An Inconvenient Public

One of the reasons why I personally become so passionate over the Nonexistent Youth Bill was because, in my opinion, some astonishing acts of hypocrisy and subversion to the democratic process were involved. The revision bill itself held numerous huge problems, but the efforts involved in how the bill was attempted to be rushed through was truly disgraceful. Any legislation, regardless of content, that follows a similar path should be put on hold and carefully examined. I am very glad such was the case of the now defunct Nonexistent Youth Bill.

In a nutshell, Tokyo’s proponents for increasing regulation of depictions involving of youth and sexuality hoped to bolster their case through the collection of public comments and thus marginalize the opposition, but once the public comments were collected and it appeared that the public feedback wouldn’t have the desired results, they concealed the results regarding how many supported or opposed the proposed revisions. When legislators entrusted to vote over the bill asked for the results to be made available, the department in charge of the ordinance refused and a formal request for release had to be submitted. Tokyo’s legislators had to debate over the bill in March while feedback from their electorate was withheld from them, and when the comments were finally released in late April (a full month after the legislative session was over,) the contents were heavily censored to conceal brash and biased statements that were made by those that drafted the bill–Statements which can be read by anyone since they have been released to the public months ago. The critical question over the ratio of approve / disapprove in the public comments was over 1 to 9, with nearly 95% disapproving of the proposal either in its entirety or significant portions of it.

First, a brief chronology–The bill that I casually refer to as the Nonexistent Youth Bill is in fact a revision bill to the pre-existing Youth Healthy Development Ordinance currently on the books in Tokyo. The revision of the bill was based on the recommendations submitted by the 28th Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference, which held numerous meetings in 2008 to 2009 where the minutes of their meetings have been publicly released. While it is in Japanese, anyone can read it.

Once the 28th Conference drafted their proposal, public comments were requested from November 26th to December 10th, 2009. Following the collection of public comments, the 28th Conference’s proposal was finalized and became the basis for the revision of Tokyo’s ordinance on wholesome development of minors–The Nonexistent Youth Bill. The bill was released to the public in late February of 2010 (but only available to those that visited the offices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) as the text of the bill was not released on any web sites of the TMG) and was scheduled to be debated and voted upon in the March session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

The TMG, specifically the Office for Youth Affairs and Public Safety (OYAPS,) went to extraordinary lengths to try to persuade the legislators of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (TMA) to pass the bill (here is a press release they published while debate was ongoing in March), trying to alleviate concerns over the contents of the bill by assuring them that the bill was not really that radical and that they would be judicious on enforcing the bill, but OYAPS was unwilling to satisfy one particular request skeptics of the bill in the TMA wanted clarified–The contents of the public comments. OYAPS refused to provide the public comments in time for March session of the TMA, and that was one of the reasons why the debate over the bill was extended.

So what is the deal with the public comments?

First of all, going through the minutes of the meetings of the 28th Conference, it is very clear at the outset that members of the Conference anticipated strong opposition when it came to their agenda of expanding regulation against creative fiction, specifically manga. Tokyo Metropolitan University’s Professor Masahide Maeda, chairman of the specialist section of the 28th Conference, states “But, no matter how you look at this, it is absurd to claim that comics should be allowed free rein on the logic that they don’t involve actual people, and many of you [conference members] have stated how you think it is absurd that these comics would be allowed as long as they are not found to be in violation of penal code 175 on obscenity, so while I do believe the time has come for increasing regulation, we must put a concerted effort into this, as dealing with comic books will be troublesome. Even in the national level, when the ruling party [Liberal Democratic Party at the time] introduced a bill that would have included comic books [as part of the definition] of child pornography, the nets were filled with messages of blackmail and I was told from members of the Diet in charge [of the bill] that they received a lot of emails, but that’s exactly the reason why I think we should go ahead and do this.” (Quoted from the minutes of the 8th Specialist Section Meeting held on July 7th, 2009)

Never mind how Prof. Maeda manages to label legitimate online protests against increasing governmental regulation as “blackmail,” (and there were no news reports of Diet member being “blackmailed” by angry otakus at the time, so this is a gross exaggeration, if not an outright lie,) what even more important is how they already realize some people might raise a storm over their propositions. This naturally leads to the question of how can the proponents nullify them?

In November, the members of the 28th Conference felt confident that their proposals would be well received by the wider public, and looked forward to collection of public comments. Prof. Maeda sets the mood–“The question is what is the purpose of [collecting] public comments. This conference has invited an extensive array of concerned parties involved [in this debate] up until now. And now, we’ll listen to the ensuing debate, but in the end, even if comic book creators claim that freedom of expression is the justification for the allowance of comics such as these, if 80 or 90% of the citizens of Tokyo state that such comics are terrible, then regulation will come about. I am not advocating for the bypassing of such steps.” (Quoted from the minutes of the 1st Expanded Specialist Section Meeting held on November 24th, 2009)

When a TMA member Ta-Ichi Sekiguchi (Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)) expressed concern over how much information will be revealed to the public in conjunction with the collection of public comments, Prof. Maeda assured Sekiguchi that both the public comments and the minutes of the 28th Conference will be made publicly available. He quips about how manga artists are probably attentively reading the minutes of the meetings.

It turned out that manga artists weren’t the only ones concerned over the direction of the 28th Conference. Approximately 1600 public comments were submitted in the brief two week period.

My analysis is that Prof. Maeda of the 28th Conference and key officials in the OYAPS knew there would be strong opposition from certain circles regarding their proposed expansion of “harmful publications” category, so they felt gathering public comments would help nullify the naysayers by 1) allowing them to submit arguments of protest that they could be refuted later on, and 2) collecting numerous supportive opinions that could help cancel out the protesters.

But then something happened that they may not have expected–When all the public comments were collected and tallied, it was discovered that only 1% fully supported their revision proposal and nearly 95% were against most sections of the proposals. OYAPS and the key members of the 28th Conference would keep this piece of information secret for a full four months.

On December 17th, one week after the collection of public comments were complete, the next session of the 28th Conference was held. Going through the minutes of the meeting, one very importnat issue remains unaddressed. There is a detailed breakdown on the how the public comments were sent in (email, fax, written letters, etc.,) how many were citizens of Tokyo or not (about 500 from Tokyo citizens versus 1000 from people who don’t live in Tokyo,) and how many public comments were sent in from individuals versus corporations and other organizations. But the vital the question of how many approved versus disapproved the 28th Conference’s proposal is glaringly missing.

Numerous discussions regarding which topics of the proposal attracted significant attention and what were some of the numerous opinions submitted by the public are introduced, but the critical question of the public’s willingness to the proposed revision is not addressed at all.

The following statement gives some clue as to what was going on. Mika Sakurai, an official in the TMG and section chief in charge of youth affairs at OYAPS, states “…while there were opinions that both approved and disapproved [the proposals of the 28th Conference,] I conferred with [Prof.] Maeda regarding preparing possible statements that the Conference can issue with regard to the opinions that were in opposition…” (Quoted from the minutes of the 10th Specialist Section Meeting held on December 17th, 2009.)

It appears that OYAPS and their friends of the 28th Conference knew they were in trouble and they decided they had to start doing some heavy-duty spin doctoring. You can see a condensed version of their fruits of the labor here. All the text on the right column are rebuttals to the various opposing arguments submitted by the public. Even if you can’t read Japanese, you can see how they had to go through and answer a large number of varied opinions that opposed the proposals of the 28th Conference.

I wish I could go through and present to you some of the extraordinary convoluted logic put on display, but that will have to wait until another day.

On January 14th of 2010, the 2nd general meeting of the 28th Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference was held. The meeting was essentially a formality before the Conference’s proposals were to be submitted to the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. Once the TMG formerly accepts the proposals, a bill to revise the Tokyo’s youth ordinance was devised, and this turned into the “Nonexistent Youth Bill.” But even with the decks stacked against her, TMA legislator Reiko Matsushita of the DPJ attempted to extract some information that was painfully missing. She asked why, at the very least, the names of corporations and other organizations that filed public comments could not be released. Prof. Maeda explained the reason why they didn’t individually release  opinions submitted by corporations and other large organizations was because they didn’t have time.

It was unfortunate that no one questioned Prof. Maeda at the time why he contradicted his statement about releasing the pubic comments in November 24th of last year.

OYAPS continued to keep the information regarding the public comments under wraps. As the debate over the “Nonexistent Youth Bill” started, many people became angry and demanded the TMG to release the public comments. I was one of those person, and that was one of the reasons why I lead over 30 creators and industry people to address this issue with the TMA later on in mid-March.

But before I became involved, Keita Nishizawa, a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly asked for more detailed information regarding the public comments to be released. The TMG refused, even to a member of the legislative body entrusted to deliberate on the very revision bill that the public comments were collected for. Nishizawa, a former secretary to Akira Nagatsuma (DPJ Diet member) recalled how the bureaucrats of the Japanese national government did something similar with their horrendously run national pension system. He smelled something afoul and filed a formal request. The TMG delayed the release of the public comments to the maximum extent allowed under the law–two months. As I have stated before, by the time the public comments were released, the March session of the TMA was already over. Had not the DPJ and other opposition parties pressed for the deliberations to be extended, the release of the public comments would have been meaningless.

When they were released, the TMG censored significant portions of the public comments, many related to statements attributed to members of the committee involved in drafting of the bill–Statements that were publicly available for anyone to read. The Mangaronsoh site also points out another very troubling aspect in OYAPS censorship–Those public comments that were approving of the proposals of the 28th Conference were hardly censored at all.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government bureaucrats, specifically key members of OYAPS, and proponents of the 28th Conference involved in the drafting of the revision bill most likely realized that the public comments could provide powerful ammunition to those who opposed the revision bill, and it appears they did everything they could to keep the information away from public view, even though they originally espoused gathering public comments as an integral method of countering those they considered to be a vocal but ulimately small minority of manga artists and fans.

And even after all this, OYAPS continued to claim they should be entrusted with expanded regulatory powers, where they would hold sole discretion over the social acceptablity of creative fiction based on subjective and vague standards.

As I said before in previous posts in this blog, my opposition to the revision bill was less about limitations against freedom of expression, but instead focused on a breakdown in trust against the regulators.

This entry was posted in bureaucracy, censorship, nonexistent youth, public morality and media. Bookmark the permalink.

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