This Saturday The Japan Times (JT) published an op-ed entitled “Right-wing witch hunt signals dark days in Japan” by Professor Jeff Kingston of Temple University Japan, whose searing commentaries have become a regular and welcome feature of the paper. The piece draws heavily from Japan specialists to spotlight what Kingston calls “government tolerance for intolerance and hooliganism [that] makes a mockery of the rule of law, [and] democratic norms…” The author notes that “the so-called Net Right (netto uyoku) of extremists, lurking behind pseudonyms and spewing ill-informed vitriol on the Internet, are eroding democratic freedoms, censoring inconvenient truths and degrading Japan’s dignity.”
One poster writing on the JT online comment forum under the handle “Japanese Bull Fighter” (the JT fully condones the use of pseudonyms) took exception to Kingston’s statement that “Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo moved to fire part-time lecturer Takashi Uemura, a former Asahi Shimbun journalist." The digital matador argues, “No, they said he would not be renewed. Part-time jobs in universities in Japan (as in the US and the UK) have no security of employment. They are renewed each year or each semester…” It was a fairly innocuous comment and one that I think JT editors would want to take note of with an eye to improving the accuracy of the article and maintaining the foundation of trust it has built with its readers.
As another commenter, “samarkand,” tells it, “since the lecturer technically isn't being "fired," but rather may not have his contract renewed by the university, the Japan Times should make a correction to the article in order to maintain journalistic standards of accuracy, even for an opinion piece.” He goes on to point out that “At the same time, such a correction doesn't change the basic point that the threats made to Hokusei Gakuen University are influencing its decision not to continue employing the lecturer….”
While Japan Bull Fighter makes a hairsplitting point it’s a world away from “spewing ill-informed vitriol.” Unfortunately the writer of the column seemed to view it otherwise and chose to reveal the personal identity behind the pseudonym, Japanese Bull Fighter, writing, “My thanks to Exxx Kxxxxxxx for sharing his views” (I’ve omitted the full name here).
While the outted poster says he is “less disturbed than curious as to why he [Kingston] felt obliged to cite me by name” it does send a chilling message to other posters, who for whatever reason, might choose to use a pseudonym or post anonymously. In outting the poster The JT columnist seems to have turned his former statement about the erosion of democracy by right wing internet extremists “lurking behind pseudonyms” on its head. The fact that The JT demonstrates a "tolerance for intolerance" by tacitly permitting its writers to divulge the identities of posters commenting under fictitious names can only serve to squash dissenting views.
If it can happen to one it can happen to another and it seems that this has happened before. On the same comment thread, Eido Inoue explains that he “called out a JT editor for doing the exact same thing in the past (referring to a popular commenter here who uses a nym by a real name), and either he or somebody else in the Japan Times deleted his "outing" comment.” In this current case the JT ought to block out the name revealed in the offending comment and explain what happened. At the very least it should promise to put a leash on writers working on The Japan Times’ dime who would engage in behavior that intimidates readers and stifles open debate, or, to borrow a line from Kingston, “are eroding democratic freedoms, censoring inconvenient truths and degrading” the Japan Times’ dignity.