The Textbook Authorization Council has submitted to education minister Ryu Shionoya proposals designed to make the textbook screening process more transparent. The proposals are inadequate and may pose the danger of increasing the secretiveness of the process.

The proposals were prompted by Okinawan people’s furor over the deletion or rewriting in March 2007 of references in history textbooks to the Imperial Japanese Army’s role in coercing civilians into committing mass suicides during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. A large protest in Okinawa eventually led the government to allow mention in the textbooks of the army’s “involvement” in the mass suicides.

The council proposed making public the summaries of screening decisions as well as the general trend of discussions in the council’s sections and subcommittees after the screening process is over. But the summaries would not include opinions that screeners have expressed to textbook authors and the latters’ responses. If textbook authors leak information on draft textbooks, the screening process would be suspended. The council also proposed making public the summaries of opinions of the ministry’s textbook research officials. On the basis of these opinions, screeners examine draft textbooks. The identity of textbook research officials and screeners would be released.

The proposals clearly show that the council is determined not to open to the public the core process of textbook screening in which screeners give their opinions to textbook authors. The council says the screening should be carried out in a quiet environment free from outside pressures.

But carrying out the screening in a closed environment will likely increase suspicion that politicians, government leaders and groups with particular ideologies exert pressure on the council. If screeners are confident about their opinions, there should be no need to hide them from the public. The possibility remains that the council and the education ministry will write summaries arbitrarily, hiding controversial points. At the very least, they should publicize detailed minutes of the screening process.

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