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North Africa in the Japanese Media: Coverage of the Arab Spring in the Asahi Shimbun – Virgil Hawkins and Miho Takenaka

July 21, 2017

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North Africa in the Japanese Media: Coverage of the Arab Spring in the Asahi Shimbun

By Virgil Hawkins and Miho Takenaka

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 15 (July 2017)

The news media in Japan has a tendency to be highly insular (generally low levels of coverage of the outside world) and lopsided in the what little coverage there is. Coverage of Africa is indicative of this state of affairs, with the continent accounting for just 3.4% of world news coverage in Japan’s top three newspapers (Asahi, Mainichi and Yomiuri) in 2015. But Africa is not ignored all the time, and the so-called Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia in late 2010, is one series of events of which the media in Japan did take notice, at least for a while. But how did this coverage play out? Which countries attracted media attention, and when? Using one of the top three national daily newspapers in Japan, Asahi Shimbun, this article attempts to answer this question, using data collected by Global News View (GNV)(LINK TO: http://globalnewsview.org/).

The graph below shows the total quantity of coverage from 2010 to 2016 (measured by a count of the number characters) in the Asahi Shimbun of seven North African countries, aligned according to the quantity: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania. It includes not only coverage related to the Arab Spring, although it is fair to say that content related to the Arab Spring and its aftermath largely dominated the coverage.

Egypt was easily the most-covered country, with almost double the level of coverage of the second-placed Libya. On the other end of the scale, the three least covered countries: Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, remained virtually invisible in the newspaper. Western Sahara, for example, was the subject of just three articles, and Mauritania just one short article, over the entire seven-year period examined. And while readers may be tempted to assume that Japan has no political or economic interests in this part of the world, it is worth noting that more than 70 percent of Japan’s octopus imports (along with a significant amount of several other popular varieties of seafood) come from Morocco (including the waters off the coast of occupied Western Sahara) and Mauritania.

Breaking down the levels of coverage by year (from 2010 to 2016) gives us further clues into media interest in the region. The graph below shows coverage by year for the region, excluding Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania given the almost complete lack of coverage.

On the whole, the massive rise in coverage from 2010 to 2011, and the slow fadeout of coverage almost reaching 2010 levels by 2016 shows the power of the Arab Spring in generating media interest.

At a country level, coverage of Egypt remained consistently high (relatively speaking) between 2011 and 2013. The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the establishment of a new government under President Mohamed Morsi, and his subsequent overthrow in 2013 kept Egypt either in or not far from, the media spotlight during this period. While the powerful economic and strategic position of Egypt in the region, as well as its attraction as a tourist destination can help to explain the Japanese media interest, it is also worth pointing out that the Asahi Shimbun maintains only two bureaus on the African continent – one in Cairo and the other in Johannesburg.

Coverage of Libya over the seven years observed, on the other hand, was concentrated almost entirely in just one year – 2011. The uprisings culminating in the fall of Muammar Gaddafi dominated coverage, and the fact that his fall took place over a much longer (and more violent) period of time than Mubarak, and involved military intervention by NATO, meant more coverage was allocated for Libya than was for Egypt for that year. But regardless of how tumultuous the years that followed in Libya were, the fall of Gaddafi appeared to signal the end of media interest, and coverage disappeared almost entirely from the Asahi Shimbun from 2012 onwards.

The levels of coverage of Tunisia were far lower than those for either Egypt or Libya. The Japanese press was slow in recognizing the significance of the events unfolding in Tunisia in late 2010, and the revolution was over before substantive amounts of coverage were devoted to it. Media interest in the country largely disappeared in the years that followed, with the exception of 2015. The prime source of the brief resurgence in media interest was the Bardo National Museum attack, in which three Japanese tourists were among those killed. The winning of the Nobel Peace Prize by the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was a secondary source of interest for the same year.

Algeria was another example in which media coverage (while at very low levels overall) was heavily concentrated around a single event. While the government in Algeria did not fall during the Arab Spring, it was certainly impacted, but this was not the source of media interest in Algeria, nor were any other political developments. As much as 97 percent of coverage of Algeria in the Asahi Shimbun in the seven years examined was devoted to a single event – the Amenas hostage crisis, in which ten Japanese nationals were among the dead at the gas plant attack in 2013.

The results of this examination of coverage of North Africa by the Asahi Shimbun reveal very limited and lopsided patterns of coverage. Egypt was the only country in which moderate levels of coverage were sustained for some time following the Arab Spring, with the other countries only attracting interest at their most tumultuous periods, or when the lives of Japanese citizens were directly impacted in those countries. Given the overall limited quantity of news and the imbalances therein, one can conclude that even avid consumers of Japanese news media will be left with little access to information, and therefore limited understanding, of the region and the issues it faces.

(This article is an adaptation of an article (LINK: http://globalnewsview.org/archives/4876) by Miho Takenaka published in Japanese on the Global News View (GNV) website).

 

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