UN: Japan must protect media independence and access to information

UN: Japan must protect media independence and access to information

A UN rights expert on Tuesday released a expressed concern [statement] over the state of media independence and the public right of access to information in Japan, citing laws and personal stories that are making these more difficult than recommended [press release]. David Kaye [official profile], the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, spent a week in Japan conducting interviews with various government officials as well as members of the media, non-governmental agencies and lawyers in attempt to examine aspects of the freedom of expression under international human rights law. Kaye noted the “well-earned pride” that Japan holds for its constitution and democratic system, yet he found many threats to mainstream media where most get their information. These threats are reportedly leading to developments that hinder the freedom of the press and expression as promised by Japan’s constitution [text] and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], which Japan ratified in 1979. Kaye stated:

Numerous journalists, many agreeing to meet with me only on condition of anonymity to protect their livelihoods, highlighted the pressure to avoid sensitive areas of public interest. Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from leading politicians. A country with such strong democratic foundations should resist and protect against such interference.

He highlighted many areas that could use improvement, including eliminating portions of laws that create indirect threats to the media, implementing laws preventing discrimination and hate speech, and permitting public demonstrations.

Japan is not the only country dealing with these issues, however. Egypt [BBC timeline] has been internationally scrutinized in recent months over its many human rights infringements and free speech violations. Earlier this month three UN human rights experts urged [press release] Egypt to cease its ongoing crackdown on humans rights defenders and organizations [JURIST report]. In March Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind was relieved of his position [JURIST report] after making controversial statements on television. After being asked a question regarding the imprisonment of journalists, al-Zind responded that he would even imprison the Prophet Mohammed. Turkey has also been accused of violating human rights freedoms on numerous recent occasions. In March two Turkish journalists went on trial in closed proceedings [JURIST report] on espionage charges that have garnered worldwide concerns regarding the state of free press under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s [official profile] regime. In December the European Court of Human Rights ruled [JURIST report] unanimously that a Turkish court order blocking access to YouTube violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.