KOBE — The media is out of control and it’s time for ordinary citizens in
both America and Japan to do what they can to stop biased, unethical and
outright false reporting.
That is the opinion of Richard Jewell, the security guard falsely accused
by police and the international press of setting off a bomb in Atlanta’s
Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Games. Jewell made the statement at a
symposium on the media and news reporting last Saturday that drew nearly
He was joined by Yoshiyuki Kono, who was falsely accused by Japanese
police as the perpetrator of the 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano
Prefecture. Kono was the first person to alert police to the gas attack,
which left his wife in a coma.
The symposium was organized by the Support Association for the Kabutoyama.
It was chaired by Kenichi Asano, a Doshisha University journalism professor
who formerly worked for Kyodo News.
The Kabutoyama case has lasted for more than 20 years. In March 1974,
Etsuko Yamada was arrested for the murder of a 12-year-old girl in Kobe’s
Kabutoyama district. She was found not guilty the following year, then
arrested again in 1978 based on new evidence. At that time, Yamada charged
that her civil rights had been violated due to false testimony from her
former employer and colleagues. The Kobe District Court exonerated her in
But police appealed the case to the Osaka High Court, which in turn sent
it back to the lower court for a retrial. The case is still pending.
Both Jewell and Kono strongly identified with the way Yamada was treated
by police and the media. In a passionate voice brimming with emotion,
Jewell gave an account of his own experiences, first as a media hero for
discovering the bomb and later, when the police and the media turned
against him. “As a result of these false accusations, my life became a
living hell,” he said. “The media, with no evidence and without checking
the facts, branded me a criminal.”
Since clearing his name, Jewell has fought back against America’s largest
media organizations. He reached an out-of-court settlement with ABC News,
and Watson Bryant, Jewell’s lawyer, says they are battling it out with CNN,
NBC, and the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, all of which reported that
Jewell was an official FBI suspect.
Jewell was dubbed by Asano the “Kono of America” for how he was treated
by the media. In September, through the assistance of Asano, he and Kono
met in Atlanta. Although Jewell said he was happy to have met Kono, he
stated, “I wonder how different my life might have been had this not
As bad as Jewell’s experience was, Kono’s was even more tragic. “My wife
remains in a coma from the sarin gas attack, I’ve lost many friends and I
no longer trust either the police or the media,” Kono said.
People in both countries have felt anger and mistrust toward the media for
quite some time. In Japan, a recent public opinion poll conducted by the
Mainichi Shimbun indicated that only about half of all Japanese trust the
media to get a story right, while internationally, the role of the
paparazzi in the recent death of Princess Diana has led to a strong public
backlash against the media.
“Too many media organizations in America think they can get away with
destroying a person’s life and hide behind the First Amendment,” Jewell
said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘If there had been restraint on the part
of the media, would Diana still be alive?’ “
During the symposium, both Kono and Asano said the relationship between
Japanese police and the media can lead to human rights abuses. They
identified one of the sources of the abuse of power as the police press
clubs, to which many of Japan’s media organizations belong, and said the
most important thing is to break away from the press club mentality. “The
media have to get it right before they get it first,” Jewell said. Asano
pointed out that there are no real journalism schools in Japan and that
virtually all journalists receive their training on the job.
Jewell urged those in attendance to put pressure on the media to end
sloppy reporting, “or what happened to me could happen to you.” The most
effective pressure, he said, is to speak with advertisers.