Japan Times: “Japan: The New Uzbekistan Of Press Freedom In Asia”

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Japan: The new Uzbekistan of press freedom in Asia (Japan Times, Nov 30, 2013):

If you’re living in Japan, you may be surprised to know that your right to know has been replaced by the right to remain silent. Shhh … don’t protest. It’s practically a done deal.

The first rule of the pending state secrets bill is that a secret is a secret. The second rule is that anyone who leaks a secret and/or a reporter who makes it public via a published report or broadcast can face up to 10 years in prison. The third rule is that there are no rules as to which government agencies can declare information to be a state secret and no checks on them to determine that they don’t abuse the privilege; even defunct agencies can rule their information to be secret. The fourth rule is that anything pertaining to nuclear energy is a state secret, which means there will no longer be any problems with nuclear power in this country because we won’t know anything about it. And what we don’t know can’t hurt us.

The right to know has now officially been superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.

Welcome to the new Dark Ages of Japan, brought to you by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and Your Party. If the economy and the actions of the government and its politicians seemed opaque up to now, the ruling bloc is making sure that it’s very solid obsidian. Every major news organization in Japan opposes the bill. Last week, thousands of ordinary citizens took to the street to protest the proposed legislation.

The LDP — ever sensitive to the will of the people — took decisive action to address the issue last Tuesday. A debate was held in the morning and televised by state broadcaster NHK. As soon as NHK cut off the broadcast, the LDP ended the debate and rammed the bill through the Lower House. Democracy in action. Only the Upper House remains.

The law has been compared to the pre-World War II Peace Preservation Law, which was used to arrest and jail any individual who opposed the government party line. “Japan already has a very weak freedom of information act which this will cripple,” said Yutaka Saito, a member of the Japan In-House Lawyers Association task force. “The bill takes everything bad about national security laws in the U.S. and then removes all the safeguards and checks.”

According to one survey, more than 80 percent of the public feels that the new law will be misused by the government to coverup scandals, corruption and troubling information. That mistrust in the government is well founded: the Minamata disease coverup on behalf of corporate interests in the ’60s; the HIV-tainted blood scandal in the ’90s; Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s moves to bury a whistle-blower report on nuclear safety problems at Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants in 2000.

Abe has assured us that the regulations for the bill clearly state that a third party organization should be put in place to keep checks on the system.

Should.

Should is an interesting word. You should brush your teeth. You should pay your taxes.

You should believe Prime Minister Abe when he tells that he doesn’t know notorious yakuza financier Icchu Nagamoto — even though he had his photo taken with him in 2008.

We should believe Abe and yet I don’t. Japan should have a society where people have a right to know what their government is doing and where freedom of the press is guaranteed.

Abe’s suggestion that there should be oversight does not mean that there will be. And judging by recent history, even if a token oversight committee is created, it will be about as effective as protecting the public’s right to know as the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency was in preventing a triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

On Nov. 27, Reporters Without Borders condemned the legislation cogently. “How can the government respond to growing demands for transparency from a public outraged by the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident if it enacts a law that gives it a free hand to classify any information considered too sensitive as a ‘state secret’?” the organization said. “By imposing heavy penalties on those who obtain classified information . . . and then publish it, Parliament is making investigative journalism illegal, and is trampling on the fundamental principles of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and ‘public interest.’ ”

Reporters Without Borders also noted that Japan’s ranking in the press freedom index had taken a record fall of 31 places from its position in 2012 to a new low of 53 out of 179 countries.

If the state secrets law is passed, Japan’s press freedom ranking next year is expected to sink to nearly Uzbekistan or China levels. Welcome to the land of the setting sun. Let’s see how much darker it will get.

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