September 16, 2020

RSF urges recently appointed Japan Prime Minister to take a new turn towards press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the recently appointed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to dedicate himself to making Japan, which currently ranks 66th out of 180 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index but was 22nd in 2012, an exemplar of press freedom again.

Yoshihide Suga, 71, a former minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, was appointed as the prime minister of Japan on 16th September, 2020, following the resignation of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, whom he assisted as Chief Cabinet Secretary since 2012. Often described as Abe’s right hand man, Suga shares responsibility for the government creating a climate of hostility towards journalists and attempting to interfere in media coverage.

During a press conference in 2019, Suga repeatedly refused to answer questions from a Tokyo Shimbun reporter on the grounds that he was "not required to," triggering a wave of protests from journalists. Suga was also involved in the drastic restraint of government press conferences under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the leader of Japan, the world’s third largest economic power and one of the leading  democracies, Yoshihide Suga now has the duty to uphold press freedom and can only benefit with his country becoming again an exemplar in this domain,” says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau head, who also urges the newly appointed Prime Minister to “grant all media access to the government’s press conferences and discourage any forms of discrimination against journalists”.

Japan generally respects the principles of press freedom and media pluralism, but tradition and business interests often deter journalists from fully playing their role as democracy’s watchdog. On social media, extreme-nationalist groups also frequently harass journalists who covered subjects deemed “embarrassing” for the country, such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the US military presence in Okinawa.

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye also expressed serious concerns about press freedom in Japan in 2017 and noted a further erosion in 2019.

Japan currently ranks 66th out of 180 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index in comparison to 22nd in 2012.