Japanese journalists have been criticised in the past for being far too cosy with the people, companies and organisations they are meant to be writing about independently. The result, according to the industry's detractors, is a media in which politicians' activities are not always scrutinised, companies' motives are not always questioned and organisations do not always have to justify their decisions. But that will all change if Ken Takeuchi has his way. The former mayor of the historic city of Kamakura has embarked on a crusade to end a reporting system in which journalists are required to be members of press clubs to gain access to news releases and key figures in the government and the bureaucracy. 'I didn't feel that there were any journalists who were disseminating news or information from the citizens' point of view,' said Mr Takeuchi, who is chief executive of Japan Internet News, a non-profit media outlet he set up in 2003 to put the media back into the hands of the public. 'I do not believe that the established media represents the people. Our reporters feel no pressure from the government or companies to write what they want us to, so that gives us real independence.' Mr Takeuchi's outlet has a staff of six editors and about 5,500 unpaid writers across the country. Known colloquially as JanJan, the website covers all the topics a reader would expect to find in any Japanese newspaper or magazine, adding between 20 and 30 new stories a day. It attracts about 10 million hits a month for stories written by housewives, retirees, students and working people. And therein lies one of the establishment's main criticisms - that JanJan and the other 'citizen journalism' outlets that have sprung up as the wired world expands often have no experience, inadequate contacts and that their stories can be inaccurate. 'I don't care what other people might say,' said Mr Takeuchi, who was a journalist at the daily Asahi Shimbun before becoming mayor of Kamakura. 'I believe in what non-professional journalists are able to do and what they can add to our society.' He claims that in more than five years of publishing citizens' stories, there have been no major problems with factual errors or libel, and he hopes to be able to introduce a training scheme for his reporters soon. JanJan closely mimics the model created by Oh Yeon-ho, who founded the OhmyNews news portal in South Korea in 2000. Mr Oh's brainchild has been credited with changing the face of journalism in his homeland and a number of scoops have helped build its reputation - although its success has been tempered by accusations of a lack of balance. OhmyNews went live in Japan in August 2006 with high hopes that citizen journalism would take off outside Korea. The South Korean version has more than 44,000 reporters. In Japan, a mere 4,400 contribute to the site's output, according to editor-in-chief Hideki Hirano. He prefers to think of his organisation as complementing the existing media rather than going head to head against it. 'Some of our citizen reporters have real working knowledge and experience of such subjects as medicine, law, IT and business,' Mr Hirano said. 'So their stories actually offer deeper insights than those written by traditional professional journalists, who usually only observe matters.' Mr Hirano said the launch of OhmyNews in Japan had attracted plenty of attention, particularly because well-known journalist Shuntaro Torigoe was named its first editor-in-chief. It was also watched closely because the model had been pioneered in Korea and the concept of citizen reporters ran very much counter to traditional Japanese media. But initial fears had faded because 'the power of citizen journalists was not as influential or as scary as people had expected'. 'Now I am happy that some of the traditional media have started to pay attention to us again as we have published some exclusive stories,' Mr Hirano said. 'In my view, traditional news media and citizen media can play complementary roles: the former covers 'head' content while the latter covers 'tail' content. I do not think that we are taking readership away from the former.' He said the Japan office of OhmyNews had not had any problems with legal issues, thanks to careful oversight of reporters and editing, but there have been rocky patches in the organisation's coverage. Fred Varcoe was fired from his position as head of the sports section of The Japan Times just before the start of the 2002 World Cup after a series of features that he wrote about Korea were 'misunderstood and misinterpreted - and then it was mob rule on OhmyNews', Mr Hirano said. Varcoe said: 'My stories were on The Japan Times website but were distributed across South Korea with added comments that included death threats against me and my wife. The fallout escalated to attacks on the paper, the company that owned the paper and its subsidiary in Korea and, ultimately, I lost my job. 'It was the reaction - triggered by misunderstanding - that cost me,' he said. Varcoe eventually won a legal suit against his former employer. 'The messages that OhmyNews in Korea allowed to go up on its site were disgusting,' Varcoe said. 'A lot were aimed at my wife and one person said he was coming over to kill her.' Varcoe said he was told to forget considering suing OhmyNews unless he had political connections in Seoul. 'My main problem is that it claims to be a media organisation but distributes unedited stories and fails to check its facts,' he said. 'That inevitably leads to nothing having any journalistic credibility. The internet is a powerful tool and that makes it likely to be used by certain interest groups rather that genuine media organisations.' That opinion is echoed by Koichi Ishiyama, a professor of journalism at Toin University of Yokohama. 'There have been lots of reports over the validity of stories or failure to verify facts, meaning that anyone can say anything they want without their claims being checked,' Professor Ishiyama said. 'And when wild or outrageous claims are being thrown about all the time, no one believes them after a while. I would say that the public believes about 1 per cent of what it reads in citizen-journalist media.' Mr Hirano said his organisation made every effort to attain the highest professional standards in terms of checking facts, wording and journalistic ethics. He said corrections were made as soon as problems were identified, but he maintained that when any story was written, it ultimately relied on one individual's point of view and was not necessarily objective. 'I believe that freedom of the press in Japan is a world-class achievement when compared to other Group of Eight countries and other Asian economies,' Mr Hirano said. 'If we include the internet [and its] irresponsible voices, I observe there are no taboos in Japan.' As editor of the site, he said a larger problem was the relative reluctance of many Japanese to speak out and their inability to see two sides to an argument or listen to differing views. 'It is pretty difficult, even on OhmyNews, to nurture constructive conversations in news and comment stories,' he said, adding that when someone was faced with a differing opinion, the Japanese way of arguing the relative merits of the issue was often to merely attack the speaker's character until he or she fell silent. There was a degree of consternation at the arrival of OhmyNews in Japan and the widespread belief that the age of the news blogger heralded the end of such stalwarts of the Japanese media scene as the Yomiuri and Asahi newspapers. That has clearly not happened, with the Yomiuri Shimbun still selling 10 million copies a day. 'Japanese people read more newspapers than any other people in the world,' Professor Ishiyama said. 'Even with the advent of this new type of journalism, the old way still prevails. The only way that might possibly shift is when people truly believe in the validity and authenticity of the stories that are written by citizen journalists. Until then, there will be absolutely no change in the status quo here.'