Reporters Without Borders deplores the lower house of the Japanese parliament’s adoption yesterday of a “special intelligence protection bill” that would pose an unprecedented threat to freedom of information, and calls on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to abandon the proposed law.
“How can the government respond to growing demands for transparency from a public outraged by the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident if it enacts a law that gives it a free hand to classify any information considered too sensitive as a ‘state secret’?” Reporters Without Borders said.
“By imposing heavy penalties on those who obtain classified information in a ‘grossly inappropriate’ manner and then publish it, parliament is making investigative journalism illegal, and is trampling on the fundamental principles of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and ‘public interest’.”
Under the proposed law, information regarded as confidential could be classified as a state secret for a five-year period that could be extended indefinitely. Whistleblowers, including government employees and journalists, who leak classified information would face up to ten years in prison without being able to invoke ‘public interest’ as grounds for publishing.
Journalists are explicitly targeted by the proposed law, which would allow the authorities to judge the methods they use to obtained classified information.
The prime minister pointed to the “changing security environment in Asia,” including Japan’s maritime border disputes with China, and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, as justification for the proposed law.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan issued a statement in early November calling on the Japanese parliament to reject the bill or at least amend it substantially in order to protect media freedom.
The bill’s approval by the lower house follows an increase in media freedom violations registered by Reporters Without Borders – especially ones affecting freelance journalists – that began after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Ever since the Fukushima disaster, there has been a great deal of obstruction of coverage of its consequences, with prosecutions of journalists who have tried to denounce the government’s lack of transparency.
Japan is ranked 53rd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, a record fall of 31 places from its position in the 2012 index.