Japan's publishers protest over secrecy threat

Japan's publishers protest over secrecy threat

Japan’s new “authoritarian” Designated Secrets Bill will have dire consequences on free speech, according to the Japan Book Publishers Association (JBPA), which argued it was “totally unacceptable and could shake the foundations of Japan”.  

The secrecy law, devised by Japan’s right-wing coalition government, passed the lower house of the National Diet (parliament) last week and is expected to easily be approved by the upper house today (6th December). The law aims to increase Japan’s already harsh state-secret laws. It will also mean that any information the government deems sensitive will be protected from the public domain. Not only would the new law gag the media, said JPBA spokesperson Ryota Ohmori, but it would also prevent publishers and authors from keeping their readers informed on a variety of subjects including defence, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.

Publishers face heavy fines and harsh penalties—including up to 10 years in prison—for breaking the law by publishing leaks designated as state secrets. “As publishers we are dead set against this new authoritarian role of the government that threatens to strip us of free speech,” Ohmori told The Bookseller. “We continue to fight the bill, continue to protest, and continue to protect the freedom of publishing in Japan.”

The biggest problem, say critics of the new law, is that the authorities have refused to lay out what such designated “secrets” may be. For example, with regard to Fukushima—a nuclear power station and possible terrorist target—it is feasible that any information published about it could constitute a breach of national security. Publishers are calling for clarification to protect themselves, authors and the country’s ¥990bn (£5.9bn) publishing industry.

Recent polls suggest at least 50% of the electorate is against the bill.  But a right-wing coalition government—spooked by a newly-aggressive China and pressured by the US to beef up its military and security—is determined to put a stop to any possible security breaches. The country’s ultra-conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has tried to deflect criticism by saying that when the bill is passed an autonomous body will be set up to oversee the implementation of the law.