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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 April 26 - May 9  > Akahata, the canary in a coal mine
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2017 April 26 - May 9 [JCP]

Akahata, the canary in a coal mine

April 27, 2017
The single-seat constituency election system paved the way for the current authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Kishii Shigetada said in a TBS news show aired on April 23. The well-known journalist also said that he feels remorse for having supported the election system when it was introduced three decades ago.

In the early-1990s, when a reform of the Lower House election system from the multi-seat constituency system to a single-seat constituency system became the focal issue in the political arena, almost all major newspapers and TV networks took the side of those promoting the single-seat system on the grounds that it will help bring about healthy government changes. At that time, only Akahata criticized the single-seat constituency system as undemocratic and opposed it when voicing opposition to the proposed election system was harshly criticized.

Japanese news media’s willingness to take an independent stance is now being called into question. Mainstream media do not take a critical stance regarding PM Abe who praises the U.S. Trump administration for its threat of employing military options against North Korea. Newspapers and TV news shows are just fanning the flames of fear that North Korea could attack Japan.

On the other hand, Akahata urges the Abe government to engage in diplomatic talks to deal with the North Korea issue, referring to Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo’s statement entitled, “Do not resort to any military option, but work to realize a denuclearized North Korea through diplomacy”. Nakamura Akira, a former Kyodo News editorial board member, said that Shii’s statement is very important as few political parties are offering rational responses to this pressing issue.

The issue of the anti-conspiracy bill, which is now being discussed in the Diet, will serve as another test of media’s willingness to offer critical analyses. Author Hando Kazutoshi in an Asahi Shimbun article on April 20 said that Japanese media should be more sensitive to the risk pertaining to the bill which is criticized as infringing on people’s right to freedom of thought. Citing the fact that in the late 1930s the imperial government tightened its control over civil liberties before starting the Pacific War, Hando stressed that it may be wrong to think that there is a difference between now and then.

Akahata made its first appearance in 1928, upholding the principle of popular sovereignty and protesting against Japan’s war of aggression. Facing a violent government crackdown, Akahata was forced to stop publishing in 1935. After that, Japan, with the backing of the mainstream media, aggressively pursued its military objectives.

However, unlike in the late 1930s, Akahata is now legal and reporting on the dangerous nature of the anti-conspiracy bill to its over one million readers. In today’s Japan, which needs more independents in news media, Akahata has an even more important role to play.
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