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February 2004
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Government Unveils Draft Bill for Lay-Judge Jurors
-- Planned Restrictions on Media Deleted


The Office for Promotion of Judicial Reform on Jan. 29 outlined draft legislation for the government's new "lay judge" or partial jury system. The announcement followed a Jan. 26 agreement on the matter between the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito.

As demanded by NSK, the two coalition parties agreed to delete a contentious clause requiring media reporting on criminal cases not to prejudice jurors. But the parties continued to insist that people who have served as jurors be required to keep confidential all information regarding any case on which they serve.

Regarding a clause on protecting personal information about jurors that NSK had criticized, the current draft maintains the media obligation not to identify jurors. It also says no one can publish any names, addresses or other facts that might reveal jurors' identities without their consent. In an earlier draft, courts could reveal jurors' names, but the coalition parties' agreement now allows only for the disclosure of the ages, occupations and other information that could not to lead to their individual identification.

The government plans to submit the bill to the Diet in late February.

As for the ratio of professional judges to jurors, the outline calls for three professional judges and six jurors to rule in general cases. Where a defendant admits to the charges and both the prosecution and defense have no objection, a court can hold a trial with just one professional judge and four jurors.

The outline bans all media contact with sitting jurors aimed at obtaining confidential information on a case still under deliberation. It also bans all contact with former jurors aimed at getting confidential information they obtained while serving as jurors. But the draft law sets out no punishments for violations of these rules.

Jurors are in turn prohibited from taking any actions that might impair public confidence in trials and from leaking any information, including the proceedings of deliberations and the arguments used in reaching verdicts. Releasing any such information, or opinions about such information could expose a juror to imprisonment or a fine. The precise terms of such punishment are yet to be decided, but the coalition agreement calls for specific penalties to ensure that jurors understand their obligation to keep secrets.

These regulations mean that journalists' sole legal access to the proceedings of a trial after the fact will be to read the verdict and to hear the general "impressions" and "feelings" of jurors about the trial.

Yoshiaki Tsuchiya, an editorial writer at Kyodo News who served as a member of the Lay Judge System Study Group said he appreciates the elimination of the clause on media reporting. He also welcomed the decision to allow the release of general personal information about jurors that would not reveal their identities.

But Tsuchiya warned that there will be new moves to tighten the regulation of media activities if an NSK call for voluntary "guidelines on news-gathering and reporting activities under the new lay judge system" goes unheeded. He said all media organizations, including NSK and other bodies, should quickly set up such new reporting guidelines.



NSK Seeks End of Ban on Media Ownership

NSK on Dec. 25 asked the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications for an end to the ban on any one media company owning a newspaper, AM radio station and TV broadcasting business.

NSK submitted its written opinion in response to a ministry plan released Dec. 4 on easing media ownership regulations on running broadcasting stations under the Broadcast Law.

The ban on so-called tripartite media ownership is intended to ensure local diversity in the sources of information in any single region.

But NSK argued that the situation in the media has changed dramatically since the ban was put into effect and that diversity and pluralism in free speech and access to information will be safe regardless of any further tie-ups between newspapers and broadcasters. NSK said the government should explain with concrete examples how any such mergers might reduce the diversity of information sources.

NSK maintains that regulations against newspaper companies and news agencies entering the broadcasting business constitute government interference with freedom of speech and of the press and could limit the people's right to know. NSK called for a full review of the government's policy against media ownership concentration, which covers the tripartite media ownership ban.



Tokyo Publisher Convicted, Appeals Comic-Book Obscenity Ruling

The Tokyo District Court on Jan. 13 found a comic book publisher guilty of obscenity. The presiding judge said the comic book in question violated the social norms of acceptability, and said the actions of the president of the publishing company warranted a one-year term in prison that he suspended for three years. It is the first ruling against a comic book under a law banning obscenity in literature. The defendant is appealing the ruling.

The ruling said the defendant distributed about 20,000 copies of the comic book "Misshitsu" (Honey Room) containing explicit sex scenes in 2002.

Citing moves to enact law to regulate pornographic material on the Internet, the ruling said there is a solid social consensus against the sale and distribution of obscene materials. The ruling said Criminal Code Article 175 on the sale and distribution of obscene literature has reasonable grounds for validity today to preserve a minimum level of sexual order and morality as well as to maintain sound sexual culture.

The ruling said that compared with written words, comics provide a means of depiction capable of giving readers a stronger degree of sexual stimulation by visually appealing to readers' senses.

The defense argued that making value judgments on the public's perceptions amounts to a violation of the freedom of thought and conscience, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution, and runs counter to the ideological neutrality of the state. The defense said the state has no business protecting or coercively imposing any sort of value judgment or moral concept. The defense also maintained that it is a scientifically ungrounded vulgar belief that sales and distribution of obscene materials give rise to sex crimes.

But following precedent set in previous rulings, including some rendered by the Supreme Court, the district court concluded that imposing some degree of constraint on the freedom of expression does not amount to a violation of the Constitution.

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Yomiuri Photographer Wins Chubu Grand Prix for Hostage-Taking Picture

Naruhiro Tanaka of the Chubu Branch of the Yomiuri Shimbun has won the Chubu Press Photographers Association 2003 Grand Prize in the newspaper/communications division for his coverage of the September hostage-taking in Nagoya. He is the first recipient of the association's grand prize, which was established in 1998.

The hostage-taker had holed up in an office on the fourth floor of a building in Nagoya City. Gasoline that he had poured on the floor caught fire, causing an explosion and burning out that area of the building. Tanaka snapped his picture at the moment when firefighters on a tower ladder rescued a man at a window on the fourth floor, which was engulfed in flames. The photo vividly depicts the moment of the rescue at a time when the photographer was himself exposed to danger from the explosion.

Tanaka said that the teamwork of his fellow Yomiuri staff members had ensured that his photo got into print quickly, helping to bring him the prize.


Mainichi announces its online news site merger with MSN

The Mainichi Shimbun and Microsoft Japan on Jan. 15 announced the merger of their online news sites, Mainichi Interactive (www.mainichi.co.jp) and MSN News (news.msn.co.jp).

The sites will merge into a site to be called MSN-Mainichi Interactive within the Microsoft-operated portal site MSN. The merged site will open on April 5, 2004.

The Mainichi will handle all news coverage and editorial content. The Web site will offer news items, including the Mainichi's local editions dating back two months. MSN technology will be used to enhance the user-friendliness and operational performance of the site.

In addition to providing and editing the news content, the Mainichi will be responsible for soliciting advertising for publicity and supplementary projects. MSN will handle sales related to banners and other forms of ads on the Web site.

The site will use a content management system that fully conforms with NewsML, the news distribution format for multimedia applications proposed by the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC). Using NewsML, all site contents will be managed in an integrated way by category, region and subject, making the site more responsive to user requirements.

Mainichi Media Department general manager Yoshiyuki Watanabe said Mainichi was looking for a partner to make the online version of the newspaper a profitable concern. "Mainichi was drawn primarily to MSN's unrivalled global network reach, advanced technology, business prowess and the huge number of visitors to its site (unique users). We aim to make this site Japan's No. 1 news site both in quality and quantity," he said.

Mainichi still plans to separately operate another Web site to provide information about its company profile, job offers and events.

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Story of the Month>>>

Media Seeks For More Information about SDF Activities in Iraq
On Jan. 20 the main contingent of Japanese Self-Defense Force troops entered the southern Iraqi city of Samawah after a small advance team had checked the deployment site. This is the first deployment of Japanese ground troops to foreign territory still in a de facto state of war in the 50-year history of the SDF.

In Japan, the media and the government are in a war of their own about how to cover the deployment. The media wants much more information about the activities of the SDF in Iraq, while the government is limiting information on the grounds of safety and security.

On Jan. 23, NSK and the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan (NAB) complained in writing to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda about problems covering the advance Ground SDF mission due to the Defense Agency's refusal to provide key information. NSK and the NAB demanded regular media briefings as well as agreement on a set of rules for information release and newsgathering. NSK and the NAB had earlier agreed on Jan. 22 not to engage in any newsgathering in Iraq that could place people in danger or disrupt activities in the area. At a regular news conference on Jan. 23, the chief Cabinet secretary said he expected the Defense Agency and the media to hold candid talks on the matter.

In their complaint to Fukuda, NSK and the NAB said the media had asked the government for appropriate information on the activities of the ground advance team. "However, there has been no improvement and newsgathering in Samawah has been disrupted." They laid prime responsibility at the feet of the Defense Agency for continuing to ignore repeated media requests for essential information.

In their agreement on how to conduct their coverage, NSK and the NAB acknowledged conspicuous conduct that might invite danger, such as following SDF vehicles and assigning too many reporters to an SDF action. The two bodies warned that unless some rules are established, there is a risk of a serious situation, "°ńsuch as the misidentification of journalists as terrorists and as targets for sniper attacks."

NSK and the NAB therefore agreed to call on the government to provide appropriate, timely information to the media, while taking necessary steps to ensure the safety of reporters and others involved.

The NSK-NAB accord says the activities of the SDF in Iraq are of major concern to the Japanese people and it is the duty of the media to report appropriately. NSK and the NAB invited other media groups to endorse their accord.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda told a news conference that media activities should not impede SDF activities or safety. But he agreed that appropriate information must be provided to win the support of the Japanese people and the international community while also ensuring the safety of media people in the area.

(100-Member Press Corps Cover SDF Activities in Iraq)

According to NSK, as of Jan. 22, seven of the eight national and major regional newspapers, two news agencies, NHK and four Tokyo-based main TV stations had reporters in Iraq. Newspaper companies had generally sent one to four reporters and photographers each, while the reporting teams from TV stations generally totaled between four and seven members each. One TV station had a staff compliment in Iraq of 20 people, including contract-based journalists.

A total of about 100 Japanese and other media people are now based in Samawah, which is to be main base for SDF operations in Iraq.

Kyodo News temporarily withdrew its reporters from Samawah to Baghdad on Jan. 26, following an unconfirmed tip-off that the Japanese media corps in Samawah were being targeted for terrorist attacks. From the time of the first ground force advance deployment, Kyodo News maintained three reporters and one photographer in Samawah, using a private house as their base. Since Jan. 26, only one locally-hired assistant has been working for Kyodo in Samawah.

A Kyodo News official said the decision to pull its staff out of Samawah to Baghdad was made in view of all factors. The information about safety concerns was only one of the factors, as the coverage of the advance team's activities had already ended, the official said. Kyodo reporters are to return to Samawah after the main Japanese SDF ground contingent has deployed in the city.

Nihon Shinbun Kyokai
The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association
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