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Ruling, opposition parties clash over rules for TV ads on constitutional revisions

Legislators belonging to the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution are seen at a panel meeting on May 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The ruling and opposition parties clashed over regulations on TV commercials for and against constitutional revisions as the House of Representatives' Constitution panel resumed deliberations on May 9 after a hiatus of one year and three months.

There are no prospects that a bill to revise the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan, a key issue relating to altering the Constitution, will be passed into law during the ongoing Diet session as there are numerous challenges including restrictions on not only TV commercials but for online ads as well.

A representative from the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (JBA), who appeared at the lower chamber's Commission on the Constitution as an unsworn witness, expressed concerns about tightening regulations on TV commercials calling on the public to vote for or against constitutional reform in a referendum.

The representative, JBA Senior Executive Director Shin Nagahara, stated that the industry will exercise self-restraint on such advertising campaigns within the framework of the Broadcast Act.

Nagahara then cautioned against legal restrictions on TV commercials on the pros and cons of constitutional amendments. "Such a move could infringe on freedom of expression. It's undesirable to impose legal regulations," he told the Diet panel.

The executive then pointed to the possibility that such rules could cause voter turnout in a referendum on constitutional revisions to decline. "Advertisements have a role of supporting the momentum for campaigns on a national referendum (on constitutional revisions)," he told the panel.

Furthermore, Nagahara emphasized that the JBA will closely examine the contents of commercials urging the public to vote for or against constitutional amendments to prevent commercials with fake contents from being aired.

Eisuke Mori, center, chairman of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution, and other members are seen at a panel meeting on May 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

"No false information is permitted in advertisements in broadcasts," he said.

Opposition parties were against leaving the matter to the industry's self-restraint. They fear that the current law, which allows the broadcasts of such commercials except for a 14-day period prior to the referendum, is beneficial to cash-laden major political parties.

Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), voiced opposition to leaving the matter to the industry's moderation. He pointed out that the JBA was enthusiastic about legal restrictions on such advertising campaigns during Diet deliberations on the draft of the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan in 2006.

"The move runs counter to our basic position. The current law could be defective legislation," he said.

Soichiro Okuno of the Democratic Party for the People, another key opposition party, said self-restraint by the industry is insufficient, pointing out that a large number of advocacy ads by foreign businesses and the governments of foreign countries could be aired.

Kiyohiko Toyama of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), expressed his understanding of the JBA's policy. "Views are prevalent within our party that restrictions should be kept to a minimal since free and active discussions should be held during the campaigning for a referendum," he told the panel.

Seiken Akamine of the Japanese Communist Party warned that the number of TV advertising campaigns on the issue depends on advertisers' financial muscle. He pointed out that TV commercials in favor of the Osaka metropolis plan, under which the city of Osaka would be disbanded and split into special wards with publicly elected mayors and assemblies, were aired four times more than those broadcast by opponents during campaigning for a local referendum on the issue in 2015.

Nobuyuki Baba, secretary-general of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) promoting the metro Osaka plan, argued that those in favor of the plan aired such a massive number of TV commercials "not because of their financial power but because their ability to make preparations was high."

Hono Tajima, who heads the JBA's program and copyright division, said the Osaka referendum on the metropolis plan was a "good experience" and the organization wants to "use it as a reference."

The lower house panel is likely to focus on TV advertising campaigns for the metro Osaka plan.

In the meantime, the LDP's Katsuei Hirasawa said online advertisements on the pros and cons of constitutional amendments "would not be subject to regulations."

Tajima countered that guidelines for TV and radio commercials on a referendum on constitutional revisions, which the JBA has drawn up for its member broadcasters, will have a certain influence on internet business operators.

However, it is certain that the pros and cons of regulating online advertisements on constitutional revisions will be hotly debated.

(Japanese original by Shuhei Endo and Akira Murao, Political News Department)

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