The government on Friday enacted legislation severely restricting the flying of drones over U.S. military and Self-Defense Forces facilities, as well as venues hosting 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic events as a preventive measure against terrorism.
The move has sparked protests from opposition parties and the media over the past few months due to their concerns about a possible denial of people’s right to know and a potential disruption of newsgathering activities.
While the legislation all but bans the flying of drones by private individuals, if prior permission is sought from authorities certain organizations, including media outlets, may be granted exemptions.
The House of Councilors approved the bill at a plenary session following its passage through the House of Representatives on April 16.
The legislation similarly restricts the flying of drones over venues for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Only drones providing coverage for, and controlled by, the media will be allowed to fly over venues during the sports events, if permission is granted.
The legislation is an amendment to the existing law which, due to terrorism concerns, already bans drone flights over key facilities such as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Imperial Palace.
The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, an independent organization run by Japanese mass media, opposed the legislation.
“It will greatly limit newsgathering activities and infringe upon the right of the people to be informed,” they said.
In past Diet sessions, opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, expressed concerns that people’s right to know may be hampered because the legislation would prohibit aerial photography and filming of the site in the Henoko district of Okinawa Prefecture where landfill work is being conducted for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The government said it has no intention of restricting newsgathering activities.
In response to criticism, Lower and Upper House panels adopted a supplementary resolution requesting the government ensure press freedom and the people’s right to know.
“Freedom of the press and the people’s right to know will suffer if restrictions go beyond the necessary limits,” the resolution said.
The legislation restricts operators from flying drones within 300 meters of the boundary of designated sites.
The police and the SDF are permitted to seize or destroy drones if they are flown near designated zones without permission, and lawbreakers risk up to a year in prison or a maximum fine of ¥500,000.