Just because personal information on criminal suspects in their teens or younger has been made available online doesn’t mean it is proper for the mass media to publicize it, an expert said Friday.
The comment was made in criticism of the weekly Shukan Shincho, whose Thursday issue ran an article that contains the full name and photos of the 18-year-old who was arrested last week on suspicion of stabbing 13-year-old boy in Kawasaki to death.
The Japanese police do not disclose personal information on criminal suspects who are minors.
“It is utterly unreasonable for the major magazine to condemn a suspect who is a minor based on fragmentary information that hasn’t been confirmed through legal processes,” said Manabu Sunose, a Tokyo attorney who specializes in children’s rights.
The weekly ran a separate explanatory article in the same issue. In it, the publisher said its disclosure was justified by the fact personal information allowing readers to identity the suspect had already been made widely available on the Internet.
“The Internet has no less viewers than major magazines and newspapers given its accessibility. . . . But the mainstream media continue to withdraw into the shell of anonymous reporting,” it said.
To counter the weekly’s claim, Sunose pointed out that the mass media carry a heavier social responsibility than the Internet when covering juvenile crimes.
“People tend to be dubious toward online information because they know such information is given by anonymous individuals without proof and read it accordingly,” he said. “But for the mass media, it’s totally a different story” because the public expects them to provide accurate information, he added.
In the explanatory article, Shukan Shincho said: “(The suspect) may be 18 years old, but it seems to us to be too unreasonable to protect the criminal (who committed the heinous crime) with the Juvenile Law.”
Article 61 of the Juvenile Law bans reporting of personal information, including the names, appearances, occupation or images, of convicts or purported criminals in their teens or younger, although no penalties are charged for violations.
In response to the article, the Japan Federation of Bar Association issued a statement Thursday evening to urge the media not to break a law that is intended to give minors a second chance.
“Naming a minor suspect is not an essential factor for news coverage,” the statement said.
“Reporting the background causes of each case objectively and accurately is more important in order to prevent the recurrence of similar crimes (than naming minor suspects),” it added.
The article mentions the full name of the 18-year-old, who is believed to be the prime suspect, with photographs showing his face from the front. It also mentions the two 17-years-olds who were arrested on suspicion of having played a role in the murder of 13-year-old Ryota Uemura. But the article only refers to them by “B” and “C.”
“We decided to mention the two juveniles by pseudonyms with their photos censored, because we judged that their roles in the murder were subordinate,” the article explained.
It was the second time in nearly a month the magazine has run an in-depth article that clearly mentions the name and contains photographs of a suspect who is minor. The magazine identified a 19-year-old Nagoya female student who bludgeoned a 77-year-old female to death in a similar expose on Feb. 5.
Shukan Shincho’s latest article defies the Japan Federation of Bar Association’s earlier statement on Feb. 5, which was issued in response to its February article. The statement called on the media not to report any identifiable personal information and photos of suspects who are minors.