World Press Freedom Day: Japan latest to crack down on reporters – USA TODAY

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TOKYO — Tuesday marks World Press Freedom Day, but many journalists in Japan say government pressure, weak institutional controls and a powerful state secrecy law cause a worrisome loss in press freedom.

Three prominent journalists resigned in March amid concerns that pressure from government and conservative groups cause news organizations to avoid or soften reporting on controversial subjects, such as recent legislation easing constitutional restraints on Japan’s military.

The United Nations issued a blistering report last month after its independent expert spent a week in Japan interviewing journalists, educators and government officials.

“The independence of the press is facing serious threats,” the U.N.’s special rapporteur, David Kaye, said at an April 19 news conference in Tokyo.

“Across a range of areas, I learned of deep and genuine concern that trends are moving sharply and alarmingly in the wrong direction. This is especially acute in the context of media independence,” he said.

The following day, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders issued a report ranking Japan 72nd in press freedom of 180 countries surveyed.  That’s down 11 places since last year, largely on concerns about a state secrets law passed in 2013 that the report says could restrict coverage of such diverse topics as the Fukushima nuclear crisis and the Imperial family.

The United States ranked 41 in the report, up eight places from last year. The report concluded that a major obstacle to press freedom in the United States is “the government’s war on whistle-blowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter-terrorism.”

In Turkey, a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, police used bolt-cutters to take over the country’s highest-circulation newspaper in a midnight raid in March. The country ranked 151st in the report, down two places from last year.

The survey found press freedom under attack worldwide.

“The survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom, and from large-scale propaganda machines,” the report said.

Article 21 of Japan’s Constitution guarantees freedom of “speech, press and all other forms of expression” and expressly forbids censorship. Government officials have denied bringing pressure on journalists.

Nonetheless, many journalists say they are disturbed by recent trends and events.

Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Sanae Takaichia, a political conservative, warned in February that news networks that fail to remain “politically neutral” in news coverage could have their broadcast licenses revoked.

“I don’t think I would resort to such measures myself. But there is no guarantee that future internal affairs ministers won’t,” Takaichi said during a budget debate in Japan’s parliament.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Takaichi, saying she “only answered what is obviously true.”

A group of prominent journalists, speakingat the Foreign Correspondence Club of Japan, said such comments have a chilling effect on news coverage.

“In Japan today, rather than the media watching the authorities, the government watches the media,” said Shuntaro Torigoe, a former newspaper reporter and television news anchor.

World Press Freedom Day s sponsored by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). It is intended to highlight the importance of a free and independent media.

“At this time of turbulence and change across the world, including new challenges that require global cooperation and action. The need for quality information has never been so important — this requires a strong environment of press freedom and well-functioning systems to ensure the people’s right to know,” Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, said in a statement.

World Press Freedom Day: Japan latest to crack down on reporters – USA TODAY

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