Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tokyo's Exclusive Media Clubs to Japanese Journalists, Foreign Reporters Are about as Welcome as American Rice

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tokyo's Exclusive Media Clubs to Japanese Journalists, Foreign Reporters Are about as Welcome as American Rice

Article excerpt

THE press room at the Tokyo Stock Exchange is a cozy place. Cozy, that is, if you are Japanese and work for a big Japanese media organization.

You are entitled to a telephone, a desk, and first crack at breaking news. You are a member of a club whose rules work much like a cartel's.

When two foreign journalists recently entered the press room to demand equal access, they were booted out. Or rather shouted out. "We were told to stay in the hallway," says David Butts of Bloomberg Business, an American financial wire.

The order to leave came not from the Stock Exchange but from the Japanese journalists. The press corps here has set rules on who can cover the Exchange's news.

Almost every major institution in Japan comes with a club of journalists who keep outsiders out, and who hold great sway over the institution and each other. Foreign journalists have been as welcome as American rice.

In a profession whose commodity is information, journalists are as vulnerable as business people are to trade barriers. Japan's so-called kisha (journalists') clubs are a hidden barrier that dates back a century.

Discrimination against foreign journalists has been eroding slowly. At the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), foreign journalists have been allowed to attend briefings. But they are only observers and cannot ask questions.

Last year the United States Embassy began to complain about the unfairness of the kisha clubs to the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association. On June 10, the association issued guidelines that allow foreign journalists to join the kisha clubs, as long as they meet certain criteria.

The clubs operate "under an implicit agreement that, in return for access to a government agency, political party, or industrial group, nothing embarrassing will be printed," wrote Chalmers Johnson, Japan expert at the University of California, San Diego, in a recent column. …

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