Press freedom ranking falters due to secrecy law

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

Freedom of the press in Japan, which worsened dramatically last year due mainly to the lack of transparency regarding information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, deteriorated further this year thanks to the enactment of the controversial state secrets bill, according to a report released Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders.

The France-based nonprofit downgraded Japan from 53rd place last year to 59th, as the authors of the annual World Press Freedom Index report judged that the secrets law “would reduce government transparency on such key national issues as nuclear power and relations with the United States, now enshrined as taboos.”

The United States fell steeply to 46th place from 32nd “amid increased efforts to track down whistle-blowers and the sources of leaks.” The report denounces, in particular, the conviction of U.S. Army Pfc. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and the pursuit of former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place on the 2013 index for “the ban imposed by the authorities on independent coverage of any topic related directly or indirectly to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.” It also denounced the “kisha club” system as discriminatory for restricting access to information to its members.

These criticisms reappear in this year’s report, which points out “the discrimination against freelance and foreign reporters resulting from Japan’s unique system of Kisha clubs, whose members are the only journalists to be granted government accreditation, has increased since Fukushima.”

Among the 180 countries and regions surveyed, Japan now ranks behind South Korea and Chile (57th and 58th, respectively) and above 60th-ranked Mauritania and 61st-ranked Hong Kong.

Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, where the report says “freedom of information is non-existent,” and which “continue to be news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them,” occupy the bottom three places.

At the top of the list are Finland, the Netherlands and Norway, in that order, unchanged from last year.