TOKYO / GENEVA (19 April 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, on Tuesday called upon the Japanese Government to take urgent steps to protect the independence of the media and promote the public's right of access to information.
“Japan has well-earned pride in a Constitution that expressly protects the freedom of the press. Yet the independence of the press is facing serious threats,” said Kaye after a week-long visit to the country.
“Weak legal protection, the newly adopted Specially Designated Secrets Act, and persistent Government pressure for ‘neutrality’ and ‘fairness’ appear to be producing high levels of self-censorship,” Kaye said. “Such pressure has its intended effect because the media itself depends upon the exclusivity of the press club system and lacks a broad professional union that could advocate for basic principles of independence.”
"Numerous journalists, many agreeing to meet with me only on condition of anonymity to protect their livelihoods, highlighted the pressure to avoid sensitive areas of public interest. Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from leading politicians. A country with such strong democratic foundations should resist and protect against such interference.”
According to Mr. Kaye, the Broadcast Act, adopted in 1950 to give the Government direct authority to regulate the broadcast media, confuses the professional obligations of journalists, in Article 4, with the Government's power to suspend broadcasting licenses. “The Government should repeal Article 4 and get itself out of the media-regulation business,” he said.
Mr. Kaye noted that, in this environment, the Specially Designated Secrets Act, still in its early stages of implementation, is likely to have a chilling effect on the media's coverage of matters of serious public concern. The weakness of whistleblower protection, for example, could lead to information sources drying up, while journalists themselves may fear punishment for their work to gain access to information. Such fears may have particular impact on areas of major contemporary public interest in Japan, such as the future of the nuclear power industry, disaster response, and the national security policies adopted by the Government.
According to the Special Rapporteur, Government pressure also undermines debate on issues of crucial importance, such as the use of "comfort women" during the Second World War. While noting that international human rights mechanisms have repeatedly urged Japan to address the issue, Mr. Kaye voiced his frustration about the attempts to limit debate over the country's past.
“References to 'comfort women' are being edited out of textbooks in junior high schools, where Japanese history is compulsory," Kaye found. "Government interference with how textbooks treat the reality of the crimes committed during the Second World War undermines the public's right to know and its ability to grapple with and understand its past."
Mr. Kaye visited the Diet, where he met the Committee on Judicial Affairs and expressed his interest in ongoing discussions on hate speech and surveillance legislation. “Japan must adopt a broadly applicable anti-discrimination law,” he said. "The first answer to hate speech is to have a law that prohibits acts of discrimination. Once that is in place, broad Government action against hateful expression -- such as educational and public statements against hatred -- can have a real impact on the fight against discrimination.”
“I want to emphasize as well how important a model Japan presents in the area of freedom on the Internet," Kaye added. "The very low level of Government interference with digital freedoms illustrates the Government’s commitment to freedom of expression. As the Government considers legislation related to wiretaps and new approaches to cybersecurity, I hope that this spirit of freedom, communication security and innovation online is kept at the forefront of regulatory efforts.”
David Kaye visited Japan at the invitation of the Government and met with various national authorities. He also held discussions with non-governmental organizations, journalists, private media associations and lawyers. The Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to be presented in 2017 at the Human Rights Council on the main findings of his visit.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.