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Women in media call for change after Fukuda sexual harassment case

Claims that top Ministry of Finance bureaucrat Junichi Fukuda sexually harassed female reporters ballooned on April 18 into a wider outcry, with women from all areas of the media raising their voices to say that the issue is not limited to TV Asahi, but one faced by all of them.

After weekly magazine Shukan Shincho published the allegations on April 12, messages from women in the news industry began posting online, including, "Are we allowed to stay silent and see what happens?" and "This is the time for us to join together."

One female reporter at a major newspaper commented, "When I think if it was me in the same situation (as the woman from TV Asahi), I feel like I wouldn't have been able to come forward in the end. If I did report what happened, not only would it interfere with my future reporting, but it would cause trouble for my co-workers and I would feel ashamed." Of the scandal involving Fukuda, she added, "This is a good opportunity to highlight the sexual harassment female reporters deal with on a daily basis. The proportion of women is higher in younger cohorts, and I think that now is a chance to bring about change."

"We report about social issues, but when we become the victims of these issues, we have come to keep our mouths shut," said a woman employed at a television broadcaster. "It's a silent agreement that everyone in the media industry knows well."

She said that she shed tears watching the TV Asahi press conference on April 19, and that there is a need for female reporters to join together, regardless of company affiliation.

When economic news outlet "Business Insider" editor Keiko Hamada recalled her own past as a reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, the word "reflection" came to her lips. "When I was sexually harassed, I just tried to fend the person off and was unable to strictly tell them to stop. I felt this unspoken pressure to do well. Us not saying something then probably led to the creation of conditions that (women) face (in the industry) now."

Lawyer Sakura Kamitani, a former Mainichi Shimbun reporter, also remembered, "When I was a reporter, I came to shrug off sexual harassment as lightly as I could. Even as the number of female reporters increased, I wanted to avoid having 'this is why women are troublesome' said about me. Times have changed. Companies as a whole should raise their voices to say that this treatment isn't right."

The front page of the Dec. 6, 2017 morning edition of regional newspaper Iwate Nippo ran a story about the 74-year-old then mayor of the Iwate prefectural town of Iwaizumi committing indecent acts toward one of the paper's female reporters. The mayor strongly denied the allegations. TV Asahi, however, decided not to report on the harassment of their employee even while consulting the reporter. Comparing the cases, former Nikkei Business Publications Inc. journalist Renge Jibu commented, "I would like the media to be more aware of protecting their female reporters."

In March this year, journalist Shiori Ito, who came forward last year claiming to have been raped by a former Tokyo Broadcasting System reporter, started the "#WeToo" campaign aiming for a society that refuses to allow sexual harassment and assault. Under the #WeToo umbrella, women from across the media gathered and discussed issues such as sexual harassment while out reporting.

(Japanese original by Kasane Nakamura, General Digital News Center, and Takashi Kokaji, Morioka Bureau)

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