In what became known as the Hakata Station Incident, students demonstrated against a visit by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Enterprise, leading to four arrests and one indictment. Lawyers, Diet (legislature) members and other supporters of the students brought charges against the Prefectural Police Commissioner and 870 police officers, claiming abuse of police authority. The district prosecutor rejected the charges and the petitioners sought recourse in the Fukuoka District Court.
The District Court, at the request of the petitioners, ordered that four Fukuoka television companies submit all film of the Hakata Station Incident into evidence. The companies refused. An initial appeal to the High Court and the Supreme Court was quashed on technical grounds.
The four companies appealed again to the Supreme Court. The companies argued that the public’s right to know through full and impartial news coverage would be violated if the media were forced to submit the film into evidence. The companies asserted that the public trust in the media would be diminished if the film were used for a purpose other than for which it was intended by the media; or if an outside agency decided how to use film footage.
The Court confirmed that in a democratic society, the media channels serve the public’s right to know. The Court also confirmed that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees not only the freedom to express ideas, but also the freedom to report facts, and the media’s freedom in newsgathering.
The Court stated: "In a democratic society the reports of the mass media provide the people with important materials on which to base their judgments as they participate in the nation's politics and they serve the people’s ‘right to know.’ Consequently, it goes without saying that the freedom to report facts, along with the freedom to express ideas, is grounded in the guarantees of Article 21 of the Constitution, which provides for the freedom of expression. Moreover, in order that the contents of the reports of such mass media may be corrected the freedom to gather news for informational purposes, as well as the freedom to report, must be accorded due respect in light of the spirit of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
However, the Supreme Court found that the court order in question was not directly related to the freedom of newsgathering because the order targeted only film that has already been presented to the public. The Court did indicate that the use of this film for another purpose could lead to interference with the freedom of newsgathering.
The Court proceeded to state that the freedom of newsgathering is not without limits, and sometimes needs to be balanced against other freedoms. In this case, the media’s freedom of newsgathering had to be balanced against the right to a fair trial. The Court found that given the circumstances of the case at hand, the evidentiary use of the film was unavoidable and hence did not violate the letter or the spirit of Article 21.
Judgment of the Court (in Japanese).
W. Beer, “Freedom of Information and the Evidentiary Use of Film in Japan: Law and Sociopolitics in an East Asian Democracy”
Narufumi Kadomatsu “The Right to be Informed - The Obligation for Providing Information: The Case of Japanese Information Disclosure Law”
Roy Peled and Yoram Rabin, “The Constitutional Right to Information”.