Japan: Internet regulation up for debate, but nobody is debating

While nobody was watching, an interim report drafted by a study group under the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has set down guidelines for regulation of the Internet in Japan which, according to one blogger, would extend as far as personal blogs and homepages. In the report, this “Study group on the legal system for communications and broadcasting”, headed by Professor Emeritus at Hitotsubashi University Horibe Masao, discusses the possibility of applying the exising Broadcast Law [Ja] to the sphere of the Internet to regulate, under government enforcement, what gets on the web. The report also suggests that public comments be sought on the issue [Ja], in response to which the ministry has opened a space on their webpage for the public to submit comments [Ja], available in the period between June 20th and July 20th.

Despite the obvious significance of the proposed regulation, neither media nor the majority of bloggers are aware of its existence. The most detailed coverage of the issue has been provided by tokyodo-2005, a former journalist, now a lawyer and prolific blogger on media related issues, who has (at time of writing this) already posted seven entries on the topic. In these blog entries, he warns that this legislation would be applied not only to general websites but also to personal blogs and home pages. The report advises, he cites, that contents found illegal based on the significance of their activity (表現活動の価値) would be outside the scope of protections on freedom of expression as specified in the Japanese Constitution; therefore, it is claimed, there would be no constitutional issue with regulating such content.

In the first entry on the topic, he writes:


If you look at the fascist movement in pre-war Japan, the dangers in the regulation of information by the government are obvious.

In his third entry on the same issue, he points out what he calls “an astonishing fact”: that, out of 12 meetings in total, three were held behind closed doors in order to ensure “free and active discussions”.

自由活発な意見を述べるために、密室にする必要があるのか? もちろん、被害者から事情を聞き取ったりする際には、プライバシーが守られる必要があるなどの点から、密室が必要だろう。


密室での議論、さてさて、公開の場で堂々と述べることが出来なかった意見とは一体何なのか? それとも何やら、談合でもしたのだろうか?

In order to ensure free and active discussions, the meetings have to take place behind closed doors? Of course, in the case of interviewing victims, to protect their privacy, you would need [to conduct the interview in] a closed room.

However, this study group is the place to consider a legal system with relation to freedom of expression. This argument that free and active discussions are not possible if open to the public, doesn't it contradict itself?

Discussions behind closed doors — well, what were the opinions that could not be presented publicly? Or were they talking about some kind of deal?

In his forth entry, he compares the current situation to that of the time of the Manchurian Incident, also known as Mukden Incident, a historical event in which, he argues, the Japanese media played a significant role.



Isn't now the time for us to reflect on and learn from what happened before WW2?

I want the media companies to realise that right at this moment we are about to make the kind of decision we were forced to make at the time of the Manchurian Incident.



They should be playing the role of an authority-monitoring mechanism, the role of the media, but instead they are turning a blind eye to restrictions on freedom of expression and imposing their own priority for profits on the Internet market.

I want them to do their best so that 10 years from now we will not have to write about our regret that: “If we had opposed the interim report back then, we may well have prevented the communications/broadcasting censorship system…” I want us to be able to proudly show the articles that we have written to our children and to our grandchildren.


Also, we as Internet users should not only make statements as public commentary; we should also question the TV, radio and newspapers about why they are not opposing Internet regulation.


Please pass on the information about this situation to many people. We have less than 10 days until the deadline for public comments.


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