Experts question indictment of Japanese journalist in South Korea


South Korea’s indictment of the former Seoul bureau chief at the right-leaning daily Sankei Shimbun is being criticized by experts who say the move might represent an attack against a Japanese media outlet.

Japanese journalist Tatsuya Kato, 48, was indicted Wednesday on charges of defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye after reporting on rumors about Park’s whereabouts on the day of the Sewol ferry disaster in April, which killed around 300 people.

The article said that Park was with a man on that day.

But Yoji Ochiai, a lawyer and former prosecutor, said that Kato had simply quoted information from a report that had been published earlier by the major South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Kato’s article was posted online on Aug. 3.

“I find it unfair that no one pursues charges against Chosun Ilbo, which originally reported the information in question,” Ochiai said.

“If this proves to be some kind of strike at Japan’s media by law-governed South Korea, it would mean we can’t expect a fair investigation,” Ochiai added.

Under Japanese criminal law, defamation charges cannot be brought against a journalist even if it’s impossible to prove what he or she wrote is true, as long as the reporting is in the public interest and there is a reason to believe the information reported is true.

“I think we can judge that Kato believed the content of the Chosun Ilbo article (he quoted from) was based on truth,” said lawyer Masaru Wakasa.

Some experts also point out that most defamation cases in Japan do not lead to an indictment, although a 2005 case against the former editor-in-chief of a monthly magazine involving the defamation of a Japanese mystery writer was one of the exceptions.

It is normal for the behavior of a head of state to draw international attention, and for the media to report on with a critical tone, said Sonoda Hisashi, an expert in criminal law at Konan University.

“This time it only looks like an attack against a Japanese media agency,” he said.

Information on South Korea’s media laws was not reported.

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