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Number 1 Shimbun

Freedom of the Press Awards Awards


Freedom of the Press Awards Awards
by Abby Leonard 

On the evening of September eleventh, some of Japan’s top journalists and journalism students gathered at the FCCJ for the Press Freedom and Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship awards ceremony. (Disclosure: This writer helped organize the event as Chair of the Freedom of the Press and Scholarship Committees.)

The ceremony comes at a critical time for Japan’s free press: Earlier this year, U.N. Special Rapporteur David Kaye said government pressure on media “requires attention lest [it] undermine Japan’s democratic foundations” and encouraged journalists to band together to protect their rights. Contest organizers said they hoped the event would give honorees the opportunity to do just that.

Japan Investigative Journalism Award

The Japan Investigative Award went to Haruhiko Yoshimura and Kenta Iijima, the Asahi Shimbun reporters whose diligent reporting resulted in perhaps the biggest scoop of the year: the Moritomo Gakuen scandal that ensnared Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife.

In February, the pair reported that the Shinto-based school group accused of promoting bigotry against Chinese and Koreans, had received illicit financial favors from Prime Minister Abe’s government. Their reporting revealed the group bought a piece of state-owned land at a fraction of its value to build a school where First Lady Akie Abe would be honorary principal.

Robin Harding, Financial Times Tokyo Bureau Chief and member of the Freedom of the Press Committee, said in introductory remarks that their reporting had, “driven the news agenda in Japan all year” and called it, “a fine example of what investigative reporting should be; not a grand project but reporting that came out of regular beat journalism – seeing something that didn't look right and asking, ‘where did the money go?’”

That question propelled their investigation, Yoshimura said in his acceptance speech, and when the Finance Ministry refused to explain the reduced land price, “it caused the flames of my passions as a journalist to rise up – something must be amiss.” He thinks there’s still more to the story and said he’ll continue to follow it.

Supporter of the Free Press Award

Makoto Watanabe, editor of the Waseda Chronicle and Tatsuro Hanada, Director of Waseda University’s Institute for Journalism, Japan’s first university-based center for investigative journalism, won the Supporter of the Free Press Award.

They established the institute two years ago to foster independent reporting and train a new generation of journalists to work outside Japan’s Keisha Club system. Students get experience at Watanabe’s Waseda Chronicle, a news site that has already broken big stories, including one that revealed Dentsu, one of Japan’s biggest advertising agencies, was paying for flattering news coverage. The site crowd-funds its projects but hopes to become sustainable in the model of Propublica, the Pulitzer Prize winning non-profit based in New York, and last month, it signed a collaboration agreement with Korea’s Newstapa, the first investigative reporting nonprofit in Northeast Asia.

Hanada said in his acceptance speech that the Chronicle, “has struggled in the Galapagos-like landscape of Japanese journalism to try to join the global movement of investigative journalists” but he hopes the award will bring it more recognition and credibility. And he credited the FCCJ with inspiring him to start the institute in the first place. Three years ago, he participated in a press conference at the club where he criticized the Asahi Shimbun for bowing to government pressure over its Fukushima Daiichi coverage and realized Japan could benefit from an entirely independent news organization.

Lifetime Achievement Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award highlighted a significant event in the history of Japan’s independent press. It went to Takashi Tachibana, introduced by Freedom of Press Committee member Bradley Martin as, “the reporter who may have started the investigative reporting movement we are celebrating.”

In 1974, Tachibana led a team of 20 journalists on an exhaustive investigation that exposed corruption by Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, one of Japan’s most powerful post-war leaders. Other members of the Japanese press were slow to pick up the story because, as Newsweek reported at the time, “they had all been pressured or had too much to lose.“

That all changed when the Prime Minister appeared at a press conference at the FCCJ and foreign reporters grilled him about the allegations in Tachibana’s article until he walked out in anger. The Japanese press finally began to cover the story and, after six weeks of withering public criticism, the Prime Minister announced he would resign. Tachibana and his partner Takaya Kodama became known as the Woodward and Bernstein of Japan.

FCCJ member Gebhard Hielscher, who was at the 1974 press conference, handed Tachibana the award and thanked him for giving the foreign press the opportunity to ask Prime Minister Tanaka tough questions. Tachibana returned the compliment, saying that when his team wrote the article, investigative journalism didn't exist in Japan, so seeing foreign reporters ask the Prime Minister tough questions, “broke that dam and gave us the opportunity to really change journalism here.”

The club hopes to continue to cultivate that type of journalism by supporting the next generation of independent reporters, said Anthony Rowley, FCCJ First Vice President and member of the Freedom of the Press Committee, who introduced the Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship Awards. He knew DeRoy personally and said it was because of his generosity that students could receive the substantial scholarships.

Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship: Pen Award

Trishit Banerjee tied for first place in the Pen category with Jennifer Lisa Wooden of Keio University. His winning entry looked at the challenges to entrepreneurship and social change in Japan and he said he plans to use the scholarship money to “create space for debate and discussion on campuses across Japan” through a student media group in collaboration with The Sentinel at Tohoku University.

Wooden, whose father was an Associate Member, said she grew up visiting the club, “eating apple pie and rum curry.” Judges commended her entry about women in Japan’s workforce, which she said she was inspired to write after seeing only male students go after jobs that would lead to management roles. She plans to pursue a career in business journalism and will use the award to pay for living expenses during her upcoming internship.

Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship: Video Award

The Video Award went to Nguỵen Chi Long, a medical doctor studying at Tohoku University whose entry was a cultural profile of the Tohoku region that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. “When I tell people I spent time in Sendai, they Google it and see the tsunami,” he said. “So I want to use my talent for videography to tell people about its beautiful culture and I think I’ve been successful because most of my friends who saw the video immediately went to Tohoku when they visited Japan.” He said he plans to use the money to continue to produce videos that encourage tourism in the region.

Swadesh DeRoy Scholarship: Photography Award

The photography award went to a student photographer who covered a similar subject: Fuad Ikhwanda of Tohoku University photographed foreigners who found community in Sendai through social media following the earthquake. “This prestigious award makes me want to continue journalism and fund my future projects,” he said. The first of those, he said, will be a series on the rebuilding of a small Iwate fishing village.

Ikhwanda tied with a group of students from Chuo University led by Nonoko Aida, that photographed cenotaphs Japanese communities built after World War II to show gratitude to U.S. soldiers. The Chuo University students plan to use the award to publish a book on the project.

Published in: October 2017

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