Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Justin McCurry - Japan accused of eroding press freedom by UN special rapporteur

The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression has accused Japan of eroding media freedoms and stifling public debate of issues such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown and the country’s actions during the second world war. In a report submitted to the UN human rights council, David Kaye said he had identified “significant worrying signals” about Japan’s record on freedom of expression. His investigation – the first into freedom of the press in Japan – was prompted by concern over mounting government pressure on the country’s media.

Critics have cited the domestic media’s delay in reporting that the March 2011 accident at Fukushima had caused a nuclear meltdown – a decision believed to reflect official attempts to play down the severity of the disaster. In 2014, the Asahi Shimbun, under pressure from the administration of the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, retracted an article claiming 650 workers had fled the Fukushima Daiichi plant soon after the disaster, defying an order by its then manager, Masao Yoshida, to stay and make a last-ditch effort to regain control of the reactors.

The paper later admitted its account, based on the newspaper’s interpretation of leaked testimony by Yoshida, was mistaken. Significantly, however, the report’s retraction led to the breakup of an Asahi investigative team that had produced several scoops critical of the government’s handling of the crisis. While Kaye did not refer to specific reports on the Fukushima meltdown, he did voice concern over the removal from school textbooks of references to Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves. Kaye noted the gradual disappearance of references to “comfort women” – tens of thousands of women, mostly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the war.

In 1997, all seven history textbooks approved for use in junior high schools addressed wartime sexual slavery, yet none referred to the issue between 2012-15, and only one mentioned it last year. Kaye said the lack of public debate over Japan’s wartime role, restrictions on access to information, and government pressure that has led the media to practise self-censorship “require attention lest they undermine Japan’s democratic foundations”… read more: