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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013

Abe gives out info on his terms, via Facebook page


Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has learned his lesson: Instead of giving short daily media interviews, he has launched a new Facebook page to provide information to the public on his terms while conveniently avoiding the kind of verbal missteps that plagued his recent predecessors — including himself, during his 2006-2007 leadership stint.

Posting a close-up of his hand giving the thumbs-up, Abe appealed to Facebook users Thursday to overcome the nation's present difficulties together and explained that he wants to share his Cabinet's policies in an "easy-to-understand and visible" manner.

The prime minister's page had logged more than 95,000 "likes" as of Friday evening.

But Facebook is a one-way street and Abe can choose to post whatever he wants, sidestepping any inconvenient facts. Experts called it a smart strategy for a national leader, and said it will now be up to conventional media outlets to strengthen their journalistic operations to make sure the public is supplied with all the necessary information.

"By sending out messages directly to the public, Abe is trying to control information and avoid being tripped up (by reporters). But this is bypassing the media . . . and the public and media, now more than ever, need to keep a careful watch over the government," said Yasuharu Ishizawa, a professor of politics and media at Gakushuin Women's College in Tokyo.

According to the Cabinet Office, the Facebook page will be updated roughly twice a week, mainly with specific messages Abe wishes to convey to the public. The prime minister has already received thousands of messages from Facebook users, many congratulating him on the LDP's election victory and voicing hope that Japan will change for the better under his stewardship.

But Ishizawa warned that Abe should not interpret these messages as a true reflection of public opinion, explaining the number of "likes" and positive comments on his Facebook page does not necessarily express the majority view.

"The frightening thing about Internet (sites) like Facebook or Twitter is that the messages sent to you are often delivered by those who share your views. . . . Facebook is a closed (community) and Abe needs to be careful because there is a dangerous possibility that he could misread public sentiment," Ishizawa said.

Abe has decided against holding any short, daily "burasagari" question-and-answer sessions in the prime minister's office, which in recent years caused his predecessors' support ratings to plummet on numerous occasions after they were caught in policy flip-flops and making repeated verbal faux pas. Instead, Abe announced he will hold news conferences when necessary, as well as conventional one-on-one interviews with media outlets.

Ishizawa agreed that the abbreviated media briefings introduced during the administrations of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi are unnecessary, but emphasized that even if Abe succeeds in gathering a large online following on Facebook, this will not directly result in strong leadership.

"There is no other developed nation where the leader holds daily media interviews. I think it is a good thing that Abe got rid of them . . . but in the end, (the future of Abe's Cabinet) all depends on performance, on how it will overcome the divided Diet and improve the economy," Ishizawa said.



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