• Kyodo, Staff Report

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In a move that could be taken as a threat to press freedom, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sent a letter to Tokyo-based TV networks requesting that they pay extra attention to ensure neutrality in their reporting during the official campaign period for the Dec. 14 Lower House election.

The written request, issued on Nov. 20, the day before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Diet for a snap election, was addressed to programming directors and top news editors at five major networks based in Tokyo. The letter’s senders were Koichi Hagiuda, a top aide to Abe, and Teru Fukui, an LDP official in charge of press affairs.

The LDP has sent similar requests in the past, as have other parties, but it seems rare for the party to issue such letters to broadcasters before the official campaign kicks off. The campaign for the Dec. 14 election is set to begin on Dec. 2.

This time, the request for neutrality is also detailed and specific, asking them to be neutral and fair in the number of times and length of time given to political candidates appearing in their programs, as well as in the selection of topics to be discussed on the air.

It also asks for balanced reporting of interviews with people on the streets and neutral use of video footage so the views presented on TV “will not be one-sided,” according to the letter.

The letter also said that “in the past, a TV network distorted its news coverage in an attempt to overturn the LDP’s rule, causing a huge uproar,” noting that the pre-election political coverage by a TV broadcaster could serious affect the poll’s outcome.

The four private networks acknowledged that they received the written request from the LDP and said they “will continue to strive for fair and neutral reporting.” NHK said it “cannot comment on an individual case.”

Takaaki Hattori, professor of media law at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, slammed the LDP letter as “unreasonable intervention and pressure against freedom of the media.”

“The letter repeats the word ‘fair,’ which manifests the Abe administration’s fears of being criticized by the media. The administration’s stance is one-sided, and shows that it is reluctant to engage in a two-way dialogue with the media and citizens,” he said. “It is also problematic for the networks not to report the fact that they received such a request. They are not responsive enough (on the issue of press freedom).”

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