官僚会見禁止 政治主導をはき違えてないか

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Sep. 18, 2009)
Muzzling bureaucrats might be step too far
官僚会見禁止 政治主導をはき違えてないか(9月18日付・読売社説)

Members of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Cabinet agreed at an informal meeting Wednesday that regular press conferences by administrative vice ministers and other bureaucrats will be abolished, and that concerned lawmakers such as ministers instead would hold press conferences to express the official views of ministries and agencies. After the meeting, government organizations were notified of this decision.

Official press conferences by ranking ministry and agency officials such as administrative vice ministers and other top bureaucrats are valuable opportunities for the news media to ask questions on technical issues related to each ministry and agency.

We have no objection to the Hatoyama Cabinet's drive to transform the nation's politics from its overdependence on bureaucrats to one led by politicians.

However, we cannot condone the new administration if it attempts--under the name of "reducing the power of bureaucrats"--to restrict opportunities for the media to ask questions and consequently infringe on the public's right to know. We want the Hatoyama administration to reconsider its decision to muzzle bureaucrats.

Banning these media conferences appears to be an attempt by the new Cabinet to show that it will not allow top ministry and agency officials to control policy direction via press conferences.


Drawing the line

The agreement among the Cabinet members underlines that lawmakers have responsibility for planning, adjusting and deciding policies, and that bureaucrats should help this process. This relationship between lawmakers and bureaucrats is quite reasonable.

But banning press conferences by administrative vice ministers and other bureaucrats seems excessive. It also is unclear just who "other bureaucrats" refers to.

The Cabinet says ministers will allow bureaucrats to hold press conferences if their expertise is needed or the situation demands. However, the standard for this is so vague that there has already been some confusion at ministries and agencies.

Government entities have to inform the public about many issues. Some of them are urgent matters, such as influenza outbreaks and disasters. It is unrealistic to expect lawmakers to hold every single press conference on such issues.

Of course, in an ideal world, ministers, vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries could understand every detail on all policy issues and give a full account of them. But there are question marks over whether this is really possible.


Unintended consequences

The new Cabinet's disdain for bureaucrats' press conferences has stirred concern that bureaucrats might feel intimidated and become hesitant to disclose information that could be necessary for the public. We are worried that bureaucrats might use the ban as an excuse not to hold press conferences, and try to conceal scandals and other problems.

Administrative bodies are supposed to always be open to the public. The role of the news media is to watch and scrutinize ministries and agencies on behalf of the public.

Restricting press conferences would make the policy-making process less transparent. This would go against the new government's aim of breaking the dominance of bureaucrats.

The agreement by the new ministers says lawmakers and bureaucrats should carry out their responsibilities for the country and its people based on a clear separation of roles. If that is the case, then by the same token, lawmakers and bureaucrats could hold different kinds of press conferences based on their respective roles.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 18, 2009)
(2009年9月18日01時31分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-09-18 09:03 | 英字新聞

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