On September 8, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun ran an op-ed by CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. Here is the English translation:
Japan should stand up for press freedom
By Joel Simon
Japan’s government has supported press freedom at home and defended Japanese journalists reporting in conflict zones around the world. Journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka, kidnapped in April by the Taliban in Afghanistan, has been released safely. But it isn’t enough to care only about Japanese journalists. In fact, this policy has created problems, increasing ransom demands and making the Japanese media appear indifferent to the fate of their less fortunate colleagues.
In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual report of global press freedom, Attacks on the Press, at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo. Koichiro Matsuura, the former director general of UNESCO, spoke at the event and was quite critical. As the head of UNESCO, Matsuura hosted an annual conference on press freedom at which a courageous journalist was honored with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Award, named in honor of the Colombian editor slain by drug traffickers in 1986. Journalists from nearly every country attended but seldom any from Japan.
“The Japanese media are not in the slightest bit interested in the issue of press freedom in other countries,” Matsuura said at the event.
These are harsh words, but the reality must be confronted. As Matsuura pointed out, Japan’s economic future is linked to global events, from oil production in Nigeria to trade liberalization in Vietnam. Journalists covering news in these countries face violence and persecution.
“If we want to retain our status as a global power, then we must know what is going on elsewhere, and not just in Asia but in Europe, Africa and other parts of the world,” Matsuura said.
It goes without saying that Japanese journalists confront considerable risk to bring the Japanese public the news. Journalist Kosuke Tsuneloka, reportedly released from captivity in Afghanistan after being kidnapped in April, is just one example.
Journalist Kosuke Tsuneloka, reportedly released from captivity in Afghanistan after being kidnapped in April, is just one example.
Reuters photographer Hiro Muramoto was shot and killed while covering demonstrations in Thailand also in April. There has been no visible progress in the Thai government investigation into his killing.
In September 2007, Kenji Nagai was executed by a Burmese solider while covering anti-government demonstrations in Rangoon. His cold-blooded killing was caught on video and broadcast around the world.
But while attacks on Japanese journalists have sparked concern and outrage among the Japanese public, the fact is that attacks on foreign correspondents are relatively rare. According to CPJ statistics, nearly 90 percent of the 832 journalists killed since 1992 were local reporters working in their own countries. In the vast majority of these cases, those who carried out the killings got away with their crimes.
Those who attack journalists interrupt the global flow of information and news on which the Japanese economy depends. They also violate a fundamental human right, as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to “seek and receive information regardless of frontiers.” Since World War II, Japan has emerged as a leading advocate for human rights and the defense of press freedom should be a part of that portfolio.
Around the world, powerful international media companies have come together to defend press freedom. They have funded international press freedom organizations, organized security training, attended conferences, lobbied governments to improve press freedom, covered incidents of attacks of journalists in repressive countries, and editorialized in favor of press freedom.
Standing up for journalists around the world is a way for the Japanese media to expand its global influence and prestige while reaffirming its commitment to the highest ideals of the journalistic profession. It’s also the right thing to do.