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17 Candidates Set to Pack Japan Foreign Correspondents' Club Debate
by Brad Frischkorn
Tokyo (JPN) Jul 29, 2016

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In a break with recent convention, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) has dramatically expanded the field of Tokyo gubernatorial candidates who will take part in a debate slated for just before election day. The decision ends days of internal debate at the club over how many candidates to invite and how to assess their qualifications.

As a result, some 17 participants are expected to pack the FCCJ's stage on Friday, July 29 in what promises to be a harried event. A winner is expected to be declared after votes are tallied on voting day, July 31.

Sources told JPN that the FCCJ had been paralyzed over the debate format due to a clash of opinion between the club's Professional Activities Committee (PAC), independent critics, and candidates who were excluded from the club's original plan, which meant to feature only a small number of participants.

Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike (63), former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda (64) and veteran ex-journalist Shuntaro Torigoe (76) are generally considered as the main contestants for the empty governor's seat. The trio have appeared in the small handful of debates that have been thus far conducted at other media outlets, and have drawn criticism for their lack of inclusiveness.

The FCCJ posted the new policy on its homepage on Wednesday. The debate is slated from 3:30pm to 4:30pm at the FCCJ's headquarters in Yurakucho, Tokyo.

FCCJ President Peter Langan told JPN that allegations that some candidates have not had proper access to press coverage was concern for the club. But so, too, was each candidate's 'news value,' he said.

Former FCCJ vice president Michael Penn said he first proposed that the invitation list be expanded on July 15, meaning the issue spent a dozen days in limbo before being settled.

"The FCCJ's mission is essentially to give a voice to the voiceless," he said. "There are sound reasons for not inviting all of the registered candidates, since many are clearly not serious, and several more are virtually unknown. Still, if we simply mimic what the Japanese media do in removing all but centrist opinions from the stage, it's likely that some viable ideas will be left unheard, and it is certainly not the proper role of the news media to preselect winners and losers within the democratic process without letting the public make its own choices."

The final list of 17 persons published on the FCCJ's homepage is missing major players Koike, Masuda, and Torigoe. Each candidate will speak for five minutes, after which a Q and A session will follow. The event will include English interpretation and will be open to the public.

But the final debate format may end up posing more questions than it solves. Some unhappy observers say that stretching the event to at least a few hours is a no-brainer considering the number of voices that will gather. A number have even alleged that more nefarious government forces may be at work to short-circuit the democratic process.

Candidate Takashi Uesugi is one them. On July 25, he penned a formal request to the FCCJ to make the debate more inclusive, suggesting that, in order to avoid mayhem, invitations be offered to the nine minor candidates who had registered proper campaign offices. The club nevertheless invited all remaining 18 aspirants, 17 of whom responded.

"It's amazing that all the protest over finally getting a 'fair' debate has come down to a mere five-minute presentation per person," said Uesugi, himself former journalist and broadcaster. "Putting so many people on one stage in one hour turns the whole event into a meaningless circus. Leadership at the club needs to change."

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