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Japanese journalists barred from anti-nuclear protest coverage

(RSF/IFEX) - 11.06.2012 - Reporters Without Borders declares its support for a legal demand to the Tokyo regional court by three freelance journalists seeking access to an official press club building that would allow them to cover anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Yu Terasawa, Michiyoshi Hatakeyama and Yuichi Sato filed their demand on 31 October. They have been trying since June to enter the building of the Kisha club of the National Diet (parliament). The building offers the perfect vantage point for coverage of anti-nuclear demonstrations held every Friday in front of the prime minister's residence, directly across the street. Club director Toshiyuki Saga has prohibited the freelancers from entering.

"This obstruction of freelancers' work is arbitrary and illegal under Japanese law and violates the fundamental principle of freedom of the press," Reporters Without Borders said. "The court will not provide legal cover for obstruction of access, especially given that the request for legal action comes from journalists themselves."

Freelance journalists play an essential role in ensuring diversity in news coverage, the press freedom organization noted, calling that diversity essential to a democracy. The Kisha clubs not only embody a system of unfair privileges but systematically display contempt for an entire part of the media community, the organization said.

The three journalists who went to court belong to a freelancers' liaison group created in October of last year to fight for freelancers' access to press conferences held by the government and TEPCO, the electric utility. The freelancers have tried to film the weekly anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Before making their legal move, the journalists wrote on three occasions to club director Saga, a former journalist with Kyodo News. The letters, dated 17 July, 16 August and 10 October, have gone unanswered.

But Saga, in a video released on YouTube on 13 October, expressed hostility to the freelancers who had come to cover the protests.



On 2 November, Saga refused to answer questions from a Reporters Without Borders correspondent.

Freelance journalists are routinely discriminated against in Japan. Officials typically attempt to justify this policy on a variety of grounds: lack of space, lack of time, extra cost. Notably, these constraints apply only to freelancers - not to journalists employed by media companies. Nuclear policy remains an extremely sensitive issue in Japan. Freelance journalist Minoru Tanaka has suffered systematic legal harassmentsince last May. He has been accused of libel as a result of his investigation of the disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant.

Reporters Without Borders has opposed for years the censorship exercised by the Kisha clubs and the danger to press freedom that they represent.

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