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The investigation that led to the arrest of the chief secretary of Democratic Party of Japan leader Mr. Ichiro Ozawa over alleged irregularities in political donations has put not only Mr. Ozawa but also some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers in a difficult position. It also has put in focus the thoughtlessness of a top bureaucrat in the Cabinet.

On March 6, newspapers reported a “high-ranking government official” or “government source” as saying that the investigation would not spill over to the LDP. This was a problematic statement since it could sow doubts about the impartiality of the investigation. Some people may suspect that the government knows the details of the actions taken by the public prosecutors in this investigation and that it can influence the outcome to the advantage of the ruling bloc.

The newspaper reports came out of a background briefing given by the official. Reporters were not allowed to take notes or record what he said. They were also not allowed to disclose his name in reports. Thinking that the official in question was Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Iwao Uruma, the DPJ demanded that he appear before the Diet. On March 8, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura disclosed that the official was Mr. Uruma. Since Mr. Uruma is former head of the National Police Agency and has extensive knowledge of criminal investigation, it would be natural if people developed further suspicions about the investigation.

In the Upper House Budget Committee on Monday, Mr. Uruma said that during the background briefing, he had never touched on the issue of whether the investigation would spill over to Diet members of any particular party. He maintained this stance in a news conference held later the same day.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Taro Aso flip-flopped again. In the same committee he said that what Mr. Uruma stated was wrongly reported, but he later withdrew his statement and said that there were gaps between Mr. Uruma’s and the reporters’ perception. Unless politicians and bureaucrats become more careful about their words and behavior, people’s distrust of politics can be expected to only deepen.

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