Academics, TV journalists slam minister’s threat against ‘biased’ programming, fear media self-censorship


Staff Writer

Journalists and academics have joined forces to openly criticize recent remarks by communications minister Sanae Takaichi that the government might suspend broadcasters’ operations if they air programs it considers politically biased.

Takaichi’s Feb. 8 remarks on the Broadcast Law, which includes a call for political neutrality, have since sparked a widespread outcry that they are tantamount to the repression of free speech and run afoul of the nation’s democratic principles.

On Wednesday, a group of scholars unveiled a statement protesting the remarks, calling them emblematic of what they say is the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led government’s “blatant” willingness to abuse power.

“Unlike its predecessors, the current administration doesn’t hesitate at all to openly pressure the media,” Osamu Nishitani, a professor of philosophy at Rikkyo University, told a Tokyo news conference organized by a group of academics called “Save Constitutional Democracy Japan.”

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party reportedly urged Tokyo-based TV networks to keep their programs politically neutral ahead of the 2014 Lower House election.

A series of impending resignations involving newscasters known for their candid critiques of the powers that be — such as Hiroko Kuniya from NHK and Ichiro Furutachi from TV Asahi — are also a sinister indication that the government may be stepping up a crackdown on the media, Nishitani said.

Takaichi’s remarks, then, shouldn’t be considered a mere gaffe, but rather an encapsulation of the Abe administration’s overall attitude toward the media, Nishitani said.

What is peculiar to Japan, the scholars further pointed out in the letter, is that the government not only draws up a broadcasting law but has the authority to implement it against broadcasters. This, they said, puts Japan in stark contrast with the United States and many European nations, where an agency independent of government influence has the ultimate power to effect such laws.

Brushing aside the widespread outcry over her remarks, Takaichi, for her part, stands by her affirmation that the government can suspend operations of politically biased broadcasters in accordance with existing laws.

Although she initially denied she would resort to such a measure during her tenure, the minister appeared to ratchet up her rhetoric a notch Tuesday.

Asked whether she would order suspensions of broadcasters’ operations deemed to be politically unfair, Takaichi said: “Japan is a country governed by law. So I believe it’s the duty of the Cabinet to faithfully execute a law if need be.”

She was responding to a question from Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Junya Ogawa.

On Monday, meanwhile, prominent newscasters including Soichiro Tahara, Shuntaro Torigoe and Shigetada Kishii held a news conference in Tokyo in which they vehemently criticized the minister’s comments.

One of them, veteran TBS anchor Shigenori Kanehira told The Japan Times on Wednesday that he is worried about negative impacts stemming from the Abe government’s pressure on media.

“Some of us may succumb to government pressure and decide to censor ourselves. That’s the nature of the crisis we’re up against,” Kanehira said.

Staff Writer Ayako Mie contributed to this report

  • shatonbytories

    Will Abe or one of his keyboard warrior henchmen tell us what “politically neutral” means anyway? It would seem they believe it to mean journalism which strictly adheres to the government narrative.
    Have we had full disclose concerning the nuclear power lobby or the events at Fukushima? Supposing a journalist got hold of such info which proved the cover ups, misinformation and backhanders down the years, would it be neutral or not to publish?
    How about the secrecy laws mentioned in the article which an overwhelming majority of scholars and experts called unconstitutional (i.e. illegal) – please tell us how we are supposed to report “neutrally” about that? Just the facts? The facts are that it is unconstitutional. Report just that “earlier today some bills were passed” without context. Is that the job of the media?

    Press neutrality cannot exist, it is the job of the press to hold the establishment to account, to investigate whether what they do or say is democratic – the establishment will not tell you themselves. No wonder Japan is plummeting down the press freedom league tables, and from my daily experience, no wonder the people are woefully misinformed.

  • 151E

    Good. Glad to see them push back. But these guys (Soichiro Tahara, Shigetada Kishii, Osamu Aoki, Akihiro Otani, Shunter Torigoe, Shigenori Kanehira) are all over 70, so any repercussions will be relatively minor to their careers. Would be nice to see some younger journalists show a little backbone and solidarity.

    Anyone know if NHK covered the news conference?

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  • Liars N. Fools

    In the “beautiful country” Japan will see a revival of the Imperial Rescript on Education which mandated “patriotism” — which is defined as that which is dictated by Nippon Kaigi and Abe Shinzo. A great American ally.

  • Liars N. Fools

    In the “beautiful country” Japan will see a revival of the Imperial Rescript on Education which mandated “patriotism” — which is defined as that which is dictated by Nippon Kaigi and Abe Shinzo. A great American ally.

  • JimmyJM

    Media cannot be “neutral”. In the ’50’s, American media did try but it was impossible. Today, none of the American media claim to be impartial with the possible exception of Fox News which most people think is a joke (their claim to neutrality). There’s nothing wrong with biased news reporting as long as those reading/viewing the news understand that it is biased. The Chinese people for the most part, understand that their major media outlets are government controlled which is a bias. It appears that the Abe government prefers to follow that route (biased in favor of the government) rather than let the media report what they will and let the people make up their own minds.