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2016年6月28日 (火)

参院選 表現の自由 先細りさせぬために

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 26
EDITORIAL: Time for Japan to breathe new life into freedom of expression
(社説)参院選 表現の自由 先細りさせぬために

Japan has been on a downward spiral in one rating since the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to the helm of government in December 2012.

The nation ranked 22nd in the annual World Press Freedom Index under the previous administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. This year, Japan sank to a record low of 72nd among the 180 countries and regions surveyed by Reporters Without Borders, an international nongovernmental body.

While the adequacy of that figure may be open to debate, many people probably feel it is becoming more difficult to freely say things out loud and that a stifling air hangs low over our society.

Let us take this opportunity to recall what has happened during the three-and-a-half years of Abe’s second stint as prime minister.

The state secrets protection law was enacted, despite the many questions that surrounded it. The prime minister complained that a TV news program was biased. The communications minister said in the Diet that the government could order a broadcaster to shut down its operations. During a study session by lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who are close to Abe, one lawmaker said, “The most effective way to punish media organizations is to shut off their advertising revenues.”

It is not just freedom of reporting that is at stake.

A growing number of local governments are withdrawing from backing meetings or refusing the use of halls for meetings on defending the current Constitution. The local governments’ reasoning is that such meetings are political in nature.

Publishers are being required to spell out the government stance in school textbooks. The education minister asked national universities to raise the Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag, and sing “Kimigayo,” the country’s national anthem, during ceremonies.

All this is taking place in a country under a Constitution that guarantees the freedom of expression, assembly, thought, conscience and academic studies.

Some may think that a lack of employment or money is a direct threat on livelihoods, but that an alleged crisis of moral freedoms entails no visible loss, so perhaps there is no need to make a fuss about it.

But in a society where free thought and free speech are restricted, it will become difficult to call on the government to secure jobs, cash and a peaceful life, or to criticize a government that fails to respond to such calls.

Japan under the prewar Constitution was exactly like that.

Let us review the positions that different political parties are taking on this issue as they campaign for the Upper House election in July.

The LDP has released a draft of an amended constitution that imposes restrictions on the freedom of expressive activity. The campaign platform of Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, contains no mention of the current state or the future of moral freedoms, even though Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist group and Komeito’s primary support base, suffered a crackdown during the prewar years.

The Democratic Party is advocating the “right to know” as an indispensable instrument for guaranteeing the freedom of expression. The main opposition party is also calling for revising the Law on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs. The Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party say they are opposed to those in power intervening in activities of speech and expression.

The Supreme Court has defined the freedom of expression as a “particularly important component of basic human rights.” We could either breathe new life into it or allow it to taper off.

That point of view deserves to receive due respect as voters decide which candidate or party to vote for.


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