AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   January/February 1993

Prince Looks for Love Sans News Chaperone   

By Jonathan Curiel
Jonathan Curiel is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.      

A year ago, after Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito announced he was looking for a suitable princess, the island nation's tabloid journalists seemingly quizzed every young woman discovered near Tokyo's Imperial Palace. Some giggled and blushed when cornered by reporters asking about their relationships with the 32-year-old future emperor; others fled.

Concerned that such coverage might frighten potential brides, the administrative Imperial Household Agency made a simple request: a three-month voluntary blackout of news about Naruhito's search. Three months later, the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association agreed to an extension; three months later, it did so again. Finally, last November, the organization decided enough was enough and voted to end the ban on February 1.

Some editors in Japan say the blackout was simply a matter of respecting the crown and Japanese traditions. "News coverage might have disrupted the search," shrugs Yoshikazu Nagai, managing editor of the Asahi Evening News, in an opinion echoed throughout most of the country's close-knit media industry.

But Nobuyuki Sato, Washington bureau chief for the Kyodo News Service, says many Japanese journalists want the royals to be more open and believe the media should be allowed to report what it will. However, they also respect the privacy of the women who might be dating the prince.

Tokyo University communications professor Keiichi Katsura points out that the blackout is not the first time Japanese journalists have been willing to compromise to appease a society that prefers team players. When Emperor Hirohito died in 1989, the Japanese media knew about his death but waited for an official announcement because of an agreement with the Imperial Household Agency. (They got scooped by CNN.) The media also have agreed with authorities not to report on certain kidnapping cases until they are resolved, even when they are briefed on the investigation's progress.

Considering the close ties among members of the Japanese media, the blackout is not so surprising. The nation's largest media are controlled by a handful of conglomerates – all five national daily newspapers are affiliated or cooperate with major television stations, for instance. And foreign journalists and reporters from smaller publications have long been banned from news conferences held for hundreds of press clubs set up for city editors, police reporters and other speciality journalists. Although a few have opened their doors somewhat, most prohibit overly critical reporting.

For T.R. Reid, the Washington Post's Tokyo bureau chief, the blackout is startling only because of its reach. "It's a little scary that every [Japanese news organization] would go along," he says. But he notes that the Imperial Household Agency "asked [the media] to cooperate for 'the good of society.' That's still a forceful argument here."