WASHINGTON – The United States has expressed concern about “increasing pressure” on the media from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet, citing a minister’s remark that could be construed as threatening freedom of speech and the press.
In its annual human rights report for 2016, the State Department on Friday referred to Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi’s February comment that broadcasters could be ordered to cease operations if they repeatedly presented politically biased content.
“Several incidents gave rise to concerns about increasing government pressure against critical and independent media,” the report said. Takaichi “reiterated, while denying any plan or intention to take such a step, the government’s right to shut down broadcasters that it determined were politically biased,” it said.
The report quoted the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, as saying, “The independence of the press is facing serious threats.” The rapporteur, who visited Japan last April, cited weak legal protections, secrecy laws and the intimidating kisha club system as factors shaping his view.
The report said some journalists, media analysts and nongovernmental organizations criticize the infamous press clubs, which cover individual entities, such as ministries and agencies, as “encouraging self-censorship and co-opting journalists.” These clubs “may block nonmembers from covering” the government.
The report, officially called the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016, covers human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories.
The report referred to North Korea’s abduction of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as China’s detention of lawyers and rights activists without access to attorneys or family members.
North Korea “suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in April 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution,” it said.