In America and Australia, dangerous official maneuvers continue regarding the media and state secrets. For Japan, advanced countries silencing speech in the name of national security are not someone else’s business.
In May, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Julian Assange, the founder of the accused website WikiLeaks, with violating an espionage law. It criminalizes his obtaining and publicizing American war-related documents and diplomatic cables.
His source, a former soldier, was convicted and sentenced of breaking the same law. Behind Assange’s indictment is a determination to try to seal off any activities that obtain and publicize top-level secrets.
This should be seen as a serious problem that might constrict the freedom of the press guaranteed in the American Constitution. Naturally, the American media is disgusted by it.
The Justice Department emphasizes that American security was threatened by the disclosure of top secrets. It says that “Assange is no journalist” and so freedom of the press is not infringed.
But it is not up to the government to decide who is a journalist. Freedom of the press is a principle that should apply to all citizens. This is particularly so in the modern era where the spread of social media lets anyone broadcast.
While the leak of high-level secrets got on the Obama administration’s nerves, it protected the rights of the journalists who obtained this information. Yet the Trump administration calls the media “the enemy of the people,” and oppression against journalism is increasing.
Meanwhile, this month the Australian Federal Police have searched the headquarters of the public broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and a journalist’s house. They are suspected of breaking the law against publicizing top secrets by exposing inhumane actions by the Australian military in Afghanistan and government surveillance of citizens.
The police say that the journalists could also face criminal prosecution. Officials justify this by saying that if top secrets are not safeguarded, they fear that they will be unable to share information about terrorism or public safety with friendly countries like America or Britain.
These points resemble the explanations offered by the Japanese government and ruling party in Diet debates on the State Secrecy Law and the “conspiracy” law.
Both laws were enacted by the Abe government by waving objections aside, and the State Secrecy Law also bans attempts to uncover state secrets. Anything can be considered a secret, and there is no guarantee of sufficient curbs on governmental abuse.
“Respect for freedom of research and the press” is written in its operating standards, but the danger of arbitrary operation is not eliminated. We institutions of the press must continue questioning whether the citizens’ right to know and the freedom of the press will be threatened under the pretext of counterterrorism measures.