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The House of Councilors Judicial Affairs Committee started deliberations Thursday on a set of contentious bills that advocates say will protect human rights and personal information, but whose foes say will hamstring the news media.

The government submitted the bills to the ordinary Diet session earlier this year; they were delayed until the current extraordinary session due to resistance from opposition parties and news organizations.

The package, which includes a bill aimed at protecting citizens from intrusive news coverage and privacy violations, stipulates that certain news-gathering tactics are unlawful, inappropriate and violate human rights.

“The current arrangement set up to rescue those whose human rights have been violated has limits,” Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama told the committee. “We’ve thought of drastically reforming the system to establish a society in which human rights are truly respected.”

Critics say the bills are intended to curtail media activities under the guise of protecting citizens from excessive news coverage and privacy violations. They also argue the bills would endanger the freedom of expression and the people’s right to know as they would inevitably invite unjust governmental intervention in media coverage.

Under the bills, a human rights committee would be established as an affiliate of the Justice Ministry. It would have the power to issue advisories to suspend “excessive” news coverage and release the names of the offenders.

In remarks to the Diet committee, Satsuki Eda, a senior member of the Democratic Party of Japan, cast doubt over the degree of independence that would be accorded to the human rights committee.

“The Justice Ministry, which controls immigration and correctional facilities, has a record of human rights violations and is incapable of helping those whose human rights are violated,” he said.

Responding to Eda’s comment, Shuichi Yoshikai, director general of the Justice Ministry’s Civil Liberties Bureau, said that to ensure fairness, the secretariat of the human rights committee will not exchange personnel with such facilities.

The government and the ruling coalition, which aim to get the bills passed during the current Diet session, may modify the legislation to gain the support of the opposition camp.

The changes may include putting a hold on the clauses regarding restrictions on the news media and reviewing the bills within a set time period.

However, it is unclear if the bills will be passed because the opposition camp is seeking to have them placed under comprehensive review.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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