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2014 February 26 - March 4 [POLITICS]

Turning NHK into gov’t publicity organ is totally unacceptable: media people

February 25&26, 2014
People concerned in the media industry and civil groups on February 22 held a symposium in Tokyo to discuss the role of NHK.

NHK’s character as Japan’s sole public broadcaster has been called into question since Momii Katsuto, a business leader who regards NHK as something like a PR unit of the government, assumed the position of NHK president in January.

The five following panelists spoke at the symposium: Ikeda Eriko (former NHK director), Odagiri Makoto (journalist), Tajima Yasuhiko (professor at Sophia University), Matsuda Hiroshi (researcher on the media), and Daigo Satoshi (professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo).

Ikeda produced a total of eight TV documentaries in the 1990s on Japan’s wartime sexual slavery (“comfort women”) system. In the same period of time, Abe Shinzo (the current prime minister), who was appointed to key posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, insisted that the former comfort women had never been used under coercion by the Imperial Japanese military. Ikeda pointed out that Abe’s pressure on NHK caused in 2001 a last-minute change of its TV program on Japan’s wartime sexual abuses.

Citing Momii’s recent remarks that practices similar to Japan’s comfort women system were “common to any nation fighting a war” and that “we (NHK) cannot say ‘left’ when the government says ‘right’,” Ikeda condemned the chairman for echoing the peculiar view of the Abe administration. “This is the last thing news media should do,” she stressed.

Odagiri argued that there is a problem in the current NHK management system under which NHK governors appoint the chair. “With the aim of turning the public broadcaster into the government’s propaganda organ, PM Abe sent to the NHK Board of Governors many people who have the same beliefs as his. The prime minister had always wanted to do this since the first Abe Cabinet was inaugurated in 2006,” he said.

Tajima said that NHK is becoming more and more submissive to the demands of authorities. In the past, worried about displeasing the government, NHK senior officials used to press its workers to be less critical of the administration in power. These days, the NHK president is actually eager to support the government and to promote government policies.

Along with the moves to restrict public access to information, such as by the state secrets protection law, the government is “trying to impose on the general public tighter controls over state information”, the professor warned.

Matsuda said that the problem is that although the NHK management committee should work to block governmental interference in broadcasting, it has become a body to serve the government.

During WWII, the predecessor of NHK played a role as a promoter of the war, and NHK after the war was established based on remorse for that past. If the public broadcaster turns into a mere PR department of the national government, democracy in Japan will be in danger, Matsuda stressed.

Daigo stated that what is wrong with the NHK management committee is that it has not only the authority to appoint its president but also the authority to nominate candidates for the post. He proposed a signature collection campaign for introducing a system in which the NHK president will be elected by the public. The University of Tokyo professor emeritus also called for a signature drive demanding the resignation of Momii.

Past related article:
> NHK losing its ‘political neutrality’ [February 14, 2014]
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