During a meeting of the budgetary committee on February 4, Democratic Party Japan MP Takeshi Shina mentioned that anchors and commentators who criticize the administration were “disappearing one-by-one from TV” during a question about free speech addressed to Prime Minister Abe.
Shina’s question was focused on the Liberal Democratic Party’s draft reform of Article 21 of the constitution, which currently says: “Freedom of assembly and association, as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.” The LDP is proposing to add the following clause: “In spite of the provision codified in the previous paragraph, activity and assembly in an attempt to disturb public well-being or public order will be prohibited.” Shina raised concerns that the revision proposed by the LDP would stifle free speech, and asked Prime Minister Abe if that was indeed the intention of of the amendment.
Abe reiterated that the prohibition would be limited to activities and assembly that hurt public well-being or public order, and would therefore not limit any other free speech. He added that he did not think that the amendment would limit the free speech of Japanese citizens.
Shina urged Abe to think of the possible side effects of adding this carve-out to the general right to free speech guaranteed by Article 21. Shina went on to say that it would cause a chilling effect on the free speech of citizens and media outlets, and that it would induce them to curry favor with the people in power and refrain from them criticizing those people. He said that it is definitely necessary to guarantee freedom for media outlets to express divergent opinions. Then he asked Abe if he intends to guarantee the freedom of media outlets to criticize the people in power.
In response, Abe answered that the right to free speech must be respected since it is a fundamental driver of democracy. He said that he did not think media outlets are repressed and he offered as evidence the newspaper Nikkan Gendai (日刊ゲンダイ). He suggested that Shina buy Nikkan Gendai that evening on his way home.
Nikkan Gendai is a tabloid newspaper created in 1975, which is modeled after the British newspaper, The Sun. Nikkan Gendai is smaller than the major newspapers, measuring at 40.8 cm by 27.3 cm, as opposed to the usual size of 54.6 cm by 40.6 cm. It is not delivered to private residences, but instead can be purchased at konbinis and train station kiosks for 140 yen (approximately $1.25).
It is known for its blunt criticism of the administration. There are several prominent examples of this criticism. It often refers to the TPP as the “Sale of the Country Treaty” (売国条約). In reference to MP Amari’s bribery scandal, it said it was gang behavior for a member of parliament to demand that a citizen pay 500,000 yen just to meet with a minister.(MP Amari did not admit this) After the resignation of anchor Ichiro Furutachi from the program Hodo Station, Gendai reported the news with the headline “Kantei Uha Uha.” Kantei is the official residence of Prime Minister and “Uha Uha” is the Japanese phrase to indicate the sound of an enthusiastic laugh. It was meant to indicate that Abe administration officials were very happy to see Furutachi’s resignation.
In response to Abe’s comment that Shina read Nikkan Gendai, one of the paper’s op-ed columnists, Ukeru Magosaki, tweeted that “I write articles for Nikkan Gendai, but Prime Minister Abe, would you want your mother to read Gendai?” The tweet implies the fact that Nikkan Gendai includes both serious political articles as well as erotic writing and ads for sex products. Such erotic pieces are not seen in major newspapers. Thus, Nikkan Gendai is not a good example to use if Abe wishes to show that there isn’t evidence of repression of speech.