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A Better Support System for Reporters?

Posted May. 29, 2007 06:48,   


“A real improvement in the support system for reporters will expand the amount of information delivered to the public. To narrow down the amount of information available to the public goes against the principles of this advancement,” said Haruhara Akihiko, an 80-year-old professor emeritus at Jochi University who served as the chairman of the Japanese press association for two years from 1989.

He said, “Local self-governing bodies have the responsibility and obligation to let people know their policies,” emphasizing, “They should provide as much convenience as possible to media outlets.”

Your reporter met with Haruhara at the Japanese press club in downtown Tokyo yesterday to listen to what he had to say about the country’s press clubs and press rooms, which Government Information Agency Director Kim Chang-ho called “a most backward system,” and the Korean government’s decision to close many of its press rooms.

Q: Do you agree with the remark that Japan’s press reporting system is the most backward?

A: It was an unthinkable remark. A country’s press reporting system differs depending on tradition and culture of the country. There are many aspects in which Japan’s reporting system is more advanced than that of the Western world.

Q: How did the press club and press room systems emerge in Japan?

A: Japan’s press club was formed in around 1890 when the imperial parliament was established. As the public sector was regarded as superior back then, it was hard for reporters to meet with government officials, not to mention interviewing them. The officials’ attitudes were, “Just write what I say.” The press club was formed against this backdrop to induce needed answers from government officials. There were many press clubs for each ministry before World War 2. The Japanese military regime regulated that there should be only one press club for each ministry, using it as a means of control.

Q: There are still a lot of criticisms of Japanese-style press clubs.

A: Of course, a press club is a closed organization, and there are many other problems as well. But the press club is an important body that serves as a center for media outlets. You should resolve the problem, rather than closing it altogether just because there are some problems.

Q: Do you think should press clubs be reformed?

A: Rulers tend to hide information that is not helpful for them. Reporters need sufficient reporting capability to check their power. You should utilize a press club as a place for contacting government officials and studying policies, rather than as a forum for announcement. The press club system needs to improve its operations, as it was created spontaneously. The exclusiveness issue will be resolved if you form as many press clubs as possible.

Q: What do you think of administrative bodies providing press rooms free of charge?

A: In democratic society, classified information should be made public because all the information that a government possesses belongs to people. But there is a certain limitation for a government to let people know about all the information it has. Hence the need for media outlets, which do reporting on behalf of people, for the people’s right to know. It is only natural for the government, run on taxpayers’ money, to provide necessary facilities for press reporting by a media outlet. The United Nations and the International Olympic Committee also provide such conveniences. But the government should not offer excessive conveniences to win favorable reporting from reporters; rather, it should concentrate on meeting the need of the people to know.

A Kyoto resident filed a lawsuit with the Kyoto District Court in 1990, saying, “It is illegal for local self-governing bodies to provide press clubs with press rooms free of charge.” But the court ruled in February 1992, “The Kyoto Prefecture government provides the press room for public use. Therefore, it is in line with the purpose of administrative property.”

Prior to that, the Japanese government also clarified in 1958, “The government provides facilities for implementation of state affairs and projects,” citing a press room as an example of such facilities.

Q: Former Nagano Prefecture Governor Tanaka Yasuo declared the “elimination of press clubs” and closed press rooms in 1992. Was his attempt successful?

A: It failed. It is not only self-governing bodies which used the press club and press room of Nagano Prefecture. After closing the press room, corporations and organizations in Nagano suffered great inconveniences. It was also wrong for a self-governing body to take over control of press conferences from the press club. When a ruler has control of a press conference, he can say only what he wants to say.

Q: The Korean government announced that it would integrate its existing 37 briefing rooms and press rooms, each of which was under each government agency, into three.

A: It is hard to comment on that because I don’t know the details. But I want to say that the Japanese military government during wartime once integrated the announcement function of each ministry and transferred it to the military intelligence agency.

Q: Responding to the criticism that such a measure would limit people’s right to know, the government says that there would be no problem if it comes up with complementary measures, including expansion of disclosure of information and improvement of the briefing system.

A: I think the expansion of disclosure of information and the improvement of the briefing system should be done first.

Q: The current Korean administration banned government officials from interviewing with some critical newspapers, including the Dong-A Ilbo. What do you think of that?

A: That is the act of an autocratic state.