Adults in the Student Suicide Case

Kyodo News Claims in Court That “The Nagasaki Shimbun is a Private Company,” Suggesting that it should not be subject to criticism

2024.05.10 12:31 Nanami Nakagawa

The Nagasaki Shimbun, as a “private company,” is not subject to criticism.

Kyodo News made such a claim in court.

This happened on April 26, 2024, at the 4th oral argument in the “Freedom of the Press Trial” held at the Tokyo District Court.

The Nagasaki Shimbun protects local government

Former Kyodo News reporter Yoichi Ishikawa is suing the company in this trial.

In his book “The Sanctuary of Bullying,” published by Bungeishunju, Ishikawa criticized the Nagasaki Shimbun’s reporting approach after the bullying-suicide tragedy at Kaisei Gakuen High School in Nagasaki City. This is because the Nagasaki Shimbun defended the prefecture, which helped Kaisei Gakuen’s attempt to conceal the bullying suicide.

However, Kyodo News took issue with Ishikawa’s criticism of the Nagasaki Shimbun’s reporting approach. Even though the publisher was Bungeishunju, Kyodo prohibited Ishikawa to reprint the book. He was also fired from his position as a reporter.

Ishikawa is seeking damages for the violation of “freedom of expression” guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, the violation of his “sense of honor” by being denied the qualifications of a journalist, and the violation of “property rights” by being prohibited from reprinting.

The separation between facts and commentary can also be found in the Kyodo News articles

What Kyodo News strongly disputes is that when Ishikawa criticized the Nagasaki Shimbun, he did not interview the company’s perspectives.

Ishikawa had his reasons.

He judged that unfavorable reporting on Nagasaki Shimbun, a Kyodo News member company, could interfere with the book’s reporting and publication. Shuhei Masunaga, Kyodo News’ Legal Affairs Director, echoed this judgment at Ishikawa’s hearing. (Tansa added information in parentheses.)

“Well, we can’t probably do that (requesting an opinion as a company) because of the relationship between us and the Nagasaki Shimbun.”

Ishikawa wrote the book as a “commentary” based on publicly available facts and unshakable facts obtained through investigation.

News organizations often publish articles that separate fact from commentary in the first place.

Kyodo News is no exception. The plaintiffs had pointed out this in previous trials.

An example of this is an article published by Kyodo News. It was published as an editorial article in the Nagasaki Shimbun on December 10, 2022.

The headline reads, “Budget Expansion that Endangers the Country/Defense Tax Increase by 1 Trillion Yen.” This article was published in response to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s announcement that he would increase taxes by more than 1 trillion yen a year starting in fiscal 2027.

Kyodo News criticized Prime Minister Kishida as follows without directly interviewing him.

“This is an expansion of the budget that puts the country at risk.”

“The prime minister, who has been suffering from low approval ratings due to issues such as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church), may be seen as leaning towards the conservative wing of the party in order to maintain centripetal force.”

“However, we must not overlook the fact that they are just a rough estimate.”

“A historic shift in security policy and an increase in burdens are becoming an accomplished fact without any explanation. The question is whether we will tolerate this attitude of disregard for the people.”

Would news organizations give up their privileges because they are private companies?

Kyodo News went so far as to accuse Prime Minister Kishida for “leaning towards” the conservative wing of the party without interviewing him. On the other hand, why is Ishikawa not allowed to criticize the Nagasaki Shimbun based on facts?。

Kyodo News argued in court as follows.

“Regarding the subject of the commentary, the plaintiff cites commentary on the Prime Minister, who should be the most widely evaluated by the public in Japan, while Nagasaki Shimbun is a private company.”

Kyodo News is equivalent to claiming that Nagasaki Shimbun is a private company and should not be subject to scrutiny.

As the most powerful person in the Japanese government, it is natural for Prime Minister Kishida to be the target of criticism.

Nevertheless, newspaper companies cannot avoid criticism. This is because it is more than simply a private company; it is also a news organization. Society expects them to monitor power and prevent it from running out of control, and they are given numerous privileges.

For example, participation in news conferences, observation of parliamentary and court processes are made more convenient. Interviewees share information for free.

The most important privilege is the “news source privilege.”

Only when news organizations and journalists are mindful not to reveal information sources can information be obtained and the public’s right to know be protected. Information sources provide information without any fear. News organizations and journalists may decline to share information sources in a judicial setting even if they are requested to do so.

If newspaper companies were to be treated as mere “private companies” like Kyodo News, wouldn’t they be giving up their role and privileges as news organizations?

The next hearing will be held on June 7th at 10:30 a.m. in Courtroom No. 611 of the Tokyo District Court.

Nagasaki Shimbun Headquaters (Photo by Nanami Nakagawa on June 9, 2023)

(Originally published in Japanese on April 26, 2024. Translation by Mana Shibata.)

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