Okinawa Papers Rap Abe's Fellow Lawmakers Over Anti - Media Remarks

Okinawa papers rap Abe's fellow lawmakers over anti-media remarksTwo major newspapers in Okinawa Prefecture on Thursday rapped some lawmakers of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party for calling for pressure to be applied on media critical of the government, including the two papers.

"I feel extreme anger" about comments made at last week's LDP gathering, Kazuhiko Taketomi, editor-in-chief of the Okinawa Times at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. "It shakes the very foundation of freedom of press and freedom of speech."

In the gathering of about 40 LDP junior lawmakers close to Abe on June 25, participants mounted a barrage of criticism against the media critical of the government and called for pressure to be applied on such media outlets to silence them.

Abe did not attend the meeting, and many senior LDP lawmakers as well as opposition parties blasted the comments made at the meeting.

In the study session, LDP lawmaker Takashi Nagao criticized the two Okinawa papers -- Okinawa Times and The Ryukyu Shimpo -- by saying they are "completely taken over by left-wingers."

Best-selling novelist Naoki Hyakuta, who was the featured speaker of the session, said the papers should be "destroyed," although the close friend of Abe's later said he was "joking."

The two Okinawa papers have been critical of the government's response to the situation where the island prefecture has long hosted the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.

With Nagao being an LDP member, his remarks indicate Abe and his party "look down on the people of Okinawa" and that they think the Okinawa people are "foolish," Taketomi said.

Yoshikazu Shiohira, editor-in-chief of The Ryukyu Shimpo, said at the same press conference, "We're not trying to manipulate the Okinawa people" to go against government policy. "If we take such an arrogant way, we would soon lose the support of local people."

Recent elections have shown that many people in Okinawa are against the planned relocation of a key U.S. military base within the prefecture, saying it should be moved outside the prefecture to reduce the base-hosting burdens of Okinawa.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who assumed his post last December, has pledged to block the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Also, candidates voicing opposition to the plan won a majority in the city assembly of Nago, the relocation site, last September.

"Over 60 percent of (public opinion) in Okinawa is against the relocation plan. Our newspaper is generally mirroring such views," said Taketomi.

If the government says the newspapers are distorted because they do not report voices agreeing with its policy, it means the government does not respect the results of elections, Taketomi added.

At the LDP meeting, lawmaker Hideo Onishi proposed "punishing" the media by having their advertising revenues cut.

But Shiohira said Thursday, "We're rather getting more support" after the meeting. "I don't take this incident negatively. It's an opportunity to rebuild and strengthen freedom of expression and freedom of speech."

Also on Thursday, the FCCJ released a statement expressing "deep concern" about comments made at the LDP meeting.

It urges the LDP and the government to "refrain from actions that can -- or could appear to -- affect the freedom of the press and to better educate its lawmakers and officials over the vital and constitutionally guaranteed role that a free press provides in Japan," the statement said.