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Japan accused by UN special rapporteur of eroding media freedoms and stifling public debate of issues such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown

2738The government of Shinzo Abe has been vocal about ‘unfair reporting’.

 

Japan accused of eroding press freedom by UN special rapporteur

Investigation prompted by concern over government pressure on country’s media over issues such as Fukushima and WW2

The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression has accused Japan of eroding media freedoms and stifling public debate of issues such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown and the country’s actions during the second world war.

In a report submitted to the UN human rights council, David Kaye said he had identified “significant worrying signals” about Japan’s record on freedom of expression.

His investigation – the first into freedom of the press in Japan – was prompted by concern over mounting government pressure on the country’s media.

Critics have cited the domestic media’s delay in reporting that the March 2011 accident at Fukushima had caused a nuclear meltdown – a decision believed to reflect official attempts to play down the severity of the disaster.

In 2014, the Asahi Shimbun, under pressure from the administration of the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, retracted an article claiming 650 workers had fled the Fukushima Daiichi plant soon after the disaster, defying an order by its then manager, Masao Yoshida, to stay and make a last-ditch effort to regain control of the reactors.

The paper later admitted its account, based on the newspaper’s interpretation of leaked testimony by Yoshida, was mistaken. Significantly, however, the report’s retraction led to the breakup of an Asahi investigative team that had produced several scoops critical of the government’s handling of the crisis.

While Kaye did not refer to specific reports on the Fukushima meltdown, he did voice concern over the removal from school textbooks of references to Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves.

Kaye noted the gradual disappearance of references to “comfort women” – tens of thousands of women, mostly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the war.

In 1997, all seven history textbooks approved for use in junior high schools addressed wartime sexual slavery, yet none referred to the issue between 2012-15, and only one mentioned it last year.

Kaye said the lack of public debate over Japan’s wartime role, restrictions on access to information, and government pressure that has led the media to practise self-censorship “require attention lest they undermine Japan’s democratic foundations”.

Japan responded angrily to claims that media freedoms were at risk under Abe.

Its ambassador to the UN, Junichi Ihara, accused Kaye of peddling “inaccuracies” about the government’s commitment to a free press. In a statement to the UN human rights council on Monday, he said: “It is regrettable that some parts of [Kaye’s] report are written without accurate understanding of the government’s explanation and its positions.”

Ihara rebutted Kaye’s claim that a law permitting the government to suspend broadcast licences for TV and radio networks for “unfair reporting” was being used to pressure senior editors into underplaying or ignoring sensitive political stories.

Last year, the internal affairs minister, Sanae Takaichi, prompted an outcry after saying that broadcasters that repeatedly failed to show fairness in their political coverage, despite official warnings, could be taken off the air.

Soon after, three veteran news anchors – all with a reputation for grilling government politicians – left their jobs almost simultaneously, sparking allegations that they had been pressured to quit after Abe and his colleagues complained about them during private dinners with media executives.

Ihara noted that no minister had ever suspended a broadcasting licence, adding that the law “does not give rise to any pressure on the media”.

Kaye’s report was similarly critical of the 2014 state secrets law, under which journalists can be imprisoned for up to five years for reporting classified information passed on by whistleblowers. He said the law was “overly broad” and risked being applied arbitrarily, adding that the government “should not be in the position of determining what is fair”.

Ihara countered: “Information designed as specially designated secrets is limited under strict conditions,” adding that “information-gathering activities performed by journalists are not punishable under the act”.

The rift between Japan and the UN widened after Joseph Cannataci, special rapporteur on the right to privacy, said an anti-conspiracy bill being debated in parliament could “lead to undue restrictions to the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression”.

The government insists the new law is necessary for Japan to fulfil its international obligation to deter acts of terrorism. Abe denounced Cannataci’s assessment as “extremely unbalanced” and said his conduct was “hardly that of an objective expert”.

Confrontations between Japanese and UN representatives have grown more heated in recent years. In 2015, Tokyo suspended payments to Unesco after it included disputed Chinese documents about the Nanjing massacre in its World Memory List.

Yoshihiko Noda, the secretary general of Japan’s biggest opposition party, accused Abe’s government of “slamming the door” in the faces of UN special rapporteurs, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

Earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders ranked Japan 72nd in its global press freedom index – the lowest among the G7. The country has slid down the rankings since 2010, when it was placed 11th.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/13/japan-accused-of-eroding-press-freedom-by-un-special-rapporteur

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June 13, 2017 - Posted by | Japan | , ,

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