A decision by Japanese government officials to “restrict” questions from an unnamed reporter during press conferences has provoked protests by other journalists.
The controversy has re-raised longstanding questions about the environmental impact of a controversial new base for US Marines being constructed in the southwestern prefecture of Okinawa.
At the start of 2019, officials from the Cabinet Office (the government ministry that coordinates the operations of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo) directed the press club covering the Cabinet Office to “restrict” a certain reporter from asking questions during daily press conferences covering the Japanese prime minister. The Cabinet Office also accused the reporter of “spreading misinformation” about the environmental impact of infill.
The unnamed reporter in question is most likely Mochizuki Isoko, a journalist with the Tokyo Shimbun daily newspaper, who is known for asking difficult questions.
In Japan, news outlets typically get access to politicians and government officials through press clubs, which regulate the activities of members, and can even exclude reporters or news outlets. In turn, sources, such as government departments, can deny or limit press clubs with access. But it’s unusual to ban or restrict the activities of journalists from media outlets like Tokyo Shimbun, a prominent daily known for its watchdog approach to government activities.
Reporter questioned environmental effects of construction for US Marine base
Mochizuki apparently angered the Cabinet Office during a news conference on December 26, when she asked about the risks of environmental contamination at a controversial construction site in Okinawa.
In order to build a long-planned base for US Marines permanently stationed in Okinawa, sand and rock infill is being used to build an artificial island in a bay off of Henoko, a township about 65 km north of Naha, Okinawa.
The construction project is destroying and literally paving over existing tropical coral habitat in the bay. It has been reported that the construction project is using inexpensive red soil infill, instead of the gravel that was budgeted in the project and paid for by the government, in an effort to cut corners. There are also suspicions that construction contractors including Ryuku Cement are pocketing the difference.