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Lawyers protest nat'l referendum bill as restricting media, public.

TOKYO, April 18 Kyodo

Lawyers, writers and media labor unions Monday protested a proposed bill to hold a national referendum on whether to revise the Constitution, saying the bill restricts freedom of expression of both the press and public, including foreign nationals in Japan.

''It is alarming that the bill will restrict the media, educators and public employees from freely reporting or expressing their views about matters related to constitutional revision,'' said Kazuyuki Azusawa, one of the representatives of the Lawyers League for Freedom of the Press.

Speaking before an assembly in Tokyo organized by the league, Azusawa said the public will also be affected since the bill will in effect restrict the flow of information from the media and deprive people of the information they need to decide on the issues for themselves.

Japan's Constitution took effect in 1947 and revising it is a politically sensitive issue because of war-renouncing Article 9, which forbids the use of force in settling international disputes.

The national referendum bill -- the drafting of which was mentioned in the final report Friday by the House of Representatives Research Commission on the Constitution -- is becoming a cause of concern given the fierce debate in Japan over constitutional revision and the need to educate the public on the issues involved.

According to Article 96 of the Constitution, amendments to the Constitution must be initiated by a concurrent vote with a two-thirds' majority in both houses of parliament and an affirmative vote in a subsequent national referendum.

Ruling lawmakers are trying to have the bill enacted in the current Diet session.

Critics say the bill basically forbids the media from using their position to report or print commentaries regarding issues surrounding the constitutional revisions or referendum. The bill also bans publicizing results of the referendum in advance and bans ''distorted'' news coverage with the threat of imposing penalties on violators.

According to the bill, civilians will not be allowed to run paid advocacy advertisements in newspapers and magazines regarding the national referendum. It also bans involvement of educators, public employees and foreign nationals in Japan

Shinobu Yoshioka, a writer and member of the Japanese Centre of International P.E.N., questioned the provision in which foreign nationals in Japan are totally banned from taking part in any activity involving constitutional revision.

Lawyers opposed to the bill believe that banning foreigners from being involved in this process could lead to banning foreign panelists from speaking at assemblies on the referendum or disallowing donations from foreigners during fundraising activities on the streets as part of referendum campaigns.

''We should not think of this provision purely as a domestic matter but as something that should be looked at within the context of international society and consider what effect it will have on neighboring countries,'' Yoshioka said.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Apr 18, 2005
Words:466
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