Reporters Without Borders appealed today to Koh Koike, the president of the Japanese music chart company Oricon, to withdraw a lawsuit against freelance journalist Hiro Ugaya for casting doubt on the validity of its pop music rankings in an interview for the magazine Cyzo. Oricon is demanding 50 million yen (318,000 euros) in damages and an apology. The journalist has to spend another 7 million yen in legal costs.
“The amount of damages requested by Oricon is out of all proportion and would ruin Ugaya,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is already hard enough to be a freelance journalist in Japan and this kind of lawsuit jeopardises journalistic investigation into the activities of private enterprise.”
Oricon brought its action against Ugaya before a Tokyo court on 17 November, citing the fact that he told Cyzo that Oricon inflated some of its sales figures for Japanese groups and used occasionally questionable methods to compile its charts.
Ugaya has written about Oricon’s activities in the past, but in this case he just answered questions put to him by Cyzo, which transcribed some of his comments for a 20-line report.
Oricon’s president Koike says the aim of the lawsuit is to get a public apology from Ugaya and thereby restore the company’s image. He says he would withdraw the suit if Ugaya issued a public retraction.
The case recalls the lawsuit which the credit and loans company Takefuji brought against several freelance journalists, including Katsuhisa Miyake, over their reports about its allegedly questionable practices. The journalists ended up winning the case, but it took four years.
Ugaya’s defenders condemn such lawsuits against freelance journalists as improper. One of his colleagues said: “This intimidatory procedure is a serious violation of free speech and threatens the future of freelance journalists.”