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Japan: Secrets Protection Bill to Ensure Freedom of Press to Collect Info
Source: the-japan-news.com
Source Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Country: Japan
Created: Oct 22, 2013

The government has included a provision in a bill aimed at protecting national security secrets to ensure freedom of the media to collect information, officials said.

New Komeito, which had expressed reservations about an earlier version of the bill that did not refer to the freedom of the press, said Tuesday it would now support submission of the bill to the extraordinary Diet session.

“The time is almost ripe to reach an agreement. The coalition government should hold a final round of discussions,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said. Komeito is the Liberal Democratic Party’s junior coalition partner.

The bill, which stipulates harsher punishment for officials who leak confidential information, requires Cabinet members and others to use the designation “special secrets” to safeguard information in four fields related to national security, including defense and diplomacy.

The initial bill drafted by the government did not include a reference to the right to know. Komeito expressed concern the bill might allow the government to abuse the envisaged framework.

Komeito also insisted the right to collect information should be protected in addition to the freedom of press. It called for the inclusion of a provision stipulating “coverage by the media will not be subject to punishment if the law is not violated or inappropriate measures used.”

The government informed Komeito during talks Tuesday that the bill will include a provision to ensure the right of the press to collect information, in addition to provisions to ensure the freedom of the media and the right to know.

The initial bill allowed special secrets to be kept confidential for indefinite periods. At Komeito’s request, the bill was revised to require Cabinet approval when the period exceeds 30 years.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considers the legislation indispensable to establish an institution similar to the U.S. National Security Council.

The Japanese version of NSC would request the United States and other countries to provide information related to military affairs, terrorism and other fields. The U.S. government reportedly is concerned about the Japanese government’s flawed system of safeguarding secrets.

Without substantial security information provided by the United States, the Japanese version of NSC will be ineffectual, observers said. The government will try to compromise with its coalition partner while responding to its requests.

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