Abe stirs gadget-use debate in Diet

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Using iPads and other digital devices during Diet sessions is banned under current rules as well as custom, but this may change after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the devices may invigorate deliberations.

Abe made the remark at an Upper House audit committee meeting Monday when he was questioned about Ichiro Komatsu, the top bureaucrat at the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

On March 25, Komatsu responded to a question from an opposition lawmaker after reading an email on a staffer’s cellphone during an Upper House foreign affairs and defense committee session because he did not have an answer prepared.

After panel members pointed out the rules, Komatsu apologized and retracted his answer.

According to the Upper House rules, people are not allowed to bring cellphones, pagers, computers, recording devices, radios and other related devices to committee and plenary sessions as they could disturb discussions.

On Monday, a DPJ member criticized Komatsu and urged Abe to relieve him of his post.

“The principle is that bringing cellphones is not permitted. I think it’s an unthinkable act that goes against common sense to answer questions with a phone in his hand,” said Yoshitaka Saito of DPJ.

While Abe said Komatsu should reflect on his act, he also defended him, saying Komatsu was simply using someone’s cellphone to try to answer a question and that he wasn’t calling or emailing about unrelated matters.

Abe also said that digital devices could actually be helpful at the Diet sessions.

“There is an argument that discussions may be facilitated more by using a device like an iPad,” Abe said.

Lawmakers usually use paper boards as presentation aids when fielding questions at committee sessions.

The Upper House’s rule on digital devices was decided in 1995 by lawmakers and has no legal binding power.

The Lower House’s rule, decided in 1996, differs little from the Upper House’s.

  • phu

    Wow… “he looked something up on a phone to try and give an accurate answer… he must be fired, now!” Saito needs a serious reality check; this is ridiculously literal and ignores the intent of the rule in favor of absolute, unthinking obedience.

    Not to say that’s surprising in this context… but it’s still something people should consider alarming, particularly the people this person is supposed to be representing.

    For once I’m with Abe. Phones should be silenced if they’re allowed at all, but yes, the ability we have at our fingertips to get information and answer questions with digital devices has great potential as an aid for legislators if used responsibly (I would definitely call Komatsu’s use here responsible).

  • JimmyJM

    Permitting digital devices during sessions is probably a good idea. It might help keep the politicians awake.