Seiji Maehara, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's policy research committee, has banned Sankei Shimbun reporters from attending his regular news conferences.
Explaining his decision, Maehara cited a series of critical articles by the daily which he said constituted "libel not based on facts" and "the violence of the press." He added that his "tolerance has run out."
We are dismayed and outraged at Maehara's response to the newspaper's coverage.
It is mind-boggling that the policy chief of a political party, and the ruling party at that, has resorted to such action.
Maehara should swiftly retract his decision.
It is true that Sankei's reports have been critical of the lawmaker.
Over a five-month period, the newspaper used the term "Iu dake bancho" (literally, "a juvenile gang leader who is all mouth") on 16 occasions to describe Maehara as a politician who fails to back his words with actions.
Maehara clearly regarded these reports as a personal attack against him.
But it is a fact, for instance, that Maehara has failed to deliver on his promise to stop construction of the Yanba Dam in Gunma Prefecture. He made the pledge immediately after he became the minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism in 2009.
If he thinks that Sankei's articles contain errors of fact, he should point them out in news conferences.
As a politician he should expect to be constantly criticized for one reason or another.
Maehara's refusal to take questions from Sankei reporters shows he is unable to face criticism. His decision creates the impression that he is a narrow-minded politician.
In this age of great diversity in the media, readers and viewers, including free-lance journalists, get their news through all sorts of channels.
The DPJ's decision to open its news conferences to free-lance journalists demonstrates its commitment to placing greater importance on government accountability to the public than the previous ruling party.
From this point of view, Maehara's actions test the political integrity of the DPJ-led government.
Yet Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda showed indecisiveness when the issue came up in a Feb. 24 interview.
"I leave each individual to decide (on the matter)," he said. "I have no further comment."
Noda is treating the matter too lightly. As the party's leader, he should give Maehara a firm rap on the knuckles.
Maehara is not the first Japanese politician to refuse to be interviewed by a specific news organization.
When Junichiro Koizumi was prime minister, executive members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party "refrained from" answering questions put by The Asahi Shimbun except during official news conferences after the newspaper reported that the content of a TV program aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) was altered due to political pressure.
In 1972, Prime Minister Eisaku Sato famously said, "I hate newspapers," in his news conference to announce that he would step down, and spoke directly to a TV camera after newspaper reporters left the room in protest.
A famous saying comes to mind whenever a politician takes this kind of action:
"I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."
Let this wise saying be a gift to Maehara.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 25
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