Japan from the inside out

Frivolous suit

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 12, 2010

HOW MANY PEOPLE IN JAPAN know that the Yomiuri Shimbun, the country’s largest newspaper, is currently the defendant in a South Korean lawsuit? That story has been flying so well below the media radar here it might as well be a stealth story. I stumbled across the information by accident just last week, as well as the news that the judges of the Seoul Central District Court had the good sense to throw the case out. That’s not going to be the end of it, however. For some folks on the Korean Peninsula with idle minds and idle lives, there’s never going to be an end to it. The plaintiffs, a group whose name translates as the Citizens’ Political Alliance, plan to appeal.

Here’s what happened: The Yomiuri ran a report in its 15 July 2008 edition on discussions held between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo during their summit meeting. Mr. Fukuda gave the president advance word that the Ministry of Education would include a reference in its guidelines for junior high school teachers that Takeshima, the islets in the Sea of Japan that South Korea refers to as Dokdo, was considered Japanese territory.

The newspaper quoted Mr. Lee as telling the prime minister, “That would cause problems now. I’d rather you wait.”

Some South Koreans consider this an impeachable offense.

The citizens’ group claimed that President Lee said no such thing and asked the Yomiuri for a retraction. Yomiuri blew them off and insisted their report was factual.

The group then asked the Blue House to take action against Yomiuri, but the president’s office passed on any move beyond denying the story. Finally, they filed a lawsuit against the newspaper, likely figuring they were in a win-win situation. If the court ruled in their favor, they would make the Japanese look bad. If the court ruled against them, they would make President Lee look bad.

The plaintiffs stated their case as follows:

The President couldn’t possibly have said anything like what was in the report. Our view is that Yomiuri intended to turn Dokdo into a disputed territory.

The group consists of 1,866 people, all of whom were party to the suit. They claimed the article was an infringement of the territorial rights of the South Korean people and their right to pursue happiness. They also charged that it wounded their personal pride and self-esteem.

It looks like somebody’s been studying the conduct of grievance politics in the United States.

The testimony is worth noting. The Yomiuri insisted they had several sources to confirm the story, but refused to name them. They also presented an article that appeared in the Asahi Shimbun that carried similar information. The Asahi, the Japanese newspaper of the left, is more likely to defend the Korean than the Japanese position in disputes such as these. (The Yomiuri, in contrast, has a right-of-center orientation.)

Two more frivolous suits

The Korean President’s office and the Japanese Foreign Ministry both denied the content of the Yomiuri report. Discretion really is the better part of valor, isn’t it?

No fools they, the judges ruled the plaintiffs lacked the standing to claim either defamation or damages and dismissed the case. They merely noted the presidential denials, and said that if anyone had been harmed by the report, it was him. The court also stated that upholding the suit could severely limit the role and function of public speech.

The citizens’ group immediately appealed the verdict. They plan to sue both the president and the newspaper this time and demand that the records of the meeting be made public.

What no one seems to be discussing is why a case brought by a group of South Koreans in a South Korean court against a newspaper published in Japan wasn’t summarily dismissed before testimony was taken.

In fact, if President Lee actually did say that to Prime Minister Fukuda—a reasonable assumption—it would speak well of his temperament, common sense, and historical awareness.

After all, there are excellent reasons to suspect that the South Korean government signed a secret deal with the Japanese government 45 years ago to agree to disagree on the sovereignty issue. The two countries are said to have agreed that both would recognize that the other claimed the islets as their own territory, that neither side would object when the other made a counterargument, and that it was a problem to be resolved in the future.

According to Korean sources, former President Chun Doo-hwan burned the only copy of it when he discovered its existence.

Here’s a report on the court’s ruling from the Korea Times in English, and here’s one from the Joongang Daily in Japanese. Those who read Japanese should be forewarned—you might get dizzy trying to follow the journalist as he twists the straightforward thread of the narrative into the shape of a pretzel.

One Response to “Frivolous suit”

  1. kushibo said

    Some on the left are looking for a reason — any reason — to impeach the president.

    That, of course, is sort of just desserts for the right having done the same to Roh Moohyun.

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