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Japan 10 December 2002

Reform of Kisha Clubs demanded to end press freedom threat

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) today reiterated its call for the Japanese government to reform the country’s system of exclusive press clubs (kisha clubs), saying they were a "serious threat to the free flow of information". The organisation was backing a similar request on 3 December by the European Union (EU) to allow foreign journalists the same access to information as the country’s major media outlets.

A 17 October EU report on trade relations with Japan said the kisha club network was an obstacle to "the free flow of information" that allowed the authorities to suppress news unfavourable to them, that debased the news by preventing confirmation by a second source and also created a dangerous distinction between news given to the domestic and foreign press about events in Japan.

The EU asked the government to allow all officially-accredited foreign journalists unrestricted access to press conferences in Japan and to reform the network of kisha clubs.  It warned that it would take the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if the government did not act.

Reporters Without Borders called on Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi last May to reform the clubs, but got no reply and its request was not reported in the Japanese media.  Since then, the privileges accorded to the major Japanese media have prevented many others - European, North American and also Japanese - from covering Koizumi’s recent official visit to North Korea on 17 September.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan has been trying for 50 years to get the kisha clubs to admit foreign journalists. Freelance journalists and smaller Japanese media have also called for an end to the system, which encourages self-censorship.

Japan officially has about 800 kisha clubs, though the actual number is thought to be about 1,500.  Most are tied to government bodies (such as ministries and provincial governments), large firms, political parties and the Imperial Palace. Their members are more than 12,000 journalists from nearly 160 media affiliated to the Nihon Shimbun Kyokai (Japanese Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association).

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