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May 29, 2020

Covid-19: RSF urges Japan government to lift restrictions on access to press conferences

PHOTO: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges Japan's government to lift restrictions on access to press conferences, measures which were taken when the Covid-19 crisis led to a state of emergency that ended on 25 May.

Although the state of emergency was lifted on the 25th of May, the Japanese government has maintained its restrictions for journalists attending its press conferences according to the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers' Unions (JFNWU). Arguing for social distancing measures in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of reporters authorized to attend the briefings, which usually allow up to a hundred journalists, has been limited to 29.


“At a time when the public needs more than ever to be informed, it is unacceptable for the Japanese government to take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to reduce access to its press conferences,” said Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head. “Nothing prevents the authorities from using bigger rooms to accommodate all journalists while respecting the social distancing measures.” 


Whereas one journalist from each of the 19 media outlets with membership to the Cabinet Press Club have been guaranteed access to these press conferences, only 10 non-members -including freelancers and foreign correspondents-, are being granted access after selection from a lottery.


Additionally, the government has mandated an approximate limit of three questions per press club member and two per non-member, denied follow-up questions and further requested that club members’ questions be submitted in advance. These measures allow authorities to avoid answering questions touching on subjects they deem sensitive.


On April 21st, Mass Media & Information Culture, a network of Japanese media workers, in report denounced attempts from the cabinet of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to influence coverage of the epidemic and the lack of government transparency on virus-related scientific data, a situation that mirrors the government’s attitude toward topics relating to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


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 in 2019.


Japan ranked 66th out of 180 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.