Media Mix, July 17, 2021

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the media’s, and the authorities’, attitude toward public protest. Generally speaking, the police see their job as maintaining order rather than safeguarding free speech, so the inconsistency that I describe is perhaps best explained in that way. It’s not so much that the police themselves have a political agenda, though some very well may. As it happens, the art exhibition cited in the column did take place starting this weekend in Osaka, though only for three days, and reportedly the organizers received several messages from people opposed to the exhibition that implied they might attack the venue and its visitors. Unlike some organizers of this and similar events, the one in Osaka did not cancel the exhibition for safety reasons, and the police presumably were on hand to make sure nothing terrible happened. In this case, the police could be seen as defending the organizer’s free speech rights, but mainly they were just keeping order. 

The right to free speech seems to be determined by circumstances. The president of the distribution company cited in the column says the right wing groups that tried to shut down his movie by parking outside the theater and blasting complaints were violating his right to free speech. Meanwhile, the police were on hand to make sure that the right wing group didn’t go beyond loudspeakers in their protests, so in a way you could say they were protecting the right wing group’s right to free speech. Are they both correct? Are they both wrong? It’s not an easy question to answer, but given that the right wing group’s purpose was to disrupt the theater’s business, you could say they were breaking the law, since there is a law in Japan against interfering with a person or group’s right to carry out business. And it doesn’t even have to be a commercial enterprise. Several weeks ago I wrote about the entomologist in Okinawa who was raided by the police for leaving trash outside the gate of a U.S. military installation in protest. The police said she broke the law by interfering with the installation’s business. So why do the police normally allow sound trucks to park outside of addresses of people or groups they disagree with and blast insults and music in a bid to disrupt their activities? That would seem to be against the letter of the law. My guess is not that the police are safeguarding those groups’ right to free speech, but rather that they are bending the law in order to avoid worse trouble, meaning violence. In any case, such tactics by right wing groups would seem to violate some kind of ordinance to limit loud noises, but maybe not. During political campaigns everyone has to put up with sound trucks circulating through their neighborhoods blasting the names of candidates. Defending free speech or the right to carry out one’s business without interference doesn’t seem to be the point. The point seems to be to tolerate bad behavior in order to avoid something worse.

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