Freelancers OK at Tokyo prosecutor briefings

by Setsuko Kamiya

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office opened its news conference to nonpress club members Thursday, following the example of several ministries that have started allowing freelancers into their regular media briefings.

Previously, the prosecutor’s office only allowed in reporters from media outlets who were regular members of the Tokyo District Court Press Club, effectively admitting only representatives of mainstream newspapers and TV stations.

“We received lots of requests from freelance journalists who wanted to participate, and we decided it was acceptable,” said Motonari Otsuru, the office’s deputy chief public prosecutor. “We believe that by having various people from the media participate, our investigations and court proceedings will be reported from various perspectives.”

During the first open press briefing, the office spent most of the time releasing general information about lay judge trials prosecutors participated in.

The remaining time was mostly used to respond to questions regarding the opening up of the press briefing.

Shoko Egawa, a prominent freelance journalist who attended the news conference, said the fact that prosecutors have opened up to more journalists was a big step forward.

But she pointed out that the 20-minute briefing was too short and Otsuru declined comment on specific cases.

“They are an organization with the authority to make arrests and detain suspects. That’s why it’s really important that they explain themselves more clearly,” she said. “We all really need to work together to ask many questions and get them to respond.”

Unlike other ministries, tape and video recordings were prohibited during the news conference.

Hiroshi Kataoka, head of general affairs, said this was due to the need to protect the privacy of the various visitors to the prosecutor’s office, including crime victims and witnesses.

“We’re being very careful right now,” Kataoka said, noting this regulation may be eased.

Press conferences at the ministries, including internal affairs, Foreign and Environment, have been opened to journalists not in press clubs who have registered beforehand.

The prosecutor’s office said it has followed such precedents. As of Thursday, 48 nonpress club member journalists have registered to access the briefing, it said.