Examination: Request for Order to Dissolve the Family Federation Runaway Politics and Media(3)Media Bias

“Information Disasters” Linked to Aiding Terrorists

Media coverage on the July 8, 2022 shooting of former Prime Minister Abe has been extremely scant in their criticism of the terrorist act committed by defendant Tetsuya Yamagami. On the contrary, the media —which had opposed Abe’s politics during his tenure as prime minister—has repeatedly criticized the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly known as the Unification Church or Family Federation; hereafter referred to as “the church”), instead focusing relentlessly on the connection between the church and Abe or with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in addition to the defendant’s victimization (that his family became impoverished) due to his mother donating large amounts to the church, which Yamagami claimed was the motive for his crime.

Press conferences held by the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (Japan)—an association that is in dispute with the church—have received extensive media coverage. However, the viewpoints of the church or its individual followers have hardly been addressed. As a result, a unilateral narrative advocating for sanctions against the church has proliferated. Naturally, this has had an impact on the decline in public support for the Kishida cabinet in opinion polls.

On October 19, 2022, Kishida simply reinterpreted the Religious Corporations Act without a Cabinet decision, a move that was derided as “flip-flopping (on politics),” yet both the ruling and opposition parties endorsed the prime minister’s disregard of procedures. As the government readily encroached on the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human right of “freedom of religion,” the Japanese media remained bystanders. This is in stark contrast with their open opposition seen during the 2015 Security Legislation, exposing a clear double standard.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, terrorism has especially been remembered as one of the greatest threats to the security of modern society. (When New Zealand was hit with a terrorist attack,) then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to “give him nothing, not even his name.” However, this lesson was not heeded (by the Japanese media). By allowing the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s (MEXT) request for a dissolution order—essentially a “death sentence” for the church— the Japanese media has acquiesced to the terrorist’s objectives.

At a public symposium held on January 20th, author Fumihiro Kato announced findings from AI analysis of big data, revealing that the vast number of reports critical of the church ultimately targeted the Kishida administration. It can be said that Mr. Kishida avoided the brunt of the criticism and made it clear that, in order to regain support for his Cabinet, he would sever ties with the church and its affiliated organizations and request a dissolution order for the religious organization.

Under these circumstances, the church and its followers have become the target of public hatred. Kato condemned the media’s misconduct as “information disaster,” accusing them of allowing the authorities to run rampant instead of fulfilling their role as a check on power. During a press conference, the church exposed numerous instances of discrimination, including job terminations and rescinded offers toward its followers; criticism of the church by teachers during classes; suicides; suicide attempts; and graffiti labeling the church as a “cult.” Despite the Kishida cabinet’s request for a dissolution order, their approval rating continues to decline, and the opposition parties that pursued the matter have also failed to break free from low support ratings.

Some suggest that the one-sided coverage against the church has led to tension between senior executives and young reporters within major media outlets. Second-generation followers of the church have hosted open panel discussions with journalists and intellectuals. Additionally, consistent meetings have been held to denounce the abduction and confinement of approximately 4,300 church followers, who were coerced into renouncing their faith. However, the articles written by journalists who covered these events from the press seats have not received much attention.

It was reported that MEXT Minister Masahito Moriyama had exchanged a letter of recommendation and confirmation with a church-affiliated organization in his hometown of Hyogo prior to the most recent House of Representatives election in 2021, and that many followers reportedly supported him actively by making phone calls during his election campaign. Yet, he was the one that filed the dissolution order with the Tokyo District Court. As the minister requested a dissolution order, the media began to highlight the voices of an embittered official from the affiliated organization and numerous disgruntled believers. Moving forward, the issue of whether or not the government’s actions are infringing upon freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as, administrative issues should be scrutinized. (Religion and Politics Reporting Team)

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