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Number 1 Shimbun

An Early Adopter in Women’s Media

AN EARLY ADOPTER
IN WOMEN’S MEDIA

 

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At the Missouri Freedom of Information Center, 1963

 

HARUKO WATANABE LOOKS BACK

 

With four women elected to the board, here’s a round-up on my own career as a woman in jour- nalism, a professional choice that has taken me around the world.



Fair and Equal

Born as the fifth among six siblings in an old family of Kyoto, I have been very conscious about fairness and equality. I have always honored free speech though not many people then thought women should enjoy such a privilege.

During the 1960 Japan-US Security Treaty political fights era in Japan, Japan’s seven major newspapers, which had seemed to have encouraged demonstrators, suddenly changed their attitude and started preaching, “Stop demonstrating and welcome President Dwight Eisenhower”, with no accountable explanation.

I thought, “Not again,” as I had a similar experience of respect- able leaders betraying the trust of people.

Right after the Japan’s defeat in World War II, I was frustrated by a teacher at the elementary school who instructed us to ink out lines from the textbooks. “Why? You taught us to carry these textbooks to air raid shelters when bombing started as these were holy gifts from the divine Emperor. Now you instruct us to disgrace them?” She began to weep but gave no explanation for her behaviour.


Missouri beckons

I also found New York Times reports on conflict between student demonstrators and the police around the National Diet in 1960 unsatisfactory. Michiko Kamba, Tokyo University co-ed lost her life.

Amherst College, Doshisha’s founder Joe Niijima’s alma mater, maintained the Amherst House in Doshisha University. Otis Carey advised me, “Go to Missouri University, the world’s oldest school of journalism.”

“Why not?” I thought. And so I applied.

Dr. Earl English, Dean of the School of Journalism, wrote back, “We have just established the Freedom of Information Center to commemorate our 50th anniversary. You may work as a staffer and study at our graduate school.”

Such was my start in journalism. I owe my professional training to the University of Missouri and the taxpayers of the State of Missouri.


Video – in at the creation

In the 1970s I realised that video was the way to go. In 1973 I founded HKW Video Workshop in New York, Japan’s first and only non-profit organization for educational video and television production. Later HKW rose to the challenge of women who gathered in Mexico for the first World Conference of Women in 1975.

Among their demands were for more women media gatekeepers (then mostly male) to present a more dynamic image of women making more “her-story” and less “his-story.” At the Conference, women led a strong agenda for representation in the media. Around 200 Japanese women attended.


Aftermath in Mexico

I did not attend the Mexico conference, but I did attend the government meeting in Tokyo the following July. There I was shocked to hear conference delegate Taki Fujita report that the government would not allow her to speak freely on women’s issues.

Because we could not attend the Mexico Conference, Yoko Nuita, the first woman commentator at NHK and I decided to produce a video interview with Fusae Ichikawa and to broadcast her message to the world on video. Yoko and I established the YH (Yoko-Haruko) Kasei Fund together and started video interviews with women pioneers in journalism.

Our project ran from 1975 to 1976, recording 10 women pioneers who shared their professional life stories. These 10 Japanese women helped me open doors for UNESCO for other women in media. When the U. N. and UNESCO organized the first “Women and Media” Conference in 1980 in New York, I was invited to present the first and only videos for women produced and directed by women.

 

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Left to right: Olara Otsununu (UN), the author, Barbara Crossette (UN bureau chief, New York Times)

 

UNESCO Consultant

After reviewing these videos, UNESCO commissioned me as a Women and Media Development Consultant covering video-TV production training and the organization of seminars and research.

Our video-TV training courses for women broadcasters in Asia and Africa were especially important. Muslim and Hindu religious edicts forbade male camera crew entry to maternity wards, kitchens and other women-only area, but not us. As long as we could carry our own video equipment, health and nutrition programs vitally needed for the developing countries could be produced and broadcast.

As a consultant, I conducted a UNESCO Study on “Women in the Pacific Media: Evaluation of the Needs/Requirements in Recruitment, Training, Advancement and Working Conditions for Professional Media Women throughout the Pacific Region.”

This vast area covered Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Western Samoa.

The East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, offered me the use of an office as the hub for research activities.

Beyond UNESCO, HKW produced video-TV documentaries on the U.N. Women’s Decade meeting in Denmark in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985 and ran the HKW Women & Media Center at the Beijing World Conference of Women in 1995.

 

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Far left: Supervising TV-Video documentary by African women, 1985


Free phones in Beijing

It was at this event in Beijing that we staged something of a coup by getting free use of 250 cell-phones for journalists, NGO women and even Japanese government officials.

Behind this was my previous experience when I organized a seminar for Chinese women journalists some years before and discovered that many public telephones were out of order, apparently to hamper information flows.

The official conference venue in Beijing and the NGO forum in the suburbs of Huairou were over an hour apart and the site of NGO meeting was huge. Without proper communication tools, participants simply got lost. Fortunately NEC donated 250 top-notch handsets made in China. The phone numbers for local and international calls were provided by the Beijing Telecommunication Bureau with a promise that we return all phones after the event.

When HKW supplied the handy phones to Japanese journalists, I specifically asked them to attend NGO meetings and write their stories in their own voice. Fusako Fujiwara, pioneer newswoman at the Nikkei Shimbun, once called HKW’s work a “media venture activity.” That may well be true. I have a wealth of friends, but I am hardly swimming in material wealth.

 

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TV-Video journalist course for women’s development, Malaysia, 1981

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR MEN & WOMEN JOURNALISTS
Giving advice to younger people in journalism can seem arrogant, these what follows are a few suggestions.
● Journalism protects the people’s right to know
● Keep your distance from PR and advertising
● Keep your own counsel and keep your word
● Keep and be good company
● Cultivate your garden, but save seed money for new projects
● Try following the above and you’ll be on your way to becoming a good journalist.

 

● Haruko Watanabe is President of HKW, a former Tokyo Bureau Chief of the Press Foundation of Asia, and chairs the FCCJ Special Projects Committee.

Published in: September 2020

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