With a critical local election on the horizon, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto declared earlier this week that a fundraising event and strategy session planned for Friday will be closed to the media.

Since entering politics as Osaka governor in February 2008, Hashimoto has held 10 political fundraising events, all of which were open to journalists. But concern about attendees making gaffes that end up in headlines led to a change this time.

“If reporters want to hear what is said, then they will have to buy a ticket for ¥15,000, just like the other attendees,” Hashimoto said.

He added that broadcast media wishing to attend should treat the ¥15,000 ticket as a performance fee they give to guests for appearing on their regular programs. However, reporters who agree to pay will be forbidden from recording any speeches and conversations inside the room.

While this is a fairly common practice at political fundraisers elsewhere, especially for Diet members in Tokyo, it marks a distinct change of policy for Hashimoto.

The announcement came about a month before the Sept. 29 mayoral election in Sakai, the second-biggest city in Osaka Prefecture. The race pits current Mayor Osami Takeyama, 63, who opposes Hashimoto’s plan to merge the city of Osaka and the prefecture, against Katsutoshi Nishibayashi, the Nippon Ishin-backed candidate.

Nippon Ishin Secretary-General and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui says it’s a must-win race for the party. Nippon Ishin is pulling out all the stops. Hashimoto and Matsui are pressing the party’s members, including co-leader Shintaro Ishihara, to visit Sakai at least three times during the campaign, which kicks off Sept. 15.

Nishibayashi is expected to be at Friday’s event, along with senior Nippon Ishin officials and wealthy supporters who are increasingly worried about the party’s damaged image. Hashimoto, who only a year ago was being touted as a potential prime minister, has had increasingly tense relations with the media since May, when he sparked an international uproar by saying Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system was necessary at the time.

Hashimoto continues to blame journalists for misreporting his comfort women comments. On Tuesday, he also criticized the board of education in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, for bowing to the media, especially the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers with whom Hashimoto often clashes, to retract its request to curb student access to the world-renowned anti-war manga “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”).

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