In the trial of a psychiatrist charged with disclosing investigative materials on a teenage boy who set a house fire that killed his stepmother, half-brother and half-sister about 2 1/2 years ago, a journalist has testified in court that the psychiatrist was the news source.

It is extremely rare for a journalist to identify a news source — and in court at that — and regrettable when it happens. The journalist told the press that she did so to help the defendant, who insists he had a justifiable reason to disclose the materials to her.

Still, she should have considered recent moves by the government to control the flow of information to journalists through various measures, including the 2008 basic law for reform of the national public servants system, which calls for strict disciplinary actions for disclosure of secrets.

In an unrelated case in October, the Defense Ministry dismissed an Air Self-Defense Force colonel for allegedly passing information to a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter about a Chinese submarine adrift in the South China Sea in 2005.

The investigative materials now at issue touch on the motive of a 17-year-old boy who torched his home in Tawaramoto, Nara Prefecture, in June 2006 and was sent to a reformatory. In May 2007, the journalist Ms. Atsuko Kusanagi published a book entitled “Boku wa Papa wo korosu koto ni kimeta (I Decided to Kill Papa).” The book contained direct quotes from records of oral statements made by the boy, his father, and the boy’s elementary schoolteacher. It also contained exchanges recorded during closed court hearings as well as the content of a psychiatric test report.

In November 2007, public prosecutors indicted Dr. Morimitsu Sakihama, who conducted a psychiatric test on the boy, on a charge of disclosing the investigative materials to Ms. Kusanagi. Her careless treatment of the materials in her book apparently led to the doctor’s arrest and indictment. It is also known that she used a digital camera to take photos of the oral-statement record at the doctor’s home while he was away.

To help maintain an open society, it is imperative that journalists stick to the principle of protecting news sources.

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