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Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba raised a public outcry when, in a blog entry dated Nov. 29, he referred to public demonstrations near the Diet building by those opposed to the state secrets bill — which was subsequently enacted on Dec. 6 — and wrote, “I believe the tactics of simply shouting (opinions) at the top of one’s voice seems not so different from an act of terrorism in essence.”

Since the law’s definition of terrorism includes the phrase “activities that force political and other principles or opinions on the state and other people,” Ishiba’s statement underscored the very real danger that the law could undermine freedom of speech, expression, thought and conscience as guaranteed by the Constitution. U.N. officials have also stated that they regard the law as running counter to Article 19 of the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1996, to which Japan is a party.

Ishiba caused another commotion on Dec. 11 when he expressed opinions on news reports that divulge information designated as special secrets under the law. At a news conference at the Japan National Press Club, he said that if reporting such secrets puts the nation’s security in grave danger, “the act will be curbed by some method.” Although he later backpedaled slightly, what he said was enough to raise concern that, at the very least, the LDP’s No. 2 official is considering using the state secrets law to control the media. Ishiba also hinted that reporters who have divulged such secrets may be punished by stating that final judgments would be rendered in court.

At a news conference held later that same day at LDP headquarters, Ishiba revised his earlier statement and said that he was only asking for self-restraint on the part of the media when they report on classified information. He also said that such reporting activities would not be subject to punishment.

Nonetheless, attention should be paid to his original statement, which used the phrase “the act will be curbed by some method.” This wording can be interpreted as referring to a non-media organization actively curbing reporting activities rather than relying on “self-restraint” on the part of the media.

At the LDP headquarters news conference, Ishiba said that if the media report on classified information, they should do so at their own risk and take full responsibility for their actions. These words could be interpreted as a veiled warning for journalists to use self-restraint or face the consequences.

On a Dec. 12 radio show, Ishiba said, “What if news media report on information whose revelation they know would greatly affect the nation’s safety, and what if the reporting leads to the deaths of many people?” This was a clear hint that it would be best if such reporting is not done. But it must be remembered that the media have the responsibility and duty to report information that they believe the people have a right to know.

The National Secrets law says that sufficient consideration must be given to the freedom to carry out reporting activities that contribute to ensuring the people’s right to know. But Ishiba’s statements point to the possibility that this clause is mere window-dressing. Ishiba clearly places state decisions to conceal “secrets” above the people’s right to know — a pillar of democracy — and backs the idea of controlling the media — something that is done in authoritarian societies, not democracies. His statements, with their chilling totalitarian undertones, constitute enough of a basis to push for the repeal of the state secrets law.

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