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Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010
Freedom of expression under fire
In June, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly voted down a bill that stipulated that manga and anime must be sold in the "adult corner" of stores if they "recklessly" and "positively" depict sexual activities of characters presumed to be 18 years old or younger in a manner thought to hamper children's judgment on sex. The bill was intended to revise the Tokyo by-law to promote the healthy development of youths.
On Dec. 15, the assembly passed a new version of the bill. It focuses on manga and anime that "unreasonably laud or exaggerate" sexual acts that violate the law, such as rape and indecent sexual assault, and sexual intercourse or similar acts between relatives who in real life could not marry each other.
The new bill allows the metropolitan government to ask the manga and anime industries to exercise voluntary restraint so that those manga and anime will not be sold to or seen by youths under the age of 18 through an ordinary sales channel. A metropolitan government panel will designate manga and anime as "unhealthy publications" unsalable to youths aged under 18 if it determines that their depictions do not follow the guideline and if the publishers' voluntary restraint is lacking. Works judged as "unhealthy publications" will be placed in the "adult corner" of stores.
But the new bill has many problems. Its purpose is unclear because the current by-law already restricts the sales of works that "cause excessive sexual arousal, encourage cruelty or induce suicide or murder." The scope of the new bill has also been expanded to cover problematic sexual acts even by people older than 18. The criteria to determine whether works "unreasonably laud or exaggerate" sexual acts mentioned by the bill are arbitrary. The new bill could excessively restrict freedom of expression under the guise of protecting youths against harmful publications. If creators believe in good conscience that their works have literary and artistic merit then they should pursue them. If they come into conflict with the metropolitan government in doing so, they can and should go to court.