The management of Japan's oldest press club for foreign journalists has been charged with censorship after the removal of an image parodying the Tokyo Olympics from the website of its monthly newspaper. The club president, who also sits on the Tokyo Olympics media committee, says it was simply a case of copyright infringement.
On the April 2020 cover of Number 1 Shimbun magazine, a corporate magazine for members of the Japan Foreign Correspondents Club (FCCJ), who mostly read journalists reporting on Japan, featured an image of the Olympics emblem from Tokyo in the shape of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Apparently, after receiving complaints from the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee that the cover image was “Insensitive to athletes”The President and other FCCJ board members decided to remove the image from the Number 1 Shimbun website on May 21.
At a press conference aired on YouTube on May 21, FCCJ President Khaldon Azhari stated that the board's decision to remove the image was due to copyright infringement.
“Many of us were unhappy with the decision to withdraw the image,” he said in an interview with Global Voices. David McNeill, former Japanese correspondent for The Irish Time, the British magazine The Economist and other publications. He was also editor of Number 1 Shimbun magazine.
“Until the time the FCCJ President gave the conference online on May 21 to explain the decision, there were people telling him not to withdraw it,” McNeill continued.
On Twitter, several journalists criticized the news, such as Tim Hornyak, who reports on technology in Japan:
The board of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan decide to pull the cover of its April magazine, which parodies the 2020 Olympics logo as a coronavirus particle, after the Olympic committee called it offensive. This is freedom of expression in Japan @fccjapan pic.twitter.com/C48MHpn1QA
– Tokyo-StayHomeSaveLives-tronic (@robotopia) May 21, 2020
The board of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Japan decides to remove the cover of its April magazine, which parodies the 2020 Olympics emblem as a coronavirus particle, after the Olympic Committee called it offensive. This is freedom of expression in Japan.
“With a tireja of a thousand copies, the reach and power of the FCCJ and the magazine are overestimated,” said McNeill. “Now the current issue has become one of the most widely read magazines and covers in the history of Shimbun number 1,” he added.
Gearoid Reidy, who reports on Japan for Bloomberg, had a similar thought:
I mean, it’s likely I never would have seen this image if it wasn’t for the Tokyo 2020 complaint and * I’m a member of the FCCJ * https://t.co/s5UUUhy3Jf
– Gearoid Reidy (@GearoidReidy) May 20, 2020
Tokyo 2020 possibly not aware of the Streisand effect? (N. del E. the Streisand effect is an internet phenomenon in which an attempt to censor information fails or is counterproductive, since it is disclosed and recognized more than if it had not been intended to silence it).
I mean, chances are I never would have seen this image if it wasn't for the complaints from (2020 Olympics committee) Tokyo 2020 and I'm a member of the FCCJ.
Others took the issue more seriously. Following the removal of the image, several journalists condemned the decision in a statement released by Michael Penn of Shingetsu News (SNA), a former FCCJ vice president and former board member:
(…) 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. (…)
(…) The signing journalists are dismayed at the fact that the Club authorities did not fulfill their responsibility to defend press freedom, which was their most sacred duty. With their words and actions, they have undermined freedom of expression in Japan and emboldened the enemies of the democratic debate (…)
Khaldon Azhari, in a mail interview with Global Voices, said he “does not agree” that the measure constituted an attack on freedom of expression. “My board and I have repeatedly said that in FCCJ's 75-year history we have always been a model for press freedom in Japan,” he said.
In the same interview, Azhari confirmed what he said at the press conference on YouTube on May 21, that the FCCJ received a letter from the Tokyo Organizing Committee in which he stated that the cover of the magazine was a “clear exploitation of the design. of the emblem (official of the Tokyo Olympics) ”and was a“ copyright infringement ”.
“In Japan, copyright law and regulations are much stricter than in other countries,” Azhari continued. “That is why at the (FCCJ) board we sent the case to our attorneys for a legal consultation.”
The attorneys concluded that the cover design is likely to be a copyright infringement under Japanese law.
“Some journalists from the club did not believe it and considered the request to remove the cover as an attack on freedom of expression (…),” said Azhari. “But the letter (from the Tokyo Olympic Committee) also said that deliberately painting the emblem negatively and associating it with the COVID-19 virus, a serious threat that has caused thousands of deaths worldwide, is in direct opposition to the ideals of the Olympic movement ”.
On its website, the Committee lists Azhari as a member of the Media Commission, which is perceived as a conflict of interest over the decision to remove the magazine cover. Ahzari objected.
“I was surprised to learn that I am a member,” he said. There is no payment or privilege from the Olympic Committee for the president (of the FCCJ). ”
David McNeill suggested that there was no need for the FCCJ to immediately withdraw the image. Instead, the FCCJ could have promised to investigate the problem, which would have left more time to consult with members.
“I'm not on the board anyway, so I don't have to worry about a lawsuit,” McNeill said. “The FCCJ does not have the money to pay the legal costs.”
Lack of financial resources points to a bigger problem for the FCCJ, which was first established in 1945 after the end of World War II.
“The FCCJ needs to find a solution to its financial problems,” said McNeill. ”The decision to please the Olympic Committee is a blow to the Club's morale and reputation, just when its members, its importance and, in turn, its income are declining.