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Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012
Abe this time around to skip daily interviews in order to keep gaffes at bay
By MASAMI ITO
Apparently older and wiser after his first term in office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not hold daily press interviews any more to avoid the verbal slips that plagued his hapless predecessors.
Ever since the administrations of Junichiro Koizumi, successive prime ministers have engaged in short question-and-answer sessions once or twice a day with the media. But these abbreviated interviews, known as "burasagari," often saw the nation's leaders flip-flop on crucial issues and make embarrassing blunders.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that Abe will keep the public updated by holding news conferences and harnessing the power of the Internet, for instance by using Facebook.
"It's not about the merits or demerits of burasagari interviews. What is important is that the prime minister's views are accurately communicated to the public, and we believe that news conferences are more effective," Suga said, underscoring the new Liberal Democratic Party-led government's stance.
Thanks to his way with words, the outspoken Koizumi succeeded in using his daily interaction with the media to reach out to the public and build a swell of popularity for his governments.
But his successors proved far less adept.
Abe, who took the helm in 2006 after Koizumi stepped down as prime minister, struggled with the quick-fire interview format from the get-go and tried to get creative, in his own way, by staring directly into the TV cameras to "talk directly to the public," as he put it.
But Abe's technique flopped as viewers found his manner unnatural and somewhat unnerving, with the prime minister staring piercingly into their eyes while avoiding eye-contact with the reporters actually posing the questions.
Abe's successors, Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso, also held question-and-answer sessions every day but because most media outlets sent rookie reporters to question them as part of their training, the two leaders' often struggled to contain their annoyance and exasperation over the questions, creating negative impressions among the public.
After the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama frequently tripped up during interviews, making U-turns on critical policies and peppering his responses with gaffes. But after the March 2011 natural disasters and amid the nuclear crisis, both then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, refused to hold daily interviews.