Japan fell from 22nd place to 53rd in the rankings of press freedom last year, according to the nonprofit organization Reporters Without Borders. Japan's plummet was attributed to a single factor — the lack of access to information related to the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In the past, Japan could be relatively proud of its reputation for press freedom compared with that of most countries. But being ranked lower lately than countries such as El Salvador or Haiti is an embarrassing reminder that press freedom can quickly erode under pressure from the government and corporations.

In reporting on the serious disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, many reporters have met with restricted access, lack of transparency and even lawsuits.