TOKYO (AFP) – The ruling party of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not send anyone to speak at a foreign journalists’ club before the general election, a spokesman admitted Friday, sparking accusations it is shying away from tough questions.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said it has been unable to find anyone among its senior ranks who can represent the party at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) ahead of the December 14 poll.
But the move has fanned suspicions that LDP bigwigs want to avoid the foreign press, which is generally considered more probing than its sometimes-tame Japanese counterpart.
“A lot of people at the club are seeing this as an abdication of the LDP’s responsibility to take questions on the world’s third largest economy,” said David McNeill, chairman of the FCCJ’s events committee, and a practising journalist.
The FCCJ, a fee-paying club mainly aimed at foreign journalists, regularly hosts press conferences and events to which key figures in the world of politics, academia or entertainment are invited.
The gatherings can be rambunctious, with subjects sometimes facing more aggressive questioning than they do at the hands of domestic journalists, who, by Western standards, tend to pull their punches.
As a result, the FCCJ’s press conferences frequently make news in Japan, where television and newspapers use the prism of foreign press to examine issues they may feel uncomfortable tackling head on.
McNeill, who writes for The Economist and the Irish Times, said club members could not remember an election when the LDP did not send a senior official to speak to global media.
“We are very upset that they have broken the tradition,” he said, adding, “The reasons that they have given for not coming are a disappointment. If it was the case that they were busy, we could have discussed it.”
The suspicion, he says, is that the party is wary after the mauling a cabinet minister got in a recent appearance, when she was repeatedly pressed on her links to right wing groups.
The LDP denied it was avoiding the foreign press corps, and insisted it was simply a matter of scheduling.
“We appreciate such an opportunity to speak at the FCCJ at a normal time, but we are now in the middle of the election battle,” an LDP spokesman told AFP.
“Prime Minister Abe has spoken at the FCCJ in the past, even if not in the capacity of prime minister. But he is now on the campaign trail across the country,” he said.
Japan goes to the polls next month, less than two years after Abe swept to power on a wave of optimism over his plan to reinvigorate the soggy economy.