But it still resonates for Hizumi, now a lawyer who specializes in free speech issues. He was himself threatened following the attack while investigating a religious cult, he said. “Do you want to end up like Asahi newspaper?” he was told. “I learned that journalists are always exposed, always risking their lives,” he said.
Prior to CPJ’s February 16 panel
“Although deaths are rare, there exist very sophisticated
conditions that prevent journalists from being active,” Hizumi explained of
But the magazine story began to circulate online. At the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan following the CPJ panel, I met the story’s author, Takeshi Uesugi. He confirmed Hizumi’s account: On February 4, the freelance journalist and blogger announced on Twitter that public prosecutors had telephoned to summon the magazine’s chief editor for questioning about the piece. Hizumi, himself an active blogger, said he believes the publicity stemming from that announcement caused the prosecutors to back down: the summons was withdrawn the same day, ostensibly because the editor was out of town.
The DJP’s recent victory in the 2009 elections is good news for journalists, according to Hizumi. Their publicly stated attitude toward the media differs from that of their predecessors, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who introduced legislative measures Hizumi ways were designed to inhibit the media and maintain the party’s 54-year hold on power. Still, media advocates are asking how committed the DJP is to overhauling existing regulations. Hizumi gave me an English copy of an article he authored two years ago as part of a Japanese-language book on media control that lays it all out in detail:
- The LDP dismantled a post-World War II independent broadcasting regulatory commission in1952. Since then, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has had the power to grant broadcasting licenses and issue warnings about conduct, or “administrative guidance.” Licenses are subject to renewal every five years.
- With unregulated cross-ownership of media outlets, the effects of this dependence on government licensing are magnified. Each of the country’s five major newspapers has a corresponding television station.
- Japanese advertising agencies, which represent multiple companies in the same industry, and multiple media outlets in the same market, exert correspondingly large pressure on publishers and broadcasters. Hizumi quotes from a book on advertising agency Dentsu, published by the weekly magazine Shukan Kinyobi in 2006, about the weekly magazine Gekkanshi. An unidentified company “threatened to pull its ads from all magazines published by Shogakukan, the magazine’s publisher, and to pursue a recall of the offending magazine. To appease the company, Shogakukan edited out all mention of the company and reprinted tens of thousands of issues.”
- The Protection of Personal Information Law, first introduced in 2002 and enacted in 2005, inhibits investigations, Hizumi asserts. The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association have repeatedly called for the law’s revision, citing “growing refusals to grant media access to information on the grounds of personal information protection,” according to the April 2009 edition of its bulletin.
- The LDP government increased the incentive for publicly known figures to pursue defamation lawsuits against media outlets by urging courts to raise the amount of compensation payouts. At the time of his report, Hizumi found average damages awarded had risen from 1 to 5 million yen (from US$11,200 to US$56,000).
Defamation is also a criminal offence in
The DPJ has taken some initial steps toward reform, including investigating the press clubs that restrict access to press conferences. Mizuho Fukushima, the newly elected cabinet minister for consumer affairs, has also called for a review of the personal information laws, according to a Japan Times editorial from November 2009. But the administration hasn’t said much yet on Internet control, Hizumi says. The LDP passed child protection laws for the Internet that encourage content filtering apparently stringent enough to discourage Sony from marketing a Web-capable television in Japan this year (critics say bad sales were the primary factor). They were also trying to apply the potentially restrictive broadcast laws to new media outlets, according to Hizumi.
The culture the laws have fostered among media practitioners
may also be hard to dismantle. On February
15, Hizumi was in court again to represent Greenpeace’s “Tokyo Two,” who
face a possible six-month jail term for stealing a crate of whale meat as part
of an embezzlement exposé, Hizumi said. The hearing was adjourned till March 8.
At a recent press conference for the pair, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, Hizumi
anticipated a sympathetic hearing. “These activists had been doing this
investigation for six months—their work was basically that of a journalist,” he
said. “But in