Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Cracks at Japan’s press clubs
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada got a rapturous round of applause and a gift of a T-shirt when he made a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo a few days ago. The reason had nothing to do with his diplomatic skills.
Access to news conferences and briefings at Japanese government ministries has long been at least partly restricted to members of the press clubs, which in general means the country’s mainstream media — not freelancers or foreigners.
Member reporters from the top newspapers and television networks have their own desks within the ministries they cover, including at the Imperial Household Agency, and pay a nominal fee for the privilege.
Not surprisingly, the Japanese media tend to defend the press clubs, saying they have enabled the mass media to combine forces and push the sometimes secretive bureaucracy to reveal more information.
But the novice Democratic Party government has begun to chip away at the system, which has been criticised for creating too cosy a relationship between reporters and those they write about. Several ministries have improved access for non-members.
The move has been welcomed enthusiastically by foreign journalists. But some reporters say opening up news conferences to non-press club members or even abolishing the clubs altogether, as one provincial governor did in his corner of Japan several years ago, will make little difference in the long run.
“It’s useful to have somewhere to write up your notes, and store papers and there’s no need for exclusionary rules on those spaces,” said Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a TV reporter for the TBS network and a veteran of seven different press clubs. “They enable a reporter to do the bare minimum,” he added.
“But any journalist worth his or her salt will do the real reporting entirely separately from the club’s activities,” he said.
Note: Reuters has full membership or observer status at a handful of press clubs in Tokyo.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato