Junior LDP members raise media ire over control suggestions
A nationwide condemnation of proposals by some junior LDP legislators to control media threatens to derail Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposed revisions to the nation’s security laws, and has attracted anger against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan even from media outlets that are usually supportive of the LDP and its policies.
The whole episode started when young ruling party lawmakers organized a study session on June 25th, with a best-selling novelist Naoki Hyakuta, who’s said to be close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, attacked the two leading dailies in Okinawa Prefecture for opposing the government’s MCAS Futenma relocation plan.
The Okinawa Times and The Ryukyu Shimpo “must be closed down by any means,” Hyakuta was quoted as telling the group. As the best means to achieve the goal, he recommended depleting their advertising revenue through pressure on their sponsors through Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, the largest and most powerful business association in Japan.
A junior Diet member present at the meeting held in the party headquarters in Tokyo targeted the Okinawan newspapers for staunchly opposing the government’s plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to Henoko. “They have been completely hijacked by left-wing forces,” the lawmaker said at the meeting. Pointing his finger at the Okinawa newspapers, the lawmaker said the government must make efforts to “reorient the contorted public opinion in Okinawa toward the right direction.”
The meeting also heard proposals to impose stricter controls on television and other mainstream media.
“The government must publicize the names of television programs that it believes have harmful influence, and list the sponsors of the programs,” another lawmaker said.
The panel, headed by Minoru Kihara, director of the LDP’s Youth Division, aimed to strengthen the Abe administration’s ability to communicate with the public by using the voices of influential figures, who support its policies.
The response was swift in coming. At a Lower House committee session on June 26, Manabu Terada, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, described the comments as “problematic.”
When Prime Minister Abe was asked about Hyakuta’s remarks, he said it is a “matter of course” to respect the freedom of the media. “The freedom of the media is the very foundation of democratic governance,” Abe stated.
On Saturday, the LDP dismissed its Youth Division Chief Kihara, and banned him from holding any party post for one year. The LDP also reprimanded party lawmakers Hideo Onishi, Takashi Nagao and Takahiro Inoue for making controversial remarks at the meeting.
On the same day an LDP executive said, “The dismissal of the Youth Division director is only to be expected,” adding, “If we were living in different times, he would have been asked to commit hara-kiri. Although some other participant may have made the comments, Kihara cannot avoid responsibility.”
LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki said at a press conference on Saturday, “At the meeting, there were remarks that appeared to disregard freedom of the press and speech, and ruin the party’s efforts to be considerate of Okinawan people’s feelings, They are damaging the public trust in the party and cannot be condoned.”
In Okinawa, the Okinawa Times and the Ryuku Shimpo said in a joint protest statement of their chief editors that the shortsighted mindset calling for closing them down for being critical is “extremely dangerous.” Hyakuta’s remark is “exactly the idea of suppression of free speech without allowing news reports that are not in line with the government’s intentions,” the newspapers said. “It is an absurd argument that denies freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are essential to democracy.
The whole affair has generated a crisis in the LDP at the time when the party is trying to win public support to its security bills that would expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces. The proposed revision has had a very low public support rate, and the LDP leadership fears that the controversy would strengthens the opposition to the bills.
Seeing an opportunity, the opposition camp in the Diet is not going to let LDP off the hook easily, and claims that the incident shows what is fundamentally wrong the LDP.