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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 June 11 - 17  > NHK must end its close relationship with politicians
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2008 June 11 - 17 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

NHK must end its close relationship with politicians

June 14, 2008
Seven years after a women’s rights group filed a lawsuit against NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), the Supreme Court dismissed the group’s claim, overturning the Tokyo High Court ruling that ordered NHK to pay 2,000,000 yen in compensation for changing the content of a documentary on Japan’s wartime sex slavery without due explanation to the women’s rights group which cooperated in its production.

The lawsuit was the first in broadcast history to expose interference by the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the making of a program.

The Violence Against Women in War-Network Japan (VAWW-NET Japan) at NHK’s request cooperated fully in the production of the TV program. However, the program that was aired was totally different from what had been explained to them in advance.

NHK executives visited then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo to explain about the documentary though he had nothing to do with program in question. Then NHK obeyed Abe’s wishes in changing the content of the program without giving VAWW-NET Japan any explanation about the changes made. This is the fact that the Tokyo High Court acknowledged.

VAWW-NET Japan filed the lawsuit to hold NHK responsible for its infringement of expectations of people covered by the media and its failure to fulfill its duty to explain changes of content in the program to them.

However, what NHK did was to remove a whistleblower from the program production staff, a staff member who exposed the political interference and then claim that the program was edited autonomously.

In court, NHK cited the constitutional freedom of expression (Article 21) to assert that “the freedom of the press must not be carelessly limited because the press is supposed to help the public to exercise the right to know.” This was how the broadcaster tried to attack VAWW-NET Japan.

How can one claim the constitutional freedom of expression in order to defend the editing of a program distorted by political interference?

The Tokyo High Court said that program producers’ efforts to improve the program through editing based on their independent judgment is one thing, but that NHK executives’ capitulation to Dietmembers’ pressure to change the content is quite another. The high court stated that NHK executives’ act amounts to giving up their right to edit.

Stating that VAWW-NET Japan could choose to not cooperate with NHK if it was informed about the change in the content, the high court determined that its right of expectation was violated by NHK’s failure to fulfill its duty to provide such information.

However, the Supreme Court only said broadcasters are entrusted with making autonomous judgments in editing their programs. The top court avoided paying attention to the question of why the content of the program was changed and how Abe and other politicians influenced the editing of the program.

NHK has wrongly asserted its right to make autonomous judgments in editing programs before VAWW-NET Japan. It must claim the right before the LDP which put pressure on NHK to change the content of the program. The task now is for NHK to end its cozy relations with politicians, relations that are now too close to maintain integrity in reporting news. - Akahata, June 14, 2008
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