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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 February 6 - 12  > NHK faces crisis
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2008 February 6 - 12 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

NHK faces crisis

February 6, 2008
“NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) is at the brink of catastrophe,” new NHK President Fukuchi Shigeo, who formerly was the president of Asahi Breweries Ltd., said to NHK staff when he took office on January 25.

A week before, an insider stock trading scandal involving three NHK employees was revealed. Two reporters and a director separately made illicit profits of hundreds of thousands yen each by buying stocks after they read scripts of an NHK exclusive news report on computers in the office and selling them the next day.

Moral degeneration among NHK staff is rampant. More importantly, however, this incident revealed problems in news reporting itself, the very lifeline for a public broadcaster.

“There is no excuse at all for reporters to line their pockets by using information they obtained through their work,” said an NHK employee.

Another employee who used to engage in news reporting said, “This scandal is very different in nature from those revealed in the past. What personnel engaged in news reporting must never do has taken place. This case shows a moral hazard.”

He went on to say, “Staff members in their 20s and 30s tend to not go out. They write proposals by collecting information on the Internet. With this work style, they fail to see things from the viewpoint of the public.”

Tosaki Kenji, professor at Aichi Toho University who used to work at NHK, said, “It seems to me that while the experience of news reporting is valued, education concerning ideals and consciousnesses appropriate for journalists is lacking. NHK staff may have developed a consciousness as employees, but not as responsible journalists. Because of reductions in the number of personnel, providing proper training has become harder.”

“Because the top executive has failed to draw lessons from NHK’s negative legacies, a moral hazard takes place,” said an employee who has long been engaged in production.

A typical “negative legacy” is seen in the case in which the NHK administration arbitrarily altered the content of a program on wartime sex slaves in line with the request of then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo. To this day, NHK has not admitted that it succumbed to political pressure.

Matsuda Hiroshi, a researcher on media who wrote a book on NHK, said, “A public broadcaster is required to be independent of the government. While the top executive is trying to reflect the views mind of the ruling elite, it is impossible for reporters to develop the consciousness and pride in objectivity necessary for journalists. Only when the top executive is determined to confront the power of the ruling elite, can reporters establish meaningful moral standards.”

On January 22, five days after the insider stock trading scandal came to light, then NHK President Hashimoto Gen’ichi was summoned to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Telecommunications Research Council and apologized for the scandal. He maintained the position of subservience toward the LDP.

“What impact will this scandal have on NHK? The government and business circles are taking the lead in reforming NHK. The recent revision of the Broadcast Law allows the government to strengthen its grip on NHK. It is important to view the recent scandal from this viewpoint,” said former Rissho University Professor Katsura Keiichi.

Making use of the revised Broadcast Law, Komori Shigetaka, NHK Management Committee chair, has shaped a policy of strengthening its control over the NHK executive.

Fukuchi at a press conference on January 25 pledged that NHK will strengthen its stand on regulatory compliance. However, he attached the most importance to carrying out an agreement made between the government and the ruling parties to strengthen NHK’s international broadcasting. Fukuchi also showed his intention to lead NHK in a direction in line with business circles’ policies by saying, “Business leaders are aiming at ‘strengthening their global strategy.’ This direction accords with that of NHK.”

“I am anxious about the increasing sense of helplessness among NHK staff. This will influence the quality of programs,” said a staff member engaged in program production.

An employee said, “Both the management committee chair and president are ex-business leaders. We must keep an eye on their words and deeds from the viewpoint of viewers. Those who work at NHK should speak up to make the inner reality known to the public. We want to build a watchdog network with the public.”
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