National

Asia Press, freelance journalists' group, marks 30th birthday

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

Marking the 30th anniversary of its founding, a group of freelance journalists shared its news gathering experiences at a symposium in Tokyo on Saturday.

“We have followed what mainstream media do not report,” said Akihiro Nonaka, founder of Asia Press International. “We have sought to conduct journalism differently from major news organizations, so we could achieve our role of ensuring development of democracy.”

Independent journalists not only from Japan and but other Asian nations, including the Philippines and South Korea, have joined Asia Press.

“We have established cooperative relations with Asian journalists to make our world better,” said Nonaka, also a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Waseda University.

They have contributed their stories, photographs and video images to newspapers, magazines and TV stations with the support of Asia Press.

Among its members, Takeharu Watai has covered conflict-torn areas in the world, including Afghanistan and East Timor, with small video cameras.

“While I sent daily images and reports of battle zones to Japanese broadcasters, I really wanted to cover those living in war zones,” Watai said.

In covering the U.S. war on Iraq, for instance, the U.S. government’s version of events would be reported by major new organizations, “but I aimed to report how ordinary Iraqi people were affected and killed during the war,” he said.

His efforts resulted in some documentary films and books about those who lost their loved ones.

Mizue Furui, meanwhile, left her office job to become a journalist after overcoming a serious disease, telling some 100 people in the audience, “I felt as if I could do anything at that time.”

Since first visiting the Gaza Strip and West Bank with her camera as a rookie journalist at the age of 40, Furui has focused mainly on Palestinian issues, in addition to reporting about Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Uganda.

Well known for her documentary films focusing on unknown lives of Palestinian women, Furui said during the symposium, “I was aware that there are preserves of women in Muslim lives that men cannot step into. I thought I, as a woman, would be able to shoot such aspects.”

“I have visited several places in the world, and I have tried to know how those living there live and what they think,” Furui added.

After the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disasters, Furui started visiting a small housing complex for people who evacuated from their homes in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear accident and met with two women in their late 70s from the mountainous village of Iitate, near the troubled power plant. “They have been forced to leave their homeland unreasonably. In that sense, they overlapped with those in Palestine,” she said.

Her reporting, which was carried out over a period of time, evolved into her latest documentary film, “Moms of Iitate — Together with the Soil.”

Coverage by Asian Press members also included a children’s institution in Japan, the Japan-U.S. alliance and issues involving Okinawa.

Nonaka said, “No matter how you work, freelancer or employed, we, as journalists, need to pursue what we need to report beyond borders.”

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