A proposal to draw attention to the declining state of media freedom in Japan

New technologies and social media are bringing the world together as never before. At the same time the profession of journalism is facing renewed challenges, sometimes through direct forms of violence, but more often through the subtle means of tighter information control, threats to employment and economic viability, and social pressures to conform to outside expectations.


The FCCJ has always been committed to promoting excellence in the media field by highlighting events that receive insufficient attention in the Japanese press, by speaking out for the safety and for the rights of journalists, and by hosting speakers who throw new light upon the subjects of the day.

To strengthen and supplement these efforts, the FCCJ Freedom of the Press Committee would like to propose an initiative that we expect will further promote the public interest role that our Club has been playing: We would like to launch a FCCJ Freedom of the Press Prize to confer due recognition upon those heroes and heroines whose work represents the finest in defense of free speech, open society, and democratic accountability, with a particular eye to issues connected with, or touching upon, the Japanese experience.

Some of the reasons why Japan needs such a prize at this particular juncture may be obvious, but they are still worth highlighting.

At the end of last year a secrecy law of a scope unprecedented in Japan’s postwar history was forced through the Diet over the objections of critics who pointed out its many deficiencies. While the law was still under consideration, FCCJ President Lucy Birmingham released a statement expressing our concerns: “It is at the very heart of investigative journalism in open societies to uncover secrets and to inform the people about the activities of government,” she wrote. “Such journalism is not a crime, but rather a crucial part of the checks-and-balances that go hand-in hand with democracy.”

Meanwhile, the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index for 2014 has just dropped Japan to number 59 on its list, below countries like Serbia and Chile. This marks a precipitous fall; Japan was ranked as high as 22 in 2012. Clearly, even international observers are becoming increasingly concerned about the direction of media freedom here.

In this troubling context, we feel that the time has come to embark upon a new venture that we hope will turn the tide and remind our Japanese friends of all of the blessings that peace and freedom has brought them over the last seven decades.

We envision a Prize Committee composed of five members. The announcement of the winners would take place each year on May 3, coinciding with the United Nations’ observance of World Press Freedom Day, as well as Japan’s own Constitution Day. An awards banquet would follow a couple of weeks later in which the Club could invite our distinguished friends to join us in a celebration of what is most vital and dear in our journalist profession.

We envision five award categories, and thus up to five annual winners, but if no suitable nomination is made, it is possible that no award will be given in a certain year in a certain category. The five basic categories we have in mind are Prize for the Written Word, Prize for Visual Journalism, Friend of Freedom of the Press Prize, Lifetime Achievement Prize, and Fallen Hero Prize. The precise names of these prizes may evolve as we receive more input from FCCJ Members.

The judgments would be made on the basis of the originality, courage, and democratic public interest that is served by a work that was first published, broadcast, or otherwise transmitted in the calendar year previous to the selection. All awards would have a direct connection with Japan or the Japanese people.

What the Freedom of the Press Committee would like to ask of our colleagues at the Club at this time is for you to begin to discuss this idea among yourselves and to see if you find as much merit in it as we do.

If this initiative finds favor with our Club members, then we would like to move forward at a coming General Membership Meeting to gain formal approval to launch the FCCJ Freedom of the Press Prize program. Naturally, we also hope to obtain your active support so that we can create a superb event that may in time become another valued FCCJ tradition.

Jake Adelstein is the Chairman of the Prize Subcommittee of the FCCJ Freedom of the Press Committee. Michael Penn is Chairman of the FCCJ Freedom of the Press Committee.