May 10, 2011 7:50pm PT by Eriq Gardner
NatGeo Delays Japanese Mafia Show at Center of Lawsuit (Updated)
National Geographic Channel was originally scheduled to air a documentary on the Japanese mafia tonight. But the network pulled the show, Inside the Yakuza, after being sued by an American journalist who claimed the airing of the program could "literally be a matter of life or death" for anybody who worked on it. The network says, however, that it is standing behind the documentary and intends to soon announce a new scheduling date.
The lawsuit was filed last month by Jake Adelstein, a U.S. journalist who specializes in Japanese affairs and who was contracted to be a consultant for a documentary on the Yakuza, an organized crime syndicate in Japan. In claims that have now been settled, Adelstein alleged that NatGeo had breached his contract and intentionally caused him emotional distress with the documentary.
Specifically, Adelstein said he agreed to work on the show but had an understanding with producers that current members of the Yakuza or anybody with current dealings with the Yakuza couldn't be interviewed. Adelstein provided producers with a list of other contacts to make the documentary work. But in September 2010, Adelstein says he traveled to the U.S. for his daughter's birthday and was shocked to learn upon his return that during his absence, the director, Phil Day, went "off script" and interviewed two active Yakuza members.
Later, Adelstein says he got physical threats from those members, who wanted the interviews nixed. Adelstein also learned that producers had interviewed in his absence a small business owner who was paying protection money to the Yakuza but now wanted the footage taken out. As a result, Adelstein says he was facing a life-threatening situation.
UPDATE: Phil Day sends us this comment via email: “These allegations are false, without any merit whatsoever, and have been dismissed with prejudice in court. Gangland Tokyo is a groundbreaking and courageous documentary which gives viewers unprecedented access into a shady but fascinating world. I’m confident that the integrity of every contributor has been maintained and that the film passes the highest and most stringent production standards in the industry. I'm proud of this film and I stand behind it 100 percent."
Encouraged by the Yakuza, Adelstein sued NatGeo, saying it used footage it didn't have rights to, and failed to take reasonable efforts to protect the identities of its sources."Adelstein no longer believes National Geographic Television is interested in accurately reporting in the foreign cultures they investigate," said the complaint in DC Superior Court. "Rather, following its partial acquisition by News Corp., Mr. Adelstein was told National Geographic Television now has new 'standards and practices' rules that are apparently aimed at increasing the entertainment value of their programming at the cost of accuracy and journalistic integrity."
Late last week, the parties came to some kind of agreement. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, but neither party will disclose the nature of the resolution.
A spokesperson for the network, though, says that the show will air at a new time, and without commenting on whether the show has now been modified. The statement reads: "National Geographic Television stands behind its program on the Yakuza. We have only one standard for our documentary productions and that is factually accurate programs. For the production of this program, NGT has acted according to the highest ethical and journalistic standards."
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