Japanese government threatens to tighten grip on broadcasters

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate Minpororen (JFCBWU – Japan Federation of Commercial Broadcast Workers Union) in voicing serious concern over recent comments by Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister about the country’s broadcasters. The IFJ calls on the Japanese Government to withhold from any actions that seek to control and influence with the media and, instead, urges the government to take steps to guarantee press freedom in Japan.

On Tuesday, February 9, Sanae Takaichi, the Internal Affairs and Communications Minister for Japan, said that the government can order broadcasters to suspend operations if they continue to air TV programming that is deemed politically biased. Takaichi continued her assertion, noting that the government is legally authorized, under Japan’s broadcasting law, to order stations and networks to cease broadcasting if they ignore official calls to remain “politically neutral”. Takaichi’s comments were defended and reiterated by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga who said that her remarks were in accordance with existing law.

The comments by Takaichi came in response to claims by Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker, Soichiro Okuna, who said that, several broadcasters, including Hiroko Kuniya at NHK and Ichiro Furutachi at TV Asahi, known for their critiques of the government and the powerful, would be stepping down in coming months. Okuna also said that the government, led by Prime Minister Abe, is tightening its grip on the media.

Article 174 of Japan’s Broadcast law says that “the internal affairs minister is authorized to suspend broadcasting that violates the law, including that which fails to remain politically neutral.” Takaichi elaborated on what she defined as politically-biased programming, referring to broadcasters who “highlight only one aspect of a polarizing political affair” or who are “persistently covering one candidate ahead of an election” to such an extent that the fairness of the event may be undermined.

This is not the first time that Japan’s government has tried to control and influence the media. During the 2014 general elections, the government issued a document for all media outlets on how they should report fairly and without bias: if stories and reports did not meet the standard of the government, it would make statements such as “the story reported today is doubtful from a fairness perspective.”

Minpororen has voiced its concerns about the recent comments, and in a statement it said: “The government is pressuring and intimidating the media to influence content, introducing the determination ruled on in the Radio Act and the Broadcast Act. What the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications said is clearly based on a wrong legal interpretation, and Minpororen demands a retraction. One of the reasons the cabinet and ruling party members repeat these accusartions is that the media, particularly the broadcasters, are reluctant to defend themselves against these objections.”

The IFJ said: “Article 174 of Japan’s Broadcast law is a disturbing piece of legislation because it ultimately allows the government to exert considerable influence on the media at its own discretion. The recent comments by the Internal Affairs and Communications Minister support these suspicions. Ultimately, comments such as these are destined to create a culture of fear and intimidation among the media community in Japan. Free speech is not and should not be determined by the government and ruling party. Rather than making statements that have a chilling effect on editorial independence, the government should be taking steps to promote and protect media freedom and to allow Japan’s broadcasters to do their job without the threats and intimidation of government interference.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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