Major news media outlets are once again taking heat for depending too much on information from investigative authorities in their reporting, this time over recent incidents surrounding the 1995 shooting of the National Police Agency chief.
Four people linked to the Aum Shinrikyo cult were arrested July 7 on suspicion of involvement in the attack on Takaji Kunimatsu. Two former senior Aum members, who are now appealing death sentences for separate cases, were believed to be the actual gunman and the commander of the shooting.
However, the four men arrested were released Wednesday after prosecutors failed to charge them based on what they thought was new evidence, while the other two have never faced arrest warrants over the shooting.
Kunimatsu was shot and severely wounded in front of his home in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo, on March 30, 1995, eight days after the police launched raids on Aum over the Tokyo subway sarin attack. The media usually refrain from reporting the names of suspects until arrest warrants are issued, but many outlets reported the names of the other two people, stirring criticism that the media unilaterally looked on them as the culprits.
Following the release of the four, the Mainichi Shimbun showed its position by using the names of the two defendants in its Thursday morning edition, in which the major daily said: “It is necessary to report how the investigative authorities consider role-sharing of suspects in order to show the overall outline of the investigation.
“We have received severe criticism over our reports using their names, with some pointing out we have depended too much on information provided by the authorities,” the Mainichi also said. “We take them seriously.”
According to a Mainichi report Friday, the Nippon Television Network refrained from revealing the names of the two, while TV Tokyo did not show the name of the suspected gunman.
NTV said, “We decided to report about the two anonymously, based on information we gathered.” TV Tokyo noted, “Based on our information gatherings not only from the investigative authorities but from other sources, we decided we should not reveal his real name.”
The Tokyo Shimbun, meanwhile, carried critical comments about the reports in its Thursday morning edition.
Shoko Egawa, a freelance journalist, was quoted as saying, “I wonder what the media have learned from their reports over the 1994 sarin gassing in Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture).”
She was referring to an incident where the media falsely branded a man living near the site as a prime suspect. They later declared they had learned a lesson and vowed never to create another victim.
“The reports over the shooting of the ex-NPA chief have caused readers and viewers to believe the crime was committed by Aum members,” Egawa said. “People who were labeled as suspects will be forced to live with their image as culprits and they will not be able to recover from the damage.”
The man who had been suspected as the gunman released a statement through his lawyer saying, “I feel anger at the police for leaking information leading the media to believe (I did it), as well as the media for reporting the information as it is. I regret (the investigation) may have given the impression I was the perpetrator.”
The Asahi Shimbun reported the views of the news organizations that reported the names of the two in its Friday morning edition.
The Asahi said, “It is the duty of news media to report the picture of a crime, envisaged by investigative authorities, and their targets.”
The Yomiuri Shimbun said it is important to show how investigators view a crime, such as who actually committed it and who supervised it, while the Sankei Shimbun said it reported the opinions of investigators.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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