Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2019, 15:06 GMT

Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - Japan

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 2003
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - Japan, 2003, available at: [accessed 23 January 2019]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Despite criticism by the European Union and foreign journalists, the government has not reformed the system of kisha clubs (press clubs), which are a serious obstacle to press freedom. A new privacy law may restrict the work of journalists.

A knife-wielding member of a small far-right group burst into the offices of the public TV station NHK in the western city of Kyoto on 18 January 2002, took a receptionist hostage, poured kerosene on the floor and demanded that a statement about the US attack on Afghanistan be broadcast. He was eventually overpowered and arrested.

On 2 May, police officially closed their enquiry into the murder of Tomohiro Kojiro, of the daily Asahi Shimbun, as the 15-year deadline for solving the crime expired. He was shot dead in his office on 3 May 1987. Police never identified the killers despite the claim by the ultra-nationalist group Sekihotai that they murdered him.

In June, parliament debated a proposed personal privacy law to require anyone, including journalists, seeking personal information about others to reveal at any time why they were collecting it. They were also required to gather the data in an "appropriate manner," ensure its accuracy, prevent it being passed on to a third person and ensure free access to it by the person from whom it was being sought.

Since the government decided on the measure in 2001, the bill has been widely criticised. It would ban any article that invaded the privacy or damaged the reputation of crime victims or suspects as well as their family members. Since this would include public figures, it could allow prosecution of journalists or censorship of what they wrote about politicians or public officials. A committee of the upper house of parliament discussed the bill in November but made no major changes.

Some media and journalists' associations criticised three other government bills discussed by parliament, about human rights, emergency security and protecting children from violent or sexually-explicit material. Each measure contained clauses that could undermine freedom of expression. The one on human rights, approved by the government in March, would set up a commission under the justice ministry that would rule publicly on complaints about invasion of privacy or unfair media treatment.

The European Union (EU) said in a 17 October report on trade relations with Japan that the system of exclusive press clubs (kisha clubs) was hampering the free flow of information by allowing local and national officials to suppress news unfavourable to them. The report said it debased the news by preventing confirmation by a second source and created a dangerous distinction between news given to the domestic and foreign press about events in Japan.

The EU asked the government to allow all officially-accredited foreign journalists unrestricted access to all press conferences in Japan and to reform the system of kisha clubs. It warned that it would take the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if the government did not act.

In May, Reporters Without Borders called on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to reform the clubs. The privileges accorded to the major Japanese media prevented many others – European, North American and also Japanese – from covering Koizumi's official visit to North Korea on 17 September.

The EU criticism echoed that of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, which has been trying for 50 years to get the kisha clubs to admit foreign journalists. Freelance journalists and smaller Japanese media have also called in recent years for an end to the system, which encourages self-censorship.

Japan officially has about 800 kisha clubs, though some say there are as many as 1,500. Most are tied to public institutions (such as ministries and provincial governments), large firms, political parties and the Imperial Palace. Their members are more than 12,000 journalists from nearly 160 media affiliated to the Nihon Shimbun Kyokai (Japanese Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association).

The first kisha clubs were set up in 1882 by journalists covering parliament. Since then, governments have encouraged them. Each contains about 20 journalists working in major dailies, national TV stations and national news agencies (Kyodo and Jiji). They serve as a pool of journalists working out of a room set aside for them by the institution concerned. Foreign journalists are only admitted to the foreign ministry kisha club.

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