Global Issues: Japan/News Media
News Media, Politics & Kisha Clubs
- 1. Background
- 2. Kisha Clubs
- 3. Admittance into Kisha Clubs
- 4. Advantages of Kisha Clubs
- 5. Disadvantages of Kisha Clubs
- 6. Instances of Controversy
Japan has some of the highest circulation of newspapers in the world. The circulation of Japan's largest daily newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, is greater than that of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and New York Daily News combined. Also, Japan has a literacy rate of over 99% and according to one study over 90% read a daily paper. Japan has the highest per capita newspaper circulation in the world, more than twice that of the US. Still, with these statistics, the public remains uninformed in many situations. The information that gets relayed to the public can sometimes be altered or skewed in order to suit the needs of politicians or corporate commercial gains, even when reporters may have access to such information. The reason behind this is the Press Club or Kisha Club.
Kisha Clubs are news gathering organizations that are granted access to privileged resources such as press meetings, press releases, corporate announcements or police debriefings. The meetings or work spaces for the Club members are hosted by different organizations such as the Prime Minister’s office, the police departments, the Diet, ministries, local government, the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Japan Business Federation. A member is given access to breaking information on a firsthand basis. In order for a reporter to become a member of a Kisha Club, the news organization that the reporter works for must be a member of the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association or a body of equal stature. Also, the member must be recommended by at least two press club member organizations of the club the reporter desires to join. The member must also pay monthly dues to each of the clubs, not exceeding 600 yen per person. Also, because a reporter may be a member of one Kisha Club, it does not mean that reporter will have access to any other Kisha Clubs. For example, in 2001 there was a school massacre in the Osaka prefecture and reporters that were not part of the local police’s press club were denied access to the primary debriefings. After debriefing the local police’s press club members first, the police gave a short debriefing of the incident to the non-member reporters. In the competitive field of journalism, where time is of the essence, that time can make or break a story. Today, there are over 300 Kisha Clubs nationwide. The first club was assembled in 1890 when the Imperial Diet began having discussion sessions. The media was not allowed access to these meetings or information from these meetings during this time, so the reporters assembled together to put group pressure on the government for admittance and the right to the information revealed in these meetings. The Kisha Clubs resulted from a sort of compromise between the media and the government. The government told the media what it wanted the public to know and the media relayed the information.
While the Kisha Clubs’ memberships are voluntary, it makes it very difficult to obtain information if one is not a member. Freelance reporters, magazine reporters, web reporters and foreign reporters have limited to no access to the press conferences hosted by the Clubs. The Kisha Club is an institution and system fostered by Japan’s media industry for well over a century in pursuit of the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the public’s right to know, according to the Kisha Club guidelines, which were set and regulated by Nihon Shinbun Kyokai (NSK) Editorial Affairs Committee and last revised March 9, 2006. According to the Kisha Club guidelines created by the NSK, the Kisha Clubs operate on five basic principles: "Freedom and Responsibility," "Accuracy and Fairness," "Independence and Tolerance," "Respect for Human Rights" and "Decency and Moderation."
Admittance into Kisha Clubs
In order to be admitted into a Kisha Club a reporter must follow certain guidelines. However if a reporter is not a member of the Kisha Club there are certain criteria in which they still may be admitted to an event as an observer, such as having a long standing career with an established news group and an interest in fair reporting, be able to comply with the management of the club and the management’s ideals of media ethics. In most cases however, the only assurance for admittance to an event is membership. Being admitted as an observer allows a reporter just that, they do not have permission to ask any questions. Foreign press has fought for many years to attain the same rights and privileges as Kisha Club members. In 2003, the European Commission brought pressure to open media up to foreign reporters by stating “Japan's press club system serves as a trade barrier, excluding foreign correspondents from access to news conferences and briefings.” Just within the last few years foreign media names such as Bloomberg, Associated Press and Reuters have become Kisha Club members of some Tokyo press clubs. Freelance reporters, web reporters and magazine reporters are still banned from Kisha Club events. If a reporter is so inclined to be admitted into a Kisha Club, there is always the possibility to offend or misstep over the guidelines. If a reporter reveals off the record information obtained either by government officials or other Club members, that reporter may be banned temporarily from Club access and activities, with his reputation tarnished. If a reporter fails to abide by a press embargo and prematurely releases a story or a reporter names an informant that asked to be kept confidential, the reporter will have to issue a letter of apology to the Kisha Club or Clubs that he is a member of. Each club has its own specific way to deal with members’ violations.
Advantages of Kisha Clubs
The Kisha Club system allows government organizations and businesses to instantly get information out to the public. As soon as the information is made available to the reporters, the reporters can make it known to the public, given that there are non press embargoes. This method also speeds up the process of investigation and writing for the reporters, they don’t have to research the sources or background or even change much of the delivery of the message. Also, it limits the competitive edge amongst Club reporters because they all have access to exactly the same information at the same time. Some supporters feel it is a way to ensure high level, quality journalism.
Disadvantages of Kisha Clubs
There has been much controversy over the idea of Kisha Clubs. Many people feel they do more harm in relating information to the public than good. Many feel that it ignores the right of freelance journalism and foreign journalism because it denies access to revelations only made to Kisha Club members, and because these members must comply with guidelines made by the NSK it limits and censors information that is made available to the public. Many critics feel this system encourages friendly relationships between reporters and government officials, lawmakers and corporate officials; which then discourages investigative reporting and creates reluctance from the reporters to question or criticize the information given to the reporters. Many also feel the Kisha Club systems directly relate to violating the public’s right to know. It is believed that the majority of the Japanese public do not know much about the Kisha Club system, if at all. The system is taboo for most mainstream media, and therefore never mentioned.
Instances of Controversy
One instance of controversy is the funding that the Clubs receive. The facilities that are available for the Kisha Club members to use are paid for by taxpayers’ money, yet the facilities are not open to the public and are only used for the Club members. This funding is estimated to be about 600 million yen. Yu Terasawa, one of Japan’s most well known investigative freelance journalists, has taken legal action against the Japanese government for being in violation of the right of free press, after he was denied access to a trial of a case that he had been reporting on, his case against the government had eventually reached the Japanese Supreme Court before being dismissed. Terasawa feels that friendly collaborations between government officials and Kisha Clubs promotes lazy journalism, protects personal interests and makes it difficult for freelance journalists, like himself, to inform the public. He feels that his fellow reporters that are members of Kisha Clubs are “sitting in their allocated spaces waiting to be brought a press release to rewrite.” In March of 2009, the arrest of an aide of an opposition political leader prompted reports of the defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the upcoming elections. Many of the public felt very differently, but the reports by the media suggested otherwise. Many put blame on the media for not questioning the prosecution for answers, particularly in a prominent time in Japan’s democracy when the country may be changing ruling parties for the first time in over 50 years. “The news media should be watchdogs on authority,” said Yasuhiko Tajima, a journalism professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, “but they act more like authority’s guard dogs.”
1. Japan has literacy rate of?
- a. Under 75%
- b. Over 99%
- c. Under 56%
- d. Over 95%
2. Kisha Clubs are
- a. clubs that meet to discuss politics in Japan
- b. organizations that decide what is ethical in media relations
- c. news gathering organizations that have access to things like press meetings & press releases.
- d. clubs that decide what information will be banned from the media
3. Who can attend a police debriefing?
- a. An approved Kisha Club member.
- b. A freelance journalist.
- c. A foreign media reporter.
- d. Anybody.
4. How and why were Kisha Clubs started?
5. What may happen if a Kisha Club reporter reveals off the record information that he has obtained?
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