Saturday, December 7, 2013

China and Japan clamp down on free press, Snowden still free from U.S.


The Japanese Parliament just enacted a law barring anyone (including journalists) from seeking or sharing "state secrets":
Under a special state secrets bill expected to pass on Friday, public officials and private citizens who leak "special state secrets" face prison terms of up to 10 years, while journalists who seek to obtain the classified information could get up to five years. 
Critics of the new law say it marks a return to the days of prewar and wartime Japanese militarism, when the state used the Peace Preservation Act to arrest and imprison political opponents. 
"It is a threat to democracy," said Keiichi Kiriyama, an editorial writer for the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, adding that the legislation would "have a chilling effect on public servants, who could become wary about giving the information" to journalists.
Though organizations like the Free Press Association of Japan exist and operate worldwide, the Japanese press has a history of being prone to collusion, distortion, and propaganda, as demonstrated in Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe's A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West.

Meanwhile, China has threatened to expel foreign journalists:
Two things seem to have compelled the government to reverse course. In 2011, the uprisings in the Arab world unnerved the Chinese government by raising the prospect that the combination of technology, information, and dissatisfaction could undermine even a government that appeared secure to itself and outsiders. “If we waver,” Wu Bangguo, a senior official, told a meeting in Beijing in March, 2011, “the state could sink into the abyss.” The Arab Spring created a climate of sensitivity, but it was the events of the following year that tipped the balance. In 2012, the Times used Chinese records to calculate that the family of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had acquired a fortune of $2.7 billion during his time in office. Bloomberg produced a similar story on the incoming President, Xi Jinping. In retaliation, the government took steps to punish the bottom line of both companies: it blocked a Times Web site aimed at Chinese readers, and it ordered financial customers not to buy any new Bloomberg terminals. Those measures remain in place.
While the increasingly nationalistic Japanese and Chinese governments are currently at odds over their territorial boundaries, they would likely agree that the ripple effects of someone like Edward Snowden in their own countries could spark mass outrage and a collapse of power at home and abroad.

In fact, the intertwined journeys of Snowden and Glenn Greenwald (who I interviewed last year) in publishing U.S. state secrets concerning secret international surveillance have been profiled in a recent Rolling Stone article:
To the likes of Brooks, Snowden was a disconcerting mystery; Glenn Greenwald, though, got him right away. "He had no power, no prestige, he grew up in a lower-middle-class family, totally obscure, totally ordinary," Greenwald says. "He didn't even have a high school diploma. But he was going to change the world – and I knew that." And, Greenwald also believed, so would he. "In all kinds of ways, my whole life has been in preparation for this moment," he says.
Whatever bodes well for the geopolitical aims of China and Japan also runs the risk of clamping down free, critical public discourse worldwide.

But that's what any given military would prefer.

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