Tonight, the news on NHK raised two issues in relation with "the problem of foreigners in Japan". The first one was basically to blame the US military base at Yokosuka for interfering with Haneda Airport's radio waves, thus troubling the navigation system of planes landing there. The second was about a group of Koreans placing cameras just above UFJ Bank's ATM to record the PIN codes of ATM customers.

This in itself is not a problem. But why out of today's numerous headlines in other news agencies (BBC, CNN, Japan Times...) did they choose those two relatively minor and local issues on the national TV channel, and why did they spend as much time as or more time than on big international issues, such as the earthquake relief in Pakistan, bird flu in Europe, and especially Mr Koizumi's very controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine ?

This is not unusual. Such "foreign-induced problems" topics are quite common on Japanese TV, and NHK (supposedly the neutral equivalent of the BBC) is no exception. What does the general public gain from knowing in detail about such minor issues ? What effect does that have on the influenceable Japanese audience (that typically trust blindedly the Japanese media) ?

I thought a few minutes about it, and realised that I had rarely, if ever, heard the TV news reporting "foreign crimes" in Belgium. Yet, it is much more problematic than in Japan. The North African community especially is known for its high crime rate, which in turn has given rise to anti-immigration extreme-right movements such as the Vlaams Blok (which now has 24% of the seats at the Flemish parliament, just to show how far this immigration problem has gone). While Japan has about 1.5% of foreigners, Belgium has about 10% of them. But the Belgian media typically refrain from accentuating the problem by reporting all the crimes and misdeeds committed by ethnic minorities. This would only exacerbate racism and discrimination, and make it even more difficult for those immigrants to get integrated and accepted.

Likewise, the BBC also does not stigmatise ethnic minorities or foreigners by over-reporting the crimes they commit. In both Belgium and the UK, it would be considered 'media discrimination' to do so. In fact, they try not to report these crimes to appease social tensions, and just leave it to the police to deal with criminals of any sort.

In general, I found the Japanese media to over-report both petty crimes (e.g. thefts, crookery) and serious crimes (murders), both Japanese and foreign, but with an undue unbalance toward foreign crime. I know that this is biased, because I analyse the Japanese Police's crime and offense statistics for both Japanese nationals and foreigners (here), and found that foreigners commit in average less crimes than the Japanese proportionally to their numbers. The Koreans, for instance, commit 12x less crimes than the Japanese. So why do I hear so often about Korean crimes in Japan on NHK News ? Again, what effect does this have on the Japanese public ?

I am pretty sure that the Japanese government and media are mistaken in their approach of crime reporting. This will only accentuate tensions between Japanese and foreigners. I know this because I came to Japan without knowing that I would encounter discrimination or that the media were biased toward foreign crime, and it came as a shock to me to face this reality. It certainly deteriorated my image of Japan and Japanese people. Personal experiences of discrimination only reinforced this feeling. I will leave Japan with a much worse impression of the country and its people just because of that.