Reporters Without Borders reiterated its support for embattled freelance journalist Minoru Tanaka at news conference that the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan held in Tokyo today.
Shiro Shirakawa, the president of the nuclear power safety company New Tech, brought a libel suit against Tanaka in May over an article he wrote for the 16 December 2011 issue of the weekly Shukan Kinyobi that was headlined: "The Last Fixer: Shirakawa Shiro/Taking a bite of the TEPCO Nuclear Interests."
The third hearing in this case is due to be held before the Tokyo district court on 3 September.
The following statement by Reporters Without Borders was read out at today's news conference, which was entitled "Minoru Tanaka, a Lone Journalist versus the Nuclear Village."
Reporters Without Borders reaffirms its support for freelance journalist Minoru Tanaka, the target of a libel suit by Shiro Shirakawa, the president of the nuclear power safety company New Tech. We condemn the judicial harassment of this journalist.
It is clear from the exorbitant amount of damages demanded by the plaintiff that the lawsuit's aim is to reduce Minoru Tanaka to silence by crushing him morally and financially. The case has all the hallmarks of what is called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP, one designed to prevent him from making any contribution to the public debate on the nuclear power industry.
What marks this out as a SLAPP is the fact its target is an isolated individual, that the plaintiff is much more powerful than the defendant, both financially and politically, and that it is clearly designed to throttle its victim by means of prolonged judicial proceedings and the threat of a disproportionate damages award.
Unfortunately, the plaintiff may already have achieved one of his goals. Even if the courts end up ruling against Shiro Shirakawa, many journalists who have watched this judicial retaliation against an investigative journalist could refrain in future from covering certain persons or issues because they think they are too "sensitive."
After the hearing on 9 July, Minoru Tanaka told Reporters Without Borders: "If I lose this fight, it will mean that no other journalist will later be able to write anything about the danger of the reopening nuclear reactor. (...) So this trial is very important for the future of all journalists."
It is therefore vital that all journalists should give Minoru Tanaka their active support. This lawsuit is not just targeting an individual. Through him, it is targeting all journalists in Japan, both freelancers and staffers.
And given the harmful nature of this suit, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the Tokyo district court to rule in Minoru Tanaka's favour.