Following is the gist of the press conference of Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko held on February 28:
Question: What is the purpose of locking the ministry’s offices during working hours?
Seko: Not only the press but also other people in general have frequent access to the ministry. As METI is responsible for economic negotiations with foreign countries and handles corporate information, we have enhanced the management of the ministry building to ensure administration that is highly trusted by the public.
Question: Will you not withdraw the enforcement of the new arrangement?
Seko: I don’t intend to retract the decision. Information management is important.
Question: One of METI’s roles is free exchange with private companies to promote technological innovation. Doesn’t the enforcement contradict that role?
Seko: The role is irrelevant to security management of the METI building. The current arrangement will not affect our exchange with private companies.
Question: You used to be in charge of public relations at a private company (NTT). Based on your experiences in the position, what do you think of the current state of affairs at METI?
Seko: We are living in a different era. Back then, NTT allowed the public free access to its offices with some exceptions.
Question: There are emails saying that METI will not give interviews outside the building.
Seko: I have told the ministry that the current arrangement should not undermine but rather improve press activities. I don’t know anything about the measures in question currently under discussion within the ministry.
Question: It’s not under discussion but being implemented.
Seko: Not that I know of.
Question: Shouldn’t you have given the press the opportunity to discuss the matter in advance so that the arrangement would have been implemented more smoothly.
Seko: The arrangement is not aimed only at the press.
Question: It has been said that METI changed its way of dealing with the media on account of a leak of information on the Japan-U.S. summit from METI.
Seko: There is no link [between the current arrangement and the information leak].
With regard to METI’s enforcement of locking its offices to tighten access by the press, some experts have said the ministry’s explanation is insufficient.
“The Management of confidential information is understandable, but public administration should be open,” said crisis management consultant Kuniyoshi Shirai. He went on to say: “In foreign countries, confidential information is strictly classified according to the degree of secrecy. Implementing uniform control all of sudden creates an impression of shutting out the press. The ministry’s explanation was insufficient.”
“METI has intentionally leaked information,” Japan Association of Corporate Executives Chairman Yoshimitsu Kobayashi said sarcastically at the press conference held on Feb. 28. “The ministry has leaked information prior to meetings so as to make it known to the public. That was METI’s way of maneuvering to its advantage.” Kobayashi added: “I agree that certain rules are necessary. But if METI excessively controls the press, they (the press) will come to us. The ministry should not withhold information that should be released.”