Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki on Monday that he regrets comments made at a study session last Thursday by LDP members that called for placing financial pressure on news outlets.
“Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy, and we should show consideration for that. I regret it because comments against Okinawans’ feelings were also made (at the session),” Tanigaki quoted Abe as saying.
Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Yukio Edano meanwhile criticized Abe on Monday, saying the biggest problem is that Abe took so long to address the issue.
In the Diet, the opposition camp continued to grill the LDP over the attacks on the media, in which junior Diet members called for placing financial pressure on news outlets that are critical of the administration’s contentious security bills.
During a Lower House special committee hearing, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato expressed regret over the remarks, which were made at a study session held Thursday by Abe loyalists in the LDP.
Kato said he attended the first half of the gathering, in which novelist and former NHK board member Naoki Hyakuta spoke. But he left before a question-and-answer session began, where the remarks about punishing media outlets and closing down local newspapers in Okinawa were reportedly made.
“I didn’t notice any remarks about news outlets or Okinawa during the lecture,” Kato said during the committee hearing Monday.
Kato was responding to a question from DPJ member Akihisa Nagashima, who asked him whether he felt responsible for the controversy as one of Abe’s closest aides as well as one of the most experienced Diet members who attended the event.
“It was a very regrettable situation,” Kato said. “I carry this feeling that whether there was something I, as their senior, could have done to prevent that situation.”
Meanwhile, Hyakuta, who is in hot water for calling for “destroying two Okinawan newspapers” during the Thursday event, hardened his stance over the weekend.
At a lecture Sunday in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, Hyakuta told the audience that his remarks were intended as an off-the-record joke, but that he is now “seriously wishing” the Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo would disappear.
According to people at the lecture, Hyakuta said the two newspapers were reacting to his comments the wrong way, and that he will have to exchange words with them further.
Hyakuta directed his wrath at other newspapers as well, telling the audience that he became so angry about how the controversy has been covered that he wrote in a tweet that the “Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Tokyo Shimbun must also be destroyed.”
The junior LDP lawmakers’ study session on Thursday was headed by Minoru Kihara, a 45-year-old Lower House member. Some of the nearly 40 attendees at that event reportedly blamed the media for the poor public support that the two security bills, which would expand the scope of the role played by Self-Defense Forces, have received. They also reportedly called for placing financial pressure on news outlets whose coverage is critical of the bills.
This has generated a crisis in the LDP, as it was already struggling to garner public support for enacting the controversial bills during the current Diet session, which has been extended through Sept. 27.
In a bid to minimize damage from the media-bashing session, the LDP wasted little time in punishing four of its junior Diet members on Saturday, including Kihara, who was sacked as head of the LDP’s Youth Division and suspended from holding any other post for a year.
But the opposition camp isn’t willing to let the LDP off the hook so fast, saying that sacking Kihara as head of the division does not solve the fundamental problem within the party.