Two days before the contentious state secrets law getting the official nod, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba waded into the fray Wednesday by saying journalists could be punished for reporting state-designated classified information, only to backpedal slightly.
“It is legal to obtain the information. But if reporting state secrets threatens our national security, common sense tells me reporting will be somehow restricted,” Ishiba said at the Japan National Press Club.
When asked if reporters should be punished for divulging secrets, Ishiba said that judgment will ultimately be left to up the courts, but he did not rule out the possibility that journalists might face the law’s wrath.
Ishiba later corrected his comments and said journalists will not be punished for reporting classified information. But he maintained his stance that national security and citizens’ lives could be put in jeopardy if restrictions aren’t enforced against reporting state secrets.
Whether reporters would face punishment for divulging classified information under the new law was one of the points of contention in the extraordinary Diet session that ended Sunday, after a two-day extension so the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc could push the secrets bill into law.
The law stipulates that public servants who handle classified information could face a maximum of 10 years in prison for leaking such data. Yet the government has repeatedly said reporting or obtaining the information should not be subject to penalty unless one obtains the information illegally or by “extremely inappropriate methods,” which, critics say, is a vague concept up to the government’s discretion to define ad hoc.
Ishiba’s apparent gaffe came two days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he regretted falling short on explaining the particulars of the law and vowed to gain “public understanding,” amid increasing criticism that the law, which was hastily and forcibly enacted with little deliberation, is rife with loopholes.
This is also the second time Ishiba’s comments were called into question. Earlier this month, the LDP secretary-general equated the rally against the law as an act of terrorism on his blog, triggering a public outcry.