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-  Surface area: 377,750 sq. km.
-  Population: 127,096,000
-  Language: Japanese
-  Type of State: constitutional monarchy
-  Head of State: Emperor Akihito
-  Head of government: Koizumi Junichiro

Japan annual report 2002

The main obstacle to true freedom of the press in Japan remains kisha clubs (official press clubs). People are starting to speak out against this nepotistic system.

On 15 May, Yasuo Tanaka, the reformist governor of Nagano province, announced that he was leaving the "kisha club system". He refused to fund the province’s three clubs, and planned to create a press centre that would be accessible to all journalists. The sixteen media affiliated with the Nagano province kisha clubs denounced this decision and stated that it increased "the risks of information being manipulated". This is doubtful because kisha clubs, funded by the authorities and large companies, only allow a limited number of journalists - those of the major Japanese media - to attend press conferences and obtain information from the main administrations and companies. There are said to be more than eight hundred kisha clubs in Japan, located in offices provided to them by political parties, ministries, companies or politicians. Foreign journalists working in Japan claim that kisha clubs "extend a long tradition of self-censorship". Foreign correspondents are excluded from this system, with the exception of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs club.

In August, the weekly Shukan Gendai reveals that dozens of journalists had received large sums of money from government officials for "expenses". Journalists are said to regularly receive envelopes containing from five to ten thousand euros. Some confirmed these practices but explained that they passed this money on to charities.

Pressure and obstruction

In late January 2001, the public television channel NHK allegedly faced pressure by ultra-nationalist groups before broadcasting a documentary on "comfort women", Asians forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during the Second World War. After preparing this documentary with associations providing support to victims, the NHK suddenly changed its tune. Comments made by some women in front of a symbolic tribunal (without any legal value) in Tokyo were removed from the film. The channel refused to recognise that these changes were made because of outside pressure. Nevertheless, ultra-nationalist groups triumphed and again denounced "a masochist vision of history" spread by some media.

On 6 April, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP, the party in power) created a special committee to orient the content of television programmes, just before the successor to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was named. The former Prime Minister, responsible for many gaffes, was often criticised by the press. The committee admitted that its goal was to prevent the broadcasting of "biased information".

On 18 April, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori announced his resignation during a press conference. After his speech, he criticised the media for "harassing" him. While he often refused to answer questions from journalists, the Prime Minister asked them to change their "attitude" toward politicians. Two days later, an advisor to the Prime Minister slapped a journalist from the Kyodo News press agency who tried to ask the Prime Minister a question.

On 3 May, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun commemorated the International Press Freedom Day with an homage to one of its reporters, Tomohiro Kojiro, murdered on 3 May 1987 in the newsroom. The killers were never arrested but the investigation focused on members of the Japanese far right.

In May, the government presented Parliament with a bill on privacy. It allows the authorities to prevent the media from publishing or broadcasting information under the motive of "protecting privacy". Violations of this law can be sanctioned by prison sentences of up to six months. In May, Shinichi Sano, a well-known freelance journalist, launched a campaign against this law. He said that the text was a "danger for investigative reporting" in a country where, he said, the popular press only rarely denounces affairs involving officials or personalities.

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see also
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Africa annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002