My Lawsuit vs. the National Diet Press Club

 from the #1 Shimbun, September 2015

No1-2015-9DietHajime Shiraishi outside the National Diet Press Club building.

Two years after being denied access to a building 
shared by media organizations, 
a journalist tries to keep her case alive.
by Hajime Shiraishi
THE FOUR-STORY NATIONAL DIET Press Club Building, located in the middle of the Kasumigaseki government district and a stone’s throw from the prime minister’s residence, was built in 1969 with a budget of ¥600 million allocated by the House of Representatives. If rents were to be charged to its occupants, it would very likely see revenues of ¥8 billion per year, but the newspapers and TV stations that belong to the Kokkai Kisha Kurabu, the National Diet Press Club, have had the use of its spacious rooms measuring as large as 100m2 for free over the past 45 years. 
In September 2012, I filed a lawsuit against the national government and the Reporters’ Press Club concerning this building.
Earlier that year, on July 6, I had hoped to do an internet broadcast of a demonstration to be held in front of the prime minister’s official residence, opposing the restart of the Ohi nuclear reactor. Reporting for OurPlanetTV, I was headed for the rooftop of the Reporters’ Club Building, where I thought I could get a superb birds-eye view of the anti-nuclear power demonstrations. Some two weeks earlier, Tokyo Shimbun had run an impressive full-page photograph shot from the same location.
While the facility was government-owned, 
the reporters’ club had de facto control over its use, 
and it was dead set against use of the building 
by an interloper. 
I was stopped and refused admission at the building’s entrance. “Today, no media other than National Diet Press Club members can enter,” said the custodian, Toshiyuki Saga. “You don’t qualify.” Though I protested, in the end I was unable to gain access.
I consulted an attorney, who used a variety of measures in attempting to negotiate with the office of the House of Representatives, which owns the building, and the club, but was ultimately unsuccessful. While the office of the House of Representatives made an effort to recognize my right to use the roof, it was the club that held the key to the solution, and they were opposed. While the facility was government-owned, the reporters’ club had de facto control over its use, and it was dead set against use of the building by an interloper. Its authority, it seems, effectively supercedes that of the law concerning government property.
Arguing that banning my entry to shoot a protest demonstration constituted an intrusion on media freedom, as well as discrimination against internet media, I sued the state and the kisha club in September 2012.
At a hearing, Mr. Saga, who blocked my entry, and who is himself a former political journalist for Kyodo Tsushin, argued that the club was looking out for its members. “For 120 years, since Meiji times, it was not the practice for anyone to relinquish their own vested interests,” he testified, adding that, “Internet media is in competition with television, and magazines compete with newspapers.”
We have submitted evidence that we believe demonstrates how the National Diet Press Club engages in discriminatory practices as well as how the building’s operators engage in preferential operations. One thing of interest that has come up during the trial is the ambiguous manner in which the building is run.
On one hand, the government has argued that the roof of the reporters’ building is dangerous, and that is has thereby prohibited all photography from the roof, including by members of the club. Paradoxically, the reporters’ club argues that it controls the roof, which it can use “appropriately.” In other words, the two plaintiffs in my lawsuit are arguing from diametrically opposed positions.
Unfortunately, in March of this year, the Tokyo High Court declined to hear our case. The decision, which disregarded the contradictory positions on utilization of the roof, merely stated that OurPlanetTV had no right to its use.
The building represents the single most convenient 
channel between the government and the mass media, 
and for political journalists is second to none 
in terms of its proximity to the center of power. 
The court also ruled that while Mr. Saga’s treatment was discriminatory, the National Diet Press Club itself had no “illegal motives.” In other words, since the club stated that it had no “illegal motives,” this made it true – an extremely peculiar decision on the part of the court.
At the end of May we appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
During the period when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power we saw changes in attitudes toward the press. Press conferences by ministers were made more open, and the closed nature of reporters’ clubs underwent considerable liberalization. Yet the National Diet Press Club maintains its dogged refusal to allow access to the roof of its building, with its ideal bird’s-eye perspective.
The building represents the single most convenient channel between the government and the mass media, and for political journalists is second to none in terms of its proximity to the center of power.
It is to be hoped that the Supreme Court, one of the three pillars of a government that maintains separation of powers, will understand the significance of the problem and issue a fair judgment regarding Japan’s media. 
Hajime Shiraishi outside the Diet Reporters’ Club
Hajime Shiraishi is the director of OurPlanetTV, a non-profit, alternative news site.
Published in: September 2015

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