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Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002

TV anchor aims to set new standards for news reporting

Staff writer

Most television news programs in Japan neglect their responsibility to inform people of what is happening in society by failing to present news in an understandable way.

This is the belief of 51-year-old Akira Ikegami, who anchors "News for Kids Weekly," by public broadcaster NHK.

"Much of the news (on TV) cannot be understood by people on the street, and that's why they are frustrated," Ikegami said. "(Such news) is the same as codes or meaningless signs, which go in one ear and out the other."

The mass media's role of informing the public of what is happening in the world is even more important now, as "society has become very complex and international and economic issues have a direct impact on our lives," he said.

His program, launched in 1994, is constantly ranked either first or second in viewer ratings among TV programs aired between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays, with the average rating in January at 12.1 percent.

Ikegami plays the part of "Dad" on the show, in which he explains the main news topics of the week in an easy and understandable way to his "wife" and three "children."

One section of the program explains a difficult news item using dolls, drawings or skits played out by the family. Although the program is targeted at children, it is also popular among adults due to its interesting and easy-to-understand presentation of news.

Ikegami, who was an NHK reporter for 16 years before becoming an anchorman, maintained that many TV news programs nowadays fail to mention the background to events and do not explain things in concise, clear language.

This can lead to misunderstandings, he said. As an example, Ikegami referred to the recent outbreak of mad cow disease in the program, explaining that the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is caused when abnormal prions -- a kind of protein -- enter cattle and come into contact with normal prions, which are transmuted into abnormal ones.

After the program aired, he received reactions from some viewers who said they had mistakenly thought the disease is infectious, believing it was caused by a virus.

"Not until we refer to the nature of a issue can we make (viewers) understand it," he said.

In the production of the show, Ikegami writes and reads a draft script to those playing the roles of his family, without showing it to them.

If they do not understand it, Ikegami reworks the draft again and again until they do.

"Children are severe editors," Ikegami said.

Children do not comprehend difficult terms and they often do not understand why a topic is "news," Ikegami said. In many cases, the simple question, "Why is this news?" makes him realize the essence of an issue, because their doubts shed new light on the root of the news, he added.

"We have to tell them the background (to the news) in compact but adequate words, and this requires accurate information," Ikegami said.

In addition to the problems of the mass media, he also pointed out that there is a general lack of knowledge of modern history, which is a prerequisite for understanding current news topics.

"When I try to explain current events, I find that not only children but also adults don't know what went on even just a little while ago," he said.

Although there are many books that use technical terms or sensationalist wording, there are a limited number of books that provide objective knowledge on history in simple words, Ikegami said, which is part of the reason for the public's ignorance of history.

As a result, Ikegami has used his free time to write several books on modern world history and the latest news in Japan, some of which have gone on to become best sellers. As a journalist, Ikegami said he wanted to write about the history of the modern world in which historical evaluation is not decided solely by historians.

"I always write from the viewpoint of amateurs or children, asking myself whether I understand it written in such a way, while thinking both as a reader and a writer."

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The Japan Times

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