NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Japanese journalists need to better perform their duties as government watchdogs, according to a former Mainichi Shimbun reporter.
“Civilian control in Japan has retreated in line with the intensification of its military power and press restraints,” said 70-year-old Takichi Nishiyama, who broke the news about secret deals between the United States and Japan over the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese rule.
“Media should not submit to negotiations with the authorities or compromise with them,” he said, urging journalists to keep the power of public authorities in check.
Nishiyama’s comments come as the Diet deliberates a set of bills that have been criticized as the government’s veiled attempt at tightening control over the mass media.
Nishiyama was a political reporter with the national daily in 1971, when he obtained photocopies of classified documents showing that Japan paid the $4 million the U.S. was supposed to pay to restore Okinawa to its original state at the time of the reversion.
He handed the copies to Lower House member Takahiro Yokomichi, who exposed the case during a Diet debate. At the time, Yokomichi was a member of the Social Democratic Party of Japan.
Nishiyama was arrested and indicted the following year on charges of violating the National Civil Service Law because he asked a female acquaintance who worked for the Foreign Ministry to obtain the documents.
Although he was found not guilty by a lower court, the verdict was overruled by a high court and was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1978. Nishiyama received a suspended jail term.
And because news reports at the time chose to focus on Nishiyama’s relationship with the female official, they helped the authorities to bury the secret deal, he said.
Nishiyama also said he cannot forgive the government for its deception, pointing out that he would have been an accomplice to the crime had he remained silent.
He said he hoped active journalists would re-examine his case, which would help them strengthen their abilities in monitoring government power.
While Nishiyama has remained reluctant to speak with the media, he granted the interview from his home in Kitakyushu to coincide with the 30th anniversary in May of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese rule.
He said the discovery in 2000 of U.S. government documents by Masaaki Gabe, a professor at Okinawa’s University of the Ryukyus, that back up the reported secret deals also encouraged him to speak out.
Despite such revelations, the government continues to deny the existence of any secret deals with the U.S..
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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