The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has distributed a document requesting "fair and balanced coverage" of its upcoming presidential race to newspapers and wire service agencies. The paper is surprising because it contains concrete, detailed demands. It should be retracted immediately.
The document, issued under the name of Takeshi Noda, who heads the party's presidential election committee, requests that "each candidate be treated equally and fairly" in terms of the content and volume of interview articles, reports and photographs. It even says that when candidates' interviews appear on different days, the names of all candidates should be mentioned in the same article.
During the 2014 House of Representatives election, the LDP, reflecting the will of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, issued a document to TV networks seeking fair coverage, specifically asking who should be invited to relevant programs, which theme should be selected and how interviews with people on the street should be treated.
Back then, the request faced criticism as unprecedented pressure on the media. This time, what on earth is the basis for the LDP's demand for "fair and balanced" coverage of its presidential election, which is not regulated by the Public Offices Election Act?
Indeed, the presidential election is important for the Japanese public as a whole because the race's winner becomes the next prime minister. But reporting on the election should be done independently by media organizations. There is no reason for the LDP to issue orders.
In the presidential race, Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the LDP and a contender against Prime Minister Abe, requested that debate be held on major policy issues, but the call fell on deaf ears. The prime minister appears to hope to avoid answering questions at every occasion, including press conferences, during the race. This stance is behind the decision to turn down policy debate, and questions remain that the management of the campaign is in favor of Abe and is thus unfair.
Ishiba, who is critical of Abe's political style, is holding press conferences daily, and these are being reported on by the media. Is the LDP saying that such coverage is unfair? If so, is the ruling party trying to prevent Ishiba from making public statements or appearing in the media?
Prime Minister Abe is an incumbent leader. He is visiting Russia during the LDP presidential campaign. Isn't it unfair to give extensive media coverage to his visit?
Abe has been selective in giving interviews to newspapers and TV stations that are supportive of him, while handling media outlets critical of him with bare hostility. Nevertheless, the LDP is demanding fairness from newspapers. This is a clear contradiction.
With such an attitude, the public's understanding about what is at stake in the leadership race will not be deepened. Instead of intervening in the media, the LDP should offer more opportunities for candidates to explain their positions such as through policy debate.