UN Free Speech Expert Sees `Worrying Trends' for Japan Media

  • UN rights expert visits to assess freedom of expression
  • Country faces 'serious threats' to independence of media

Media companies in Japan are under attack from politicians seeking to silence them, United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye said.

While Kaye praised Japan’s commitment to freedom of expression and opinion as reflected in the nation’s constitution, he expressed concern about ‘worrying trends’ undermining media independence.

"Independence of the press is facing serious threats," Kaye said at a press briefing in Tokyo Tuesday. Kaye, in town after the government invited him to meet with officials, journalists and others, said there was evidence that ‘government exploitation’ of divisions within the media had worsened the outlook for press freedom.

Kaye was originally invited by the state to visit last December. That trip was postponed after Japanese authorities weren’t able to coordinate meetings with relevant officials in time.

"Many journalists who came to me and my team asked for anonymity in our discussions," said Kaye. "Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from leading politicians."

The UN human rights expert’s assessment comes amid claims by some that the government has put pressure on media companies that criticize the state. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi told a parliamentary committee in February that the government could order broadcasters to suspend operations if they ignored official warnings to ensure political neutrality. Kaye requested a meeting with Takaichi during his trip but was told her schedule was too busy to accommodate him.

The country has seen a number of veteran TV news anchors and commentators leave their programs after covering topics such as a controversial security bill that passed into law last September. Prior to their departures, Japan’s ruling party leadership criticized these programs and called for "fair and neutral programs."

"I, too, do feel that there is a growing atmosphere that I cannot comment freely on the news program these days compared with the past," anchor Ichiro Furutachi, who led TV Asahi’s popular "Hodo Station" program for 12 years, said in his last appearance on Mar. 31, Asahi says.

Japan ranked 61 out of 180 nations in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, preceded by South Korea and followed by countries including Guyana and the Dominican Republic.

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