Kisha Club Guidelines
Kisha Club Guidelines by Nihon Shinbun Kyokai Editorial Affairs Committee
(Approved at the 610th session of the Committee on January 17, 2002)
(Partially revised at the 656th session of the Committee on March 9, 2006)
The Nihon Shinbun Kyokai (NSK) Editorial Affairs Committee formulated the new Guidelines on the kisha club (press club) system. The environment surrounding news reporting is changing rapidly with the diversification of media activities due to the broader dissemination possibilities offered by the Internet and the implementation of the Information Disclosure Law. On the other hand, various opinions and criticisms are being voiced on the modality of kisha clubs and press conferences. In formulating the new Guidelines, the Committee paid due attention to these voices. Taking into consideration the further dissemination of the Internet and the diversification of media activities, the Committee made small modifications to the 2002 Guidelines and their explanations to reconfirm and supplement the parts of the Guidelines relating to the structure of kisha clubs. It is the Committee's intention to seek a broader understanding of the objective of kisha clubs and to bring about a more trusted kisha club system in line with these new Guidelines.
Institution for News Gathering and Reporting
The kisha club is a "voluntary institution for news-gathering and news-reporting activities" made up of journalists who regularly collect news from public institutions and other sources.
Japan's media industry has a history of applying pressure on public institutions reluctant to disclose information by banding together in the form of the kisha club. The kisha club is an institution and system fostered by Japan's media industry for over a century in pursuit of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
The fundamental purpose of the kisha club system, which has been so closely involved with the general public's "right to know," remains unchanged today.
The rapid dissemination and development of the Internet have made it common practice for not only public institutions but also organizations other than the existing media organizations to freely dispatch information. Accordingly kisha clubs are receiving applications for membership or requests to attend press conferences from those who do not belong to the existing media.
Kisha clubs should judge if the members or attendees of press conferences are appropriate in the light of the new Guidelines including the purpose of kisha club activities and the circumstances of individual kisha clubs.
As there is an overabundance of information today, and an increasing number of public institutions have their own websites to directly dispatch information, it could be said that we are in an era when selecting information might be left to the discretion of these public institutions. In an era when accurate information backed up by serious news gathering based on media ethics is increasingly being sought, kisha clubs assume the social responsibility of checking the exercise of public power by officials and seeking the genuine disclosure of information from public institutions. Kisha club members and conference attendees are required to fulfill such important roles.
The kisha club system also facilitates access to information possessed by public institutions and other sources. As a result, fast and accurate reporting becomes possible, allowing more in-depth news gathering and reporting.
The function of coordinating news gathering and reporting in cases where human life and rights are at a stake, such as through a press embargo on kidnapping, is also an important role of kisha clubs. Kisha clubs are also open to citizens who dispatch information.
More Open Presence
Kisha clubs should be "open entities." Many newspaper companies, wire services and television broadcasting companies belong to NSK. Kisha clubs are composed of journalists sent by NSK-member firms or nonmember media organizations with a similar standing. Kisha clubs are also open to foreign media organizations, and in fact the number of clubs with foreign journalists as members is increasing.
As long as the kisha club is a "voluntary institution for news gathering," its members must, first of all, share the public nature of reporting. The members of the kisha club are also asked to bear responsibility for the operation of the kisha club they belong to.
The most important element of membership is to abide by media ethics. NSK upholds in its Canon of Journalism freedom of expression and the heavy responsibility accompanying it, accurate and fair reporting, and respect for human rights. These are fundamental media ethics. Kisha clubs must be composed of those who adhere strictly to such media ethics, if the clubs are to fully function as institutions for news gathering and reporting, including the combined quests for information disclosure from public institutions.
One of the functions of kisha clubs is organizing press conferences. While we do not disparage the value of press conferences organized by public institutions, these official conferences have the inherent risk of being unilaterally managed by the organizing entities. In that sense, it is very important for kisha clubs to take their own initiative in organizing press conferences. Kisha clubs should proactively utilize press conferences as forums for meeting the general public's right to know.
It is not appropriate to limit participation in these press conferences only to the respective club members. More open conferences should be pursued in line with circumstances of individual kisha clubs. Naturally, press conferences organized by public institutions should be open to all those who are engaged in reporting.
Why Is a Journalists' Room Necessary?
Media organizations have the important responsibility of responding to the general public's right to know through ongoing news gathering from public institutions and other sources. On the other hand, public institutions also are responsible for disclosing information and remaining accountable to the general public. Given this relationship, it is the administrative responsibility of public institutions to set up a journalists' room as a working area for reporting information pertaining to public institutions speedily and accurately. There is also great value in having a journalists' room constantly available so that journalists can approach public institutions and gather news, even from the perspective of checking the public power exercised by officials and uncovering information they might try to conceal.
It is important here to recognize that the kisha club, as an institution for news gathering and reporting, is a separate entity from the journalists' room as a venue. Therefore, there is no reason why kisha club members alone should use the journalists' room. It is essential to ensure equitable usage of the journalists' room, with due consideration to differences in requirements arising from continuous news gathering.
It has been recognized by court rulings and Ministry of Finance notification that providing a journalists' room does not fall within the category of using public assets for purposes other than public ones. However, all the costs incurred in using the journalists' room should be borne appropriately by the media side.
Journalists Must Strive Persistently to Improve Through Competition
Although these Guidelines have been formulated to directly address kisha clubs in public institutions, it is expected that all the kisha clubs throughout the nation will be independently managed with these Guidelines as their basic guidance.
Needless to say, free competition is the very basis for news gathering and reporting. Journalists belonging to a kisha club must understand the objective and roles of their club and endeavor to persistently improve themselves through competition in their search for higher quality reporting.
NSK's Editorial Affairs Committee has issued, on several occasions, a series of unified Guidelines with regard to the objective and modality of the kisha club system in Japan. However, the environment surrounding the media is changing dramatically and public attitudes toward journalism have become increasingly critical today.
In recognition of this situation, NSK's Editorial Affairs Committee set up a Sub-Committee dealing with the Kisha Club to maintain public trust in the media industry and deepen people's understanding of the kisha club system. The system was thoroughly reviewed, starting with the definition of the kisha club.
As a result, a conclusion was reached to define a kisha club proactively and positively as "a voluntary institution for news gathering and reporting." Full consideration was given to popular criticism of the kisha club for its "closed nature," "inclination to act in unison" or "elitism," and it was decided to correct what should be rectified. At the same time, the 2002 Guidelines explain those aspects being criticized that arise from misunderstanding so that such misunderstandings can be resolved.
Since the 2002 Guidelines were formulated, media activities using the Internet have been spreading, changing the media environment. In such a situation, the Sub-Committee dealing with the Kisha Club reconfirmed the significance and roles of kisha clubs indicated in the 2002 Guidelines and partially revised them to formulate the 2006 Guidelines. The purpose of this partial revision is to make those in the news media who apply for membership or request to attend press conferences share the public purposes of news reporting, and to make those media organizations that adhere strictly to media ethics and also media organizations that understand and esteem the significance and roles of kisha clubs, responsible for kisha club management and keep kisha clubs as an “open entity.”
It is hoped that members of kisha clubs will reaffirm the increasing importance of media organizations and manage their clubs appropriately.
1. Objectives and Roles
The kisha club in Japan began in 1890, when journalists who demanded to gather news through observing the opening of the Imperial Diet (parliament) formed a "press corps admitted to the parliament" (later changed to the "Domei Kisha Club"). The formation of this group led to the media industry forming kisha clubs in public institutions that showed a strong inclination to conceal information, and efforts to seek disclosure of information from state authorities have spread.
Regrettably, kisha clubs were forced during World War II to report only announcements issued by the government under strict wartime censorship. Since the end of the war, NSK's Guidelines on the kisha club have altered in line with each era's changing circumstances. In NSK's Guidelines on the kisha club issued in 1949, the kisha club was stipulated as "an institution that is voluntarily organized by reporters posted at public institutions for the purpose of promoting mutual association and friendship, and no intervention whatsoever is to be made in problems arising from news gathering." This strongly reflected the intention of the occupying allied forces.
More than 30 years after the end of the war, "NSK's Editorial Affairs Committee Guidelines on the Kisha Club" were issued in 1978. The definition was partially amended, stating, "its objective is to have the member journalists attempt mutual enlightenment and friendship through daily newsgathering activity." Furthermore, in the 1997 Guidelines of the Editorial Affairs Committee, the kisha clubs were defined as "venue for news gathering." The major change was from "mutual association and friendship" to "mutual enlightenment and friendship" and further to "the base for news gathering."
The main reasons the Committee defined the kisha club as "a voluntary institution for news gathering and reporting" are as follows: (1) to further articulate its character and; (2) to avoid a conceptual identification with the journalists' room.
The 1997 Guidelines stipulated the character and purpose of kisha clubs as "'venue for newsgathering' aimed to make it easier for news organizations to access information held by public organizations and gather news functionally and deliver it to the general public in an accurate and swift manner." However, the expression "venues for newsgathering" carries a strong connotation of a physical space, tending to cause confusion with the journalists' room.
For this reason, by clearly separating the kisha club and the journalists' room, we have stipulated the kisha club as an institution. The function and roles of kisha clubs are: (1) speedy and accurate reporting of public information; (2) monitoring state authorities and promoting information disclosures; (3) coordinating news gathering and reporting on issues relating to human life and human rights, such as through press embargoes in kidnapping cases and; (4) serving as a common window for information offered by the general public.
The Editorial Affairs Committee would like to reiterate that from its birth the kisha club has had a history as an organization pressing state authorities to disclose information. With the dramatic dissemination possibilities of the Internet, public institutions today have their own publicity websites, and questions and news gathering are increasingly done by e-mail. It is anticipated that occasions of reporters' regularly being situated on the premises of public institutions will diminish. This presents the danger of erosion of the ability of journalists and media to jointly press state authorities for information disclosures, as they themselves will be physically divided. In that sense, too, the significance of the kisha club remains great today.
Kisha clubs are organizations where the "joint force of journalists" is demonstrated, while being based on the individual activity of journalists. No kisha club should constrain the individual activity of journalists.
2. Organization and Structure
NSK's Editorial Affairs Committee stated in its 1999 Guidelines on the degree of openness of kisha clubs that they "should be as open as possible." The new Guidelines inherit this basic principle and stipulate that kisha clubs should be composed of "NSK members and journalists of non-NSK member media organizations in similar standing."
NSK's Editorial Affairs Committee defined the composition of kisha clubs as NSK-member newspapers, wire services, television broadcasting companies and non-NSK member media organizations having a similar standing.
As to foreign media organizations, already a number of press corps have registered with kisha clubs. The Committee therefore deems that the issue of excluding them should no longer be a basis for criticism about the "closed nature" of kisha clubs. There are two conditions for foreign media organizations to obtain a kisha club membership: (1) the journalist must have a foreign press certificate issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and (2) the journalist must be a member of a foreign media organization that undertakes activity similar to that of NSK members.
Moreover, membership should be open to those journalists with a long history of press activity and with certain types of experience.
When journalists and media organizations apply for membership to a kisha club, the classification should be left with the respective kisha club. Flexible decisions in accordance with the respective club on the participating status of new members such as stationing on regular terms, irregular terms or as observers should be possible.
Since kisha clubs are "institutions for news gathering and reporting," newly registered members must share the common objective of public reporting.
Moreover, as long as kisha clubs are "autonomous institutions," they are required to assume certain responsibilities for negotiations and coordination with the authorities, communications among members, and the management of the complete operation of each club including plenary meetings.
Above all, they are required to strictly adhere to media ethics. NSK renewed its Canon of Journalism in June 2000 and adopted five basic principles to be respected. They are "Freedom and Responsibility," "Accuracy and Fairness," "Independence and Tolerance," "Respect for Human Rights" and "Decency and Moderation." NSK states in its charter that all members must adhere to these principles.
As such, journalists and media organizations that compose kisha clubs must share the common public objective of reporting and are to adhere strictly to a sense of responsibility and the code of ethics.
3. Press Conferences
Along with the rapid progress of the Internet society, the trend for public institutions to disclose information through their own websites or unilaterally organize and disclose press conferences through the Internet has strengthened. Amid the overflowing diversity of information, media organizations must strictly check the tendency of public institutions to disclose only information that is favorable to themselves. The 1997 Guidelines stipulated that press conferences that involve kisha clubs "should be called, in principle, under the auspices of the kisha clubs concerned." However, the new Guidelines take the position, based on new conditions of the Internet society, that press conferences organized by public institutions should not be uniformly rejected.
Nevertheless, in view of preventing intentional management by public institutions, the importance of kisha clubs in organizing press conferences was emphasized. Kisha clubs must undertake efforts to organize appropriate press conferences based on daily news gathering activities in order to meet the general public's right to know by actively using venues and opportunities to directly question those in positions of administrative responsibility. At such times, kisha clubs must take the initiative in managing press conferences, for example, by demanding government officials' attendance and by deciding date, time, place and frequency. This is because kisha clubs need to demonstrate in a specific form both domestically and abroad their own raison d'etre, which is to demand information disclosures from public institutions. Moreover, efforts should be made to include nonclub members in these press conferences, after respective clubs' circumstances are considered.
4. Agreements and Coordination
News gathering and reporting are based on free competition. However, there are cases when lectures given by public institutions are complicated and require time to understand and analyze, or require supplementary news gathering for confirmation. In such cases, embargoes are actually put into place to ensure "accurate and high-quality reports," since instant reporting of the disclosed information could lead to harmful results.
Essentially, the application of the so-called press-embargo agreement on news reporting should be limited to protecting victims' lives or should take into consideration the safety of those involved, as in kidnappings, in addition to the officially recognized understanding about the awarding of prizes and such. The agreement to place an embargo should be used in limited cases and should never obstruct free news gathering and reporting.
Moreover, kisha clubs must not comply with requests from news sources, which could lead to compromising news gathering and reporting. The Committee believes that public institutions, the police force and the prosecutor's offices should not make such demands on kisha clubs.
On the other hand, when there are fears of reporters shamelessly mobbing people involved in accidents or other sensational cases and infringing on their rights and privacy, or when such complaints are filed, the involved kisha club must proactively exert its coordinating function toward the solution of such problems.
5. Journalists' Rooms
Journalists' rooms are working rooms for journalists set up on the premises of public institutions so that media organizations and public institutions can respectively fulfill their responsibilities of meeting the general public's "right to know." In NSK's 1997 Guidelines, journalists' rooms were stipulated as being something that media organizations had the right to demand from public institutions. However, the new Guidelines call for "administrative responsibility," pinpointing the increasing need of public institutions to fulfill their duty to disclose information and provide accountability. At the same time, media organizations are required to use these journalists' rooms effectively. This is essential not only for the speedy dissemination of news to the general public, for making supplementary news gathering in versatile and diversified forms and for systematically following up activities, but also to tenaciously and persistently reveal undisclosed and highly protected information. Journalists' rooms can be defined as a front-line base for gathering such news and for pressing for information disclosure. Nonetheless, since there are diverse government institutions, the decision of whether or not to actually set up a journalists' room should be discussed between public institutions and media organizations.
As to the use of journalists' rooms, from the standpoint that the kisha club as an institution and the journalists' room as a physical space are separate entities, it was confirmed that journalists' rooms must be more open than kisha clubs themselves. And public institutions must actively undertake efforts to consider providing working rooms for journalists who are not members of kisha clubs.
The rationale for the government administration to establish and provide journalists' rooms is based on a ruling by the Kyoto District Court announced in February 1992. This lawsuit questioned whether or not the establishment of a journalists' room within the premises of the Kyoto Prefectural Government Building might fall within the category of government property being used for a nonpublic purpose. The Court ruled that "providing a journalists' room contributes to public service by the Kyoto Prefectural Government and thus does not infringe upon the government property regulation." Moreover, a notification issued in January 1958 by the Ministry of Finance's chief property custodian stated as follows: "The provision of government facilities for government tasks and projects includes newspaper journalists' rooms, and thus it does not fall within the category of inappropriate usage of government property." In line with these decisions and notice, many public institutions have set up journalists' rooms as part of their public relations activity to broadly disseminate public information to the general public and local residents. And there are quite a few public institutions that have set up press conference rooms along with journalists' rooms.
An increasing number of kisha clubs are paying the running costs of journalists' rooms. The new Guidelines reconfirmed the basic stance of "media organizations paying appropriate costs."
6. Dispute Settlements
Past disputes involving kisha clubs included the violation of agreements among media organizations and the violation of embargoes and disputes arising from news gathering and reporting.
A decision by NSK's Editorial Affairs Committee in 1970 serves as a framework for settling such disputes. The decision stipulates that (1) Disputes should be settled through a Select Committee, composed of senior editors of the member companies; (2) the Select Committee shall be organized and operated in accordance with the criteria stipulated in the attached document; (3) if dissatisfied with the decision by the Select Committee, the company concerned can lodge a complaint with the steering committee of the NSK Editorial Affairs Committee; (4) the decision by the Select Committee shall remain valid until the steering committee examines the complaint and hands down its decision.
Consideration of the history of kisha clubs indicates it is appropriate to apply this decision in settling disputes.
Note: The criteria regarding the composition and operation of a Select Committee are as follows:
A Select Committee shall be composed of senior editorial officials of the member companies of each kisha club with a minimum rank of supervisory editor or branch office chief.
When it is difficult to have a Select Committee composed of senior officials from all the member companies due to a large number of member companies, for instance, the members of the Select Committee can be limited to a reduced number through mutual election.
When disputes arise at a kisha club over violations of agreements or practices related to news gathering and/or news reporting, the case shall be reported to the Select Committee by the representatives of the kisha club or club members via senior editorial officials of their companies, if necessary.
Members of the Select Committee from member companies whose reporters are the representatives of the kisha club concerned shall hold consultations over the disposition of the issue in case and, when necessary, call each member for a full-fledged Select Committee meeting. When the representatives of the Select Committee are preselected, the representatives shall convene a Select Committee meeting.
A simple majority of total members shall form a quorum of a Select Committee meeting. All motions shall be carried by a majority of two-thirds or more of those present.
In conducting examinations, the Select Committee shall decide on measures to be taken after hearing directly from the person(s) concerned.
4) Implementation of the Regulations
Should objections arise over the interpretation and implementation of the above-mentioned regulations, the NSK Editorial Affairs Committee shall examine the matters for judgment.