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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Japan seeking to govern top news Web sites

Slashdot It! A Japanese government panel is proposing to govern "influential, widely read news-related sites as newspapers and broadcasting are now regulated." The government is also seeking to rein in some of the more unsavory aspects of the Internet, leaving in its wake, critics say, the censoring hand of government interference. The panel, set up by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, said Internet service providers (ISPs) should be answerable for breaches of vaguer "minimum regulations" to guard against "illegal and harmful content." The conservative government, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, is seeking to have the new laws passed by Parliament in 2010. "Japan's Internet is increasing its clout, so naturally the government wants to control it," said Kazuo Hizumi, a former journalist who is the Tokyo city lawyer. To better understand why a country better known for its information-technology prowess would take such steps, it is vital to understand the establishment's relationship with the media since the Americans ceded wartime power in the 1950s, Hizumi said. "Soon after the war we followed the U.S. model with the government issuing licenses through the FCC," Hizumi said. "As one party, the LDP, came to dominate politics, it sought more control of the media so the FCC was abolished. There is no ombudsman here, so the government controls the media directly. With this new bill, the LDP will seek to do the same for the Internet." Certainly, such a construct has benefited the LDP, which has enjoyed nearly unbroken rule in Japan since 1955. Since then, government's cozy relationship with big media has become legendary, as has the media's self-censorship, which, Hizumi said, had repeatedly restricted the spectrum of voices heard - until the arrival of the Internet started to open the field up to dissent. "The Internet threatens the government, but the new law will put the government back in control by making the ISPs directly answerable to the government," Hizumi said. "This is the untenable position we are facing in Japan." Tokyo, for its part, maintains it is merely seeking to bring some accountability to Japan's often wild - and sometimes libelous - Internet. "The criticism that the report amounts to a call for censoring the Japanese Web" is completely unfounded, the Communications Ministry said in a statement. "Furthermore, the report takes the position that Japan should abstain from adopting regulations aimed at promoting government censorship or restriction of Internet content, such as blogs, and calls for examining the creation of a framework for promoting voluntary action by ISP and others as a means of dealing with illegal and harmful material." Such "voluntary action" has already been felt this month by the country's mobile-services providers, who have been requested to filter certain content to all phones registered to people under 18. Previously such filtering had to be switched on; now it will take a guardian to switch it off. A commendable effort by government and service providers, any right-thinking citizen might think, to protect the young. However, Japanese bloggers, wary of future controls on the larger Internet, have been busy pointing to the less obvious material that is also being filtered out on the mobile Internet. The existing filtering services in use by the leading Japanese provider, DoCoMo, for example, reveals that categories like "religion" and "political activity/party" are filtered by the software. "We have also perhaps a taste with what's to come by looking at the filtering software used by certain local governments up and down the country," Hizumi said. What really strikes Hizumi and others is that there is so little public opposition or debate on a bill that would bring enormous change. Chris Salzberg, who monitors, comments on and translates some of the Japanese blogosphere for Global Voices, an international blog round-up, said: "It seems that the Web community in Japan is really pretty unaware of all of this, or else just in disbelief. It's a strange situation. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it still seems like something people should at least be paying attention to." "I'm afraid ordinary citizens don't care about these lack of rights, consequently the Internet in Japan is heading for the Dark Ages," Hizumi said. Get Daily Updates via Email Protect your computer with Windows Onecare Get paid $7.50 for reviewing my post Ad Space

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