Index 2024
70/ 180
Score : 62.12
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator
Index 2023
68/ 180
Score : 63.95
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator

Japan is a parliamentary democracy where the principles of media freedom and pluralism are generally respected. However, traditional and business interests, political pressure and gender inequalities often prevent journalists from completely fulfilling their role as watchdogs. 

Media landscape

Traditional media remain more influential than news sites. Mainstream newspapers and broadcasters are owned by the country’s five major media conglomerates: YomiuriAsahiNihon-KeizaiMainichi and Fuji-SankeiYomiuri and Asahi have the highest newspaper circulations in the world, with 6.2 million and 3.6 million copies sold per day, respectively. Meanwhile, Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK) is one of the world’s largest public broadcasters.

Political context

Since 2012 and the rise to power of the nationalist right, journalists have complained about a climate of distrust, even hostility, toward them. The system of kisha clubs (reporters’ clubs), which allows only established news organisations to access press conferences and senior officials, pushes reporters toward self-censorship and constitutes blatant discrimination against freelancers and foreign reporters.

Legal framework

A vaguely worded regulation, enacted in 2021, will be applied in 2024, restricting the public’s access, including journalists, to 583 areas near defence facilities and infrastructure deemed of “interest to national security,” such as nuclear power plants and military bases. Violations will be punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to 2 million yen (14,000 euros). The government also refuses to amend a law on the protection of specially designated secrets, which punishes the publication of information obtained “illegally” with up to ten years in prison. 

Economic context

Print is still the dominant media category in the country, but its future is uncertain due to the decline of its readership, in a country that has the highest percentage of elderly people in the world. Japan does not regulate against the cross ownership of newspapers and broadcasting groups, which has led to extreme media concentration and the growth of media groups of considerable size, sometimes with over 2,000 reporters.

Sociocultural context

In Japan, the government and corporations routinely exert pressure on the management of mainstream media, resulting in heavy self-censorship on topics that could be deemed sensitive, such as corruption, sexual harassment, health issues or pollution. Since  2020, the government has slashed the number of journalists invited to its press conferences, citing health measures linked to the pandemic, and has added public broadcaster NHK in the list of organisations required to follow its “instructions” in the event of a major national crisis.


While Japanese journalists enjoy a relatively safe working environment, some have been sued by politicians for retweeting content deemed “defamatory”. On social media, nationalist groups also routinely harass journalists who criticise the government or cover “unpatriotic” subjects, such as discussing the slow response to the Noto disaster or using the term “treated radioactive water” to designate Fukushima water.