Staff writer

MAEBASHI, Gunma Pref. — A Nagoya professor urged a national lawyers’ group Thursday to establish a council to specifically deal with victims of the media.

During a symposium here on human rights sponsored by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Munenobu Hirakawa, a law professor at Nagoya University, said the best way to protect people from the media is for the media to set up a press council themselves.

“But the media, especially newspapers, see such a move as interference with journalism,” Hirakawa said.

Television broadcasters set up a group in June 1997 to process claims made by those who claimed to be media victims and launch investigations into the claims. The investigative committee mainly consists of academics and lawyers.

Since media bodies seem to be reluctant to make such a move, Hirakawa said the bar federation should take the lead and set up a body to address the cases of those wrongly accused by the media of crimes.

To protect the rights of criminal suspects, Hirakawa said their names should be withheld until they are convicted.

“What is the point in identifying the suspect?” Hirakawa said. “The public has the right to know about what happened, but his or her identity is not important.”

Toshiki Hara, a freelance journalist, blamed the media for putting too much emphasis on identifying perpetrators, which inevitably prompts reporters to rely on police for most of their information.

“Reporters are just relaying information from the police, who have sole control of it,” said Hara, a former reporter with Kyodo News.

“What journalists should do is keep an eye on investigative authorities to see whether they engage in illegal investigations or fail to arrest a suspect through negligence,” he said.

Yoshiyuki Kono, who was falsely accused by police and the media of involvement in the deadly release of sarin gas in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, agreed.

He said that when the media publicizes the identities of suspects, it leads to social punishment.

Kono lived near the site where high levels of sarin were detected.

Aum Shinrikyo was later accused of the gassing, which killed seven people.

Since it cost Kono a significant amount of money to file a damages suit against local newspapers for defamation, he said he feels that a system is needed to make it easier for people to seek redress.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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