Thursday, January 27, 2011

News from Japan: On the Record Please !

"Is the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Japan (FCCJ Tokyo) a new kisha club now also censoring reporting under the pretext of background briefing?"

This message and comments reached my mailbox today and I want to share it with you.

"FCCJ is inviting policy-makers and market players to have free discussions with journalists in the form of a background briefing and Q&A. Participants can take notes but must agree not to use what they hear in their output in any way. No electronic audio or video recording is allowed. Participation is limited to professional working-press members. Please show your FCCJ ID card when you sign in for the event."

What is it? They say "Can take notes but must agree not to use what they hear in their output in any way"?

"Ab Absurdo"!

Now, now, to oblige the reporters NOT to report is, journalistically, absurd and misleading. WE know what happens then. We also do not believe it is possible not to quote and report on what our sources told us. But we agree with the background briefings made to deepen knowledges of journalists, in an opened formula. This clumsy idea reflects a lot on the current FCCJ administration.

A few comments received from FCCJ colleagues, including from some ex-presidents of honorable experience and age and my favorite is this one:

-FCCJ is wrong and confused, it is exactly like Japanese behind-the-scene, Ryotei politics and the kisha club that is willing to follow it. These are so arrogant and look down the people in the country.

-Two former presidents including Hans van der Lugt invested considerable time trying to open up Japan's 'kisha clubs', so why would the FCCJ adopt the worst practices of the Japanese media industry

-Does the "press club" need to behave like the kisha clubs? This new trend is to expel FCCJ various membership from attending an event? Associates (those who pay the club's functioning) are going to be angry.

-I myself couldn't participate or work into English or on technical topics without a tape recorder to replay, and replay again, comments by speakers.

-More anonymity, what does the foreign press has to hide?

-If a reporter records, what is the FCCJ going to do? Suspend or expel someone for reporting? If what the briefer says is general knowledge, does that restrict us from reporting it? Even in a deepest background interviews, we have to work out some way that we can use the information.

-How is the FCCJ going to make money with this? Financial situation is already so dire?

-Putting out a notice, with the speaker's name, that means any comment ever reported will go back to him...

-If holding small, niche events is interesting as we have less people at our press events (including regular press conferences it's correct) but it did not work long in the past in the case of our Financial Tuesdays, Political Mondays, Photo Nights, and it was at a period when the press membership was larger. Now we need to be more creative and opened for the press.

-The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan has long prided itself in not bowing to the wishes of its guests. They may say "no comment", but they can't dictate the terms of the meeting. One of the best examples of holding the line was by my former co-chair, the late Naoki Usui, who rejected Japanese film giant Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa's handlers tried to insist that no questions be asked about an alleged suicide attempt. Usui, the committee's chair at the time, refused. We didn't get Kurosawa, but people around town knew that we had refused someone of Kurosawa's stature. It was a powerful statement about what the club stood for.

-Does it serve a public interest organization such as the FCCJ? What do the Government and the MOFA (Gaimusho) have to say about it at a time when the Hatoyama and Kan administration opened the kisha clubs? Ridiculous.

-Why do the foreign media want to forbid foreign media to report on the economics and financial events by a speaker, out of sense or mentality of the fearful (cowards) foreign journalists?

-I'm not opposed to "press only" events. Attributing comments to a senior BOJ official or senior MoFA official is a necessity and a duty for media.

-Is FCCJ just a "new Dejima island" place?

(Nota Bene: built in the bay of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1634, Dejima island was the single place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. Dejima was built to constrain foreign traders as part of "sakoku" self-imposed isolationist policy. (Reference: Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibition catalog)

I have other comments but I limited to this for the time being...

Reporter's notes.