December 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
It is not often that the contradictions of Japan’s press club system are so nakedly exposed. But that’s the case of a recently shot video clip, in which two journalists clash in a parking lot, alternatively trading insults and arguing over the ethics of their trade.
Both cover the regular Friday night antinuclear protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Tokyo. The difference is that Toshiyuki Saga can shoot video from his workplace in the Diet Press Club building just across the road, while freelance reporter Yu Terasawa is barred from even entering the building because he’s not a press club member. He can only shoot the scenes from outside.
On Oct. 13, he took his grievance to the site, demanding to be let in. “You do not have the right to block our right to report because this building is paid for by public taxes,” he says in the video. “A manager has the right to take care of the building,” retorts Saga, a former Kyodo reporter who oversees the press club. “You don’t have the right to report here.” Saga is then seen physically blocking entrance to the building.
The dispute is now the basis of the latest legal challenge to Japan’s reporting system. Terasawa, along with fellow freelancers Michiyoshi Hatakeyama and Yuichi Sato, filed a claim to the Tokyo Regional Court on Oct. 31, demanding they be allowed inside the Diet Press Club. Their deposition says the building housing the Club is the perfect vantage point for filming the protests, but that they have been barred from entering it since June.
Their claim is backed by journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which calls the obstruction “arbitrary and illegal,” and another example of the press clubs’ “systematic contempt” for an “entire part of the reporting community.” The watchdog predicts that the “court will not provide legal cover for obstruction of access, especially given that the request for legal action comes from journalists themselves.”
That may be an optimistic assessment. Terasawa lost all four of his previous legal challenges, and he doesn’t really expect to win this one either. “The press club system has been going for 120 years, so we don’t think the court will overturn it in one sweep,” he told No.1 Shimbun.
“The courts don’t even recognize the right to freedom of the press, so that makes it more difficult to argue that this system is antiquated. But these lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming for everyone, so the aim is to put pressure on the system and change the attitude of all concerned.” read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Tania Shcheglova