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TBS withheld 'unsuitable' footage of police overpowering man who suffocated

The TBS Broadcasting Center is seen in Tokyo's Akasaka district. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc. (TBS) chose not to air a video of an incident in which a man suffocated to death after being overpowered by police officers in Kagoshima in 2013, which its TV crew filmed while covering police activities, because it was "unsuitable for the purpose of the program," the broadcaster said.

"The scene was filmed while our crew was accompanying police officers with the force's permission to cover their work for our program. We deemed that the scene was unsuitable for the purpose of the program," a company official told the Mainichi Shimbun on July 12.

Moreover, TBS pointed out that the matter had been dealt with in court.

"If it were a matter of illegal activities of police not being disclosed, we couldn't have overlooked it as a news organization, but an investigation into the case was conducted and two police officers were convicted," the official explained.

TBS also chose not to lodge a protest when Kagoshima Prefectural Police confiscated a video of the scene in question from a program production company in late January 2014, based on a warrant.

"The production company protested to police over the matter, but we didn't lodge a protest because we have no copyright on the video," the TBS official explained.

When TBS aired a scene in which an individual linked to a crime syndicate intimidated a citizen in 1990 and its video was confiscated, the broadcaster lodged a protest with police and publicized the details of the incident.

Hidemi Suzuki, a professor of media law at Keio University, said that TBS's decision not to air the scene in question was inappropriate.

"Even if TBS didn't have a copyright on the video, the broadcaster was obviously involved in planning the program. There is no justification for the broadcaster's decision not to lodge a protest," Suzuki said.

"When the video was confiscated, the broadcaster should've reported it as news and aired the scenes of the incident as a sign of protest. The broadcaster deserves criticism for giving consideration to police so that it could continue to accompany police personnel to closely cover their activities," she said.

As to the reason why TBS agreed to be interviewed by the Mainichi Shimbun, the TBS official said, "We had deemed publicizing (of the reason why we didn't air the scenes in question) unnecessary, but we've received numerous inquiries (from news organizations), so we decided to provide accurate information."

(Japanese original by Soji Kawana and Ken Aoshima, City News Department)

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