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Statement on Freedom of the Press in Japan

SNA (Tokyo) — The following statement has been issued by a group of foreign journalists in the wake of the recent controversy between the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Number 1 Shimbun, the monthly magazine for members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, has come under fire for a front cover design in the April issue that combines the logo for the Tokyo Olympics with the novel coronavirus. The Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee has asked the FCCJ to delete its parody of the logo, and reportedly threatened to sue for copyright infringement if their demands were not met.

The front cover served as a commentary on the deep relations between the spread of the coronavirus and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Parody is one valid way of speaking truth to power.

Since 1945 the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan has been organized on the principles of freedom of the press. As our Articles of Association put its “The objectives of this Association shall be… to defend the freedom of the press and the free exchange of information.”

The demand of the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee to delete its parody of 2020 Olympic logo from the internal club magazine was, therefore, entirely unacceptable from the outset.

The undersigned journalists are appalled by the fact that the Club authorities did not meet their responsibility to defend freedom of the press, which was their most sacred duty.  By their words and actions, they have undermined free expression in Japan and emboldened the enemies of democratic debate.

We are also deeply disappointed in the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee for launching this controversy in the first place. It seems a shallow attempt to deflect criticism of the many scandals surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, including bribery allegations, skyrocketing costs, and conditions that put athletes in danger. The Olympics are supposed to be an international celebration that features the best in the Japanese nation, and not the venue for exaggerated notions of wounded pride and demands for media censorship.

Japan can do better. The FCCJ must do better. As working press in Japan, we fully support the necessity of freedom of expression, including the use of parody and fair use as a vehicle for social commentary and criticism such as that represented by the Number 1 Shimbun cover.

Jake Adelstein, The Daily Beast
Michael Penn, Shingetsu News Agency
Hugh Ashton, former FCCJ member, freelance
Steve McClure, former managing editor of The Number One Shimbun
Randy Schmidt, photojournalist, FCCJ member
Sohei Ide, reporter
Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Edinburgh Napier University
Mike Tharp, FCCJ President, 1989-1990
Steven L Herman, FCCJ President, 1997-1998
Debito Arudou, columnist and former FCCJ member
Tim Hornyak, FCCJ member, freelance
Hans van der Lugt, FCCJ President 2002-2003
Koichi Nakano, political scientist, author
Michael Zielenziger, journalist, FCCJ Board member 1999-2002

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