The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has come under fire after a writer, who was a guest lecturer at a meeting of 37 junior LDP lawmakers, said two newspapers in Okinawa should be put out of business for their criticism of the central government's policy on the U.S. base issue.
The furor erupted on Thursday when novelist Naoki Hyakuta -- a former NHK board member and close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- said during his lecture that the Okinawa Times and the Ryukyu Shimpo should be put out of business, Fuji TV reported. Other lawmakers present suggested the government put pressure on the Japan Business Federation to urge members not to advertise in the two Okinawan newspapers.
On Friday in the Diet, opposition lawmakers questioned Abe. “Don’t you feel ashamed or sorry as the LDP leader? Is there anything you want to say about it?” asked lower house member Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Social Democratic Party. Abe said that freedom of the press is a fundamental part of democracy and called the remarks regrettable, if that is what was actually said. However, he said it was not up to him to apologize but the speakers, because the attendees at the gathering were just putting forward their personal opinions.
The two newspapers responded strongly on Friday, issuing a joint statement in which they called Hyakuta's attitude shortsighted and a dangerous threat to democracy. "Allowing newspapers to publish views that are not in line with the government's policy is essential to democracy," the statement said.
Katsuya Okada, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), said it was appalling that junior lawmakers would make such remarks and criticized any lawmakers who believe they can control the media.
Meanwhile, senior LDP leaders went into damage control mode. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference: "If you ask me personally, it is obvious that these comments were ridiculous. Of course, the Abe administration believes freedom of the press needs to be respected."
LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki called on both sides to keep a cool head. He said that it is OK for lawmakers to criticize the media and vice versa but said it should be done in a dignified manner.
Veteran LDP lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai said the person in charge of organizing the gathering of Thursday's meeting should take a responsibility for what happened.
LDP Diet Affairs chief Tsutomu Sato reprimanded Minoru Kihara, the lawmaker who arranged the meeting. He said the incident is likely to delay crucial deliberations in the Diet over the government's proposed new security legislation.
On Saturday afternoon, Tanigaki told a news conference that the LDP had suspended Kihara from his position as head of the junior lawmakers group for one year and that three other lawmakers had been verbally reprimanded.© Japan Today