Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Media watchdogs fear the law would seriously hobble journalists’ ability to investigate official misdeeds and blunders, including the collusion between regulators and utilities that led to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A probe by an independent parliamentary panel found that collusion between regulators and the nuclear power industry was a key factor in the failure to prevent the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (Tepco) tsunami-hit Fukushima plant in March 2011, and the government and the utility remain the focus of criticism for their handling of the on-going crisis.
The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.
Japan’s harsh state secrecy regime before and during World War Two has long made such legislation taboo, but the new law looks certain to be enacted since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and the opposition has been in disarray since he came to power last December.
Critics see parallels between the new law and Abe’s drive to revise Japan’s U.S.-drafted, post-war constitution to stress citizen’s duties over civil rights, part of a conservative agenda that includes a stronger military and recasting Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone.
“There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. “This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret.”
“This may very well be Abe’s true intention – cover-up of mistaken state actions regarding the Fukushima disaster and/or the necessity of nuclear power,” said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano.