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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

News photo
Big shots: Pictures of guest speakers who have appeared at Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan news conferences are displayed inside the club in central Tokyo. SATOKO KAWASAKI

FCCJ looks to ditch bars, eatery, staff in survival bid

Staff writer

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan may have to cut as much as two-thirds of its workforce as it plans to sell its restaurant and bars, club executives said.

The club, which serves as a hub for domestic and international journalists and hosts a regular series of professional events, including news conferences by newsmakers, is aiming to obtain status as a "public interest" entity, the executives said. This would require it to give up operations that include its money-losing food and beverage section.

Owning the restaurant and bars is "an obstacle to gain the status (of public interest entity), and it's also financially performing poorly," club treasurer Jonathan Soble said.

"By becoming a public interest (entity), we are sending a clear message about the fundamental importance of our journalistic mission."

The FCCJ, which is run by membership fees, is aiming to apply for the public interest entity status ("koueki shadan houjin") in November. To achieve that goal, club members voted Wednesday to shutter the restaurant and the bars as early as August — whether a new company is found to take over the bars and the restaurant by then or not, Soble said.

But because 52 unionized employees out of 81 workers in total at the club oppose the move, it is unknown if the sale of the restaurant and bars will go through.

After unionized employees staged a three-hour strike on May 29, Alaska Co., the only firm the FCCJ was then negotiating with on the sale, requested that the memorandum of understanding it had signed with the FCCJ be voided.

The 54 staffers working for its restaurant and bars will either work for a new company that takes over the existing Pen & Quill Dining Room, Main Bar and Masukomi Sushi Bar, be relocated to another division of the FCCJ or accept early retirement with better-than-usual compensation, Soble said.

Of the 54, eight are full-time workers, 17 are contractors and 29 are part-time workers, said Akira Nakamura, the club's general manager. In all, the club employs 81 workers, 17 of whom are full time, 29 are contractors and 35 are part-time workers, he said.

The club is currently a special incorporated entity ("tokurei shadan houjin"), a tentative status the Justice Ministry will allow the FCCJ to hold until December 2013. Considering preparations required for changing the status, the FCCJ needs to submit the application in November, Nakamura said. The law on public interest entities, which went into effect in December 2008, requires that special incorporated entities choose to become a public interest or an ordinary incorporated entity by December 2013 or be dissolved, a Justice Ministry official said.

Public interest entities receive various tax and donation benefits, Nakamura said. The Japan National Press Club has that status.

To earn public interest entity status, at least half of expenses must be spent on public interest activities. Currently, however, the FCCJ spends roughly 22 percent of its expenses on such activities, which includes the organizing of news conferences, maintenance of its library and scholarships for budding journalists, Soble said.

Much of the remaining funding is on food and beverages.

Presently, the FCCJ is barely making ends meet, Nakamura said. It has been unable to use funds for capital expenditures, including new machinery and equipment, for the past four or five years. Membership fee revenue is roughly ¥380 million a year, while the restaurant and bar businesses lose ¥200 million a year, he added.

The FCCJ was founded in November 1945 and the first members were journalists accredited to Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters during the Occupation.

The club has a reputation for breaking stories that domestic media outlets fail to cover.

One of the most famous episodes was when the FCCJ invited then-Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in October 1974 right after a magazine revealed his involvement in a bribery scandal, which in 1976 became known as having connections with U.S. aircraft maker Lockheed. Japanese newspapers and TV news programs neglected to follow up the magazine's scoop until sparked by FCCJ journalists who prodded him with tough questions at the news conference.

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