agents?

While the quantity of appearances (RQ#1) can serve as an indicator to understand the extent to which citizens are depicted in the media as political agents, the normative role associated with citizens is also a relevant focal point. If the citizens are continuously appointed or associated to a particular feature of citizenship in the media, then according to the agenda-setting and framing theories, that may have implications on how citizens think of their normative role. While being appointed a particular role may have implications on citizen thought, citizens ‘self-appointing’ a normative role for themselves may be as or even more persuasive than being appointed by a third-party agent. Thus, RQ#2 will focus on the normative role of citizens depicted in the media, whether appointed to them or self-appointed. How do general citizens see themselves with regard to their normative role in a democracy? Additionally, do other social agents see citizens as responsible and/or the solution to the political issue at hand?

RQ2: How are citizens depicted by themselves regarding their normative role in society?

RQ3: How are citizens depicted by others regarding their normative role in society?

There has been much discussion over the impact commercial elements can have on journalism and democracy (e.g., Shoemaker 1996), as well as the importance of Public Service Media (e.g., Cushion 2009). Lewis et al. (2004) juxtaposed these two media entities in their groundbreaking analysis, and concluded that the general portrayal of citizens in these entities did not deviate significantly despite their organisational variance. The final RQ similarly examines whether there are discrepancies between the national PSB and national commercial broadcasters, and further incorporates a local broadcaster in the analytical framework. Compared to national media, local media are thought to be a favourable forum for local citizens to understand and act upon the state of affairs of their community (Aldridge 2007). If this is the case, then we may see some degree of discrepancy between how national broadcasters and local broadcasters portray citizens with regard to their normative expectations. To date, there have been no substantial studies focusing on the discrepancies between national and local media; to address this deficiency, this feature was added to the overall framework of this project. The final RQ examines whether there are any noticeable trends over the three media entities under analysis.

RQ#4: Are there any noticeable discrepancies between local, national, and public broadcasters with respect to their portrayal of citizens and their normative role?


The total number of instances that were counted was 1,032. The average number of instances per program was 28.7. As can be seen in Chart 1, the media predominantly called upon males in their interviews: 77% (n=799) of the individuals portrayed were male and only 21% (n=220) were female. Chart 2 shows that the majority (88%, n=907) of instances portrayed Japanese citizens. Ukraine (n=25) had not previously been a frequent focus in Japanese news media, but due to the political and military turmoil in that region, news coverage regarding Ukraine was a notable topic across all broadcast networks during the survey period. The United States and its public officials are frequent agents in Japanese news media. Italy’s noticeable appearance is because the Japanese national football team’s coach is Italian, and appeared in various interviews during the survey period.

Chart 1: Statistics of persona
Male n=799 (77%)
Female n=220 (21%)
Unknown n=5 (1%)
Group n=8 (1%)
Total n=1032
Chart 2: Nationality
Source nationality
Japan n=907
Ukraine n=25
USA n=21
Italy n=17
China n=14
Russia n=8
North Korea n=5
South Korea n=5
Australia n=4
Hong Kong n=2
EU n=2
UK n=2
France n=1
Other n=19
Total n=1032

Research Questions

Regarding RQ#1 (To what extent are citizens portrayed by the media as political agents?), the total number of instances in which citizens were portrayed as political agents in the news was only 3% (n=32) of the total quantity (Chart 3). In contrast, citizens were appointed a non-political role (e.g., witness, consumer, student, expert, etc.) in 31% (n=336) of instances—a dramatic difference. Public figures such as politicians were understandably represented in a high ratio of instances (23%; n=238), but still fell short of non-political citizens.

Chart 3: Speaker attributes
Non-political citizen (witness, random vox pop) n=336 (31%)
Public figure (politician, bureaucrat, municipal staff) n=238 (23%)
Sport related n=157 (15%)
Other profession (researcher, doctor) n=102 (9%)
Commercial entity n=69 (6%)
Non-political expert n=36 (3%)
Political citizen n=32 (3%)
Child/student n=24 (2%)
Journalists n=17 (1%)
Political expert n=14 (1%)
Other n=7 (1%)
Total n=1032

When examining RQ#2 (How are citizens depicted by themselves regarding their normative role in society?), we see that the total number of instances in which citizens were appointed the role of political agents was 3% (n=32) (Chart 3). Of these 32 instances, 12 derive from Japanese nationals (Chart 4). This means that the actual ratio of Japanese citizens being represented in the news as political agents was not 3%, but only 1.5% of total instances.

The objective of RQ#2 is to see to who Japanese citizens (n=12) associated with responsibility for and as a solution to the issue at hand. As Chart 5 shows, on no occasion did a Japanese citizen indicate fellow Japanese citizens as having responsibility for the issue at hand. When examining citizen-to-citizen solution frames (Chart 6), in one instance, a Japanese citizen self-appointed Japanese citizens as a solution to the focal issue. This rare occasion, aired on April 11 on Hodo-Station, dealt with the selection of school textbooks in Taketomi town of Okinawa; a citizen appointed her fellow citizens as the solution to the matter at hand.

Chart 4: Breakdown of political citizens
Political citizens
Ukraine n=14
Japan n=12
China n=3
Hong Kong n=1
Other n=2
Total n=32
Chart 5: Citizen-to-citizen responsibility frame
Responsibility frame
Japanese citizens n=0
Not mentioned n=12
Chart 6: Citizen-to-citizen appointed solution frame
Solution frame
Japanese citizens n=1
Not mentioned n=9
Third person “somebody” n=2

We turn now to RQ#3 (How are citizens depicted by others regarding their normative role in society?). As can be seen from Chart 7, there were a total of 32 instances in which an agent other than Japanese citizens appointed responsibility to one agent or another. Within these 32 instances, there were no occasions in which an agent designated Japanese citizens as responsible. The most frequent agent appointed responsibility was the Russian government, in the context of the conflict in Ukraine; various agents (e.g., the U.S. government) saw the Russian government as responsible for the political turmoil. No agent, within the scope of this study, appointed citizens of any country as responsible for a social issue.

The solution frames show similar results. As can be seen from Chart 8, there were a total of 26 instances in which an agent other than Japanese citizens appointed another agent as a solution to the matter at hand. Among these 26 instances, there was one occasion in which a Japanese politician appointed Japanese citizens as a solution to the given matter. This exceptional instance involved a politician explaining that the citizens’understanding is key in the overall process of reinterpreting Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. This was the only confirmed case out of the 1,032 instances across three broadcast programmes in which an agent appointed Japanese citizens as a solution to a political matter.

Chart 7: Responsibility frame by other agents
All responsibility frames
Toward Japanese citizens n=0
Russian Government n=12
Japanese Government (national and local) n=5
Chinese Government n=5
North Korean Government n=2
Ukraine Government n=4
US Government n=3
South Korean Government n=1
Total n=32
Chart 8: Solution frame by other agents
All solution frames
Toward Japanese citizens n=1
Government Japan n=7
International Community n=4
Unidentified third person term n=4
Oneself n=4
Organization n=4
Public figure (national and international) n=4
Total n=26

With respect to RQ#4 (Are there any noticeable discrepancies between local, national, and public broadcasters?), NHK, the public broadcaster, appointed citizens as political agents most frequently (Chart 9). Simultaneously, NHK also represented public figures the most in their instances, amounting to 34% of their entire usage. Hodo-Station of Asahi TV, the most viewed commercial evening news programme in Japan, provided non-political citizens the most prominence, butsports players (including coaches, managers, etc.) also received considerable coverage amounting to 20% of their entire instance count. The local television network, Miyagi TV, also gave non-political citizens the most prominence in their interviews, totalling 42% of their entire instance count. Meanwhile, of the three programmes in this study, Miyagi TV devoted the least amount of time, less than 1% of instances, to political citizens.

Chart 9: Discrepancies among broadcast networks
NHK instances total (n=223)
Political citizens instances n=15 (6%) Japan=7, Ukraine=4, China=4
Public figure instances n=77 (34%)
Sports player instances n=22 (10%)
Non-political instances n=46 (21%)
Hodo Station instances total (n=397)
Political citizens instances n=14 (3%) Ukraine=11, Japan=1, Brazil=1, Nigeria=1
Public figure instances n=92 (23%)
Sports player instances n=80 (20%)
Non-political instances n=116 (29%)
Miyagi TV instances total (n=412)
Political citizens instances n=3 (<1%) Japan=3
Public figure instances n=69 (17%)
Sports player instances n=55 (13%)
Non-political instances n=174 (42%)


According to this study’s findings, although featured prominently in Japanese broadcast journalism, citizens, are overwhelmingly given a non-normative political role regardless of the broadcaster’s organisational features. Such findings neatly replicate the results of past studies (Brookes et al. 2004; Lewis et al. 2004) in which citizens are portrayed as passive creatures who have little to say in the political realm or are not capable of speaking and/or deliberating about political issues. Concurrently, we see that for the most part, citizens and other actors in the news do not appoint citizens as responsible agents nor as solutions to political issues. Such a consistent tendency may have, as Neuman et al. (1992) had previously claimed, a “powerlessness” frame effect, whereby citizens may conform, either naturally or reluctantly, to the notion that politics is something done elsewhere and is basically out of his/her “locus of control” (Neuman et al. 1992, p. 68). Simultaneously, Houston (2007) suggested that the absence of citizenship frames in the media itself should also be considered to have an impact on how citizens perceive their normative role in society. While more qualitative research will be required to understand the actual process through which political incentives eventually terminate, the broadcast media in this study appear to contribute to the representation—and potentially the creation—of such a politically-detached citizenry.

While many of the tendencies seen in this study replicated past findings, one particularly notable element in this study is RQ#4. Local television, which is traditionally held to be in a position to be more engaged with the local community, citizens, and political affairs, actually showed the lowest count of instances of citizens as political agents, while granting the most time to citizens as non-political agents. Due to the limited sample size and channels of analysis, no generalised statements can be made at this point. However, if this trend is seen to be strongly replicated across many local broadcast networks, then that may suggest that it is not only the national broadcast media, with their top-down imposition of mediated citizenship that matters (i.e. Houston 2007; Lewis et al 2004); equal attention to the local broadcast media and their performance may also be required so as to better understand the process of mediated citizenship in the Japanese context.


Insofar as the programmes that have been analysed for this study are concerned, it can be concluded that citizens depicted in the media do not consider themselves politically relevant, nor are they regarded as such by public figures and/or political agents. Instead, they are assigned a politically passive identity, a persona that expresses their emotions but is reluctant or unable to engage in political matters and/or deliberation. While such findings can contribute to our understanding of mediated citizenship in the Japanese context, several critical questions can be raised. First and foremost, there are very little, if any studies that examine mediated citizenship in the online context. This article, as well as past research regarding mediated citizenship, have limited their examination to traditional media forms (e.g., television, newspaper). The consumption as well as the selection of news have diversified in the past decade and thus need to be taken into consideration better to understand how mediated citizenship is operationalised in the online world.

An additional question is to understand the reason and process of mediated citizenship, namely to uncover how/why the media eventually decide to portray the citizen in this particular manner (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2002). This question has so far received little attention in the Japanese context. Additionally, it may also be important to understand the effect of such media frames. In other words, to understand how different forms of mediated citizenship can alter or modify the citizen’s self perception of what it means to be a political citizen in a democracy. Such findings can add to our understanding over how the media contributes to the process of political socialisation, which again is a topic which has not been a prominent agenda among media scholars in Japan. This article can not engage with these challenging research questions here, but instead invites scholars who are interested in similar topics to pursue such narratives.


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[1] Broadcast content of the three networks were analysed over a three-month period, on the following exact dates: April 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14; May 12, 13, 26, 29; June 4, 9.

About the Author

Jun Tsukada is a Post-doctoral research fellow (Political Informatics) at the Graduate School of Information Sciences, Tohoku University. He holds a B.A. in Comparative Culture (Sophia University, Japan), and an M.A. in Political Communication (Mittuniversitetet, Sweden). His main areas of interest are mediated citizenship, democratic citizenship, democracy and e-democracy.

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