Public broadcaster NHK announced Oct. 8 that a reporter in its news department’s sports section warned a Japan Sumo Association official that the Metropolitan Police Department would conduct raids on sumo stables to search for evidence indicating that sumo wrestlers had gambled on professional baseball games.

The reporter’s act violated journalistic ethics and may have led to the destruction of evidence. It may also provide investigative authorities with an excuse to restrict the flow of information to mass media, which would, in turn, negatively impact the people’s right to know.

The reporter, who has been questioned by the MPD, sent a text message to stablemaster Tokitsukaze around midnight July 6 warning him that several places were likely to be searched the following day. He also asked the stablemaster not to disclose where he got the information. The reporter explained to NHK that he had obtained the information from a different mass media company, and that he wanted to cultivate a deeper relationship with the stablemaster as a news source.

On July 6, NHK scratched live telecasts of July’s Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament due to the gambling scandal. On the morning of July 7, the MPD searched several stables, including stablemaster Tokitsukaze’s, as well as temporary rental locations for stables.

Stablemaster Tokitsukaze said he did not ask for the information and did not do anything to interfere with the search. But one wonders whether it occurred to the reporter that leaking the information could lead to the destruction of evidence. He also violated the principle that information obtained by a reporter should only be used for the purpose of reporting. His actions will lead people to question mass media’s neutrality and will lessen people’s trust in NHK and in mass media as a whole.

NHK should launch an investigation of the leak, determine its actual impact on the raids and make the results public. Because NHK is the only broadcaster that has televised live sumo tournaments since 1953, the relationship of its reporters and the JSA may be too close. NHK needs to re-educate its reporters.

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