The top government spokesman’s news conferences will be open once a week to reporters outside members of the press club for Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s office, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Friday.

The move is part of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration’s pledge to open up news conferences where only press club members were allowed to attend.

“It is aimed at encouraging people to feel closer to politics and conduct politics open to the people,” Edano said at a regular news conference, adding the first briefing will be held after taking into account the Diet schedule.

In addition to members of the press club, which includes The Japan Times, magazine reporters, freelance reporters, foreign correspondents and Internet media reporters will be entitled to attend.

After the DPJ-led coalition took power in September 2009, news conferences at many ministries were opened to members outside their press clubs. The Foreign Ministry was one of the first to open its doors.

However, freelance writers are reportedly not allowed to attend news conference at the National Police Agency and the Imperial Household Agency still bans anyone outside its press club.

The government and press clubs restrict access to its news conferences by requiring journalists to have “kisha club” memberships in each ministry. These memberships are provided exclusively to major domestic newspapers, TV stations and wire services.

The system allows government offices and businesses to swiftly provide press releases to major news groups, saving reporters time in the reporting and writing process.

The convenient access to information and relations with authorities, however, may discourage press club members from carrying out investigative reporting and leave them reluctant to criticize authorities, critics say.

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