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Dissertation Project Buchmeier (Abstract)

Shaping Public Discourse in Japan

(Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Klaus Vollmer, LMU; Prof. Dr. Kaori Hayashi, University of Tokyo)


Public discourse and the media play a vital role for the sustainable development of society and democracy. They provide an arena where social, political and economic issues are deliberated and enable a country to cope with its various challenges in an increasingly complex environment. In this context, public service broadcasting fulfils a particularly essential mission since it is thought to be independent from political and economic pressures thanks to its fee-funded operating model.

Originally designed after the role model of the BBC after World War II, the Japanese public service broadcaster NHK was conceived as one of the major forces in implementing democratic values and stabilizing a fragile, yet dynamic post-war society. In recent years, however, its reputation as the “people’s broadcaster” has dramatically suffered in the wake of frequent scandals surrounding political interference and questionable personnel policy.

Nevertheless, despite a rapidly changing journalistic environment and the rise of digital media, NHK’s prominent role in setting the key themes of public discourse remains technically unchanged.

Based on the agenda-setting concept, this research project adopts an extensive news analysis. Thereby it aims to shed light on the mechanisms of reality construction on Japan’s public broadcaster, illuminate how specific topics are framed and how this is related to the way how the Japanese public perceives and discusses society. One working hypothesis is that NHK does not only orchestrate the topic agenda powerfully but also shun issues in a very elaborate manner – a process which is known as agenda cutting in communication studies.

Comprehending the agenda building on Japan’s most influential media station is relevant for understanding public discourse, the formation of public opinion and, as a consequence, the chances and limitations of policy-making and social change.