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New leader Noda prepares to weather Japan's media storm

Yoshiko Noda, voted in as the third prime minister in two years this afternoon by the lower house of Japan’s parliament, is already playing down expectations ahead of media criticism.

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Call it downfall by "memo-awase." That's the term Japanese use to describe memo sharing, and the practice pretty much ensures unified Japanese media coverage of an event.

It also means that once the journalistic consensus goes negative on a politician, the Japanese public will get one-dimensional coverage hard for any leader to crawl out from under.

Today, soft-spoken Yoshiko Noda becomes the third premier exactly two years to the day after the Democratic Party of Japan's historic electoral victory ousted the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan from office, and Mr. Noda is already playing down expectations ahead of media criticism.

"Running Japan's government is like pushing a giant snowball up a snowy, slippery hill," said Mr. Noda yesterday after winning the leadership contest for the Democratic Party of Japan that effectively made him prime minister.

Hardly the rousing speech of an inspirational new leader, Noda's words instead reflect the daunting prospects for any Japanese prime minister.

Uphill battle for politicians

At a time when Japan faces a mountain of problems – including the reconstruction of the northeast from the devastating March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima, and resulting energy shortages, along with a rapidly aging society and straining public finances – political stability would seem to be vital. And yet Japan’s leaders continue to change so quickly that few outside the country can even remember their names.

Japan’s media groups, which own newspapers, television, and radio stations, appear to make the country virtually ungovernable as the coverage turns damaging on each subsequent leader after a few months in office.

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