Stung by domestic and international criticism the government is far too tolerant of hate speech, and embarrassed by past Cabinet ministers who failed to condemn such acts, the Abe administration is finally planning to take decisive action on the problem.
But instead of binding legal measures, the action will take the form of a public relations offensive that might be called a “mind your manners” campaign.
In November, the Justice Ministry announced it would take a number of steps this year to combat hate speech. These include placing advertisements in newspapers, putting up posters, passing out pamphlets, posting signs at train stations and running notices on the Internet and making sure there are sufficient facilities where the problem can be “studied.”
One of the posters featured is black and gold. In the top right-hand corner is an English-language message that says “Stop! Hate Speech.”
Although careful readers will quickly note the exclamation point is in the wrong place, if the ministry’s real message is to strongly and loudly tell everyone to “stop hate speech,” let’s not quibble.
The rest of the message is in Japanese and declares that hate speech will not be “allowed.” It then asks readers if they’ve heard or seen words and deeds that appear to be blatant efforts to ostracize or deride certain ethnic groups and nationalities. It then warns that such words and deeds harm the dignity of the person and are not permissible because such expression gives rise to discrimination.
The message ends by calling upon everyone to acknowledge people’s differences and to build a society based on mutual respect for each other’s human rights.
On Jan. 16, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters she deplores hate speech. But she has indicated she does not favor new legislation, as called for by many Japanese and international human rights NGOs as well as the United Nations, to deal with the problem.
On the other hand, there are concerns about how far any proposed legislation should go, and free speech advocates as well as the central government worry that even sincere attempts to ban hate speech could infringe on the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
Instead, Kamikawa said, the key is to draft policies to deal with hate speech by using current laws.
“What’s important is to increase awareness of hate speech within society as a whole through activities that raise such awareness,” she said.