Bio a lesson in journalist principles

Late editorialist stood firm in blaming state for treaty violence

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo News

On June 17, 1960, seven major newspapers in Tokyo simultaneously carried a “joint declaration” concerning a bloody public clash over the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that left a female University of Tokyo student dead, calling for a quick resolution to the situation.

Thousands of radical student demonstrators and citizens gathered around the Diet in protest, which become one of the largest political demonstrations in Japanese history. Several hundred protesters and police officers were injured.

In later years, the declaration was attacked by critics who argued that the papers failed to clearly point out what they saw as the responsibility of then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi’s government in provoking such a massive protest by ramming a revision of the treaty through the Diet on May 19.

Dozens of regional newspapers carried the declaration on their front pages.

One regional paper stood out by refusing to join the collective action.

“It was only The Hokkaido Shimbun that criticized the steamrolling and the violence against the demonstrators when other papers took an attitude of compromise,” said Nobuyuki Ogasawara, who recently published a biography of Teiichi Suda, an editorial writer and columnist at the paper, which is also known as Doshin.

Under the headline “Protect (the parliament system) by eliminating violent acts,” the joint declaration said: “The bloody incident in and outside the Diet, aside from its root cause, was a matter for great regret that placed parliamentary democracy at risk.

“It is needless to say that the government should do its utmost to get things under control as soon as possible,” it said.

Suda, for his part, said in his front-page column on June 18, “The whole mess was caused by the May 19 tyranny of the ruling party. A doctor would be called a quack if he or she, ‘aside from its root cause,’ just put a plaster on (a patient’s) head for a headache and on (his or her) waist for backache.”

Ogasawara, 62, who was himself once a Doshin reporter, said, “Suda stood by his words while other papers neglected to remind us who should take the blame for the turmoil, and I expect people to know through my book that there was a journalist who took a firm stand against the government” when Japan rushed to revise the bilateral treaty a half century ago.

Born to a wealthy family in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1909, Suda initially joined The Asahi Shimbun, the major national daily, and eventually served as its Shanghai correspondent during the war, according to the biography, “Pen no Jiyu wo Tsuranuite” (“Living up to the Freedom of the Press”), written by Ogasawara.

After leaving the major daily in the postwar turmoil, he at one point became a high school teacher but quit, and then assumed the post of Tokyo-based editorial writer in charge of politics and diplomacy for The Hokkaido Shimbun, based in Sapporo, in 1950.

As an editorialist, Suda argued that Japan should conclude an overall postwar peace treaty with the Allied Powers, including the Soviet Union, as well as China, criticizing Tokyp’s plan to sign a separate treaty only with the Western allies. His Feb. 18, 1951, editorial noted, “I wonder how hard Prime Minister (Shigeru Yoshida) has worked for amicable relations with the Soviet Union and Southeast Asian countries.”

He also expressed concern over the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, saying in his editorial on July 22, 1951, “If the bilateral treaty takes on the character of a Far Eastern version of the North Atlantic Treaty, hardships will lie ahead for ‘independent Japan.’ “

Suda’s journalistic career came to a “climax,” Ogasawara said, with the front-page column opposing the other papers’ joint declaration. “His standpoint to face the authorities from the perspective of ordinary people as well as vulnerable groups stood unalterably firm.”

Ogasawara, who interviewed Suda’s family and his former colleagues for the book, said there existed a firm social underpinning to accept his uncompromising editorials in those days in Hokkaido, where coal miner and teacher unions maintained strong influence.

“Readers also frequently visited local bureaus of Doshin back in those days to express their views, both for and against, on its stories and editorials, and that encouraged the writers,” he said. “The readers and the writers bounced ideas off each other.”

Toshio Hara, former managing editorial writer at Kyodo News, said, “The joint declaration stirred criticism that it goes against the journalistic principle that respective media should present their own political points of view” so people can get various opinions.

“However, Suda wrote an important page in the history of journalism by condemning the declaration and keeping his critical stance to fight the major trend,” Hara said. “Suda is worthy of receiving recognition as one of the leading editorialists in postwar Japan.”

Hara closely watched how the news media covered the movements related to the security treaty and other issues as vice chairman of the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions when the declaration was carried.

Ogasawara was entrusted with a collection of Suda’s writings, including scrapbooks of his editorials and his books, by a former Doshin editor who was under Suda’s tutelage before the ex-editor died of cancer in 1999. The former editor asked Ogasawara to write a biography.

Ogasawara included as much of Suda’s editorials and columns as possible in the book to show their impressive quality.

“I hope young people pursuing a journalistic career will read his writings as their textbook” in order to be journalists who stand on the side of ordinary people, he said.

Suda passed away in September 1973 at the age of 64.

The 302-page book, written in Japanese and priced at ¥2,500, is published by Ryokufu Shuppan Inc. in Tokyo.