Minister flip-flops on matter central to national secrets law

The state minister in charge of a controversial bill to toughen penalties for leakers of state secrets on Friday flip-flopped on whether the government will consider establishing a code of contact between government officials and journalists.

At a morning press conference, Masako Mori said it is difficult to create such guidelines after saying the previous day that the government will consider doing so. But she later retracted those morning remarks at a House of Councillors' special committee on national security in the afternoon.

"We will study it from various perspectives," Mori said at the upper house committee meeting on the envisioned code of contact, repeating what she said at the panel Thursday.

Critics are concerned that strengthened regulations under the secrecy legislation could undermine the freedom of the press and the public's right to know.

The House of Representatives passed the bill on Tuesday with the backing of the ruling coalition, paving the way for its enactment before the Diet session ends Dec. 6. But opposition lawmakers are calling for more deliberations.

Mori told the upper house panel Friday that the number of "special secrets" under the legislation concerning national security and interests would be fewer than those designated as such since 2007 under the existing guidelines.

She also said journalists who visit the homes of ministers or government officials and eat and drink with them will not be punished as such conduct is considered to be a normal news gathering activity.