By Hiroko Nakata, staff writer
Japan ranked 72nd on a 2017 list of press freedom around the world — its same overall position from a year earlier — but fell to last among its Group of Seven peers as Italy climbed to 52nd, according to the 180-nation World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday.
The Paris-based watchdog warned that media freedom around the world is in danger, particularly in leading democratic countries, as the United States fell two places to 43rd and Britain slipped two spots to 40th. The worsening situation reflects governments’ “obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources,” it said.
The group said media freedom in Japan has been declining ever since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s second administration took office in 2012.
Due to “growing self-censorship within the leading media groups and a system of ‘kisha clubs’ (reporters’ clubs) that discriminate against freelancers and foreign reporters, journalists have difficulty serving the public interest and fulfilling their role as democracy’s watchdogs,” the organization said on its website.
The release followed former disaster reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura’s much-criticized breaking off of a news conference earlier this month after facing tough questions about the government’s support for Fukushima evacuees.
He yelled “Get out!” at a freelance journalist who quizzed him about his comments that voluntary evacuees from around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should bear “responsibility for their own decisions.”
Imamura resigned from his post Wednesday after making another gaffe the previous day.
Reporters Without Borders has criticized Japanese media outlets’ self-censorship and surrender of their independence. Last year, three TV news anchors who had been critical of Abe’s government stepped down. In the same year, the watchdog downgraded Japan to 72nd on the list, from 61st the previous year.
The group also criticized the government’s refusal to have any debate about the divisive law protecting state secrets specially designated by the government itself, despite U.N. protests. Under the law, whistleblowers, journalists and bloggers face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of publishing information obtained “illegally.”
In the ranking, the top four positions were occupied by Nordic countries, with Norway at the top, followed by Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
The last ranking, 180th, was given to North Korea.
Reporters Without Borders publishes the ranking every year by measuring the level of media freedom, including the level of pluralism, media independence, and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, according to the organization.