Opposition lawmakers have their knives out for Azuma Koshiishi, the ruling party's secretary-general, over his tightening of the screws on information disclosure following a Cabinet minister's resignation for making verbal blunders.
Koshiishi told a meeting of ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers Sept. 13, "I intend to keep a tighter lid on the flow of information, including how to respond to the media."
He was referring to the recent resignation of Yoshio Hachiro as industry minister.
Hachiro, just returned from a visit to Fukushima Prefecture with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, told a reporter on the night of Sept. 8 he would contaminate him with radioactivity by rubbing his jacket against the journalist.
Hachiro was forced to step down on Sept. 10, a day after his comment was reported.
At a news conference on Sept. 12, Koshiishi said, "I would like media representatives to think again about the way reporting is supposed to be done."
Shortly before the news conference, Koshiishi confronted an official of a commercial television station that is believed to have first reported Hachiro's comment to the journalist, in the Diet building.
The opposition camp is stepping up its criticism of Koshiishi's tight-lipped approach to issues, saying too much control of information could threaten press freedom.
Hiroshige Seko, acting secretary-general of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, raised the issue of freedom of speech in connection with Koshiishi's attempt to control information. Seko said it poses a grave problem.
"Hachiro's comment showed clearly he was not qualified to be a Cabinet minister," Seko told a news conference on Sept. 13. "The comment is worth being reported even if it was made during an informal meeting with reporters."
Kenji Eda, secretary-general of Your Party, said Koshiishi's questioning of the TV station official amounted to "interfering with press freedom."
Yoichi Masuzoe, who heads the New Renaissance Party, said: "Imposing a media blackout is absolutely wrong. Any government that resorted to such measures was never able to stay in power for a long time."
Koshiishi, who is backed by the Japan Teachers' Union and long served as chairman of the DPJ Upper House caucus, has closed ranks with his insistence that leaks will not be tolerated.
His political style is being felt across the administration.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Sept. 13 called on other Cabinet ministers to think carefully before speaking in public and base any remarks on government policies.
It is rare for the chief Cabinet secretary to caution Cabinet ministers to be careful about their utterances.
"The Noda government is strict about controlling the release of information," one Cabinet minister said. "Officials are telling each other that the government does not want any leaks of information."
Some DPJ lawmakers have even begun trying to dodge reporters so they don't have to talk to them.
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