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Hiro Ugaya

Late last year, Oricon Inc. sued Hiro Ugaya for 50 million yen in damages and demanded an apology for telling business and culture magazine Cyzo that Oricon had padded the sales numbers for some artists, used questionable methodology to compile its music hits chart and favored artists from the powerful Johnny’s & Associates talent agency.
Oricon has denied the allegations.
The lawsuit has drawn attention on Internet bulletin boards in part because Ugaya, who has also criticized Oricon in his own writing, was only quoted in the April 2006 Cyzo article and was not the author.
Ugaya said he has been unfairly targeted as Oricon has not sued the magazine or its publisher, Infobahn Inc.
“If this is not a violation of freedom of speech, what is it?” Ugaya asked reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Press Club in Tokyo, before attacking the Japanese media for brushing off his case. There were very few Japanese reporters at the packed FCCJ event.
Oricon said the suit has been filed to protect its name and it is not interested in financial gain. Oricon President Ko Koike said in a statement released in December that Ugaya had no grounds on which to make the allegations of padding and bad statistical methodology.
“We just want Mr. Ugaya to admit that libelous statements without any factual basis were made and apologize for that,” Koike said in the statement. “If he does that, we will end this suit.”
Oricon spokesman Teruaki Hitaka said the company began putting the process it uses to compile statistics in its magazine Original Confidence in 2003 and on its Web site in 2004.
Ugaya’s backers call Oricon’s tactic of targeting an individual journalist just one in a series of libel cases filed in recent years in response to news articles — lawsuits they say pose a threat to media organizations and freedom of expression by discouraging aggressive reporting.
These suits are called strategic lawsuits against public participation – in some Western countries, and laws and the some courts in Europe and the United States protect people who are sued in this way. Legal experts say Japan has no similar safeguards.

The article at the center of the case, “The Lies Behind the Hits/Does Johnny’s Get Super-VIP treatment?!/The Honeymoon Between the Talent Agency and Oricon,” run on a full page under the byline “Editorial Department,” relies heavily on two long quotes attributed to Ugaya, with only a brief introduction and conclusion.

Ugaya claims he was quoted inaccurately and “very important” parts of his comments were omitted.

He said that after the interview, the magazine sent him a draft of his comments for review. He claimed he corrected errors and filled in omissions in the text, but the editor who interviewed him refused to make the changes because there wasn’t enough time and no more space on the page.

Tadashi Ibi, Cyzo’s editor in chief, said the one-page article drew attention to disparities between Oricon rankings and those of other hit lists, but “raised questions without providing conclusions.”

Ibi said Cyzo firmly supported Ugaya. He said he was not directly involved in the article and added its author had left the magazine.

“If publishers don’t offer support, nobody will ever want to speak out in the future,” Ibi said. “This isn’t just about freelance reporters, either. (Publications) gather quotes from people on the street, too. If everybody starts worrying about being sued for speaking their mind, we won’t be able to interview anybody.”

Lawyer Kentaro Shirosaki said Oricon was not necessarily out of line for suing to protect its public image, but would have been better off trying to negotiate out of court, such as by asking the publisher for a correction, particularly since Ugaya had not written the article.

“Words should be met with words,” Shirosaki said. “When the talk turns so quickly to demands for financial reparations, big crushes small. Individuals cower in the face of mighty organizations. . . . And I think the withering effect this has on journalism is undesirable.”

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