Push the Button: Interactive Television and Collaborative Journalism in Japan
Rodwell, Elizabeth Ann
Doctor of Philosophy
As viewing habits have been transformed globally by on-demand services, and viewership has lagged due to competition from social and interactive technologies, television professionals have struggled to articulate a vision for their medium’s future. In Japan, a strong decline in ratings among critical under-40 demographics had already created tension within the dominant broadcast model when the Fukushima disasters ushered in a crisis of confidence in the nation's journalism. While some Japanese media professionals used the incident as an occasion to engage in self-critique, others largely circumvented the delicate questions of self-censorship, reporters’ clubs (kisha kurabu), and sponsor coercion– and focused instead on restoring audience engagement through the development and testing of pioneering interactive television technology. Meanwhile, the technological rather than ethical focus of post-Fukushima changes inspired a new journalistic movement to create alternative digital spaces for informational exchange and political expression, with the intent of harnessing interactive digital technology in a way that bypasses the government controls and self-censorship characteristic of mainstream Japanese media. Despite a common idealism and intellectual curiosity, the two groups are hindered by divergent structural limitations; television industry insiders are fighting a conservative and imitative corporate climate whose content decisions are governed by the interventions of two monolithic advertising firms, while the independent media are profoundly alienated from this system. Engaging contemporary anthropological conversations concerning the evolving nature of mass media and media professionalism in the digital era, my work tracks the Japanese independent media's epistemic project to reform public culture in Japan and dismantle longstanding barriers to freedom of the press, as well as the mass media's more subtle application of interactive technology to TV content. Thus, I argue that analysis of these Japanese media innovations prompts new theoretical consideration of the divide between expert and amateur production, the use of media to constitute social change, and the nature of television itself.