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2010年11月13日 (土)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 11
EDITORIAL: Leak of trawler footage

A Japan Coast Guard officer of the 5th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Kobe told his superior he leaked the video footage of the Chinese trawler off the Senkaku Islands that was posted on YouTube. Investigators are looking into the case as a possible violation of the National Civil Service Law.

Views are divided over the video. Some criticize the government for deciding not to disclose it while others show understanding.

But if a government employee is allowed to render meaningless a high-level government decision concerning diplomatic relations at his own discretion, the administration would come to a standstill.

All we know at this moment are fragmentary details about the confession. How and why the leakage occurred and the motive and background of the incident are unclear.

There are also various views about whether the video in question constitutes confidential information that needs to be protected at the cost of imposing criminal punishment. We need to calmly keep an eye on the progress of the investigation.

How should we think about secrets kept by the government and the public to whom they essentially belong as sovereign members of the nation? This is a problem that has been debated for some time. However, the situation has drastically changed with the spread of the Internet that virtually anyone can use.

Up to now, the power to send information to society has been more or less limited to a small number of media organizations. The media were able to advocate freedom of expression and the press because they served the public's right to know and contributed to the advancement of democratic society. In return, the media also shouldered their share of responsibility.

The media are expected to look into information to discern whether it is true or false and whether its contents and nature are worthy of reporting. They are required to use socially acceptable methods to gather information and protect their sources. They must also accept criminal and civil responsibility not to mention criticism by the government at the time.

However, with the development of the Internet, the media are no longer in a position to exclusively transmit and disseminate information.

The wide spread of information has given rise to more opportunities for the public to engage in discussions and make decisions. While there are positive aspects, the behavior of a single person could undermine the safety of society and the wealth and lives of the people. We are living in a difficult age.

Each of us needs to recognize this situation as our own problem. To what extent should the government publicly release the large volume of information it has? Which information should be kept confidential and what responsibility must the sender of information shoulder? A serious debate is needed.

Should information be kept confidential or not? It is difficult to draw a clear line. There is no other way than to carefully examine the contents of information, weigh the advantages and losses of the public and make a decision at each juncture. From now on, a tense struggle between political and bureaucratic authorities, which tend to keep information to themselves, and the public, which calls for freedom of information, is expected to intensify.

Even amid such a fierce battle, it is said that publicizing as much information as possible and developing debate strengthens democracy. We want society to share this basic direction.

In response to the situation, the government decided to set up a committee to discuss information management. While we do not deny that such discussions should be held, we need to firmly keep an eye on the government's moves so that freedom of expression would not be threatened.


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