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2010年10月13日 (水)

NHK reporter violated ethics code

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Oct. 13, 2010)
NHK reporter violated ethics code
捜索情報漏洩 報道倫理逸脱したNHK記者(10月11日付・読売社説)

The illegal gambling on professional baseball by dozens of sumo wrestlers and stablemasters has taken yet another twist--one that raises serious questions about the ethics of the press.

A male reporter in his 30s, who then belonged to the sports section of NHK's News Department, allegedly sent an e-mail from his mobile phone in July to stablemaster Tokitsukaze, who was being investigated by the police over the gambling scandal. The reporter's e-mail allegedly tipped off Tokitsukaze, former makuuchi division wrestler Tokitsuumi, that the police would likely search sumo stables the following day.

If this allegation is true, the reporter has committed an abominable act that violates journalists' code of ethics. NHK reportedly has been flooded with protests and complaints from the public following these revelations.

Several hours after the reporter sent the e-mail, the Metropolitan Police Department searched several sumo stables on suspicion of organizing illegal gambling for profit. The MPD discovered the reporter had leaked the information as they trawled through the contents of Tokitsukaze's mobile phone, which was confiscated as evidence during the search.


Standards thrown out

If the information leak by the reporter had resulted in evidence being destroyed, it could have seriously impeded the police investigation. The reporter's actions also might have violated certain laws.

"Don't tell this to anybody else," the journalist's message reportedly said. "I'll get in huge trouble if you're found to have been tipped off by NHK." This suggests the reporter was fully aware that sending the e-mail was illicit.

Nonetheless, the reporter fired off the e-mail because he wanted to reestablish his relationship with Tokitsukaze, the reporter reportedly said during an internal NHK investigation.

Objective reporting requires a journalist to keep some distance from the subject being covered. NHK reporters should observe this rule even more strictly than other sumo journalists because the broadcaster exclusively televises sumo tournaments live and enjoys special relations with the Japan Sumo Association.

On the day before the reporter sent the e-mail, NHK made the painful decision not to broadcast the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament live--the first time a basho would not be aired live since NHK started televising the national sport decades ago. If the reporter tried to glean information by currying favor with a subject of NHK's coverage, we have to say the reporter has absolutely no ethical sense.


Lessons to be learned

An ironclad rule for journalism is that information gained through news gathering activities will not be used for anything but reporting purposes.

NHK has claimed the reporter heard about the impending police search from a newspaper reporter. Even if that is true, it does not justify leaking police information to a person subject to investigation.

In 2008, NHK found that three employees, including a director, had engaged in insider trading based on information distributed within the public broadcaster. Since then, NHK employees have been given in-house training such as workshops on broadcast ethics. However, these efforts have failed.

Between 2004 and 2006, an increasing number of TV owners refused to pay NHK viewing fees following revelations of accounting irregularities at the broadcaster, including embezzlement of production money and fraudulent business trips by employees. We wonder if NHK has already forgotten just how difficult it is to regain viewers' trust.

The latest scandal should not be dismissed simply as the actions of a single reporter. The whole NHK organization should examine the latest episode seriously and announce steps to prevent a repeat of similar scandals.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2010)
(2010年10月11日01時06分  読売新聞)


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