Declaration for the Establishment of Freedom of Expression - To Realize a Free and Democratic Society -
Freedom of expression guaranteed by Paragraph 1 of Article 21 of the Constitution is a crucial human right, and a lifeline of a democratic society. Free expression of opinions has to be truly guaranteed because a free and democratic society is achieved by free discussions and democratic consensus building.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) has been advocating the importance of the freedoms of expression and the press, and urging that they should be respected to the maximum extent.
Since the last year, however, free expression of opinions has been hampered in several cases consecutively. For example, the screening of a movie with a theme about the Yasukuni Shrine was cancelled due to a politician’s comment and a hotel, disregarding a provisional disposition of the court, rejected the use of its hall for an assembly. Also recently, citizens and public officers who posted flyers with contents of criticism against the government were arrested for breaking into residences or a breach of the National Public Service Act, and some of them were prosecuted and convicted. Citizens’ freedom of political expression is threatened by such punishment. Distribution of flyers is one of the important ways for citizens to express their opinions. If police, public prosecutors and/or courts excessively restrict such activities, it is not only a restriction on posting flyers but also a serious crisis against guaranteeing the freedom of expression of citizens. Furthermore, the Public Offices Election Act prohibits door-to-door canvasses and limits the number and form of documents and pictures to be distributed during pre-election campaigns, when the freedom of expression should be ensured. With respect to the present situation in Japan regarding flyer posting, which is an important means of expression, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in October 2008 expressed concern and recommended that all unreasonable limitations against the freedom of expression be abolished.
Moreover, for the realization of a free and democratic society, citizens’ ability to accurately know facts about society and opinions of others should be guaranteed. Guaranteeing the right to know, especially concerning monitoring the government, cannot be realized without the media’s freedom of the press. Thus the media should reconfirm the significance of the freedom of the press, which is guaranteed to serve citizens’ right to know and observe the authorities. The media should be autonomous and reconsider the exclusive system of Kisha Clubs (exclusive reporters’ stations in public offices etc.). The media should also strongly recognize its responsibility to report from diverse aspects without being influenced by unreasonable interference of the authorities.
On the other hand, it is a pressing issue to establish a system for separating the administration of broadcasting from the government considering the present situations where the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications overuses administrative guidance on the content of broadcasts, and sometimes politicians bring pressure on broadcast stations.
Furthermore, it is necessary to consider revising or newly establishing the information disclosure system aiming at wider disclosure of information, since the system was created to realize citizens’ right to know.
In addition, due to the recent development and expansion of the internet, citizens, who had been nothing more than receivers of information, are gradually becoming able to transmit information widely to society. Everyone agrees that the internet is one of the important ways of democratically shaping public opinions. The internet, however, internally has a problem of distributing information which defames, infringes privacy, and/or is undesirable for children’s growth. Thus the internet must be further utilized, while preventing those harms, in order for citizens to freely express their opinions and democratically build consensus.
Considering the above, the JFBA declares as follows:
- Considering the importance of expression by citizens in a democratic society, the following are necessary for guaranteeing citizens’ freedom of expression and right to know to the maximum extent:
i. Central and local governments, especially the police and prosecutors, should not interfere or hinder citizens’ acts of expression, especially acts of political expression.
ii. The courts, as “the guardians of the Constitution,” should strictly examine whether a restriction on the freedom of expression is narrowly tailored.
iii. The government and the Diet should promptly revise the Public Offices Election Act and The National Public Service Act for guaranteeing citizens’ freedom of political expression.
- The media should recognize once again that the freedom of the press should contribute to citizens’ right to know and the monitoring of the authorities. In order to play this important role, the media should be autonomous and reconsider the exclusive system of Kisha Clubs (exclusive reporters’ stations in public offices etc.). The media also should make efforts to report from diverse aspects without being influenced by the unreasonable interference of the authorities.
- The government should conduct the following to fully guarantee citizens’ right to know:
i. Establish a system to separate the administration of broadcasting from the government.
ii. Revise the Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs, which is an embodiment of citizens’ right to know, and to establish a better system of keeping public documents for more effective disclosure.
- In order to maximize the advantages of the internet, a system for preventing harms through expression on the internet should be designed based mainly on self-regulation and judicial procedures.
The JFBA now strongly affirms the importance of the freedom of expression and the right to know, and declares its commitment to make every effort to realize a free and democratic society in Japan in the 21st century through activities that will ensure the freedom of expression.
JFBA declares as above.
November 6, 2009
Japan Federation of Bar Associations