JAPAN: The Pen is Mightier than the Government

LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Stop to think about what it means to live in a democracy and freedom of the press will likely come to mind. Journalists being able to speak out about societal wrongs is vital to improving society and expanding the minds of the people they serve.

But what happens when the government hears something they don’t like and decides to intervene?

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan summoned two executives from Asahi TV and NHK, two of Japan’s leading news networks, on April 17 to discuss possible controversial reporting activities.  The first instance involved a former trade ministry bureaucrat named Shigeaki Koga, who claims that producers fired him as a commentator on a popular evening news show due to pressure from government officials who were bothered by his criticism of the Abe administration.  Also under investigation are executives at Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, over alleged factual errors in a story regarding fraud on a current affairs news program.

At a recent press conference, Koga expressed concern about what this does to perpetuate fear in the world of journalism.  “…because it is the ruling party (making this request), the TV stations are reluctant or too fearful to say no…when they face a barrage of questions, or are given advice, they will not be able to truly fight back or express very strong opinions in opposition to them,” Koga stated.

Unfortunately, this is causing a chilling effect among Japanese journalists – something that will prevent them from speaking truth to power for fear of losing their livelihood. But if this is such a problem, why aren’t journalists fighting back?  According to Koga, “We’re seeing the media basically trying to accommodate the pressures. . . . What that means is that reporters pull back, because they want to have a smooth relationship with the government.”

Many are upset with how the situation is being handled, but government spokesman Yoshihide Suga has denied allegations of censorship and said that the summons were not meant to pressure the media in any way.

Whenever a democratic country is accused of suppressing stories that are critical of the government, people should be wary.  If journalists cannot inform citizens about things that may be detrimental to their well-being, then they cannot do their job properly.  Koga commented that, “This goes to the heart of what a journalist is . . . to be aware that there is something wrong, and then to have the courage and ability to follow up and dig deeper and do investigative journalism.”

If journalists keep information from people, they cease to be journalists. When they become fearful of their own government, that government ceases to be a democracy.  Japan is a strong country filled with resilient people – it can withstand a few disapproving comments.

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