High Court Decision Protects Journalists’ Right to Keep Sources Confidential in Japan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has hailed last week’s Tokyo High Court’s decision as landmark in protecting media freedom in Japan.

On March 17, the Tokyo High Court overruled an earlier Tokyo District Court decision, by ruling that it was not illegal for a journalist to protect the confidentiality of a source even if that source was a public official.

“Journalists must be able to ensure the confidentiality of their sources,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.

”The importance of this decision can not be underestimated as it recognises and protects journalists’ right to protect their sources,” said Warren.

On March 14, the Tokyo District Court had ordered a reporter for Yomiuri newspaper to reveal the identity of a source from an article published in October 1997 that claimed a US company and its Japanese affiliate had been required to pay tax penalties in 1997 after being investigated by both Japanese and US tax departments.

In response to the article, the implicated US company claimed their reputation had been tarnished by the US Government leaking the wrong information to the Japanese tax authority and to Yomiuri newspaper and filed suit for compensation against the US Government to the Arizona Federal District Court.

The Arizona Federal District Court then asked the Tokyo District Court to investigate the news source. The reporter then refused to reveal the identity of the source.

The Tokyo District Court ruled that journalists had no right to protect the confidentiality of their sources when their source is a public official. The Yomiuri newspaper then appealed to the Tokyo High Court.

The subsequent overturning of the decision by the Tokyo High Court follows a previous decision by the High Court to confirm the right of a Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) reporter who was earlier found by a lower court not obligated to disclose a news source.

The IFJ Tokyo office expressed its regret at the earlier Tokyo District Court decision, stating that such a decision restricts press freedom and hinders the public’s right to know.

“Nobody would cooperate with journalists and provide hidden information when reporters were obliged to reveal their sources,” said the IFJ Tokyo Office.

“These two decisions by the Tokyo High Court clearly support the principle and practice of confidentiality of sources in journalism,” said the IFJ president.

For more information please contact IFJ Asia Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries