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December 8, 2009


Media's Efforts to Connect Multi-culture and Multi-language Communities

college_hibinosan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Junichi Hibino, President of FM Wai Wai, a member of Japanese Council for the World Community Radio Broadcasting Association

I believe most of the audience today is Japanese. But how do you answer if someone asks you, "What makes you a Japanese?" Some may answer, "Because my parents are Japanese" or "Because I have a Japanese nationality." For instance, there was a sumo wrestler named Takamiyama from Hawaii. He acquired Japanese citizenship and identified himself with a Japanese name, but still yet, people considered him as a foreign sumo wrestler. The definition of Japanese is vaguer than we think, and the current society is becoming diverse. In such society, many people are pushed to the margins. With this in mind, I hope you will listen to today's story about community radio.

Community Radio Started from Earthquake Disaster

I manage a community broadcasting station, FM Wai Wai, which started it operation in the wake of Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. Language and information are essential for survival through disasters. Large media is for broadcasting about the disaster area to the people outside of the area. When we are inside the disaster area, even we who understand Japanese don't know what is happening, let alone foreigners who don't know Japanese and visually or hearing impaired people. There is a bigger obstacle in front of them, which makes it difficult for them to gain information essential for their survival. The government is responsible for providing information to minority, but neither national or Hyogo prefectural or Kobe city government was able to fulfill the duty. This radio station was started to provide information to foreigners who don't understand Japanese. Foreigners in trouble and Japanese volunteers began broadcasting radio programs in languages including Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog of the Philippines, Spanish, and English in its service area in Kobe City. There was no time to obtain an official broadcast license, therefore it was so-called a pirate radio station.

Speaking of a disaster, how many people know what happened after the Great Kanto Earthquake about 80 years ago, in 1923? At that time many Koreans had been brought to Japan from the Korean Peninsula and forced to do hard labor. When the disaster struck, false rumors were spread, such as "Koreans poisoned wells" and "Koreans set a house fire." Japanese who believed the rumors are said to have slaughtered thousands of Koreans. Most Japanese people have only a slight memory of the incident, but all Koreans living in Japan know this incident. If another great disaster strikes, some feel that the same thing might happen again.

In fact, there were many false rumors after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. When the flow of information is cut off, people easily believe in stereotypical rumors, exposing the darkness buried in our mind. This is more prominent if the rumors are about people who seem to be "foreign" to them in daily life. The purpose of this radio station was to prevent the spread of rumors and to deliver correct information to more people by ourselves.

Bringing Back Our Own Language and Culture

Every December, we see posters of Human Rights Week at train stations and so on. The week is organized based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the declaration of the world to respect the rights to live for everyone. The declaration states;

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

The most important point in this statement is the part, "everyone." When you hear the word, "everyone," can you think of the people who are often driven to the edge of society without an easy access to major media, including people from "buraku (discriminated communities)" and Korean nationalities living in Japan?

Another essential part is "through any media." One of the media is broadcasting. We may think radio wave is managed by a limited number of people and we are mostly the receivers, but now in the world, there is a growing movement calling for the freedom of using radio wave among many people.

For instance, in Mexico where the central government promotes the use of Spanish language, native languages are diminishing. Therefore, there is a movement to pass along the ethnic pride through community radio. In the village of Mazateco where ingenious people live, the education provided by teachers who were sent from Mexico City substantially undermines dignity of ingenious culture by propagandizing "Ingenious people are poor. The culture of Mazateco is inferior." The village people who thought education is used as a tool for conquering ingenious people are calling for the need to have a media in the community as a means to counter this. Using the media and their own language, they are trying to restore their own language and culture. I believe that is the fundamental role of media.

In Japan, there are ingenious people of Ainu, but they don't have any media certified by the Japanese national government. The only media they have is a small FM broadcasting station called FM Pipaushi with the limited broadcasting time of one hour from 11:00 to noon on second Sundays every month for the broadcasting area of within a 200-meter radius of the station. There are only about three households that live within the service area. The broadcasting station does not have a broadcast license, which is why the scale of their service is limited. Since it is a very important radio program, currently they use the Internet to simultaneously broadcast it on the FM Wai Wai to reach the Ainu people who live outside of the service area.

In areas where many ingenious people live including Taiwan, Canada, Australia and Norway, there are mechanisms to support these kinds of efforts, but the Japanese government is passive. The Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2007 states, "Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons." Japan ratified this declaration, but in reality it is not fully embodied.

Cross-cultural Dialogue Enhances Society

Another international trend is the resolution to establish a legal system of community media among all member countries at the European Parliament last fall. In the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany, the legal system of community media had been structured through long lobbying, policy recommendation activities and many citizens' movements since 1960s. The resolution promotes the development of legal system in Eastern European countries that joined the European Union later. Following is an excerpt from the article.

"Stresses that community media are an effective means of strengthening cultural and linguistic diversity, social inclusion and local identity, which explains the diversity of the sector; Points out that community media help to strengthen the identities of specific interest groups.... Stresses also that community media promote intercultural dialogue by educating the general public, combating negative stereotypes and correcting the ideas put forward by the mass media regarding communities within society threatened with exclusion, such as refugees, migrants, Roma and other ethnic and religious minorities; ..."

It states how cross-cultural dialogue helps to strengthen the society and how essential it is for building a sustainable society with firm foundation in the diversified society. Uniform approach is very risky. It points out that we should facilitate cross-cultural dialogue to reflect the voice of diverse people if the society consists of people with various backgrounds. In order to enrich the society, we need to listen to the voice of the unheard and visualize various voices.

Don't Think. Feel!

The FM Wai Wai that started as a pirate radio was approved by the government for official operation after one year of its establishment. Until then, as far as I know, Japanese and foreigners had almost no experiences to work together and achieve something. Under the Japanese law, no matter how long the foreigners lived in Japan, they were not allowed to have their own media. Therefore, foreigners strongly felt that they were finally recognized when the government officially approved our operation.

But I don't think the overwhelmingly majority of Japanese who live nearby really understood the situation. Most of them are not against multicultural coexistence, but they don't want to have people who dance with Salsa music until late every night as their neighbors. Of course, not everyone from South America dance Salsa until midnight. But a certain type of image is already spread, and people often show negative response to multicultural coexistence on details even though they agree in general.

Then what should we do? After all, we can only do little things one by one. It is good to start with a dialogue through "3F," fashion, food and festival. Talking about the human rights issue upfront won't reach many people. It is important to feel multi-culture not with head but with body. Even a little empathy that arose through dialogue can gradually promote mutual understanding. Soon they may have opportunity to work together to encourage the government office to increase the signs in various languages other than Japanese or to run a community radio together. Along the way, I believe people will change societal rules to allow the coexistence of diverse people and then the new rules will be reflected in measures. I think it is best to start dialogue from there.


Junichi Hibino (President of FM Wai Wai, a member of Japanese Council for the World Community Radio Broadcasting Association)
Mr. Hibino was a newspaper reporter before he went to the evacuation shelter of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake as a rescue volunteer. Since he faced with the confrontation between victims due to language barrier there, he established a community broadcasting station, FM Wai Wai, to provide multilingual life-related information. Based in Nagata District of Kobe City, he works on building a town of multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society using new civil media.