Photo/IllutrationFormer Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, left, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who are running in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race in September (Asahi Shimbun file photos)

Although the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has repeatedly called for fair reporting during elections, experts are questioning the rationale for such a request for its upcoming presidential election, saying it borders on censorship.

"Calling for fair coverage by the ruling party can be considered a reverse way of saying 'biased reporting' will not be allowed," said Kenta Yamada, a professor of free speech law at Tokyo's Senshu University. "That is a stance close to one that does not allow for any criticism of the government. As a result, people will feel less free to say what they feel and that could lead to further divisions within society."

With the official start of campaigning for the LDP presidential election set for Sept. 7, the party organ administering the election sent a document to media organizations, dated Aug. 28, which called for fairness in reporting, while emphasizing that no restrictions would be placed on reporting by media organizations.

LDP officials insist that such documents have been issued for past LDP presidential elections as well.

However, concerns that such requests are a veiled attempt to censor reporting have arisen in greater frequency with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leading the government.

The most notable example came during the 2014 Lower House election. The party sent a document to the Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) and the five major private commercial broadcasters based in Tokyo asking for fair and neutral reporting.

Shortly before that document was issued, Abe appeared in a program of TBS Television. In one segment, a man-in-the-street interview elicited a response that the effects from the Abenomics program of economic measures could not be felt. Clearly irritated, Abe said, "That does not reflect the voice of the people. That is not right."

That led to criticism that the government was trying to suppress reporting.

Moreover, because the upcoming LDP presidential election concerns a single party, the provisions of the Public Offices Election Law, which have as an objective the holding of fair elections, do not apply.

Senshu University's Yamada said because the LDP does not have any legal basis for trying to limit free speech, its request was inappropriate.

Meanwhile, Yoshitaka Hibi, an associate professor of modern Japanese culture, placed the LDP request in the context of the global trend moving toward a "post-truth" society that tended to place less importance on facts and the truth.

"There has been a weakening of the axis for a common social awareness of what constitutes fairness," Hibi said.

Under such a situation, the LDP's repeated calls for fair reporting leads to "the need to carefully consider whether the axis for deciding if something is fair has been created arbitrarily," he said.