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The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association has expressed concern over a recent Justice Ministry proposal to set up a human rights watchdog, saying it could restrict media activity.

The group said Wednesday that it presented a written opinion on the proposal last month that said “it is truly deplorable” that the proposal treats media violations of privacy on the same footing as discrimination, harassment and other forms of human rights violations by public authorities.

It said the proposal does not accurately reflect “the media’s contribution concerning human rights issues.”

The Council for Human Rights Promotion proposed establishing the body, tentatively named the Human Rights Commission, in a report submitted May 25 to Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama.

The council stopped short of proposing that the body have the power to investigate violations of privacy by the media.

The Justice Ministry is expected to prepare legislation to submit to the Diet next year, aiming to set up the watchdog in 2003.

The advisory panel noted various human rights violations by the media, including overly eager coverage, erroneous reporting on crimes and libelous statements.

The media association said the watchdog may arbitrarily define what “overly eager” coverage is, and that it “risks putting a brake on ‘eager coverage’ and ‘tenacious coverage,’ which serve the public’s right to know.”

It also said the watchdog’s measures to assist those affected by the media’s actions may lead to “unreasonable interference with the media by the administration.”

The association said that the media should monitor their own behavior.

“If the media are weakened, it will lead to a decreased supply of information for the public and eventually have a negative impact on the protection of human rights,” the media group said.

It urged the government to develop a system that would prevent reporters’ activities from being unjustly restricted and that would not violate freedom of expression.

The watchdog would be empowered to investigate alleged human rights violations and to fine those refusing to cooperate in investigations.

The proposed commission would be independent, like the Fair Trade Commission, and would have a secretariat formed on the basis of the Justice Ministry’s existing human rights promotion units.

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