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Comparative Global Assessment of the Media Coverage of Japan’s “Comfort Women” Issue

Fri, June 10, 14:00 to 15:15, Fukuoka Hilton, Rigel

Session Submission Type: Panel


This panel investigates how domestic or regional issues develop into global news in the age of globalization. We specifically focus on the following points: 1) identifying agenda setters of a regional controversy or/and how they assume control of the issues 2) in what ways national/global media play a part in framing the issues 3) whether or in what ways geographical proximities come into play and how the level of interconnectedness between the domestic and international politics matter.

As a case in point, we examine the coverage of the so-called “comfort women” issue since the 1990s. The term “comfort women” derives from the direct translation of the Japanese word "ianfu" and term refers to the women who were forcibly recruited during WWII to serve in military brothels, euphemistically called “comfort stations,” and were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. In Japan there have been heated controversies whether and in what form Japan’s imperial army was involved in the "ianfu" system, particularly in the Korean Peninsula. The "ianfu" issue has long cast a shadow over South Korea-Japan relations.

The "ianfu" controversy generated a renewed nation-wide attention in Japan in 2014 after the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s flagship liberal daily with a circulation of 6 million, apologized for “having damaged the image of Japan in the world because of its ‘false coverage’” of comfort women issues. We therefore investigated the "ianfu" coverage of major newspapers in Japan, South Korea, France, the U.K. and the U.S. to see how the issue was framed. We also researched who were quoted as witnesses and experts on the issue. Moreover, we analyzed who controlled and dominated the debates over the issue as well as what triggered the increase in the reporting of the ianfu controversy in each nation. Finally, we tracked how the "ianfu" issue was transformed into a global agenda through content analysis method. We conclude that the domestic arguments in Japan had limited, if any, impact on international debates over the ianfu issue, despite the intense public outcry against the Asahi Shimbun for damaging Japan’s international standing for its critical stance over the nation’s colonial past.

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