MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Too Nippo, a Japanese language newspaper based in northern Japan’s Aomori city, is contesting the ban of two of its reporters from covering media events on Misawa Air Base.

The newspaper last week sent a letter of protest to Lt. Gen. Edward Rice, U.S. Forces Japan commander, and Col. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, 35th Fighter Wing and Misawa base commander, urging the ban be lifted, according to Seiji Narumi, Too Nippo assistant managing editor.

The company believes the action taken against reporters Mitsumasa Saito, 48, and Kazutoshi Akada, 32, "was an extremely unjustifiable measure," Narumi said in a written statement.

The base banned the reporters in December for breaching "ground rules" media are instructed to abide by when covering an event on base, said Staff Sgt. Vann Miller, a base spokesman.

"Whenever we invite media out to an event, we have ground rules," Miller said last week.

According to a Dec. 4, 2007 letter sent to Too Nippo from the 35th Fighter Wing public affairs office, Saito violated ground rules on two occassions. On July 17, 2007, he "disregarded the rules about photographing sensitive material during bilateral exercise escorted by Japanese Air Self Defense Force public affairs."

The letter did not specify what Saito photographed.

Then, during a July 26 media event, "Mr. Saito broke the ground rules by engaging the Mayor in questions about noise complaints," the letter stated, in reference to Misawa city Mayor Kazumasa Taneichi and his first visit to the base after being elected to office last year.

Reporters were told before the event "there weren’t going to be any questions about noise complaints," Miller said.

A second letter about Akada, also dated Dec. 4, 2007, says the reporter broke two ground rules during a Nov. 6, 2007, media event at the U.S. Army’s Joint Tactical Ground Stations unit, a new space-based missile tracking system at Misawa.

Akada "disregarded the rules about having electronic recording devices in a secure location even after being asked not to do so," and asked questions of JTAGS members when told not to, according to the letter.

Narumi said Too Nippo is protesting the ban because base officials are not accurate in their presentation of facts about what the reporters did, and Narumi claims, the ground rules were not explained to the reporters beforehand. Furthermore, Narumi said no reporters have been banned from other bases in Japan for similar violations.

No time line was given for the ban.

Miller said this was the first time Misawa has prohibited reporters from covering media events on base.

"We’re not banning the newspaper," he said. "It’s their responsibility to identify competent, qualified journalists to come out and cover the events they’re interested in."

Public affairs officials will continue to keep an open line of communication with Too Nippo, Miller said, and will continue to work with them.

"Ground rules are in place for a reason," he said. "For security, accuracy and so no one’s time is wasted. You don’t want someone asking a thousand questions off topic when there are other reporters tying to share that same time."

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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