An outspoken Japanese pundit who claims he was pulled off the air under pressure from the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday ruling lawmakers are exerting unusual pressure on the media.
Shigeaki Koga, a vocal Abe critic, warned of growing self-censorship among Japan's already-tame media, hampering public debate at a time the government is pushing ahead with controversial issues such as expanding the roles of its military.
"What's happening in Japan is that the media are avoiding confrontations with the government because of pressure it applies, instead of putting up a fight," Koga told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ).
Koga's comments come as numerous voices warn journalists are pulling their punches to avoid losing access to information in the clubby world of Tokyo public life.
They also come the day before Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is due to meet executives from national broadcaster NHK and private network TV Asahi -- at the party's request -- to discuss the networks' news shows.
NHK is embroiled in a scandal over the alleged use of a stooge in a news report, while TV Asahi is in hot water after an outburst by Koga live on air in which he claimed he was being yanked from screens because of government pressure.
Late last year the LDP -- which, as a political party plays no regulatory role in broadcasting -- wrote to networks to urge "fair" coverage ahead of a general election that was always going to be a cake-walk for Abe.
"If the ruling party is summoning specific broadcasters over specific news items, it won't be just political shows. I am sure (broadcasters) will sense pressure," he said.
However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga shrugged off criticism.
"I understand that the meeting is not about pressuring the media. I don't see anything wrong with it," Suga told a regular briefing this week.
Japanese television media are particularly vulnerable to government pressure because their licences come directly from the internal affairs ministry, rather than an independent regulator, such as the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, Koga said.
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