Reporters Without Borders welcomes the decision by Shiro Shirakawa, the head of the nuclear security systems company New Tech, to withdraw a libel suit against freelance journalist Minoru Tanaka. A Tokyo court has accepted the withdrawal, announced on 12 August.
“This libel suit was an attempt by an influential member of Japan’s nuclear industrial complex, known as the ‘nuclear village,’ to harass and intimidate Tanaka into silence and self-censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“We are pleased that it did not work but we continue to be concerned for other journalists who try to cover the sensitive issue of Japan’s nuclear industry. There are still too many cases of reporters being pressured or censored when they try to provide information about the Fukushima disaster and its aftermath.
“The damages award Tanaka was facing if found guilty of libelling Shirakawa was clearly out of all proportion. We urge the courts to reject such ‘gag suits’ or ‘SLAPPs’ if they continue to be filed, and to propose proportionate alternatives such as the publication of a response.”
Shirakawa sued Tanaka, 52, over a December 2011 article for the weekly Shukan Kinyobi headlined “The last big fixer, Shiro Shirakawa, gets his share of the TEPCO nuclear cake” – TEPCO being the owner of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant that suffered meltdowns after a tsunami in March 2011.
Using information in the public domain, the article accused Shirakawa of making a lot of money by acting as an intermediary between TEPCO, construction companies, politicians such as the leading parliamentarian Kamei Shizuka, and even clandestine organizations.
Ever since the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster, freelance journalists who cover the nuclear industry have had their access to information restricted and have, for example, been prevented from covering anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Reporters Without Borders issued several press releases condemning the judicial harassment of Tanaka, who was sued for 67 million yen (600,000 euros) in damages.