I know it won't help my social life any to admit that I was old enough (in fact, already in college) in 1972 to remember quite well the Nishiyama incident (read this if you understand Japanese). This TIME article employs this incident to demonstrate that Japan did indeed deserve its ranking "in last year's Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index than Ghana or Bosnia account. And I quote:
"Freedom of the press is a constitutionally guaranteed right in Japan — as long as you stick to what the authorities want you to write. How does a developed democratic country manage to rank lower in last year's Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index than Ghana or Bosnia? Just ask Takichi Nishiyama, whose promising career as a star political journalist at a national daily ended in 1971, when he came across what should have been a career-making scoop — official documents revealing that the Japanese government had gone around a deal approved by Japan's legislature and secretly paid the U.S. $4 million to ends its occupation of Okinawa in 1972…"
Now I do not dispute that TIME did get the facts right, as far as I could discern. Mr. Nishiyama did receive the purported document from his MOFA paramour, and they both (Mr. Nishiyama in particular) were excoriated in the court of public opinion, including the entire mass media except Mr., Nishiyama's employer Mainchi Shinbun, and wound up being convicted of violating the Civil Servants Law. 35 years after the handover, Okinawa does continue to bear the burden of the US presence in Japan. Reporters Without Borders does rank Japan behind Ghana and Bosnia, 51st to be exact, only two places ahead of that bastion of oppression, the United States of America. (My condolences to the oppressed masses at TIME HQ. Aren't you lucky you are based in Tokyo, B.W.?) And I would not be surprised to learn that there had indeed been a secret deal to foot the US bill for the turnover, then some. It was not a done deal, in fact, a feat so unprecedented in human history that Eisaku Sato, the prime minister who engineered the transfer on the Japanese side, received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
But the TIME account omits a fact that was crucial to the unfolding of the incident. Mr. Nishiyama, instead of using the documents to expose the secret deal, decided to hand them over to two opposition Diet members, who used them to attack the government in Diet questioning. MOFA had no choice but to conduct an internal investigation to find the source of the leak, whereupon the paramour, who, according to her own account, had never intended the documents to be made public, fessed up. In other words, Mr. Nishiyama had crossed the line between a professional journalist and a political operator. It is no wonder that the media rightly attacked Mr. Nishiyama's actions, if the sex scandal (she was married at the time) did give it more legs than it perhaps merited. To imply that they did so because they only wanted to print "what the authorities want you to write" is a serious charge. Is TIME willing to back up this claim? Or will it issue an apology to the journalists working for Japanese publications?
Why then, does Japan merit such a low rating? If TIME had bothered to take a look at the Reporters Without Borders website, it would have seen that "[r]ising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically [sic] attacked by far-right activists (uyoku)." Now the kisha clubs (not "kishas", which is the plural of Japanese for "reporter") are basically institution-specific, self-administered media cartels. There's one for each ministry, the stock exchange, Keidanren, and what have you. Membership gets you a desk and a telephone line on the premises and access to regular press briefings. In return, you must respect press embargoes. Any sanctions are imposed and enforced by the kishaclub. I don't know how oppressive they are, but they did open their doors to foreign correspondents in the early nineties. However, other than wire services, they generally find the upkeep too expensive.In any case, kisha clubs have been around for ages, so they cannot be the reason for the 2006 fall. As for the Nikkei firebombing, I'll have to look at the full report to see if it really merited a 14-spot downgrading, but it certainly can't have anything to do with sticking "to what the authorities want you to write".
That the Japanese government continues to deny the existence of a secret deal is no surprise; it's a government, for heaven's sake! And it is the job of the media to go and dig up the facts. We have our own version of the Freedom of Information Act, which has its own version of a national security clause, with which the Japanese government will surely deny disclosure of any documents pertaining to such a deal, particularly since they will have to claim that such document do not exist, since there was no deal in the first place, n'est-ce pas? For such are governments, and that is why we have journalists. Why, then, don't journalists care about this one? A secret deal with the government? Because "[a]dmitting to the secret pacts would be to admit that the U.S.-Japan alliance strategy was built on illegitimate grounds, and call for closer scrutiny of the current relationship"? As silly as it is to get into this conjecture game, I would have to conclude that getting back Okinawa (which the overwhelming majority of the people of Okinawa wanted) was much harder than the public had realized at the time. A secret ransom may be reason for embarrassment, but it certainly would not have rendered better terms for the people of Okinawa had it not been paid. I'm inclined to believe they don't care because it's old, and now irrelevant to current events, so they're happy to let historians take a crack at it.
TIME concludes: "In a recent press conference, the veteran scribe rounded on his colleagues who 'committed journalistic suicide' when they chose to do their muckraking in his bedroom rather than in the corridors of power. 'The defenders of democracy continue to suck up to power instead of fighting it.' Nishiyama would agree with Reporters Without Borders, which insists Japan still has a thing or two to learn from Panama and Montenegro about the free press."
Who knows, maybe Reporters Without Borders is right. But just because Mr. Nishiyama is still sore after all these years, it doesn't mean he has a case here. And TIME is wrong to publish an article that is constructed on insinuations, shoddy fact-checking, and denial of an inconvenient truth. I only hope that it's not in the hard copy version; people pay real money for that.
P.S. And Okinawa-gate? Lame-o. "Unknown Scandal"? On which planet? TIME, you need a copy editor.