Adults in the Student Suicide Case

Questions The Judge Raised About Kyodo News / The First Oral Pleading of A Lawsuit Seeking Freedom of The Press

2024.01.19 12:08 Nanami Nakagawa

On November 24, 2023, the first oral pleading was held at the Tokyo District Court, in which former Kyodo News reporter Yoichi Ishikawa sued the company for violating his freedom of the press and seeking compensation for damages.

Ishikawa appeared in court along with his attorney Yoichi Kitamura. However, the defendant’s Kyodo News side was only represented by a lawyer, and Kyodo News executives were not present.

Kyodo News had submitted a written answer in advance, but Presiding Judge Takashi Nakajima cast doubt on certain claims made by Kyodo News. Kyodo News has decided to submit the “homework” requested by Presiding Judge Nakajima by December 8th.

Shiodome Media Tower, where Kyodo News’ headquarters is at (Photo by Makoto Watanabe)

There’s a difference between “criticism” and “blame”

The focus of the oral pleading that day was the appropriateness of Ishikawa’s criticism of the Nagasaki Shimbun in the book “Sanctuary of Bullying,” published by Bungeishunju.

The Nagasaki Shimbun defended the prefecture for helping the school cover up the student’s suicide.

Ishikawa did not request an opinion from the Nagasaki Shimbun headquarters. Considering that the Nagasaki Shimbun is a member company of Kyodo News, he determined that there was a risk of interference with interviews and publication. Ishikawa criticized the Nagasaki Shimbun and its reporters based on payment information, such as advertising fees to the Nagasaki Shimbun made public by the prefecture, as well as direct communications with Nagasaki Shimbun reporters.

Kyodo News’ Legal Affairs Director Shuhei Masunaga acknowledged during Ishikawa’s hearing that it is difficult to seek opinions from the Nagasaki Shimbun headquarters. “Well, we can’t probably do that because of the relationship between us and the Nagasaki Shimbun.”

However, Kyodo News considers it a major issue that Ishikawa did not seek the opinion of the Nagasaki Shimbun headquarters.

Nevertheless, there were some inconsistencies in the written answer that Kyodo News submitted in conjunction with the oral pleading.

For example, it is inconsistent in writing that Ishikawa “criticized” the Nagasaki Shimbun and others that he “blamed it.” The terms “criticism” and “blame” have very different connotations. “Criticism” means judging something after examining it. This is exactly the job of a journalist. However, “blaming” simply means accusing the other person.

Viewing criticism of a member company itself as problematic

Chief Judge Nakajima questioned why Kyodo News revoked the “approval for outside activities” that Ishikawa had obtained in order to write a book.

“As reasons for revoking the “approval of outside activities,” it indicates “failure to conduct a confirmation interview with the Nagasaki Shimbun’” and “criticizing the editorial policy of the Nagasaki Shimbun.” Is this one single argument or two separate arguments?”

Presiding Judge Nakajima asked whether the problem was that Ishikawa criticized the company without conducting a confirmation interview with the Nagasaki Shimbun, or whether the criticism itself was a problem.

The lawyer representing Kyodo News, Katsunari Fujita, answered.

“They are two separate arguments.”

In other words, Kyodo News views criticism of a member company as a problem in itself. This is a violation of press freedom.

Presiding Judge Nakajima requested Kyodo News to clarify each reason for Ishikawa’s failure to give a confirmatory interview to the Nagasaki Shimbun and his criticism of the Nagasaki Shimbun as the grounds for revoking the consent for outside activities. The deadline for submission is December 8.

Kyodo News lawyer said he will “convey Tansa’s request to executives”

After the court closed, editor-in-chief Makoto Watanabe and I exchanged business cards with two lawyers representing Kyodo News.

At that time, we asked whether Kyodo News executives and employees would be present at future trials. Lawyer Norihito Naka didn’t answer and showed a bitter expression.

Until now, Kyodo News has only responded to Tansa’s questions by saying, “We will refrain from responding.” When we asked him to tell Kyodo News executives that we wanted a proper response, Naka replied, “I’ll let them know.”

The next court will be held at 1:30 pm on January 19, 2024 in Courtroom No. 611 of the Tokyo District Court.

(Originally published in Japanese on November 24, 2023. Translation by Mana Shibata.)

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