How Japan came to rank worse than Tanzania on press freedom — Los Angeles Times

” The state of press freedom in Japan is now worse than that in Tanzania, according to a new ranking from the non-profit group Reporters Without Borders.

Japan came in 72nd of the 180 countries ranked in the group’s 2016 press freedom index, falling 11 places since last year.

Europe’s media was deemed to have the most freedom this year, but the situation has worsened significantly in most of the Asia-Pacific region.

For Japan’s journalists, things have taken a turn for the worse relatively recently. Just six years ago, the country ranked 11th in the world.

Getting worse

Japan’s poor performance on press freedom is particularly surprising given its standing as one of the world’s leading developed countries. The island nation of 125 million people has the world’s third-largest economy and a vibrant democracy whose postwar constitution guarantees freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

“With Japan hosting the G7 meeting next month of leading democracies, the press crackdown is an international black eye for Japan and makes it an outlier in the group,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor of history and director of Asian studies at Temple University and author of the book “Contemporary Japan: History, Politics, and Social Change since the 1980s.”

The 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant set the stage for the erosion of press freedoms, Kingston said. “Japan’s slide in the rankings began with the incomplete coverage of the Fukushima meltdowns and the government’s efforts to downplay the accident; Tokyo Electric Power Company (and Japan) denied the triple meltdown for two months,” he said. “Sadly, the Japanese media went along with this charade because here it is all about access. Those media outlets that don’t toe the line find themselves marginalized by the powers that be. Since [Fukushima], Japan’s culture wars over history, constitutional revision and security doctrine have been fought on the media battlefield.”

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned for a second term in 2012, five years after he resigned abruptly amid growing unpopularity in 2007, his administration began cracking down on perceived bias in the nation’s media.

At first, the media didn’t hold back in criticizing his administration. The press lambasted Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso for saying that Japan should learn from the way the Nazi party stealthily changed Germany’s constitution before World War II. But critics say Aso’s suggestion foreshadowed things to come.

Two years ago, the Abe administration pushed through a state secrets bill ostensibly designed to prevent classified information from leaking to China or Russia. But the measure allows for journalists and bloggers to be jailed for up to five years for asking about something that is a state secret, even if they aren’t aware it is one. Thousands protested the law when it was passed on Dec. 6, 2013.

Abe’s friend, conservative businessman Katsuto Momii, became the head of Japan’s major public broadcasting company, NHK, in 2014, in a move that has compromised the independence of its reports. Momii has stated publicly that NHK “should not deviate from the government’s position in its reporting.”

Abe’s Liberal Democratic party also recently proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to curtail speech that “harms the public interest and public order.”

In June 2015, members of the party urged the government to punish media outlets critical of the government and pressure companies not to advertise with them.

This year, Abe’s Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi threatened to shut down news broadcasters over “politically biased reports” — something TV and radio laws in Japan empower her to do.

A week later, three television presenters who had been critical of the Abe administration were all removed from their positions.

Veteran reporters in Japan have criticized Abe’s government for applying pressure to reporters, but also decry the increasing self-censorship going on in the country’s press. “To me, the most serious problem is self-restraint by higher-ups at broadcast stations,” Soichiro Tahara, one of the country’s most revered journalists, told reporters last month.

“The Abe administration’s threats to media independence, the turnover in media personnel in recent months and the increase in self-censorship within leading media outlets are endangering the underpinnings of democracy in Japan,” Reporters Without Borders concluded in its report released this month about declining media freedoms in Japan.

“Independence of the press is facing serious threats,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday. “Many journalists who came to me and my team asked for anonymity in our discussions. Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from politicians.”

The state originally invited Kaye to visit last December, but the trip was canceled abruptly after Japanese authorities claimed to be unable to set up meetings in time.

Kaye called for Japan’s Broadcast Law to be revised to ensure press freedom, and criticized Japan’s press club structure as detrimental to an independent press. In Japan, reporters are granted access through press clubs, or “kisha clubs,” formed around groups and government organizations. They serve as gatekeepers, and typically don’t grant access to weekly magazines, like Shukan Bunshun, which excel at investigative journalism.

“Journalists in those kisha clubs tend to be focused very much together in this same kind of social network. And I think that allows for mechanisms of pressure. It may be a kind of peer pressure that’s very difficult to resist,” Kaye said. ”

by Jake Adelstein



Abe mum on Fukushima at U.N. disaster risk confab — The Japan Times

” SENDAI – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had little to say on the tsunami-triggered core meltdowns in Fukushima as representatives from across the globe met at a U.N. conference on disaster risk reduction Sunday to underscore the urgent need to address climate change and reduce disaster impacts.

On the second day of the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, French Minister of State for Development and Francophony Annick Girardin said climate change is responsible for over 80 percent of the damage caused by natural disasters.

The Sendai conference is “above all a call for lucidity, because it is no longer possible to ignore climate chaos” in the context of disaster risk mitigation, Girardin told the gathering, which began Saturday.

Meanwhile, in a speech Saturday at the conference, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had few words on the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The disaster in Fukushima Prefecture erupted after a massive quake on March 11, 2011, spawned huge tsunami that took out the plant’s cooling systems.

Abe’s speech was strongly criticized by Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the town of Namie.

“(Abe’s speech) was no good at all. He may not have wanted to give negative impressions (of Japan) because world leaders have gathered here,” Baba told reporters Saturday.

Namie is close to the plant, and about 21,000 of its residents were still living outside the town as of the end of February after losing their homes to radioactive fallout.

Speculation has been rife that Abe was attempting to avoid discussion about the Fukushima disaster because the No. 1 plant is plagued with radioactive water woes, including operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s failure to disclose the extent of the tainted water flowing into the Pacific.

Tests on samples of seawater and fish from sites close to the plant have shown no alarming signs for human health, apparently as the contaminated water is being diluted by the sea. This has prompted Abe to claim that, despite the continuing water woes and the harm that they are causing to local fishermen, the situation is “under control.”

During a session Sunday, Cabinet members from about 40 nations discussed post-disaster efforts to build more disaster-resistant communities.

“Japan has assumed the largest (possible) quake may hit the country, and has been preparing evacuation routes and strengthened (disaster) monitoring systems,” land minister Akihiro Ota said.

Japan also has taken steps to make houses and schools earthquake-proof since the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck the Kobe area in 1995, Ota said.

He said the nation will provide as much support as possible to Vanuatu, which was devastated by a massive cyclone over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Abe underlined the importance of female leadership in anti-disaster efforts.

“Women’s leadership is indeed essential in order to stand up to disasters,” Abe said in a dialogue session at the conference.

Because women’s perspectives have not been fully utilized in disaster prevention, Abe said, there is a need to consider measures that are friendly to women, who are more likely to face tougher situations than men when natural disasters hit.

In the Dialogue on Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction, cochaired by internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, former Finnish President Tarja Halonen called for improving a disaster warning system to allow women in rural areas to obtain evacuation information promptly. ”