S5b_01
Press freedom and identity politics in contemporary Japan

Convenors:
Jeff Kingston (Temple University Japan)
Discussant:
Tina Burrett (Sophia University)
Stream:
Media Studies
Location:
I&D, Piso 4, Multiusos 3
Start time:
31 August, 2017 at 14:00
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

Press freedom in contemporary Japan faces many threats. The most dangerous of these threats is the recrudescence of reactionary nationalism led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. This panel examines state encroachment on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. We argue that curtailment of press freedom undermines Japan’s identity as a democracy based on accountability and transparency. Self-censorship, state intimidation, an inhospitable legal context and a deferential press beholden to the government weaken democracy.

Long abstract:

In 2016 Japan was in the limelight because of sharp drop in its global ranking in the annual survey issued by Reporters without Borders, slipping fifty places to 72nd from 2012 when PM Abe Shinzo came to power. Subsequently, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression issued a damning assessment in April 2016 highlighting the problems of censorship, weak legal protections, press clubs and media intimidation. Press freedom in contemporary Japan faces many threats. The most dangerous of these threats is the recrudescence of reactionary nationalism led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. This panel examines state encroachment on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. We argue that curtailment of press freedom undermines Japan’s identity as a democracy based on accountability and transparency. Self-censorship, state intimidation, an inhospitable legal context and a deferential press beholden to the government weaken democracy. PM Abe’s government assertively manages the news through press clubs, spin-doctors, limiting access and brazen threats, and in 2014-2015 a number of Abe’s prominent critics including television news anchors and pundits have been ousted from their posts. Journalists have had their lives threatened for articles they wrote two decades ago by revisionists who seek to downplay the comfort women issue. The courts have increased financial settlements in defamation lawsuits that deter journalists from investigative reporting on political figures. The Abe administration is committed to “overturning the postwar era”, fundamentally a project that seeks to recalibrate national identity that includes revising the Constitution, pushing a pacifist nation to support a more robust military alliance with the US, while promoting revisionist history and patriotic education. Clipping the wings of the press deprives the nation of the vigorous debate and scrutiny essential to democracy and is facilitating the imposition of a rightwing agenda at odds with the entrenched post-WWII norms and values that define Japan’s identity. This panel will critically examine this trend from various angles.