rumor about Karl Rove's alleged treason in the Plame affair, this bit about documented collusion in the Japanese press club may remind you of Washington...
The Japanese Press Club Conspiracy
Although technically, Japan has a free press, many critics say that journalists are muzzled by the press club system, in which access to politicians and important people is a privelage rather than a right. In order to get interviews and gain access to information, journalists are required to join press clubs (kisha kurabu) which are found in almost every government ministry, industry association, political party, and sports and entertainment organisation. It is estimated that there are about a thousand press clubs in Japan. This means that almost all of them pursue the same stories and do not question the official stories that are presented to them by the high-ranking politicians and bureaucrats whose good side they always try to stay on for fear of being cut off from access to information.
Press clubs are beneficial in that they provide the reporters with easy access to their sources, and help the reporters find leads and exchange information, but the trade off is that journalists are forced to conform to the official line, and that inviestigative journalism is discouraged.
At most press conferences and informal meetings with politicians, there are usually just a few reporters who are allowed to attend, who then go back to the press club and explain what went on to the other members. Because of this, all the major media outlets generally end up reporting the same angles of the same stories. Reporters who break the rules of the press club, or print unfavourable stories about high-ranking politicians are said to be ostracized both by their colleagues and sources. Those who are in favour, are invited to the politicians houses for friendly chats (asamawari and yomawari). Political Science professor Laurie Freeman writes that: "According to one report, a journalist's influence is based on a 1-4 ranking depending on what happens once they are inside a politician's house. At the first and lowest level, they are allowed to stay in a 4.5-mat tatami room at the entrance and greeted by the politician with a 'good morning.' Coffee is served. At the second level, they are allowed to enter the living room. Japanese sake is served. The third level can be reached only if one has graduated from the same university as the politician or is related to someone powerful. Here, one is allowed to enter the politician's study and, even if the politician is not there, can help oneself to Remy Martin. It is said that the highest class of journalists can nap in the politician's bedroom."
Another problem with press clubs is that because reporters want to protect the people they are reporting on, sources are rarely identified by name, but instead as a "high ranking bureaucrat" or "important politician's advisor". Before press conferences, the reporters pool their questions and inform the interviewees of their questions in advance.
Scooping other newspapers is also very much frowned upon. In Laurie Freeman's Essay, "Japan's Press Clubs as Information Cartels" she describes how the Asahi Shinbun was forced to apologize to other members of the press club and to a Japanese politician for scooping the other papers.
To get news that has not been filtered by the press club system, many Japanese turn to the weekly or monthly magazines such as "Shukan Taishu", "Spa!", or "Bungei Shunju". Although they are sometimes sensationalistic and have elements of tabloid journalism in them, they also broke important stories like the Lockheed scandal that brought down a Prime Minister Tanaka, various sumo scandals, and others. If you would like to see an example in English, visit: http://www.weeklypost.com/
To read more about Press Clubs, read these excellent essays: