Japan’s early election: Reading between the lines to find the facts | The Knife Media

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(The Knife Media) The news is meant to inform us about what’s going on in the world, and sometimes it does that well. But other times it gives us opinion about what’s going on, which can actually obscure the facts. Opinion is usually based on facts, so there’s usually some data underneath the opinion and dramatic language. We as readers sometimes need to dig through, read between the lines or make assumptions about what something might mean in order to get down to the actual data of what’s happening.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples below from coverage of Abe’s announcement that he’s going to call a snap election. First, we show you what the news said, including opinion and subjective, dramatic language (spin) marked in blue. Then, we show you what the corresponding facts would be, or what the opinion might be based on.

Opposition in “disarray” and “weak”

BBC: Abe’s “decision comes amid rebounding approval ratings after a record low over the summer and with the opposition largely in disarray.” And, analysts say he’s trying to “exploit the current weakness of the opposition.”

The New York Times: “…it was clear [Abe] had the advantage against the chief opposition Democratic Party, which has been in disarray since the July resignation of its leader, Renho Murata, and several recent defections.” And, Abe is “seizing on” the “opposition’s weakness.”

→ Facts:

  • In July, Renho Murata resigned as leader of the Democratic Party, or main opposition.
  • A Nikkei business daily poll this weekend showed 44 percent of voters support the LDP, and 8 percent each support the Democratic Party and the Koike’s new party. (Another poll shows less support for the LDP and more indecision.)

The media might be basing the opinion that the opposition is “weak” and in “disarray” on the above facts. But because “disarray” and “weak” are spin, and not measurable facts, we have to just assume this is what the news means.

Election is a “gamble”

Japan Times: Abe will call the election “in a high-stakes political gamble that observers say could determine whether he survives as Japan’s leader.” And it’s “a gamble the leader cannot afford to lose. Failure would suggest his shaky grip on power in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is weakening further…”

Reuters: “BIG GAMBLE?” (sub-header), and Abe “is gambling his ruling bloc can keep its lower house majority even if it loses the two-thirds ‘super majority’…”

→ Facts:

  • Abe’s LDP party and a coalition with the Komeito party currently hold a “super majority,” or two-thirds majority, in the parliament. That could change depending on the election results.
  • Abe, in his second term as prime minister, said he would resign if his party did not win a majority, or 233 seats.

As with any election, seats might change hands. And if the LDP loses seats, Abe may even lose support within the party. So is that what the outlets mean when they call his decision a “high-stakes political gamble”? Their version doesn’t just stick to facts.

The above aren’t the only examples in today’s coverage, but they show how we have to unpack the opinions to find the facts. And as news consumers, we can always become better at distinguishing fact from opinion. But if the news is designed to inform us of the facts, should we have to search for them?

Written by Analea Holland and Julia Berry López

Edited by Julia Berry López and Jens Erik Gould

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