News anchors in Japan fired amid curbs on press freedom

(From Agencies)

Japan has fallen from 11th to 61st ranking in World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders since 2010.

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The international watchdog cites Tokyo’s controversial law to protect state secrets enacted in Dec. 2014 as the possible reason for this steep fall.

Under the law, the government can sentence those who divulge state secrets up to 10 years in jail.

Observers say Shinzo Abe’s government cannot stand criticism and punishes those who question its policies.

Hiroko Kuniya, a television anchor, who had been with public broadcaster NHK for 23 years, was probably one such victim.

She used to run an investigative program ‘Close-up Gendai’ for two decades.

She is leaving in April. While no one knows what made her quit the job, it may have to do with her interview with Abe’s advisor Yoshihide Suga last year in which she questioned the new security legislation that allows the nation’s troops to fight abroad, The Economist reports.

The legislation sparked street protests in Japan and fueled anger among neighbors like China and the Koreas. Many politicians, constitutional experts and laymen questioned the move.

During the interview, Kuniya was only raising a question which was in people’s minds.

Another newscaster to lose the job is Ichiro Furutachi, presenter of a popular news show, TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station”.

He will be leaving in March.

Shigeaki Koga, a bureaucrat who used to appear as a guest commentator on ‘Hodo Station’ found his contract with TV Asahi terminated because he happened to be a harsh critic of Abe.

Next to go was news presenter on TBS Shigetada Kishii who used to question Abe’s security legislation.

A group of conservatives accused him of violating broadcasters’ mandated impartiality.

The government recently said broadcasters should be politically neutral or face action.

Stringent security laws were introduced in 2013 under which journalists could be jailed for up to five years for obtaining classified information.

In 2014, the government reportedly instructed mainstream television stations on how to select news topics and interview subjects, according to independent watchdog Freedom House.

The networks were also requested to avoid “one-sided” coverage.

Abe’s first moves after he returned to power in 2012 was to appoint conservative allies to NHK’s board.

On Feb. 9, the communications minister, Sanae Takaichi, threatened to close television stations that flouted rules on political impartiality.



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