A new version of a privacy-protection bill features an exemption clause for news media and professional writers and may thus ease concerns about restrictions on press freedom, according to a draft obtained Wednesday by Kyodo News.

But the draft drew immediate fire from writer and artist groups.

The bill is expected to be submitted to the Diet in February, with passage eyed before the mid-June end of the current session.

When government ministers issue directives or recommendations on privacy protection, the bill states, they “shall not infringe on freedom of expression, freedom of study, freedom of belief or freedom of political activity.”

A previous bill that never made it out of the Diet stated ministers “shall give consideration” in order to avoid infringing on such freedoms.

The revised version would exempt broadcasters, newspaper publishers, news agencies and other media organizations as well as professional writers and freelance journalists from certain restrictions and penalties.

In the earlier bill, restrictions on acquisition and use of private information, along with punishment in the event of any violation, would have applied to all parties handling such information. A waiver on the penalty clause covered only media groups and not individuals engaged in journalism.

A separate privacy-protection bill for administrative bodies, to be submitted alongside the general bill, is to carry a clause stating that employees of such bodies found to have disclosed or stolen private information with the aim of gaining inappropriate profit for himself or a third party would be subject to penalties, including prison terms and fines.

The original bill for general application was quashed due to criticism from opposition parties and news organizations.

The privacy-protection bill was initially conceived to address the increasing use of information technology. The bill was first submitted to the Diet in March 2001.

Ai Nagai, head of the Japan Playwrights’ Association, lambasted the new bill, saying it would allow government bodies to restrict freedom of expression.

Nagai issued an appeal with four other national groups of writers and artists, claiming the bill could be interpreted arbitrarily, as it does not specify to whom it would apply and the grounds on which it would be applied.

“This appeal is not only for the freedom of those who produce content, but also for those who consume it,” Nagai told a news conference. “We want to deepen deliberations on the matter together with our audiences.”

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