The media are both Kenichi Ino’s worst enemy and strongest ally.
After his 21-year-old daughter was killed in Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture, in 1999 in a notorious stalking case, Ino’s house was surrounded by 60 to 70 reporters from early morning to midnight, chasing his comments on her murder.
“I could not honor my daughter and my sons could not go to school while we were put under ‘house arrest’ by the media for almost three months,” he said. “Given such circumstances, our family life was on the verge of collapse.”
Ino’s suffering was further exacerbated by inaccurate media reports that his daughter, a college student, had worked in the adult-entertainment business and had been a collector of brand-name goods.
“Some TV commentators said my daughter must have been killed because she was involved in something illicit,” Ino said. “I believe she was killed twice, first by the murderer and then by the media.”
Ino’s comments came at a recent symposium in Tokyo, where three victims of over-zealous media coverage exchanged views on a set of government-proposed bills to protect human rights and personal information. The bills include a controversial section on protecting people from journalists who are inappropriately persistent in seeking interviews.
Critics fear the bills will hinder news coverage by requiring those handling such information to obtain data “appropriately” and be transparent in its handling.
News organizations and freelance writers claim the bills will inevitably invite unjust intervention in media coverage by the government, thereby endangering freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.
Despite his suffering at the hands of the nation’s media, Ino vowed he will not support the bills, saying, “There were a few reporters from a weekly photo magazine and a TV station who tried to report sincerely.”
He said those reporters had uncovered police mishandling of a complaint his daughter had filed against the stalker, thereby enabling Ino to file a damages suit against the Saitama Prefectural Government in 2000. In the complaint, his daughter had asked the police to do something to prevent such incidents from happening again.
“I suffered from the media coverage, but I want to protect the freedom of the press for those sincere reporters,” he said.
Yoshiyuki Kono, another panelist, shared Ino’s view, saying the bills will not prevent over-zealous media coverage.
Police had initially considered Kono a prime suspect in the 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that left seven people dead and more than 100 injured. The attack was later found to have been carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult. Kono was harassed by the media until it became clear that he was innocent.
False media reports were based on unofficial information leaked by police, Kono said, adding that police officers should be forced to strictly follow their obligation to maintain secrecy in cases.
“Media organizations recognize they cannot make up criminal reports without leaks by police, while police think it is natural if their investigative information is leaked to the media,” Kono said. “I believe excessive coverage has been caused by such structural abnormalities.”
Kono was appointed to the Nagano Prefectural Public Safety Commission in July on the recommendation of Gov. Yasuo Tanaka, who said he “is needed to make the prefectural police work side by side with the people of the prefecture.”
Kono said, “I expect the media to put pressure on police to disclose necessary information, while I, as a public safety commissioner, will urge police to follow their secrecy obligation.”
Meanwhile, the third panelist, Kazuyoshi Miura, offered reluctant support for the bills, saying that only legal controls can stop runaway media coverage. But Miura added he does not believe such control is an appropriate way to improve such coverage.
Miura was placed under 24-hour media surveillance following a 1984 magazine report that he had killed his wife in Los Angeles in 1981 to swindle insurance money. The media attention lasted until Miura was arrested in 1985 on suspicion of arranging the murder.
Reporters followed me everywhere,” he said. “When I bought beef and leeks at a supermarket, evening news programs reported, ‘Mr. Miura’s family will have sukiyaki for dinner.’ “
Miura was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 but was acquitted in 1998 by a higher court. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Miura meanwhile has filed several hundred defamation suits against the media, more than half of which he won.
“A huge news organization will never bend its ear to listen to what an individual victim of over-zealous coverage wants to say,” Miura said. “I do not expect the authorities to protect my human rights, but as for powerless individuals, what else can they do other than rely on legal control?”
Eri Oba, a specialist in criminal sociology and an associate professor at Kanagawa University who also attended the symposium, agreed with the panelists.
“People in media circles should realize their coverage has damaged both victims and the suspects in crime cases,” Oba said. “Freedom of expression should be guaranteed, of course, but I believe the media must not hurt people under the name of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
The set of human rights and personal information protection bills have been carried over to the current Diet session after failing to gain approval in the previous session.
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