I turned to one of my Japanese acquaintances to introduce me to his friend who is a veteran reporter at Kanagawa Shimbun, the leading local newspaper publisher in Kanagawa Prefecture, headquartered in the port city of Yokohama, on the assumption that unlike journalists at the mainstream media organizations, those in the local media can tell what they are doing, on what grounds, and with what consequences.
That's how I could talk to the reporter on September 25 when this person had just gotten through with the hectic time it had in the company-wide scramble to cover the Election 2005. (In this piece I will refer to the interviewee with a pseudonym of "K. Aihara
TokyoFreePress: Exactly what area do you cover?
K. Aihara: I cover crimes, especially homicides, thefts and robberies. Hence I normally commute to my office at the headquarters of the Kanagawa Prefectural Police Department.
TFP: How much do you pay for the office space you are given at the KPPD, and utility bills?
KA: I can't tell for sure but a regular member of the press club attached to the KPPD is paying a monthly fee of 1,000 yen, which is of course borne by my employer. And we also shoulder the actual costs involved in our use of telephone lines and copiers. I don't know how far, in all, we are being subsidized by the KPPD.
TFP: How far does each individual reporter feel shackled by the editors in terms of news selection criteria of your company?
KA: When compared to restraints our counterparts in the major dailies with nationwide circulation are subjected to, we are relatively free and it's less frequent that our reports are turned down by the editors. In fact I am now working on a proposal to my boss to run a series dealing with the recent epidemic of sexual harassments inflicted on female helpers by those under public nursing care programs. I am reasonably sure that my boss will like my plan.
TFP: What are taboos?
KA: Needless to say, news stories dealing with the Imperial families and religions, from established ones to cults of dubious nature, require the utmost precaution. Equally touchy are news stories that fall on "shimo-neta" [low-blow stuff] or any other revelations that may deal a potentially damaging blow to scandal-tainted politicians. Personally I found it shameful to see Muneo Suzuki and many other (ex-)criminals and (ex-)convicts win this poll. But it couldn't be helped because a tacit rule prohibits us from touching on these cases before they are fully established by the prosecutors or the victims, or from opening up their old wounds, especially during a campaign period. Basically it's a no-no to make a premature start as you could see in our coverage of the scandals involving Kanebo Ltd., or the bid-rigging groups of the contractors of the Japan Highway Public Corporation. Even so I sometimes think the reporters at Washington Post, who triggered the investigation into the Watergate scandal basing their allegation primarily on the whisper from the Deep Throat, are our real role models.
TFP: In general printed media organizations in Japan tend to have report writers remain anonymous for whatever is the reason. Is this true with Kanagawa Shimbun?
KA: We used to withhold reporters