Photo/Illutration Soichiro Tahara (Ikuro Aiba)

Extreme arguments are rampant, especially on the internet, and commentators now seem to be applauded for saying things they are not supposed to say.

Such people adopt illogical reasoning and provocative language to talk about complex problems in society.

Soichiro Tahara, who has covered “taboo” topics as a staff member of a TV station and as a freelance journalist, talked to The Asahi Shimbun about his views on the situation.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

A short while ago, economist Yusuke Narita said on an internet TV program that elderly people should commit mass suicide before they become burdens on society. The comment was criticized as outrageous, and overseas media, such as the New York Times, reported on the comment.

I thought that Narita’s words were certainly harsh. But even on internet TV programs, things are sometimes skewered to make them more interesting to viewers.

Therefore, you should bear in mind that what you see or hear might not necessarily be the true self or honest opinion of that person.

I believe that Narita actually wanted to address the fact that older people hold on to their positions and power and never let them go.

Some say one reason for Japan’s stagnation is the seniority-based promotion and wage system and lifetime employment. They say that Japan cannot improve itself without radically changing such systems.

I agree with such a view. And I think Narita intentionally used a sensational expression to express this view.

But newspapers and TV do not explicitly point out this problem. That’s because senior officials in both newspapers and TV have survived in their companies thanks to the seniority-based promotion and wage system and lifetime employment.

Even if newspapers and TV do address the problem, they use polite words to describe the issue. The Asahi Shimbun always does so. But that approach cannot hook readers or viewers.

When I worked for Tokyo Channel 12 Production (now TV Tokyo Corp.), it was called a “TV station with no number.” That was because viewers were not turning the channel dial on their TV to 12.

They would not watch our programs even if we did the same things as NHK or TBS.

So, the only option for us was to be radical. Senior officials at our company knew that, so we were free to do as we wanted.

I covered taboo subjects after I became a freelance journalist, too. On the TV debate program “Asa made nama TV,” (which Tahara chairs), we have even covered Emperor Showa’s responsibility for World War II.

A taboo is something you are not supposed to talk about. But journalists’ role is to talk about such things.

This belief comes from my experience in World War II. Nobody spoke about what was true, and then we lost the war.

Akiyuki Nosaka (the late novelist) and Nagisa Oshima (the late film director), who were in my generation, thought the same.

When they appeared on “Asa made nama TV,” they were ready to end the TV station. When I think about it, I feel commentators nowadays on terrestrial TV programs are mediocre.

In the first place, I don’t care about criticism against myself. My comments have been criticized in the past, but facing a backlash and being talked about is much better than being ignored.

Therefore, I say to producers or staff members, “Backlash is welcome.”

Newspapers and TV have recently been too afraid of criticism. They don’t say even what they have to say.

So, there arises a need for “people who dare to say” something.

And since they can’t make such comments in newspapers or on terrestrial TV programs, they do so on internet TV programs, which are regarded as something “with no numbers.”

To make outrageous arguments disappear, newspapers and TV should say what they need to say.


Soichiro Tahara is a journalist born in 1934. He is known for presenting “Asa made nama TV” on the TV Asahi network. His books include “Hei no ue wo hashire” (Run on the fence) and “Dou dou to oiru” (Aging confidently)

(This interview was conducted by Gen Okada, a staff writer of The Asahi Shimbun.)