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The Tokyo District Court dismissed a libel suit Monday filed by Haruho Fujii, former president of the now-defunct Japan Highway Public Corp., and said a magazine article correctly reported his concealment of the corporation’s financial statements.

Fujii had sought 10 million yen in damages from Bungeishunju Ltd., publisher of the monthly Bungeishunju, which ran an article quoting a senior highway corporation official making this allegation against him.

Presiding Judge Hiroshi Noyama said the contents of the article were correct, while Fujii’s arguments appeared groundless.

According to the court, the magazine ran in its August 2003 issue an article with the headlines: “Revelations of Japan Highway Public Corp. President Fujii’s lies and high-handedness” and “Tyrannical personnel reshuffle, concealment of financial statements and lies before the Diet.”

Fujii argued that the article falsely claimed he “concealed financial statements that showed the corporation’s debts exceeding its assets, and instead disclosed financial statements based on unfair accounting standards.”

He also claimed the article accused him of being “the president of a ruined country.”

The publisher argued that its reporting was proper.

Judge Noyama said financial statements created by the highway corporation clearly showed the body’s debts exceeded its assets.

“Although it was reported to President Fujii, he didn’t mention it during testimony before the Diet. Since cases where he transferred some employees who did not follow his instructions have also been confirmed, the article’s description that there was a ‘tyrannical personnel reshuffle’ was true,” Noyama said.

He also said the article calling Fujii “the president of a ruined country” can be judged as within the scope of critique and opinion and cannot be considered libel.

Instead of filing a libel lawsuit, Fujii should have sincerely refuted the article that questioned his suitability to be head of a public corporation, Noyama added. “However, whether he should be dismissed or not should be decided by the person who appointed him.”

The land minister sacked Fujii in October 2003, saying he was unfit for the job.

Bungeishunju said in a statement that the court ruling supported the media’s position to discuss whether a public figure like Fujii is properly performing his job.

“The ruling really encouraged those of us who are engaged in news reporting,” the statement said.

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