The Japanese Defense Ministry has made clear that criticism of the upcoming deployment could result in a “news blackout.” However, the Japanese news media does not seem to be willing to fall into lockstep with government propaganda and censor themselves as so many of America’s media outlets have sadly done since 9-11.
Ahead of its most sensitive dispatch of troops abroad since World War II, the Japanese government has warned media not to “obstruct” its mission in Iraq or face a news blackout, a stance that has local critics fuming. A letter to the media from the Defence Agency last week was labelled by critics as a reminder of Japan’s wartime censorship, and an affront to the freedoms it pledged to help restore in war-battered Iraq.
“Japan’s militant nationalism has gone, but the methods for controlling the Japanese media have remained,” Teruo Ariyama, a journalism professor at Tokyo Keizai University, told AFP. “The Japan Defence Agency will decide what information is safe or not and no one can inspect what the standard is,” Ariyama said.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters the requests “just means that we want you to report while taking security issues into consideration.” But analysts said the intention was just the opposite. “This is no different than the (wartime propaganda) ‘Announcement from Imperial General Headquarters’,” wrote Rikkyo University mass media professor Takaaki Hattori in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. “The brazen, anachronistic attitude of the Defence Agency is nothing short of amazing,” he wrote.
News outlets insisted they would exercise their own judgment as to what to report. Publicly funded network Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) said it would continue to report developments on the ground “as they happen”. “It is the role of news organisations to answer the public’s right to know,” it said in a statement to AFP. “Even if we take into consideration the safety of troops, we cannot accept the Defence Agency’s request as it is.”
UPDATE: An additional article from The Japan Times covers this matter as well as security leaks believed to be coming from the Defense Agency. (Note their banner motto: “All The News Without Fear or Favor.”)