Citing security concerns, the Defense Agency called on the Japanese media Friday to exercise more restraint in their coverage of the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq.

Heads of the news sections of 10 major newspapers and six TV broadcasters were summoned to the agency and formally asked to refrain from reporting such details as the timing of the departure of the SDF contingent, where it will be deployed and how SDF personnel will respond to emergencies.

In making the request, which is nonbinding, agency officials maintained that the reporting of such information threatens to undermine the safety of SDF personnel.

They also called for media organizations to send as few reporters and camera crews as possible to Iraq.

Iraq has been a hot media topic in Japan over the past year or so and interest has especially escalated since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged to make a “human contribution” to the rebuilding of the nation, a vow widely understood to mean the SDF would be deployed.

The media has since been engaged in a fierce battle to outdo each other in reporting such information as when the SDF will be dispatched and what sort of equipment the troops will carry.

The propagation of such sensitive information has given Koizumi’s Cabinet the jitters and the government has repeatedly delayed the dispatch of the SDF whenever a specific date was reported in the media.

“If everything had worked as planned, all the SDF units we wanted to send would have been in Iraq by the end of last year,” said a senior SDF officer who has been watching this game of cat and mouse between the government and the media.

As for the agency’s request for the media to refrain from sending reporters, officials explained that it would instead give briefings on the SDF’s activities in Japan and regularly upload information on its Web site.

Although agency officials explained that the proposal aims to strike a balance between the SDF’s responsibility to protect Japanese citizens and securing press freedom, and underlined that the requests are not binding, the move is likely to draw severe criticism since most major media organizations are already in the final stages of preparations to send staff to cover the SDF deployment.

The previous day, more than 100 reporters took part in a drill organized by the GSDF that aimed to give them a taste of survival techniques in preparation for any Iraq dispatch.

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