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The number of Diet lawmakers who have Internet home pages has gradually increased, reaching roughly 200 of the 752 legislators in both houses by the end of 1999. According to the lawmakers, the main reason home pages are gaining popularity is that they are less costly than printing posters and leaflets but provide a medium through which they can directly access voters. Observers say the Internet is growing into a form of mass communication that is giving lawmakers an increasingly larger audience to which they can express or clarify their positions on various issues. Traditionally, only a handful of the most influential or vocal legislators are given such an opportunity, for example, on television. Politicians, however, are still banned by law from using home pages as a campaigning tool during an election. While there are some calls for lifting this ban, some legislators voice concern that there will be no way to rein in slander and defamation of other candidates if it breaks out on the Internet. All major parties except the Japanese Communist Party have set up Web sites with links to its legislators. The JCP has listed the profiles and data of its Diet members on its party home page, but does not allow users to directly access its lawmakers’ Web sites. Many of the lawmakers who have set up home pages are relatively young, but some veteran politicians including former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa also have Web sites. While most of the lawmakers’ Web sites contain information such as personal profiles and reports of their activities in the Diet, some have drawn attention for posting other content. For example, former Home Affairs Minister Katsuhiko Shirakawa used his Web site to criticize the formation of the tripartite ruling coalition, despite being a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party himself. Also, Taro Kono, an LDP Lower House member and son of Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, is famous in political circles for sending e-mail on Diet affairs to a wide range of people through the “mail-magazine” system. According to officials at the Home Affairs Ministry, which is in charge of election matters, establishing and updating home pages that include the personal history of a lawmaker and his campaign platform during an election is interpreted as the “distribution of documents and illustrations,” which is banned by the Public Office Election Law. While there have been no legal violations brought to the attention of police so far, ministry officials said they would like the issue to be debated fully in the Diet. The matter may be of great concern for legislators since speculation is rife over the timing of the next general election, which must be held by October.

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