/

The fate of a dolphin activist in Japan’s flawed democracy

by

Special To The Japan Times

What do dolphins, David Bowie and The Economist have in common? Freedom. Dolphins seek freedom. Bowie, who loved Japan and Japan loved him, represents the freedom to express yourself. Bowie gave permission for his song “Heroes” to be used in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” about the dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.

The Economist is in search of more freedom, especially in Japan’s political landscape. The Economist Democracy Index 2015 demoted Japan from a full democracy to a flawed democracy, along with Costa Rica, South Korea and France. The report from the Economist Intelligence Institute cites “Japan’s increasing media censorship” since the State Secrets Law went into effect December 2014 and “evidence of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) pressuring firms to withhold advertising in unfavored publications, were enough to push the country’s score below the 8.00 threshold, meaning that the country is now classified in our Democracy Index as a ‘flawed democracy.’ “

British understatement represents this media censorship as rationale for Japan’s democracy decline. The Japanese government seems at times afraid of its own global relations shadow, or the shadow of any dissenting point of view.

Take the case of 76-year-old dolphin activist, Ric O’Barry, star of “The Cove.” He is now starring in another real time documentary after landing at Tokyo’s Narita airport on Jan. 18. The Japanese Ministry of Justice filed an order for his deportation on Jan. 21, the same day that the Democracy Index 2015 was released. The charges against O’Barry involve falsely representing the purpose of his visit. His son, Lincoln O’Barry, states his father’s purpose quite clearly: “He has been working for 13 years to expose the brutal dolphin hunt there, and this is their latest attempt to shut him out.”

The government of Japan has a right to deny entry to anyone it wishes. And the government of Japan can build its deportation case against O’Barry, who at some point will be ordered out of Japan. We all are guests at the invitation of the host country and our stay as guests is a privilege, not a right. But lost in this process is an opportunity for greater understanding.

The global press and social media echo chamber leads with headlines like this: “Japan to Dolphin Activist: Get Out” and “Flipper Trainer Detained in Japan.” Viral petitions are circulating for O’Barry’s release. While there is plenty of sympathy for O’Barry’s detainment, there is little sympathy for the Japanese government, even if O’Barry misrepresented the purpose of his visit. His tourist habits suggest he wasn’t here for the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu attraction at Universal Cool Japan 2016.

Contrast the holding pattern of O’Barry to an open protest in another flawed democracy, France. The same week that O’Barry had the door to Japan’s democracy closed to him, the deputy minister of ecology Laurence Abeille welcomed animal rights activist and former “Baywatch babe” Pamela Anderson, who spoke in France’s National Assembly against the force-feeding of ducks and geese for the highly popular cuisine delicacy foie gras.

The Canadian-born celebrity Anderson took her inspiration to speak directly to the French government and its citizens from French actress Bridget Bardot, who came to Canada in the late 1970s to protest another Trudeau government and its slaughtering of baby seals. A pro foie-gras organization called Anderson’s visit a “publicity stunt” by “an American TV star from the eighties” who condemned “a jewel in the crown of gastronomy and French culture.”

True to that last point. Everything in this social media society is publicity-driven. That didn’t stop Anderson from accepting a government minister’s invitation to speak, making her point, and going home to her adopted home America. Conversely, it is hard to imagine a Japanese minister of anything extending an invitation to O’Barry to speak in the Diet.

Whatever the immigration outcome of O’Barry, he has already won in the courtroom of public opinion. Global public sympathy is on his side, whereas Japan looks overly sensitive on this contentious issue of dolphin hunting.

There is something that the government of Japan could do to even the playing field in making its case to the world. Don’t let O’Barry leave Japan without inviting him to a well-publicized debate at the University of Tokyo. Have him go up against the most seasoned advocates for continuing the dolphin hunt in Taiji. Invite the Japanese and foreign media to cover the debate gavel-to-gavel, and include live tweeting and a live stream version for the world to tune in. Add a focus group to the mix, consisting of pro- and anti- activists along with the undecided. Vote on a debate winner.

The winner would be democratic freedom of expression. It would show the world that Japan’s top-ranked institution of higher learning is not shy about debating one of the most contentious policies impacting Japan’s relations with the world. The event itself will not settle the debate about dolphins, but it might mute the growing chorus of people that views Japan as the democracy where dissent is in detention.

Nancy Snow is Pax Mundi Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies and adjunct fellow in the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University Japan. Reach her at www.nancysnow.com.

  • alain

    While Japan is a great nation for which I have a lot of admiration and respect, I must say that Japanese are kind of brain washed in their local newspapers and different TV channels. Very few Japanese read the Japan times in English as their knowledge of English is less than basic. There is also a cultural problem in Japan. It is a disadvantage and also an advantage as the Japanese society is still a powerful ecomony. But what is happening with nuclear power stations, whaling and dolphins killing is very sad. Thank you the Japan Times for letting people express themeslves on your site

  • A.J. Sutter

    While I generally agree with this article, allowing Mr. O’Barry to speak at Todai before he leaves would be a pitifully small token toward improving freedom of expression in Japan. First, the article’s phrasing (“Don’t let O’Barry leave Japan without inviting him , etc.”) seems to propose that he be given a chance to speak publicly before he gets the boot — why kick him out at all? But the bigger issue is, how about more about freedom of expression for all residents of Japan, too? The Diet continually enacts restrictions on free speech, and Japan’s Supreme Court has always upheld such restrictions. If simply allowing O’Barry to speak would be enough to “mute the growing chorus of people that views Japan as the democracy where dissent is in detention,” that chorus would be deceived — and what a sad and isolating thing that would be for us who actually live here and who have to endure these constant erosions of our freedom.

    • 69station

      “The Diet continually enacts restrictions on free speech, and Japan’s Supreme Court has always upheld such restrictions.”

      To what are you referring? Examples, please.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications by those under 20 years old, and also by all citizens during the campaign period. Prohibited actions include sending an email to your mother during the official campaign period asking her to vote for a certain candidate. The election law also prohibits door-to-door canvassing, most distribution of materials during the campaign period, and making any marks on election posters. The Designated Secrets Act of 2013 allows broad discretion to designate information as secret, with severe penalties for the disclosure that apply not only to journalists but also to MPs and judges. The JSC has never struck down as unconstitutional any law restricting freedom of speech, and has upheld some of the restrictions mentioned above, such as concerning distribution of campaign materials.

      • 69station

        Thank you. The amendments to the Public Offices Election Law passed in April 2013 actually allowed internet/social media election canvassing for the first time. All experts of whatever persuasion agree that it was a widening of the channels of communication during elections. Minors were continued to be prohibited from canvassing (to reiterate, no change) which is where I assume you got the bit about children not being allowed to implore their mothers by e-mail to vote for a particular candidate. (Is it ok for them to ask their fathers? I’m assuming you were using the mother point as just an example.)

        The distribution of excessive materials ban during the official campaigning period is decades old and certainly nothing new since 2013.

        A prohibition on damaging campaign materials is perfectly reasonable and civilized, especially given the strict limits in how many materials each candidate can use – a rule designed to prevent advantage to those with bigger budgets.

        It is worth noting that such changes to the election laws were first proposed by the DPJ (currently in opposition) back in the mid-90s. They failed to get them passed when Hatoyama resigned as Prime Minister.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks. But I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration. Also, the channels of communication that were opened by Internet canvassing were one-way, from candidates to people. Communications between or among citizens — including internet communication between adults during the election period and rights of assembly, which are strictly limited by permits and by a strong and constrictive police presence during demonstrations, very unlike the role of the police during peaceful demonstrations in France, for example — are not treated so solicitously. Experts ought to pay more attention to that.

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • A.J. Sutter

        Please re-read your original comment: you asked for examples, not an exhaustive list.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Please re-read your original comment: you asked for examples, not an exhaustive list.

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • 69station

        “…I didn’t suggest that legislative or judicial limitations on free speech were limited to the current Abe Administration.”

        You may not have intended to, but the language you used did.

        “Soon after Abe returned as PM at the end of 2012, amendments were passed to the Public Offices Election Law outlawing certain types of political communications….”

      • 69station

        “Communications between or among citizens — including internet communication between adults during the election period….”

        The campaigning period is only 12 days. Agree or disagree, the laws are based on old principles designed to ensure fair elections, especially for those candidates with limited financial resources. If people who wish to stand for election, or support candidates, or examine the candidates and issues haven’t made up their minds two weeks before, then they can’t be very involved in the political process in the first place. Not being inundated with e-mails from every one and his/her dog in the last 12 days is hardly going to harm the political process for such people.

      • A.J. Sutter

        This is quite a different argument, from one about the existence of restrictions on political speech to a justification for the restrictions. Whatever utility you might think the restrictions have and whatever assumptions you make about undecided voters’ political involvement, other so-called liberal democracies don’t impose such restrictions on freedom of expression, nor are such restrictions likely to be found consistent with the human/civil rights jurisprudence under the constitutional and, in Europe, transnational regimes pertinent to them.

      • 69station

        “Communications between or among citizens — including internet communication between adults during the election period….”

        The campaigning period is only 12 days. Agree or disagree, the laws are based on old principles designed to ensure fair elections, especially for those candidates with limited financial resources. If people who wish to stand for election, or support candidates, or examine the candidates and issues haven’t made up their minds two weeks before, then they can’t be very involved in the political process in the first place. Not being inundated with e-mails from every one and his/her dog in the last 12 days is hardly going to harm the political process for such people.

  • Scott W.

    I generally agree with the article too but in the grand scheme of things the Taiji dolphin kill is the least of Japan’s problems, especially with regard to its ostensible democracy.

  • soudeska

    If he was invited to speak at Todai, or any university, they would get bomb threats from uyoku and have to cancel the event.

  • I was actually surprised that they kept allowing Ric O`Barry into Japan after he made The Cove. Presumably he flew under their radar until this year. Japan is about money so they must have seen him as some kind of threat in that way?

  • I was actually surprised that they kept allowing Ric O`Barry into Japan after he made The Cove. Presumably he flew under their radar until this year. Japan is about money so they must have seen him as some kind of threat in that way?