• Kyodo

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A senior Japanese diplomat and a U.N. rights expert traded barbs Monday at the U.N. Human Rights Council over a report released in May that criticized Tokyo’s record on freedom of opinion and expression.

David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, cited “significant worrying signals” in his report, including government pressure on media and restrictions on information access justified on national security grounds.

“It is regrettable that some parts of the report are written without accurate understanding of the government’s explanation and its positions,” Japanese Ambassador to Geneva Junichi Ihara said in his statement to the Council.

Regarding Japan’s broadcasting law, in which Article 4 theoretically provides the government with the basis to suspend broadcasting licenses if TV stations are not considered “politically fair,” Ihara said that “the act does not give rise to any pressure on the media.”

“There were no cases in which the operation suspension order was applied by the Broadcast Act,” he said.

In his statement, Kaye argued that “the authority of the government to suspend broadcast licenses on grounds of fairness, even if the government has never taken advantage of that authority, presents a certain measure of risk for any broadcaster, one that the government would do well to remove.”

Ihara also responded to Kaye’s concern about a contentious secrecy law aimed at preventing leaks and state secrets that took effect in 2014, under which civil servants or others who leak designated secrets could face up to 10 years in prison. Those who instigate leaks, including journalists, could be subject to prison terms of up to five years.

In his report, Kaye said the law involved the risk of arbitrariness because specific subcategories under which information may be designated as secret remained “overly broad.”

“Information designed as specially designated secrets is limited under strict conditions,” Ihara said, adding that “information gathering activities performed by journalists are not punishable under the act.”

Kaye’s report, presented on Monday to the Human Rights Council, is the result of the first-ever research on freedom of expression in Japan conducted by a U.N. special rapporteur.

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