Protest against attempts by the Prime minister’s Office of Japan to gag reporters’ questions

It has been reported that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) of Japan has repeatedly complained about a reporter who works for the Tokyo Shimbun. The office accuses the unnamed reporter, widely believed to be Isoko Mochizuki, of “misrepresenting facts” and “repeated troubleshooting” and expressed concern about their impact on daily press conferences by the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga. These complaints were put in a letter to the exclusive press club that covers the prime minister’s office on December 28 and signed by the head of the office, Hideki Uemura. They were subsequently leaked to the press.


It is the responsibility of journalists to ask questions from various angles at press conferences and to seek the opinion of politicians. This is how the people’s right to know is guaranteed. Given the overwhelming difference in the volume of information handled by government officials and journalists, it is impossible for journalists who represent the public to avoid making the odd factual mistake. In such cases, the chief cabinet secretary should correct the mistake, not restrict the right of journalists to ask questions. This approach narrows the people’s right to know and is completely unacceptable. We strongly protest.


There is a particular problem with the press conferences of the chief cabinet secretary in that the manager who moderates these conferences repeatedly interferes with journalists’ questions, haranguing them to be brief every few seconds. The news agencies have repeatedly complained about this but have not received a satisfactory response.


Above all, we question the willingness of the PMO, which demands questions based on facts to accurately answer journalists’ requests. At a press conference on May 17, 2017, for example, Mr Suga dismissed the existence of an education ministry document referring to actions by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as “anonymous muckraking.” Mr Suga and the government continued to dismiss the document for a month before accepting its existence. Such a response spreads confusion and erodes the international credibility of the Japanese government. It is not an isolated case: At a press conference on December 26, 2018, Mr Suga took issue with the questions of a specific journalist and failed to answer questions sincerely, instead saying “I do not think so” and “I just replied”.


We are worried that this twisting of the facts and attempts to cherry pick journalists at the PMO will set the tone for coverage elsewhere and spread across Japan. We urge the PMO to immediately change the way it handles press conferences.


Additional notes

At a press conference on December 26, a journalist (Isoko Mochizuki) asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga about the construction of a new US military base in Henoko, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture. The journalist said that red clay was spreading throughout the landfill site for the base, polluting the local environment. “We are not sure whether landfill is proceeding legally,” she said.
The PMO’s responded to this in its complaint about the reporter as follows:
“The Okinawa Defense Agency has confirmed that the landfill material is specified before landfill construction began. It has submitted confirmation documents to Okinawa Prefecture upon request. That question is clearly against the facts ” The PMO further explained that measures to prevent pollution to areas outside the landfill area had been undertaken, so claims that pollution were “inappropriate”.


However, on December 6th, the percentage of fine grains such as red soil contained in sediment used for construction was changed from about 10%” to “40% or less” at a discussion of the Diplomacy and Defense Committee of the Upper House. Okinawa’s government is now demanding onsite inspections amid the “increasing possibility of extremely serious adverse effects on the environment”, but the Okinawa Defense Bureau has refused to comply. Claims that contamination from red clay is present are obvious from a visual inspection of the site. Using false information and trying to limit questioning by labeling such questions “factually incorrect” is a sneaky attack on journalism and the people’s right to know.


The Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions decided on the following policy at its convention in January 2019.
“The media has to deal with the strengthening of political power, and will have to sharpen measures to ensure the people’s right to know. It is time to strengthen solidarity between journalists, endeavor to enhance and strengthen public interview opportunities such as press conferences that will not be exposed to media selection by the authorities, for the enhancement of official document releases. Let’s strengthen our efforts.”
The Chunichi Shimbun Workers’ Union to which the Tokyo Newspaper journalist (Chunichi Shimbun employee) belongs is not a member of the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions, but we think that we would like to work together to improve the people’s “right to know”.


February 5, 2019
Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions
President: Akira MINAMI

中央執行委員長 南 彰