Undignified content intolerable in serious context of elections

The latest House of Councillors election was marked by the broadcast of deliberately strange campaign videos, which were made purely to attract attention. This is a problem that concerns the dignity of the Diet and should not be left unattended.

For example, Takashi Tachibana, head of the NHK Party, a political group to “protect” the public from NHK, who ran in the Tokyo constituency, mentioned scandals involving show-business celebrities in his political-view broadcast and said, “TV stations only broadcast what is convenient for those in power.” Some representatives of minor parties made speeches wearing costume masks.

The ruling and opposition parties revised the Public Offices Election Law in 2018, allowing candidates in constituency races to broadcast prerecorded videos of their political views starting with the upper house election in 2019.

The aim was to effectively convey candidates’ messages, with sign language interpretation and subtitles added to the videos. However, as this has allowed more room for discretion on the part of the candidates, the system has been abused in some respects.

The Public Offices Election Law stipulates that broadcasters “must broadcast candidates’ political opinions as they are,” but also stipulates that candidates and others “must not use language or behavior that damage the dignity of the broadcasts.”

However, in recent years, in other national elections, and gubernatorial elections, too, political views that seem to be pranks have sometimes been broadcast. For example, a candidate was moving around half-naked or calling out obscenities. The aim may be to create a buzz and increase name recognition, but such disgraceful content is too much to tolerate.

The ruling and opposition parties should review the nature of political-view broadcasts. A system that ensures freedom of expression and moderation is clearly needed. It is possible that a third-party organization composed of experts will conduct a review.

Primarily, political-view broadcasts have been established as a forum for political parties, political organizations and candidates to make their policies known on TV and radio. They must be aware that they are using the public airwaves.

NHK Party member Yoshikazu Higashitani, who drew attention by exposing celebrities’ secrets and other items on a video-sharing website, was elected in the proportional representation section. Currently living abroad, he said he will not return to Japan for the time being because of the possibility of being arrested on suspicion of fraud.

If he stays out of the country, he will not be able to fulfill his duties as a member of the Diet.

In recent years, parties and organizations have been using the internet as a tool to disseminate their policies. While the internet has the advantage of being able to spread information without regard to location or time, it is also filled with defamatory content about politicians and fake news.

It is important for voters to be aware that there is information on the internet that may be incorrect or false, and to be able to discern it dispassionately. It is also necessary to promote educational efforts to cultivate the ability to evaluate information.

European countries see false information about elections as problematic and are making efforts to check facts in cooperation with operators of social media such as Twitter. This is worth serious consideration in Japan, too.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 22, 2022)