News / Asia

Japan Secrecy Act Stirs Fears About Press Freedom, Right to Know

FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference in New York.
FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference in New York.
Reuters
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
 
The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.
 
Japan's harsh state secrecy regime before and during World War Two has long made such legislation taboo, but the new law looks certain to be enacted; Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and the opposition has been in disarray since he came to power last December.
 
Critics see parallels between the new law and Abe's drive to revise Japan's U.S.-drafted, post-war constitution to stress citizen's duties over civil rights, part of a conservative agenda that includes a stronger military and recasting Japan's wartime history with a less apologetic tone.
 
“There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. “This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret.”
 
Abe says the new law, a draft of which was approved by his cabinet on Friday and is likely to be passed by parliament in the current session, is vital to his plan to set up a U.S.-style National Security Council to oversee security policies and coordinate among ministries.
 
Outside Abe's official residence, several dozen protesters gathered in the rain in a last-minute appeal against the move.
 
“We are resolutely against this bill. You could be subject to punishments just by revealing what needs to be revealed to the public,” one of the protesters said.
 
Legal and media experts say the law, which would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets or try to obtain them, is too broad and vague, making it impossible to predict what would come under its umbrella. The lack of an independent review process leaves wide latitude for abuse, they say.
 
“Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally,” said Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
 
“Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion,” Muto continued.
 
Media watchdogs fear the law would seriously hobble journalists' ability to investigate official misdeeds and blunders, including the collusion between regulators and utilities that in part led to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
 
A probe by an independent parliamentary panel found that collusion between regulators and the nuclear power industry was a key factor in the failure to prevent the meltdowns at TEPCO’s tsunami-hit Fukushima plant in March 2011, and the government and the utility remain the focus of criticism for their handling of the ongoing crisis.
 
TEPCO has often been accused of concealing information about the crisis and many details have first emerged in the press. In July, TEPCO finally admitted to massive leaks of radiation-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean after months of media reports and denials by the utility.
 
Chilling Impact
 
“This may very well be Abe's true intention - cover-up of mistaken state actions regarding the Fukushima disaster and/or the necessity of nuclear power,” said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano.
 
Legal experts fear a broad impact on the media's ability to act as a watchdog. “It seems very clear that the law would have a chilling effect on journalism in Japan,” said Meiji University's Repeta.
 
Critics have dismissed as political window dressing the addition of references to freedom of the press and the right to know, which were added to the bill at the insistence of the LDP's junior coalition partner, New Komeito.
 
The LDP has sought unsuccessfully to enact such a state secrets law in the past, but the impetus was renewed after a Japanese Coast Guard official posted video online in 2010 showing a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel near disputed islands in the East China Sea. The government, then led by the now-opposition Democratic Party, wanted to keep the video under wraps for fear of inflaming already tense Sino-Japanese relations.
 
The Coast Guard official was suspended for one year but resigned his post. He was not indicted for any crime.
 
The new legislation would create four categories of “special secrets” that should be kept classified - defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
 
Top officials in all ministries - rather than only defense officials as currently - will be able to designate state secrets for five years, renewable in five-year increments and potentially indefinitely, although cabinet approval would be required after 30 years.
 
“As things stand, the state gets a more or less free hand in deciding what constitutes a state secret and it can potentially keep things secret forever,” Nakano said.
 
Currently, only defense secrets are subject to such classification. Security experts say that makes defense officials reluctant to share classified data with other ministries, a pre-requisite for the functioning of the planned National Security Council.
 
Under the new law, public servants and others cleared for access to such information could get up to 10 years in prison for leaks. At present, they face one year imprisonment except for defense officials, who are subject to up to five years in prison or 10 years if the data came from the U.S. military.
 
Journalists and others in the private sector who encourage such leaks could get up to five years in jail if they used “grossly inappropriate” means to encourage leaks.

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
October 26, 2013 1:00 AM
I agree press freedom and right to know should never be hurt by authorities with no independent reviews. I do not know detailas about this secrecy act partially due to simple and superficial reports on this issue in mass media. It looks any act like demonstrations or enthusiastic arguments about this issue is not being activated in the press in itself. I guess ironically this scarce interests of mass media to this act indicates the recent tendency that journalism has been degraded not to be willing to criticize and fight the authorities. In Japan, it looks journalists have dissapeared and there only remains mass reporters. Thank you.


by: Hiroshi Suzuki from: Tokyo
October 25, 2013 1:28 PM
Human rights experts rap U.N. report on Fukushima radiation OCT 25, 2013 The Japan Times
Human rights experts, including a U.N. special rapporteur, are criticizing a U.N. scientific report dismissing concerns about the effects of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the Japanese public. Speaking Thursday at an event organized by U.S. and Japanese nongovernmental groups, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to health Anand Grover took issue with the report’s conclusion that “there is nothing to worry about” for members of the public exposed to radiation from Fukushima. The report was prepared by the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid