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Public prosecutors have indicted a family court-appointed psychiatrist for leaking secret investigative materials on a teenager who set fire to his house in Tawaramoto, Nara Prefecture, in June 2006, killing his stepmother and two siblings. But they have decided not to indict the freelance journalist who used the leaked information in a book she wrote about the arson-murder case. The psychiatrist has been charged with unlawful disclosure of confidential information under the Penal Code.

The journalist was so careless in handling the material in her book that it easily disclosed her source. Her book, published last May by Kodansha Ltd., is composed mostly of direct quotes of recorded oral statements made by the boy, then 16, his father and the boy’s elementary schoolteacher. Even so, the public prosecutors’ action will have the effect of intimidating journalists and people who offer information to them, especially people in legal, medical and other professions.

The Juvenile Law prohibits making public the names and photographs of arrested minors in order to promote their rehabilitation and protect their privacy. When information about them is disclosed to the public, the usual step taken by them and their parents is to file a civil suit seeking compensation for infringement of their privacy and damage to their reputation.

In the Nara arson-murder case, the boy and his father did not follow such a step and, instead, filed a criminal complaint against the psychiatrist for violating his duty of professional confidentiality. Even though the criminal complaint was filed, it must be asked whether the public prosecutors’ decision to arrest and indict the psychiatrist was appropriate in view of people’s right to know and the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of press and expression.

Besides the psychiatrist and the journalist, public prosecutors searched offices of other people. Similar incidents are likely to occur in the future. Public prosecutors should sufficiently heed people’s right to know and the freedom of press in handling such cases.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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