The Trial Of Minoru Tanaka: The high cost of investigative journalism in Japan & “the nuclear mafia”
An article which appeared last year in the December 16 issue of “Kinyobi” weekly written by Minoru Tanaka, resulted in a punitive lawsuit against him. The article called the head of a group of nuclear industry related companies, Shiro Shirakawa, a “fixer.”
In Japan a “fixer” is said to be “a behind-the-scenes person who gets paid for mediating with anti-social forces or covering up scandals, or arranging profitable business deals with dubious methods.” It has a generally negative connotation.
According to Mr. Tanaka and other sources, this year, Mr. Shirakawa sued Tanaka for libel. He sued Tanaka only, not the publisher. Shirakawa demanded Tanaka 50M yen in damages and 7.5M yen of attorney fees as well as placing apology ads in morning editions of three major papers: “Asahi Shimbun”, “Mainichi Shimbun”, and “Yomiuri Shimbun.” The total amount demanded was 67M yen including the payment for the ads.
Mr. Shirakawa has been referred to as “a fixer” in many publications and Mr. Tanaka and Reporters Without Borders believe that the lawsuit is a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) and threatens press freedom in Japan. See RSF press release.
The next proceeding is scheduled on September 3 starting at 10:45 am in the Tokyo District Court room No. 615.
The article written by Minoru Tanaka asserts the following:
Mr. Shirakawa has connections with key figures of nuclear businesses, such as Hiroshi Arakawa, the former chairman of TEPCO. Mr. Shirakawa himself operates multiple nuclear-related corporations that offer security service for nuclear plants, leasing, and construction business. In the past he was reported to be suspected of asking gangsters to stop publication of materials, as well as diverting to politicians part of huge profits gained by land transactions. Furthermore, Nishimatsu Construction “gave a loan” to New Tech which is deeply connected to Mr. Shirakawa, using Mr. Shirakawa’s home and land as collateral. A year and a half later, the loan had been cleared.
After the loan was seemingly repaid, according to the registration certificate, the company New Tech received a loan of 700M yen from Shinginko Tokyo bank last October with the same collateral and paid back shortly.
Mr. Shirakawa, according to the article, is connected to Diet Member Kamei Shizuka, as well as a former high-ranking police officer, and his network of connections has allowed him to become a huge profiteer in the nuclear industry using dubious methods.
RSF (Reporters Sans Frontières) or RWB (Reporters Without Borders) reaffirmed its support for Minoru Tanaka and condemned the judicial harassment against him. “It is clear from the exorbitant amount of damages demanded by the plaintiff that the lawsuit’s aim is to silence Minoru Tanaka by crushing him morally and financially.” RSF’s statement says.
The History of Shukan Kinyoubi/週刊金曜日 Weekly
The Shukan Kinyoubi began publication in 1993. It has taken the stance of criticizing the powers that be and taking on the authorities. It is left of center. Therefore long before the Fukushima accident, the publishers have taken a firm stance against the nuclear industry and the so-called “nuclear village.” The nuclear village aka The nuclear mafia refers to the intertwined nuclear industrial complex made up of power companies, politicians, bureaucrats, gangsters and fixers.
Its publisher, Mr. Hajime Kitamura, spoke at the press conference last Friday. Among the 29 staff members of the publication, half of them are involved in editing, and most of the content of the publication are provided by outside contributors who write for the magazine. “We expected Shirakawa to sue the magazine for writing a story about him.” However, to the surprise of the publisher, he just sued the writer, Mr. Tanaka, and not the magazine.
“This is completely unforgivable” Kitamura said, “because when an individual writer is sued, they have to hire a lawyer, pay the lawyer fees themselves, and since they have to prepare for a trial and the legal proceedings, they lose the precious time they could spend doing their job. This is clearly a vicious law suit, and a SLAPP case, if the magazine was sued, of course we have our own lawyers that we could use.”
Shukan Kinyoubi （週刊金曜日） has been sued three previous times, once by the consumer finance company Takefuji, and won the case. In Japan’s civil code, it is possible to sue an individual journalist. Hiro Ugaya, was the first case of a journalist sued individually, not for the article he wrote, but for the comments he gave in a article on a company called Oricon, about 3 years ago. There is no union of journalists or newspapers in Japan, and there is no insurance to protect the reporters neither, unlike in Germany, for example. In Germany, it is not possible to sue a reporter for the content of his/her article, because somebody in the newspaper is already designated to be responsible judicially.
“If this kind of thing continues to spread, individual writers will all refrain from writing anything being problematic. And it will be a huge minus for magazines like our own, which take on the authorities and the powers leading this country.”
Hajime Kitamura, publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi (Friday Weekly)
After 3.11, some of the magazines have been very critical of the nuclear industry. They ran stories in which they called the people of the industry “war criminals,” and they haven’t been sued, because the Japanese mainstream media, up to now, has been criticizing the surface of the nuclear invested interests, but Tanaka’s article is more in depth, and gets behind the scene, and seemingly names the people who have made profits from their unsavory ties to the nuclear-industrial complex.
Mr. Hajime Kitamura, the publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi, used to write in the national news department of the Mainichi Newspaper. He said that the major newspapers in Japan now tend to avoid problematic topics. ”If there are some risks of being sued in court, then they won’t touch the story. I’m not saying that the reporters on the ground level are bad, but the reality is that the people in upper management are basically telling the reporters not to write anything that can get the newspaper sued, and that stops and frustrates the young reporters from writing about certain topics.”
According to Minoru Tanaka, currently, Nihon Television is the most pro-nuclear broadcaster and Fuji TV is also doing similar pro nuclear broadcasting. Shirakawa’s older brother used to be a Fuji TV board member, he stated.
Japanese politicians’ ties with the nuclear industry
Minoru Tanaka said that Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, the number two in the (JDP) Japan Democratic party’s political strategy, went to Fukui prefecture and gathered together all the DPJ politicians. He told them that they needed to support the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, and at a press conference, he said that “stopping Japan’s nuclear generators would be an act of suicide.” Mr. Sengoku used to be a member of Japan’s Socialist party but he became close to Japan’s nuclear industry.
Minoru Tanaka said that there is an entire nuclear tribe of politicians feeding off the nuclear industry, it is not just limited to the LDP, also includes the Koumeito, (also known as the Clean Government Party, a political league, which is supported by the religion group, Sokagakkai), and the DPJ as well.
The state of Japanese journalism
“Up until the 1980’s, I felt that the reporters on the ground level were really making efforts to get controversial stories into print. Rather than becoming weak in dealing with the political powers, I think they became weak in dealing with the public powers and the authorities. And part of the reason for this is that reporting became more a business model than about communicating facts,” says Mr. Kitamura.
He also said that, until the 1980′s, if journalists were writing about a big advertiser like TEPCO, and people at the top said “don’t complicate things,” there was opposition to that kind of interference in reporting, but this resistance has continued to weaken. He added, “When middle management loses its nerves, there is a sort of self-restraint imposed within the newspapers not to handle articles that criticize corporations.” However, it depends on which media, which television etc. He said that he still believes that the Mainichi and Chunichi/Tokyo Newspaper are doing solid investigative journalism.
TEPCO has an advertising budget of about twenty-three or four billion yen ($230 to 240 million) a year. A lot of that was to keep the media under control. For example, the rubble problem was featured in a two pages color advertisement in the Asahi shinbun. That probably cost forty to fifty million yen, according to Mr. Hajime Kitamura. “Usually the newspapers should refuse that kind of advertisement from a company, but they become tempted and attracted by the advertising money.”
The “Yoshiwara Bento” and the honey traps for the journalists
According to Mr. Kitamura, TEPCO entertained clients at Soapland, the sexual service parlors in Japan. The term of “Yoshiwara Bento” (Yoshiwara being the Edo period’s red light district and Bento, being the word for “lunch box”) is a crude term to explain the practice that certain Japanese businessmen have to take their clients to a fancy club, for dinner and drinks and then take them to Soapland. The power companies and allegedly even The Nuclear Safety Agency and other associations involved in the nuclear industry have a long a history of wining and dining people in the media to make sure that the myth of nuclear safety is properly communicated to the public.
According to Hajime Kitamura, there are two ways they deal with the media: once a month, the association of electric power providers gives a press conference with the general press. They use “honey traps” or get the reporters involved with other scandals to make sure that they stay under control. The other thing they do is to use DENTSU, Japan’s largest advertising agency, to indirectly threaten the publishers by saying “if you want TEPCO’s advertising, can’t you do something about this article?”
The mainstream media does not support individual victims of SLAPP
“I do not think that this is a lawsuit about the facts, because almost the entire content is based on public publically available information. The attack made by Shirakawa is on the term ‘fixer.’ It is a very vague attack. I believe that Shirakawa has launched this lawsuit to make me suffer as much economic damages as he can,” Minoru Tanaka stated at the conference.
There are a growing number of people supporting Tanaka today, because it is not only his problem, but the problem of freedom of press in Japan. Many reporters think that there should be some kind of laws put in place to limit or suppress these kinds of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Right now, large corporations and religious groups are able to make these frivolous lawsuits at will with no constraints. He added that one of the reasons that the support for him is not widening at a rapid pace is because of the existence of the press club or the Japanese Kisha Kurabu system. “The major media outlets that are part of the press club system do not welcome freelance or individual writers because they want to monopolize information for themselves. They are not very supportive of individual journalists,” Minoru Tanaka elaborated.
*The editors at Japansubculture Research Center in an effort to avoid giant lawsuits would like to reiterate that the statements and opinions in this article are those of third parties and do not represent the opinions or assertions of this slightly meek and poorly funded project.