Foundation of news gathering

Tokyo High Court understands that newspapers assume news agency reports include good news gathering and fact-checking, writes 'Japan Times'

The Japan Times
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Tokyo High Court on July 28 overturned a September 2007 Tokyo District Court ruling that said three newspapers libeled a doctor at Tokyo Women's Medical College Hospital in a news report, and acquitted the news agency that originated the report. The high court ruling correctly understands the role of a news agency and the relationship between it and its client newspapers. The doctor appealed the ruling. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will uphold the latest ruling.

Akita Sakigake Shimpo, Jomo Shimbun (Maebashi) and Shizuoka Shimbun published a July 2002 Kyodo News article on the death of a 12-year-old girl following a heart operation in 2001 at the hospital. The article hinted that the doctor who performed the operation mishandled a heart-lung machine. The doctor was arrested and charged with professional negligence resulting in death, but was later acquitted.

Although both the district court and the high court decided that the main part of the Kyodo News article was untrue, they acquitted the news agency on the grounds that there was sufficient reason for it to believe during the news gathering process that a study by the medical college's fact-finding committee and a police announcement were true.

The district court had ruled that the three newspapers should be criticized for wrongly believing that the article was accurate even though it was dispatched by a reputable news agency like Kyodo. It also said that since the three papers did not carry the Kyodo credit line for the article, it appeared as if they had written the article.

Without touching on the question about the credit line, the high court ruled that the relationship between Kyodo and its client newspapers is based on the assumption that Kyodo fulfills the duties required during news gathering and reporting. It ruled that any liabilities for accuracy lie with Kyodo, but rightly added that a news agency's services provide the foundation for local newspaper operations and help spread a variety of news, thus ensuring, alongside major newspapers, news media diversity and contributing to people's right to know.