THE FCCJ IS BACK IN THE NEWS, HELPING KICK OFF a media storm on the Designated Secrets Protection Bill. Opposition had been mounting when Abe’s Cabinet approved the controversial bill on Oct. 25. When Lower House deliberations began on Nov. 7, the FCCJ’s Freedom of Information Committee had already consulted with me on a statement opposing the bill. Approval from the Board of Directors followed. We opted for the morning of Monday Nov. 11 to inform our members and issue a statement to the leading political parties and media outlets. Sincere apologies to our members, who were informed later in the day.
It was an official press holiday but the news spread quickly on the web thanks to Ayako Mie’s piece in The Japan Times.
Following on our heels came a remarkable photo of eight prominent Japanese TV newscasters holding a large banner opposing the secrecy bill at the Japan National Press Club (in the Mainichi Shimbun).
As I write, articles from other news outlets that followed include: NHK, Kyodo News, Global Post, Jiji Press, Xinhua, Nuclear News, Free Press Association, Akahata, Nikkan Gendai, Daily NoBorder, L’Opinion and Asahi Shimbun. Interview requests came from Fuji TV, Kyodo News, and even Hokkaido Shimbun. In addition, Yukihisa Fujita of the DPJ introduced the FCCJ protest during the House of Councillors debate on the bill and repeatedly suggested that Minister Masako Mori should meet with us.
Obviously not everyone was pleased with our statement. We were visited by a representative from one leading party who questioned the statement’s language. I also heard from members who disagreed with the statement and felt it was inappropriate to issue it as the Club is an organization claiming political impartiality.
Historically, the FCCJ has remained neutral on controversial issues, but we cannot stay silent regarding actions that affect the freedom of the press. Another example was in May 2002, when FCCJ president Kaz Abiko issued a statement, with the consent of the Board of Directors, opposing the personal information protection bill (kojin joho hogo hoan) that was being discussed at the Diet. The statement said that it would pose a serious threat to press freedom, and provide the government with means to put pressure on news organizations.
Unfortunately, as we go to press, the bill was pushed through the Lower House and is likely to make its way through the Upper House.
In other, more positive Club news, we’re very excited to announce our new series of breakfast talks with business leaders and journalists called “Asakai,” on the first Tuesday of every month (with some exceptions) from 7:30- 8:45am. The first Asakai is scheduled for Dec. 3, with former Sony chairman and CEO Nobuyuki Idei, who now runs the management consultancy Quantum Leaps Corp., and NPO Asia Innovators’ Initiative. Our Jan. 14 Asakai will feature the popular Bloomberg journalist William Pesek, well known for his widely published columns on economics, markets and politics. We’ll put the speaker schedule up on the website soon.
Finally, just a few words about former Newsweek Tokyo Bureau reporter and FCCJ member Jeanne Sather who passed away on Nov. 11. I first met Jeanne in the early 1980s when she kindly assigned me to shoot several of her stories, despite my obvious inexperience at the time. We became fast friends and remained in touch all these years. Jeanne remained the quintessential journalist even during her 15 year cancer battle. Even in passing, Jeanne will remain an inspiration for so many of us.
— Lucy Birmingham
There is a list of links mentioned in this column at the end of my message on the website (www.fccj.or.jp/number-1-shimbun/).