The Supreme Court’s decision on June 12 to reverse a lower-court ruling that had found in favor of a women’s group received a fair share of concerned media coverage. The suit involved a program NHK had produced about a 2001 citizens’ tribunal, which prosecuted Japan’s wartime leaders on behalf of sex slaves and found the late Emperor Showa guilty of war crimes. The nongovernment organization Violence Against Women in War-Network had cosponsored the tribunal and worked with an NHK-affiliated production company on the program. VAWW-NET was dismayed when the result not only avoided mention of the verdict, but also watered down the content of the tribunal.

Convinced that the public broadcaster had bowed to pressure from rightwing groups and politicians who objected to the mock trial itself, the NGO sued NHK and its affiliate. In January 2007, the Tokyo High Court recognized VAWW-NET’s “right of expectation” in the matter, since the group cooperated with the production in the belief that the tribunal would be covered in its entirety. The Supreme Court thought otherwise, saying that the independence of news-gathering organizations must be ensured, and that guaranteeing a right of expectation to news sources or subjects automatically violates a new organization’s right to report the news as it sees fit. The VAWW-NET suit has been problematic from the beginning, even to those who support the group and believe NHK neglected its responsibility by airing the program in the form it did. News coverage would be greatly restricted if subjects could sue because a story they were involved in did not meet their expectations. But as Rumiko Nishino, a representative of VAWW-NET, told reporters after the Supreme Court verdict, the group didn’t take it as a defeat since the suit brought the matter greater attention and “revealed what happened” at NHK.

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