Statement Calling for Respect for Freedom of the Press
Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees citizens the right to freedom of expression based on the fundamental principles of the Japanese Constitution which aims to realize a thriving democracy through providing a venue for free speech among the Japanese people. The concept of freedom of expression includes the rights for citizens to not only send out, but also to receive, information freely, i.e. the right to know. Furthermore, the freedom of the press, which is a precondition for guaranteeing the right to know, is also heavily guaranteed. Therefore, it is simply a matter of fact that the government should not unduly violate or intervene with the freedom of the press, and further, the political parties and Diet members which have direct and indirect influence over the government should respect the freedom of the press and not be permitted to make remarks or perform acts which repress or constrain the free and unrestricted movements and reporting of the press.
Recently however, there have been two cases indicating the lack of respect held by the Diet members and political parties with respect to the freedom of the press, and this indicates the increasing risk of the intimidation of the press and the inhibition of free reporting activities.
The first case can be described as follows: A prominent figure, who had been engaging in making comments which were critical of the government, was compelled to step down from his position as a commentator on a TV news program which he had been serving, as he had made comments during the program to the effect that “the cabinet has strongly criticized my comments.” In response to that, on April 17, 2015, the Research Commission on the Info-Communications Strategy of the Liberal Democratic Party (the “LDP”) called up an executive of the broadcaster of such program and conducted a hearing in order to determine precisely what had happened. The LDP explained that the Research Commission had carried out such hearing in line with the provision of Article 4-1 (iii) of the Broadcast Act which states that “The broadcaster’s reporting shall not distort the facts.”
However, in accordance with Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution, the Broadcast Act, which governs broadcasters which assume reporting duties, prescribes one of its purposes as being “to ensure the freedom of expression through broadcasting by guaranteeing the impartiality, truth and autonomy of broadcasting” (Article 1-2 of the Broadcast Act). In order to realize such purpose, Article 3 of the Broadcast Act stipulates that “Broadcast programs shall not be interfered with or regulated by any person except in cases pursuant to the authority provided for in laws,” and such Act clearly guarantees the freedom of editing by broadcasters and does not approve of any interference by other persons except in cases performed under the authority provided for in the laws and regulations.
In light of such purpose and intent of the Broadcast Act, it is generally understood that broadcasters should exhibit self-discipline by performing broadcasting “without distorting the facts,” as stipulated in Article 4-1 (iii) of the Broadcast Act, and interference by the government should be avoided at all costs. As the first case described above indicates, the act of a political party conducting a hearing or performing questioning regarding the contents of a TV program gives rise to deep concerns that such political party may exercise its influence in the Diet and the government and may in turn result in arbitrary interference with the contents of the programs made by such broadcaster. In addition, there is also a possibility of such behavior intimidating the programs to be made by such broadcaster. Such questioning of the broadcaster was not justified even if it was done in line with Article 4-1 (iii) of such Act, and it undoubtedly goes against the intent of the Act which shows deep respect for the freedom of the press for broadcasters.
Next, in the second case, there was a meeting of the “Culture and Art Gathering” held on June 25, 2015, in which 37 members of the LDP participated. One of such participating members made a remark regarding reports which had been broadcast that were critical of the government’s contentious national security bills that had been submitted to the current Diet session, to the effect of “The best way to punish such media outlets is simply to stop their advertising revenues. Thus, I’m hoping that intellectuals place pressure on Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) to stop sponsoring such media.”
The intention of such remark was to prevent and stifle media reports critical to the ruling political party by applying economic pressure thereto. And as stated at the beginning of this statement, such remark is in direct conflict with the fundamental principle of the Japanese Constitution which aims to realize a thriving and fertile democracy through providing a venue for free speech and also guarantees the freedom of expression through Article 21 thereof. Even though this was just a voluntary meeting of members of the LDP, such remarks made at a place where there were a number of members of political parties who had a direct or indirect impact on the government carry the possibility of intimidating media organizations. Therefore, it is our view that such remarks are entirely unacceptable.
The JFBA urges Diet members and political parties to respect the self-discipline of broadcasters and the freedom of the press and not to conduct hearings and make remarks such as those set forth above. Further, the JFBA asks members of the media not to be intimidated by such acts and to stand firm in exercising the right to freedom of broadcasting and freedom of the press.
July 24, 2015
Japan Federation of Bar Associations