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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #224: June 15, 2004

South Korea Dissolves Ties That Once Bound the Press to the Powerful

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"South Korea Dissolves Ties That Once Bound the Press to the Powerful"
(by N. Onishi) New York Times


The focus of the article is about South Korea which is dismantling their press club system. The article explains that the system was introduced by the Japanese government when it occupied the region before WWII. Then it goes on to report that the system is still maintained in Japan, and when an official at Japan's Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association was asked of the Korean move, the official denied that the Association has any intention to regulate press conferences.

The reclusive character of the Press Clubs (kisha kurabu (club)) in Japan had been grumbled by just about everyone who happened to face the system. They were not only the reporters, including those of foreign, who were denied access to press conferences, but also those who were covered by the media. Senior politicians were often rumored to have expressed disbelief off the record, literally, of the way their behaviors and remarks at press conferences were reported.

But such discontents were rarely reported and never disseminated, because the newspapers would never carry them for obvious reasons, and the similar barriers were fairly common in other countries as well.

One of the first occasions the issue was publicized was when the new governor of Nagano Prefecture, a novelist by profession, Mr Tanaka took the office. He issued a "declaration to get free from the press clubs" effectively denying the traditional system of press conferences run by the secluded "kisha kurabu" at the Prefectural government. The reports, however, were not followed up seriously, one reason perhaps being the sometimes-reckless character of Mr Tanaka, who was often criticized as being more interested to appear in the news than to pursue the tasks as a governor.

Then in the fall of 2002, and then again in October of 2003, in the document issued by EU titled "EU Priority Proposals for Regulatory Reform in Japan" it wrote "There have been numerous instances where restrictions on foreign journalists' access have impeded reporting outside Japan of events of widespread international interest and significance". It went on to say "Officials and hierarchy of the "kisha club" have the means to prevent the spread of information they may consider disadvantageous", leading to the proposal to "Remove the restraint on free trade in information by abolishing the 'kisha club' system".

Japan's Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, in response, published its statement in December, in Japanese (only), claiming that the Association is not in any way obstructing the activities of the foreign press, and significance of the existence of the Association is in protecting the freedom of press in Japan.

Only a week after the response, EU issued a rejoinder, saying that whatever the official stance of the Newspaper Association, in reality, its membership is utilized as a means to exclude foreign journalists from press conferences in various parts of Japan.

In March this year, the Association issued a note addressed to its member media and the numerous "kisha clubs" across Japan, asking them to accept foreign media in their press conferences as much as realistically possible. This may thus indeed be the "official" stance of the Association. But the need to have such a note circulated could also be interpreted as a sign that the real practice may not be in sync with such official position.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications