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Editorial: Newspapers more important than ever in age of division, discord

Japan's Newspaper Week started on Oct. 15, and the Japanese Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association's annual conference kicks off today to discuss issues facing the industry and to present the association's yearly journalism awards.

    This is an era of deepening social divisions and extreme positions. For the creation of a better future, we at the Mainichi Newspapers want to provide the information and viewpoints that will help the Japanese people make the healthiest decisions.

    Modern society is saturated with information from the internet as a whole, and social networks in particular. This fact has only made newspapers' role to provide fair and correct information and opinion all the more important.

    The current social order is being shaken at its foundations as, both inside and outside Japan, there are ever stronger forces acting to create sharp divisions in society. In Japan, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies on diplomacy and security, constitutional revision, and nuclear plants and energy have tended to split public debate into two camps.

    In the United States, Republican nominee for president Donald Trump has become the standard bearer for a wave of anti-foreignism. In Europe, inward looking, anti-refugee feeling has grown stronger, and helped carry the Brexiteers to victory in Britain's June referendum on leaving the European Union.

    The free distribution of varied information is indispensable to a democratic society. However, poor information and baseless opinion - -above all the dreck that flies around the internet -- has the potential to deepen social divides and entrench extreme ideas.

    As conditions both here at home and overseas grow more complicated, it has become more difficult to sketch out possible futures. This has made newspapers more important than ever, to be a public space where a wide range of opinion is introduced and solutions to our most pressing issues can be sought out.

    The current editorial structure of the Mainichi Shimbun was implemented in 1977, with the self-appointed mission to "be a public institution for society." We have demonstrated our awareness of that duty.

    However, government authorities including the current administration have strengthened control over information, and there have been cases of restrictions on newsgathering by the media. One example of this happened in the wake of the murder this summer of 19 mentally disabled residents at a care home in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, by a former employee of the facility. The prefectural police refused to release the victims' names due to "the very strong wishes of the bereaved families" that the dead remain anonymous.

    Related to the flood disaster in Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, last year, the municipal government refused to release the names of people who had gone missing, citing the need to protect personal information. However, this in fact caused delays in confirming people's safety.

    Refusing to release people's real names creates a hole in the heart of a news story, and makes it difficult to position a problem as common to all society. It also makes it hard for reporters to keep an eye on how government administrations and investigative authorities wield power. We want to reaffirm releasing real names as a basic principle.

    First and foremost, the freedom of newspapers to collect and to report information is essential support for the people's right to know. If trust in newspapers is shaken, they will lose their power to persist and persuade. We want to fulfill our social responsibility through the content and attitude of our daily reporting.

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