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Saturday, June 16, 2012

EDITORIAL

A champion of independent media

Cancer took the life of lawyer and journalist Mr. Kazuo Hizumi on June 12 at the age of 49. Although he died young, he has left behind a persuasive analysis of contemporary Japanese society from the viewpoint of protecting and promoting freedom of expression and citizens' right to know. The public in general, and mass media workers in particular, can learn much from his observations and opinions, which are aimed at helping Japan to become a truly democratic society.

Born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1963, Mr. Hizumi studied at Kyoto University and then joined the Sankei Shimbun newspaper as a journalist. After quitting this job, he became registered as a lawyer in 1998. In May 2011, he was diagnosed with terminal gallbladder cancer and given just six months to live. His activities following this devastating news were especially remarkable.

To learn as much as possible about the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Mr. Hizumi attended about 100 news conferences given by Tepco and the government, even though his attendance was interrupted for about a month due to hospitalization. He later coauthored a book titled "Kensho Fukushima Genpatsu Jiko Kishakaiken" (Examining the Fukushima nuclear accident news conferences).

In an interview that appeared as the lead story on page one of the Feb. 5 edition of the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, Mr. Hizumi said, "I felt that information people needed was withheld. So I decided that I should ask (Tepco and the government) myself." To characterize the bureaucrats' attempts to control mass media and release only information advantageous to them, he coined the phrase "shuken zaikan" (sovereign power resides with bureaucracy) — an antithesis of "shuken zaimin" (sovereign power resides with the people), the most fundamental principle enshrined in the Constition. This phrase neatly encapsulates Japan's current political situation and clearly shows the obstacles people must overcome if Japan is to become a mature democracy.

In the interview, Mr. Hizumi pointed out that citizens' political participation is mostly limited to voting and stressed the importance of citizens frequently contacting politicians to express their opinions and demands.

Mr. Hizumi, who served as chief editor of News for the People in Japan (NPJ), a citizens' news site on the Internet, also wrote a book titled "Masukomi wa naze masugomi to yobareru no ka?" (Why is mass communication media called mass garbage?). In this book he warned that mass media is trapped in the network of the establishment comprising the government, the law enforcement authorities, the judiciary, large corporations, and so forth. His book serves as a call for mass media companies and individual journalists to seriously reflect upon what they must do to establish independent journalism. Citizens, meanwhile, should heed his advice on what they can do to realize true democracy.



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