"Sending innocent people to jail?"

On page three of The Japan Times this morning is a biased debate about media freedom versus the right to a fair trial when the lay judge system is adopted in May 2009.

Often covered in the Japan Inc Blogthe current way crime is reported by the Japanese media would no doubt leave a jury to come to a “guilty” verdict.

For example, take the recent “missing” case of the girl who is suspected to have been murdered by her neighbor, a guy that is repeatedly shown on TV holding an interview with the media. The neighbor had been questioned by police, prompting the TV crews to also hold impromptu interviews with him. The questions from the media were the average “what were you asked by the police?” “when did you last see the girl?” and so on. The suspect, Takanori Hoshijima, 33, had asked the TV crew not to film his face, as is the standard for “neighborhood interviews.” However, little did he know that the cameras were secretly filming him completely, which turned out to be great footage for the TV stations once he was formally arrested.

After arrest, the guy was painted as a twisted man—during the interview, he would be laughing nervously, which the program later animated with “Fu~fu-fu-fu” words eerily scrolling across the screen.

Of course, news will always include the fact that the man has confessed his guilt, in this case even confessing that he had chopped her body into tiny little parts and flushed them down the toilet. Great news for reporters, who would stand around different manholes, estimating that the body parts are likely to be floating around under this specific manhole.

Anyone watching this sort of news reportage will no doubt think the man is guilty, and it is hard to see how a lay judge would be able to differentiate between what is being said in the trial, and “investigations” being carried out by reporters.

The Japan Times article begins by questioning whether it is appropriate to add a neighbors comments. Ironic considering that they have done just so in the reporting of the above crime. Also, they pull quotes such as “Excessive reporting is normal. It’s even healthy for a democratic society,” and “If we run news (on crimes), we'll definitely infringe on somebody’s rights and privacy. But we are in the business of providing as much information to the public as possible, and this comes with a social burden.”

To be quite honest, I have never heard anything as ridiculous as this before. The idea that excessive reporting is good for a democratic society seems totally nonsensical. It would be interesting to know at what point the risk of being sentenced to jail for a crime that you might not have committed because the media had a great time reporting it in a sensationalist and arguably unfair manner, good thing for a democratic society.

Another point was raised by The Japan Times; it would be unrealistic to think there can be clearly defined rules on what to, and not to, report. Of course there are always contentious issues and not everything can be clearly defined. But to begin with, sticking to pure facts and not speculation after a formal arrest would be a good place to start.

The media ethics “specialists” can argue to death about media freedom, the publics’ right to know, and a person’s right to a fair trial. However, the lay judge system is due to come into effect in less than a year, and there should be no question raised that the current state of crime reporting will no doubt lead to a prejudiced trial.

The Japan Times
Media ethics debate:

“Man admits he killed, cut up condo neighbor” article: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/mail/nn20080527a3.html

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