Japan’s “Nuclear Mafia” Pursuing Lawsuit to Muzzle Investigative Journalist

Tokyo – July 10th, 2012

Japan’s so-called “nuclear mafia”, the consortium of industry, bureaucracy, politicians and anti-social forces  appears to have put out a “hit” on free-lance journalist, Minoru Tanaka. But the attack is not going unnoticed by the Japanese Press or the international community.

Minoru Tanaka  (52) is a freelance journalist and expert in the dark side of Japanese politics, who exposed the ties between Shiro Shirakawa, currently head of a nuclear power safety company called New Tech, Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO), and the political circles in the weekly magazine Shukan Kinyoubi issued on December 16th, last year. His case is the first lawsuit against an individual freelancer, victim of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) in the nuclear sector after the March 11th Fukushima Daiichi power plant nuclear disaster.

Three months after Mr. Tanaka’s article was released, Shiro Shirakawa, head of the nuclear power safety company New Tech, launched a lawsuit against the journalist saying that his article “has no foundations.” He was ordered to pay 66,980,000 yen for damage and defamation. In Japan, even if you are factually correct you can still lose a defamation case.

Yesterday, (July 9th) was the second day of his hearing held at the Tokyo District Court. On May the 7th, at the first hearing, Minoru Tanaka said that it was obvious that he was a victim of Japan’s practice of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. “The complainant has a huge amount of interest as a company working for the nuclear industry, and it is suing one single individual,” he said, “it is important to investigate and write about the way (the entities which play a coordinate role in the nuclear industry) especially after the accident of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on 3/11.”

According to Dissensus Japan, the blog which translates the articles of Japanese freelance journalists and bloggers who report about the Fukushima nuclear accident, free-lance journalist Hiromichi Ugaya once was condemned to pay 50,000,000 yen for damages made to Oricon company for his comments in a magazine.

He lost the first trial and, in 2009, the second judgment was a settlement.

As a journalist who experienced SLAPP, Ugaya said that “this trial (Minoru Tanaka’s trial) is typically a SLAPP, it’s like written in a manual”. Mentally, economically and temporarily those damages aim to dissuade free journalists from doing their job.

 RSF, (Reporters Sans Frontières/Reporters Without Borders) an international organization to protect freedom of speech and journalists, declared in a statement that “Tanaka’s description of Shirakawa’s alleged role as an intermediary between TEPCO, nuclear power plant construction companies, leading politicians such as Shizuka Kamei and even representatives of undergrounds organisations was based on public information (press articles, research documents from civic groups, etc).”

RSF urges the court to withdraw Tanaka’s case at once, saying that “any prolongation of this case will just increase its impact on journalists in terms of self-censorship. They already think twice before covering anything to do with Fukushima or trying to break through the lack of transparency surrounding TEPCO and the nuclear power industry in general.”

Tanaka, in his article, also revealed that money had “channelled through” his nuclear power safety company, and studied the links between Shiro Shirakawa and certain key executives of nuclear industry, TEPCO former president, Hiroshi Araki and the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, RSF said.

RSF also noted that prior to the initial hearing, Tanaka received a letter from Shirakawa warning him that he would be ruined financially if the court ruled against him.

“Tanaka criticized the lawsuit at yesterday’s hearing and afterwards told Reporters Without Borders: ‘If I lose this fight, it will mean that no other journalist will later be able to write anything about the danger of the reopening nuclear reactor. (…) So this trial is very important for the future of all journalists.’” RSF added in its statement.

The next hearing is scheduled for August, 7th.

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4 thoughts on “Japan’s “Nuclear Mafia” Pursuing Lawsuit to Muzzle Investigative Journalist”

  1. This may be bad, but it’s not a SLAPP case (at least under the California law that invented SLAPP), if the guy’s a journalist. In a way it’s worse, but it’s not SLAPP.

  2. While it’s true that truth is not always a defense against defamation in Japan, under Criminal Code sec. 230 paragraph 2 truth is in fact a defense in cases of the public interest where the statements were made solely for public benefit.

    So in the cases you cite there must have been something else going on. Either the statements were not in fact true, or there was some other motive proven. Public advocacy groups tend to take cases like this and spin them to their benefit, so you can’t trust their characterization.

    Just a suggestion: You’re an investigative journalist. Why don’t you get your hands on the court documents and figure it out? You know from your own court case how court settlements can be twisted and misinterpreted. Or is it a case of “journalist always right, corporation always wrong”?

    1. Yes, that argument can be made in court but these kind of lawsuits force the journalists to waste money and time defending their stories and are often dropped in the middle of the proceedings once enough damage has been done. As someone working for TEPCO, I can see that you would prefer to believe that your company isn’t involved in abusive activities. I think the cases cited are convincing examples of corporate abuse of the legal system to muzzle journalists.
      BTW, obtaining court documents without a lawyer and outside of the press club system is a difficult feat. Theoretically possible, practically impossible. If you know how to do it, let me know, because after leaving a major paper–it’s nearly impossible.

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