Japanese media’s cozy relationship with authorities, big business through controversial “kisha clubs,” or an “information cartel”

“It is Japanese media that have hampered serious journalists’ work,” says Yu Terasawa, a veteran investigative journalist and author of many books on controversial kisha clubs and police corruption.

“Founded in the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan’s Kisha Club has since served as the government’s PR department. Public offices have provided media companies with a spacious room called ‘Kisha Club’ within their buildings, where many of the employees of newspaper companies and TV stations ‘report for work.’ Then, civil servants give them information, either orally or in writing, which they disseminate to the public. They are not news organizations,” says Terasawa.

In 2014, Terasawa was the only Japanese journalist that was named as an “information hero” by Reporters Without Borders. He was invited to speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Terasawa says Japan’s prime minister’s news conferences are just like a “membership only bars” as freelance journalists like Terasawa are barred from attending them. 

Terasawa has long been in a battle with the kisha club system. 

Here is a 2005 article by David Jacobson for the defunct Japan Media Review. 

Foreign Correspondent Files Brief in Support of Kisha Club Suit

July 25, 2005 by David Jacobson

A prominent foreign correspondent has filed a brief in the Tokyo District Court in support of a freelance writer suing to declare Japan’s controversial press club system illegal.

In the brief, Hans van der Lugt, Tokyo correspondent for the Netherlands’ NRC Handelsblad newspaper since 1996 and a former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, decried the system of so-called “kisha clubs” ostensibly set up to protect reporters against the abuses of authority, but which he claims actually discriminates against “real” journalists.

“The Japanese media ha[ve] established organizations called kisha clubs, which encourage too much sameness among reportage. What the people really want to know, and what they should know, is not reported,” he wrote.

Kisha clubs are officially sanctioned press clubs that operate out of most major Japanese organizations, including government ministries, political parties and some corporations, among others. They are controversial because foreign media, weekly tabloids and freelancers have been excluded from joining them and, consequently, from receiving the information made available to members. There are thought to be nearly 1,000 kisha clubs operating across Japan. 

According to van der Lugt,

“In Japan, the concept of ‘journalist’ is not understood by public institutions. That is why institutions like kisha clubs exist, enabling a small number of specific media outlets to monopolize facilities provided them by the government. However, anyone calling himself a journalist should be able to report on a public institution …

Today, the media consists not only of newspapers, television and radio, but also magazines, books and the Internet. Moreover, journalists comprise not just full-time employees, but contract workers and freelancers – people with many different forms of employment status. So it is clearly wrong that the kisha club system only benefits full employees of a select few newspapers and television stations. To the extent that they continue to exist, one cannot say that freedom of the press is protected in Japan.”

Van der Lugt noted that in November 2004, he, as a foreign journalist, had applied to and been approved by a kisha club to attend the sentencing of the former chairman of Takefuji, a consumer finance giant, who had been convicted of illegal wiretapping. However, freelance journalist Yu Terasawa, who had made a similar petition and was in fact the victim of the wiretapping, was not.

“Terasawa is the journalist who, more than anyone else, passionately followed Takefuji and continued to report about it. So I cannot comprehend why the court refused to allow him to report on the hearing or obtain a copy of the decision. At the same time, the members of the Justice Kisha Club [the club that covers the court system in Tokyo] hardly reported on Takefuji until its chairman was arrested, perhaps because they were afraid of expensive libel suits or having their advertising from Takefuji withdrawn. Why were these ‘reporters,’ reporters in name only, why were they allowed to attend the hearing and receive a copy of the decision, while Terasawa was only permitted to attend like a member of the general public?”

Japanese language copies of van der Lugt’s five-page brief have been posted on the Web by several different bloggers (here and here). No major media outlet appears to have reported on it, however.

The brief was submitted in support of Terasawa’s suit charging that the kisha club system discriminates against freelance writers. He claims to have been prevented by the Justice Kisha Club from attending trials in both Tokyo and Sapporo courts and receiving a copy of the verdicts on the grounds that he was not a member of the attached kisha clubs. More recently, he sued the National Police Agency for similarly preventing him from participating in the relevant kisha club.

Van der Lugt has himself been active in the fight against the kisha club system. As president of the FCCJ, he encouraged the European Union to take up the issue, which in November 2002 sent a protest to the Japanese government saying that kisha clubs were “a restraint on free trade in information.” He also arranged a panel discussion on the kisha club system at the FCCJ in March 2003, which included Terasawa as a panelist.

One thought on “Japanese media’s cozy relationship with authorities, big business through controversial “kisha clubs,” or an “information cartel”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s