No press briefings for bureaucrats

Kyodo News

In its bid to exert political control over the bureaucracy, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government has decided to forbid bureaucrats from holding news conferences.

The government also decided to abolish administrative vice ministers’ biweekly meetings, in which the top bureaucrats in the various ministries have gathered to coordinate policies on Mondays and Thursdays before Cabinet meetings the next day.

“We will forbid civil servants from holding news conferences in principle,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said at a news conference Wednesday evening after the new Cabinet ministers confirmed the policy during informal talks following their first official meeting.

Some in the media have voiced concern that the policy, which has been proposed by the Democratic Party of Japan, could infringe on the public’s right to information.

“This is not a restriction on speech,” Hirano said, adding that politicians will be taking charge of the news conferences at their ministries and agencies to ensure their leadership over the bureaucracy. “We will provide more information to the people.”

In their informal talks, the ministers confirmed that only Cabinet ministers, vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries, whose posts are filled by lawmakers, should air the views of their ministries.

Meanwhile, the National Police Agency on Wednesday notified media organizations belonging to a press club at the agency that it was canceling a news conference planned for Thursday, citing its failure to confirm the new policy with the government.

Some bureaucrats have also voiced concerns that the DPJ policy may deprive them of effective venues to air their views to the public.