The Sankei Shimbun is going into opposition for the first time.
Faced with criticism, the paper apologized for the careless remark, i.e. careless in that someone actually saw it and complained, not in its basic truth as a statement of the Sankei‘s intentions in regard to a DPJ government.
As we saw in 2007 when Yomiuri‘s Watanabe Tsuneo tried to orchestrate a grand coalition between the DPJ and the LDP, Japan’s newspapers are accustomed to thinking of themselves as active participants in the political process. Naturally Sankei would use the same term used to describe a governing party’s losing an election and going into opposition to describe its own situation after the general election. The Fujisankei group is no friend of the DPJ’s — and it will not be alone.
It will pounce on every mistake — real or imagined — of the Hatoyama government in order to embarrass it and otherwise undermine its credibility. It will report on every note of doubt printed in a foreign publication or voiced by a foreign analyst about the DPJ government in order to paint the DPJ as unable to manage Japan’s foreign relations.
In other words, episodes like the dust-up with the New York Times/IHT could not only color foreign perceptions of the DPJ government, but Sankei and other publications will do their best to make sure that those perceptions have some impact within Japan.
The DPJ needs to get much better at handling the media, and soon. The LDP may be reeling, but Sankei and others certainly are not. (For more on the political power of the Japanese media, see the report referred to here.)