Written by Griseldis Kirsch.
“Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed. No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.” (Article 21, Constitution of Japan)
In spite of this clear embracement of Freedom of Press, Japanese politicians, most notably of the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP for short) have long been engaged in fights to maintain control over the media. How is this even possible in a country that has a democratic constitution in which all human rights are enshrined?
Looking back at the history of the mass media in Japan, censorship was a common practice before 1945. State-controlled censors made sure that the news that were put on the air, or printed, were in line with government policy. This, naturally, worsened during the Asia-Pacific-War (1937-1945), as Japanese failures had to be disguised as successes. During the Occupation (1945-1952), a democratic Constitution was drafted, yet ‘tradition’, or customary right, continued to co-exist alongside. The press clubs, kisha kurabu in Japanese, is one such example. Founded in the late 19th century, they are informal gatherings between authorities and media, accessible only by invitation. Generally, all media outlets would have access to the important press clubs, and they have become the most important means of passing on information. As a result, newspaper headlines in Japan, at least of the big national newspapers, are fairly similar, and articles tend to be descriptive rather than analytical – as they all share the same source of information.