The Journalist Information Service offers Regular Members an up-to-date list of key events

January 6th, the first official working day of the New Year, saw the launch of the Journalist Information Service (JIS). While we just missed the opportunity to wrap it and put it under the Christmas tree, we hope that the latest product of the Freedom of Press Committee will nevertheless be a useful present to all of our Regular Members.

The goal of the JIS is simple: Keep journalists based in Tokyo up-to-date on relevant events. While news bureau have at least one person who checks on upcoming press conferences, events, etc., and keeps an agenda for the reporters to plan their work, many members today do not have a bureau with staff. Many are one-man or one-woman shows. The JIS is particularly helpful for these lonely fighters, but we believe it will also be useful for news bureaus to double check their own calendars.

Why is the Freedom of Press Committee launching this initiative? Many of us find access to events here in Japan less than ideal. But the first step to get access is to know what the heck is going on. We hope that those days when correspondents find out about a media event only when they open the papers the next day will now happen less often.

Before we become too excited, let’s modestly admit that we are not there yet. In IT language, we are still in the beta phase. Over the past few months we have set up the system, while an FCCJ staff member has contacted a number of organizations and asked them for regular information about their press events. He then feeds this information into a special calendar on our website, for access by FCCJ Regular Members who sign up for it.

We presently receive routine updates from the Nuclear Regulation Agency, Keidanren, Rengo and most of the political parties that are active on the national level. The notable exception is the Liberal Democratic Party. We have already visited them in person, exchanged meishi with their press people and explained to them what we are looking for, but since the LDP is the only party with its own press club, things are a bit more difficult. We will try to win over similar organizations by engaging with them proactively.

We will add organizations to our coverage to make the JIS more and more useful over time. While we are open to suggestions about who should be added, bear with us if not everything is possible immediately. We ask journalists who have contacts at a particular organization or knowledge of important events to share them so that we can get in touch and add them to the calendar.

If any journalists encounter problems gaining access to any events, please give us feedback. While we cannot guarantee success, our Access Subcommittee will try to engage with the relevant people to improve access over the long run.

As the information in the JIS is meant for the working press, access is limited to Regular Members. These members can sign up at the front desk in person or by phone and within days will receive an email confirming their addition to the list. From then on, the JIS can be accessed from the members-only section of the FCCJ webpage. We ask that the information not be redistributed, as some of the organizations providing information insist that it only be available to working journalists. If anyone has a journalist friend who wants to access this information, kindly encourage them to become an FCCJ Regular Member.

As much as we hope otherwise, it is unreasonable to think that all doors will fly open to foreign journalists thanks to the JIS. But we are sure it can be a tool to help FCCJ journalists stay in tune with when and where the news happens.

One final point: When we announced the launch of the JIS in early January we were contacted by a member who feared the service would be used to release statements relating to press freedom. This is clearly not the case; there is, however, a subcommittee that deals with issues affecting press freedom. The Declaration Subcommittee monitors and may suggest that the President issue a statement, which is exactly what occurred with the release of the widely covered FCCJ presidential statement regarding the secrecy law. The subcommittee submitted a draft to the president, translated the final version and helped with the distribution of the presidential statement. In this way we ensure that the FCCJ speaks with one voice on these potentially delicate matters.

Patrick Zoll is Chairman of the Information Subcommittee of the Freedom of Press Committee.