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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 June 11 - 17  > Top court overturns lower court ruling recognizing political interference in media
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2008 June 11 - 17 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Top court overturns lower court ruling recognizing political interference in media

June 13, 2008
The Supreme Court on June 12 overturned a lower court decision that NHK compensate a women’s rights group “Violence Against Women in War-Network Japan (VAWW-NET Japan)” for altering the content of a documentary on Japan’s wartime sex slavery from its original form without any explanation given to the group which had cooperated with the public broadcaster in producing the program.

In the ruling, presiding justice Yokoo Kazuko said that broadcasters’ right to report and edit their independent judgment is protected by the Broadcast Law and that the right of people or groups covered by the media to have the expected content broadcast is not, in principle, protected by law.

Although their trust and expectations are legally protected when media put “enormous burdens” on them, the VAWW-NET Japan did not experience such burdens, the justice added.

The Tokyo High Court ruled last year that NHK illegally violated the trust and expectations that VAWW-NET Japan had for the documentary.

It also recognized that NHK changed the content of the program after taking politicians’ remarks into account. The top court, however, only acknowledged that NHK executives met with ruling Liberal Democratic Party members, including then Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo, before the program was aired, but stopped short of giving judgment as to whether these politicians played any role in influencing changes in the program’s content.

The lawyer group for the plaintiffs in a published comment expressed that the ruling is unfair because it reduced the case into an issue whether the trust and expectations of those who cooperated in producing TV programs are legally protected and neglected to carefully examine the allegations of politicians’ pressure on the public broadcaster. “The ruling has turned Article 21 of the Constitution (freedom of expression) into one of protecting the ‘freedom of expression for the sake of politicians.’ It will inevitably face strong international criticism,” it stated.

VAWW-NET Japan co-representative Nishino Rumiko held a news conference to criticize the top court for accepting politicians’ interference in the broadcast media.

“Although we lost the case, our struggle over the last seven years has played an important role in making known to the public the fact that NHK carefully took politicians’ views into account and altered its program.”

Evade the crux of the matter

The major issue in this lawsuit was whether it was justifiable for NHK executives to force producers to change the content of the program by capitulating o the pressure from then Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo.

The Supreme Court focused only on the producers’ independent judgment in editing their programs without mentioning the lower court acknowledgement that the content of the documentary was changed after NHK executives met with Abe.

The High Court judged that the NHK executives’ action “amounts to giving up their freedom of independent editing guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Media organizations must have the right of the press enforced in order to serve the citizens’ right to know, and they must be independent of political power. The Supreme Court should have called into question the fact that the broadcaster’s relations with the ruling LDP are unacceptably close. - Akahata, June 13, 2008
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