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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 October 30 - November 5  > It is essential to protect constitutional right to freedom of expression
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2019 October 30 - November 5 TOP3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

It is essential to protect constitutional right to freedom of expression

November 3, 2019

Akahata editorial (excerpts)

November 3 is Culture Day, a national holiday to cherish freedom and peace and promote culture (Article 2 of the National Holidays Act). On this day in 1946, the Japanese Constitution was promulgated. Currently, under the Abe government, various incidents have arisen that threaten the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution and go counter to the spirit of Culture Day.

Among them, the most serious incident occurred in September. The Culture Agency canceled its decision to provide a subsidy to the international art festival Aichi Triennale. This incident occurred in the wake of the suspension of the “After the 'Freedom of Expression?'” exhibition in the Triennale due to threats and intimidation shortly after its opening on August 1.

The Culture Agency was established supposedly to promote culture and international cultural exchanges.

The basic law on culture and arts, the pillar of the government’s culture policy, in its preamble underscores the need to recognize that the freedom of expression is the foundation of culture and arts and is of paramount importance. The law also affirms the necessity of respecting the autonomy of artists.

The Culture Agency has the responsibility to protect the freedom of expression from threats of violence. The agency’s decision to not pay the subsidy to the Aichi Triennale is tantamount to abandoning this responsibility, which could set an example where a terrorism threat successfully blocks an event and causes damage to the integrity of that event. The Abe government should retract the unjust decision.

Some apologists for the Culture Agency say that art works with highly-political messages might not be suitable for admission to public subsidy programs. However, political messages are an important part of the freedom of expression, such as Picasso’s “Guernica”. The national and local governments should follow the principle that governments provide financial support to artists, organizations, or events in accordance with decisions independently made by experts. This is needed to promote a wide variety of artistic activities.

However, the Japan Arts Council, which was set up under the jurisdiction of the Culture Agency, in September amended its guidelines on its subsidy so that it will be able to reverse a decision to offer financial support when the council judges that that would be inappropriate from the viewpoint of public interest.

As the public interest is hard to define, the definition can be improperly stretched. The council’s decision will remind many of the fact that the Liberal Democratic Party’s draft constitution in 2012 intended to limit the freedom of expression under the name of protecting the public interest.

If the freedom of expression is further damaged and more people refrain from expressing their opinions, the very foundation of democracy will collapse. It is essential to make joint efforts to defend the freedom of expression and art.

Past related articles:
> Aichi Triennale successfully ends in face of unjust political pressure [October 16, 2019]
> ‘Shuttered’ Aichi Triennale exhibit featuring freedom of expression reopens [October 9, 2019]
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