Saturday, April 07, 2007

Election time

There's a bunch of election campaigns going on in Japan right now, most prominently for Governor of many prefectures including Tokyo. The incumbent (who will almost certainly win) is a racist old windbag like most of Japan's politicians. More amusingly, this is the election broadcast of one of the other candidates (subtitled in English courtesy of Trans-Pacific Radio):

There is a range of eccentrics and celebrities standing, and it would be obvious that this is also a joke were it not for the fact that the candidate actually has served prison time for violence in the past.

With apparently no sense of irony, the Japanese govt has asked Youtube to take down the video in the interests of democracy. Fortunately Youtube has shown no signs of compliance and it has been one of their most-watched clips recently. Japan has some bizarre and archaic laws concerning elections, which severely restrict the ability of candidates to communicate with voters (eg candidates cannot send email or update their web sites during the campaign). However, there are no restrictions on noise pollution so obnoxious "sound trucks" drive round residential area blaring out slogans and candidates' names. I think voting day is Sunday. I'll be glad when it's over...


Ken said...

Actually, YouTube did comply, and took down the original version of this speech that had been posted. The thing is, the original video had spawned so many variations that it now seems impossible for the all to be removed.

YouTube removes videos on request, and authorities in Japan seem to have requested that those videos showing up on a search for 外山恒一 be removed. The key is not to use the kanji in the title or description and videos will usually go unnoticed.

Japanese election laws do not allow for individuals to broadcast messages to the public during the official campaign time, which for the governor of Tokyo was the 17 day period from Thursday, March 22 to Saturday, April 7 (with the election being on the 8th). So, they were legally in the right by making this request to YouTube, though it's pretty easy to argue that the law itself makes little to no sense in this day and age.

As far as YouTube not complying with official requests for video removal from Japan - I think that's never going to happen. They've seen what happened in Thailand and Japan's a huge market. There is quite a bit of potential for abuse on the side of Japanese government and media organizations here.

James Annan said...


I believe (and hope) that you are wrong about "Youtube removes videos on request". They only do so in cases of alleged copyright violation (and presumably breaches of US law/T&C concerning pornography etc).

As you alluded to, Thailand is currently blocking Youtube due to the presence of videos which insult the king - a serious crime in that country. Youtube has directly refused to remove those videos. In that case, the original was taken down by the owner but several others have been put up, and not merely copies of the original.

Of course Japanese residents will be subject to Japanese law and could presumably be made to remove videos that they are responsible for. But once someone outside the coutry gets hold of it, Japan has no authority to tell Youtube to do anything, and I hope that Youtube will continue to refuse such ridiculous requests. What if one of the extremist Muslim states asked them to take down every video that happened to show a female leg or face?

Lumo said...

That's cool! The speech reminds me of Peter Woit. :-)

Ken said...

James (I assume the comment was from you...let me know if I'm wrong!),

By 'on request' I meant official request, not from anybody.

I agree with you 100% - but YouTube gets such a high volume of requests for removal from Japan that I seriously doubt they have the time or resources to check each one. Especially if the request were to come from the Tokyo Election Commission, I don't see them refusing that with such a huge market. They must know it's better to agree to do the removal (there are so many copycat videos up there anyway that it's not even really censorship). It seems like a lot of tatemae floating around.

You Tube has removed videos that were neither copyright violations nor violated any existing law at the direct request of the Hokkaido Prefectural Board of Education (we got into that one a while back), so I would hardly be surprised that they would make a show of face and remove one video at the request of the Tokyo Election Commission.

James Annan said...


It's not clear from what was written that Youtube actually took anything down in that Hokkaido case, although of course it is possible that they might do so - appeals to child protection are likely to be sympathetically heard these days. It's certainly plausible that in many cases the video's "owner" might succumb to some persuasion whether it seems reasonable or officious bullying.

Youtube made a public refusal to pull the video of the king of Thailand despite it being clearly illegal and offensive by Thailand's standards, and stood by their decision even after the website was banned in that country. So I think it is curious if they are prepared to delete such non-controversial videos on request (and it's not as if the Tokyo Election Commission will mean anything to them).

As for "removing one video" you previously said they had removed everything with that guy's name on. I didn't check until today and he gets over 100 hits now, and several videos of his speech claim to have been there for the past 2 weeks (and the comment threads are continuous, with no-one asking "where did the video go"). Were they really all blocked last week?

Ken said...

I had noticed that I couldn't find any videos with kanji in the title - this was last week. The others, and the countless variations, were still there. Now there are many with kanji in the title...even 2 weeks old, as you say...hmm...not sure what to make of that.

At any rate, I was really referring to the original video, the one that hit #1 on the most played list, and is still gone. Obviously, neither of us knows exactly what happened, but if the Tokyo Election Commission were to have found out about it, they would have to at least put in a request that it be removed, since that's their job. I don't see Toyama being very cooperative with them, so if it's been removed, I'm guessing it was done so by You Tube, but that's still a guess.

As far as what was written on the Hokkaido case, it was made abundantly clear in emails that they directly requested You Tube to take the videos down. The emails I received gave the impression that this is why the videos are no longer available. Of course, we can't prove that connection, but that's the impression they wanted to give. They could be full of it - and I wouldn't be surprised if they're lying, but after all, they're in education, so they shouldn't be (ha!)...not that I trust them, but that was their claim and I have no reason to call them liars by denying it.

Kiwi Particle Physicist said...

Holy crap, what is Lubos doing commenting here? This is like the six degrees thing.

On the topic of the election, Ishihara won with only 27% of registered voters. The turnout was 51%, slightly higher than last time but still abysmally low for a democracy. His victory should not be interpreted as support from the electorate.

I think a surprising number of Japanese people would agree with you about the noisy electoral trucks and are also just hoping for it to be over with. In the long term, perhaps refusing to participate is the best way to get rid of these "racist old windbags."

James Annan said...


Lubos turns up like a bad penny, presumably when he wants to drum up some discerning readers for his blog :-)

Not participating just means the same old buggers can get in with even fewer votes, and only have to appeal to the fanatics who they know will turn out every time...

Obviously lots of Toyama fans took his advice and stayed at home :-) In fact he came a surprisingly high 7th out of 14, but only got 15,000 votes, a whopping 0.3% of the turnout (compared to ~3 million for the winner).

Kiwi Particle Physicist said...

I think Japanese politicians are genuinely worried about the low turnout. They know that they don't have a mandate, and are worried that if the turnout gets any lower then others might start to realise as well (I assume the same thinking was responsible for Bush and Kerry trying so hard to encourage everyone to vote in 2004.) I've noticed that the last couple of years we've been getting blasted by neutral sound trucks encouraging people to vote in addition to the sound trucks for each candidate.

How low does the turnout have to be before politicians realise there is a problem and do something about electoral reform, including getting rid of the ridiculous gerrymandered districts? (Ditto for the US electorates and the electoral collage.)

James Annan said...

It looks to me like the "problem" is that the Japanese are quite happy with a one-party state that muddles along in an instinctively conservative fashion, rather than the risk of actually changing something. See how many incumbents won in this last set of elections, for example. Thus, elections are an irrelevance and even a nuisance, so even as the respect for politicians goes down, people just give up voting rather than voting for the opposition.

Of course it's true that whoever you vote for, the government always wins :-)

Ken said...

whoever you vote for, the government always wins

I like that one!

I think part of the reason the incumbents have done so well in the gubernatorial races was that the DPJ only backed a candidate in 5 of the 13 elections. It seems as though they were more after the prefectural assembly and municipal assembly levels, in which they did quite well, leaving the LDP with it's lowest number of prefectural assembly members in history, and finally getting that number under 50% of the total. On the municipal level, the DPJ took a majority in Nagoya and Kawasaki, which is not insignificant...

As you said, people give up rather than voting for the opposition - but I wonder if they really see an 'opposition' or just 'politicians,' no matter what party they're from.