Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Japan’s prolific media garners one of the highest readerships in the world, despite criticism about a lack of viewpoint diversity as a result of exclusive press clubs. Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. In 2005, the Niigata District Court upheld the right of journalists to refuse to reveal anonymous sources 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. In March 2006, and again in June, a Tokyo high court upheld the ruling of the lower court that protection of news sources served the public interest and the public’s right to know and that journalists could protect the identity of their sources, even if the source was a public official.
Concerns continue regarding 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 such 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 altogether. The kisha kurabu 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.
Physical attacks against the media are rare. However, on July 21, an unidentified man hurled a Molotov cocktail into the headquarters of Japan’s largest business daily, Nihon Keizai Shimbun. No one was hurt in the attack, but the office suffered minor damage. Police are investigating possible motives, including the newspaper’s exclusive story about the late emperor Hirohito’s refusal to visit the war memorial, known as the Yasukuni Shrine, after it began honoring 14 convicted war criminals in 1978.
Japan has a vigorous and free media and boasts the second highest daily newspaper circulation per capita in the world (after Norway). Many national dailies have circulations topping one 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”: the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Mainichi Shimbun. 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 Nippon Hoso Kyokai, has diversified considerably with the rising popularity of TV Asahi, Fuji TV, the Tokyo Broadcasting System, 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 2006.