Japan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. In 2005, the right of journalists to refuse to reveal anonymous sources was upheld by the Niigata District Court in a case in which a U.S. health food company asserted that inflammatory news reports dating from 1997 were based on a leak about the company's investigation for tax evasion. Lawsuits concerning reports filed by journalists with the television station NHK and Daily Yomiuri have been appealed to the Tokyo high court.

Central among the threats to press freedom in Japan is the lack of diversity and independence in reporting, especially in political news. This is facilitated in part by a system of kisha kurabu, or journalist clubs, in which major media outlets have cozy relationships with bureaucrats and politicians. Exposés by media outlets that belong to journalist clubs are frowned upon and can result in the banning of members from press club briefings. Smaller media organizations and foreigners are excluded from journalist clubs. Japanese journalist clubs have been criticized by Reporters Sans Frontieres and the European Union because the government gives club members exclusive access to political information. In return, journalists tend to avoid writing critical stories about the government, thereby reducing the media's ability to pressure politicians for greater transparency and accountability. Most of Japan's investigative journalism is conducted by reporters outside the press club system. In recent years, the rising number of journalists who do not participate in press clubs has slightly eroded their power to act as gatekeepers for news concerning government ministries and political parties.

Japan has a vigorous and free media and boasts the highest daily newspaper circulation per capita in the world. Many national dailies have circulations topping 1 million and often produce afternoon and evening editions as well. More than half of the national newspaper market share is controlled by "the big three": Yomiuri, Asahi, and Mainichi. There is considerable homogeneity in reports, which relate the news in a factual and neutral manner. Television news content, once dominated by the public station NHK, has diversified considerably with the rising popularity of Asahi, Fuji, TBS, and satellite television. Japan boasts over 47 million registered internet users, representing almost 70 percent of the population. No government restrictions on access to the internet were reported in 2005.