Censorship pledge censored

11th October 1996 at 01:00
JAPAN. A promise to end schoolbook censorship, made only a week ago, has already been withdrawn.

The ruling Liberal Democrats had pledged to end the screening of high-school textbooks as part of its platform for the upcoming Lower House election, but have now changed their minds.

Since the LDP's emergence as the ruling power in 1958 all textbooks have been scrutinised by the ministry of education, which has the power to reject or revise "unsuitable" texts.

The greatest controversy concerns social science books screened to ensure that their version of history is acceptable to the government. The practice has caused outcry in Japan and among its Asian neighbours because the ministry screeners tend to ignore Japan's aggression in the 1930s and 1940s.

The ministry has traditionally rebuffed these criticisms and explains its censorship as attempts to remove factual errors and what it sees as biased liberal or left-wing opinions.

The LDP, despite its name, is seen as a nationalistic and conservative party whose more hawkish members want even stronger state control over textbooks.

Commentators say an LDP victory in the October 20 general election could mean an increased amount of state interference in education as happened in 1982. Then social studies text-writers were asked by the ministry to "improve" on the use of the word "invasion" in describing Japan's war with China. Only under protest from China and Korea did the Japanese government eventually back down. At present, social science texts play scant attention to Japan's involvement in the Pacific War and make no reference to war atrocities.

One opponent of the government's interference is historian and textbook author Professor Saburo Lenana who has unsuccessfully challenged the legality of screening three times. Bitterly opposed to the censorship, he says it is too close to the kind of tyranny imposed by autocratic government during the Second World War.

"Education seems to be taking a dangerous course," he said.

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