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The government is on the back foot in the wake of mounting global criticism to the effect that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is threatening press freedom in Japan.

Two global organizations this week said press freedom is in danger in Japan, citing a state secrecy law that took effect in 2014 and a broadcast law that has drawn global attention after communications minister Sanae Takaichi noted the government can shut down broadcasters if it considers their reporting to be biased.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, by contrast, said Thursday that press freedom is very much respected in Japan.

“We have a broadcast law to protect editorial freedom, and our Constitution sanctions freedom of expression,” said Abe’s right-hand man during his daily news conference.

Suga’s comments were a reaction to the news Wednesday that Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit organization, downgraded Japan to 72nd on its world press freedom list, from 61st last year. The report specifically expressed concerns over the implementation of the controversial state secrecy protection law, which punishes whistleblowers who leak information the government designates as confidential.

“It has been one year since the law was implemented, but there have been no situations in which the press have felt bullied, which I am sure you understand,” Suga told reporters.

It has been noted, however, that the government does not disclose what is or is not a state secret — which critics say limits the freedom of information.

Recently, for instance, the government blacked out most of the documents detailing the negotiation process of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Whether the redaction was connected with the state secrets law remains unknown.

Reporters Without Borders also said many media outlets, including the public broadcaster NHK, have succumbed to self-censorship and surrendered their independence. This follows the news that three TV news anchors who had been critical of Abe’s government recently stepped down.

Earlier this week, David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said “the independence of the press is facing serious threats” from the government, referring to the state secrecy law and the broadcasting law.

The chorus of critique accusing Tokyo of oppressing press freedom has the government on the back foot.

During a Diet committee session Wednesday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida blasted Kaye’s comment, saying the government’s explanation was not sufficiently reflected.

The Foreign Ministry arranged meetings with a number of government officials for Kaye, but Takaichi was not available to meet with him due to her busy schedule, Foreign Press Secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura said.

Kaye is scheduled to submit a full report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2017, but Kishida said that Tokyo will respond to the matter in an appropriate fashion to ensure the report is objective and based on facts.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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