CPJ concerned that new laws may infringe on free press

May 21, 2002
His Excellency Junichiro Koizumi
Prime Minister
Tokyo, Japan

Via facsimile: +81 3 55 11 7210

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned that the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill contains provisions that infringe on journalists’ freedom to gather information and report the news.

This bill is under deliberation in the current session of the Diet, which concludes on June 19.

According to Japanese news reports, the Personal Data Protection Bill stipulates that those gathering and handling “personal information” about individuals must: 1) reveal the purpose of obtaining the information; 2) gather the information in an appropriate manner; 3) ensure the accuracy of the information; 4) prevent the leaking of the information to a third party; and 5) maintain transparency to allow the subject access to the information that has been gathered about him or her.

Journalists in Japan have argued that specific provisions of the bill, including definitions of “personal information” and “appropriate” means of acquiring information, are not clearly defined and could be misused by government authorities to restrict access to information. In addition, requirements to reveal the purpose of obtaining information and to keep the information transparent could impede the press’s ability to conduct investigative reporting.

Although the bill states that media organizations are immune from penalty if they violate these stipulations, according to the Japan Times, Your Excellency has stated that the media will be expected to abide by them. In addition, the bill defines media organizations as newspapers, broadcasters, and wire services. The legal status of journalists who do not work for these designated groups, including free-lance writers, is unclear.

Media organizations, individual journalists, all four opposition parties, and members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party oppose the passage of this bill as it is currently written. The Japanese Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association (Nihon Shimbun Kyokai or NSK), composed of 112 newspapers, four news agencies, and 38 television companies, protested the proposed law, saying it would “pave the way for government interference in freedom of expression.”

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns official interference in the media’s ability to report the news. Because Japan’s media are among the freest in Asia, we are especially troubled by such an attempt to place restrictions on the press.

CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to do everything within your power to ensure that any new legislation protects the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director