Drone ban over military base is suppression of Okinawan press


February 10, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo



In an effort to prevent terrorist drone attacks, the Japanese government plans to submit a bill during the current Diet session to revise existing drone laws. The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association countered the plan by submitting an objection letter to the government on Jan. 8, opposing the bill’s inclusion of a provision that bans drones from flying through airspace over Japanese self-defense force facilities and U.S. military bases. Incorporating this provision into the bill will significantly limit the press from gathering news related to the self-defense forces and the U.S. military; The newspaper association’s opposition against the provision, which grossly violates the public’s right to know, comes as no surprise.


The regulatory bill was drafted based on the Report on Urgent Security Measures Addressing Drone Operations, put together by the government’s Inter-Ministerial Liaison Committee last December.

The report cited upcoming events such as the Rugby World Cup slated for September and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games slated for next year, as reasons that necessitate urgent security measures.

Under the guise of counterterrorism, the provision moves to ban drones from flying above these sport events, save for media coverage.

As such, the ban is temporary, limited to the duration of the games and its preparation.

In the context of preventing terrorist attacks during the Rugby World Cup, the Olympics and Paralympics, the proposal is intelligible to some extent, not to mention the measure is temporary and media coverage would be exempt.

The issue lies in the next line item relating to defense facilities.

It states that it is “appropriate” to expand the drone ban to include the self-defense force facilities and its training grounds; and the airspace above U.S. military bases and its surrounding areas.

Unlike the temporary ban limited to the duration of the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic Games, this line item calls for a permanent law.

Additionally, no exemptions for media coverage could be found―clearly, the revision is intended to include the media in the scope of the ban.

This measure threatens freedom of expression, and is utterly unacceptable.

The current law bans drones from flying over: 1. key official buildings, such as the Diet building and the prime minister’s official residence, 2. foreign missions and 3. nuclear sites.

The newspaper association’s objection letter expressed fear of adding U.S. military bases to the scope of the current no-fly zones will “have a grave impact on news organizations’ work to fulfill its obligation of safeguarding the public’s right to know.

”The association demanded that “the press’ freedom to gather and disseminate news on U.S. military in Japan must be expressly guaranteed.”

If military bases are added to the list of no-fly zones, the Okinawan press will be affected the most, where approximately 70% of all U.S. military facilities in Japan are concentrated.

In January, managing directors of the Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Times had expressed their strong opposition against the ban together, in front of the editorial board of the newspaper association, and in a written statement.

The association submitted their letter of objection to the Diet perhaps in light of this.

Serious accidents including military aircraft crashes have happened on U.S. bases.

Press photography using drones is indispensable in covering U.S. military bases, which journalists do not have access to.

The ban of drone use in these areas is suppression of press, specifically targeting the Okinawan press. U.S. military bases absolutely must not be added to the scope of the ban.


(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)


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