As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese government declared today a state of emergency for most of the country, putting into effect its special measures law that entitles the government to give “instructions” to a number of designated companies and associations listed on its website, including public broadcaster NHK. Many have raised concerns that the ambiguous formulation of the law could be interpreted as an authorisation to infringe on the media’s editorial independence.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to remove NHK from the designated list and ensure that no other media is added. RSF also asks the Japanese lawmakers to modify the emergency law with due haste to make it fully compatible with the Japanese constitution and the Japanese Broadcasting Act, both of which guarantee press freedom.
“When confronted with a public health crisis, independent information concerning measures taken by the authorities and the steps recommended to limit the spread of the epidemic are indispensable to the public,” said Cédric Alviani, RSF East Asia bureau head, who urges the Japanese government “to fully ensure media's editorial independence and act with transparency.”
On March 15th, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare apologised for posting inaccurate content on Twitter. Another false tweet also posted on 5th March aiming at attacking the TV Asahi’s news report on coronavirus.
Since the nationalist leader Shinzo Abe took office as prime minister in 2012, many journalists have complained about a climate of mistrust and hostility coming from the government, which has tried on several occasions to interfere with the media’s editorial independence, including NHK.
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye has expressed serious concerns about freedom of the press in Japan in 2017 and noted a further erosion of freedom in 2019.
Japan ranked 67th out of 180 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.