Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party scored a historic victory in last month’s election, wants to radically change how the country is run and in particular reduce bureaucrats’ control over formulating policy.
And his government has taken a symbolic approach – it has decided to ban top bureaucrats from holding news conferences to explain its policy stance. The Hatoyama government has also abolished twice-weekly meetings of top bureaucrats, which have discussed, coordinated and decided policy agendas before cabinet meetings so that cabinet ministers can rubber stamp them. Naoto Kan, the new deputy prime minister, has dubbed the so-called vice ministers’ meetings “the bid-rigging meetings” of bureaucrats.
I covered Japan’s Finance Ministry for nearly 10 years and I now cover other departments such as the Foreign Ministry. Each ministry is different, but usually vice ministers hold press conferences Mondays and Thursdays to clarify the ministry’s stance on the development of policy-making as well as technical and historical background. In addition, there are many different types of press briefings by ministry officials of various ranks. Those are all in addition to regular news conferences by cabinet ministers every Tuesday and Friday. Yes, there are a lot of press opportunities here – maybe too many.
Still, as soon as the Hatoyama government decided to allow only lawmakers — namely cabinet ministers and their deputies – to hold news conferences on policy ideas, reporters started to ask lots of “what if” questions.