平成26年3月28日(MARCH 28, 2014) WAS THE DAY my shaking hand signed the official letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe granting us the right to become a public interest incorporated association (koeki shadan hojin). I couldn’t resist posing with the letter for a quick iPhone photo under our historic photograph of General Douglas MacArthur famously saluting on the USS Missouri in 1945. It was an historic moment for us all, a rebirth for the Club at nearly 70 years old.

Now, one month later, we are already forging a fresh new path with projects for growth and programs for social benefit. Surely there will be growing pains. We’re feeling the painful effects of an imploding media industry and shrinking journalist numbers. But I also believe the FCCJ is in a transition period, after surviving wars, recession, corrupt and ineffective governments, and even crippling attacks from within our membership.

With Japan’s notorious state secrets law in place since December last year the Club is more relevant than ever. We will continue to offer an unbiased platform for all to share their views. We will also continue to serve as a watchdog against corruption and abuse of power, a vital function amidst an increasingly controlled Japanese media. The FCCJ has rightly earned its reputation for fairness, and promoting freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Throughout our history we have also celebrated Japan’s many accomplishments. Recent examples among our invited speakers include Olympic figure skating icons Yuzuru Hanyu and Mao Asada, Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban, maverick businessman Hiroshi Mikitani, and many more.

For me, the most poignant reminder of the Club’s importance in Japan occurred last month when Empress Michiko held out her hand to shake mine after I told her I was the FCCJ president. After standing frozen for a timeless millisecond, staring wide-eyed at her warm smile, I quickly reciprocated. Indeed, it was the warmest handshake I’ve ever had. Of the long line of diplomats and influential politicians, I was the only one she greeted this way. The Crown Prince, Prince Akishino and Princess Takamado also kindly greeted me after learning the organization I represented.

So why then is it suddenly popular in some areas of the press to bash the FCCJ and foreign journalists? The online Sankei News came out with a biting article in April (see page 6). I’ve been warned the May issue of Sankei’s opinion magazine SEIRON also has a blistering piece about the Club. Passages critical of the FCCJ and its foreign journalists in a recent Rekishitsu piece are factually wrong. Most disappointing is FACTA. Publisher Shigeo Abe was specifically asked in mid-April to speak with me as the Club’s spokesperson before the article was published. But he never contacted me. The article is a one-sided, sloppy piece of journalism, so unlike the fine investigative work the magazine is known for. FACTA’s articles exposing corruption at Olympus garnered great admiration and many fans among FCCJ journalists, myself included. Abe-san even spoke to my journalism students about the importance of accurate reporting.

I’m trying to understand what these publications gain in criticizing the FCCJ in this manner. I shudder to think these publications were fed misinformation by Club members with personal legal or political agendas, or recalcitrants unhappy with the service, programs or new koeki status. If they are so unhappy with the Club then why be a member?

Again, we have always promoted freedom of speech, and stand by that position, but an apparent smear campaign of this kind is unprecedented. Fact one: Without the structural and financial changes we are now undertaking, there would be no FCCJ. Fact two: Changes take time to refine. Fact three: Japan needs the FCCJ and its journalists to communicate with the rest of the world.

Have a wonderful month of May.