JAPAN

Caroline Kennedy snubs NHK over governor’s nationalist comments

Embassy doesn't deny report envoy refusing to give interview to national broadcaster to convey anger at comments on war by one of its governors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 10:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 6:45am

The US embassy in Tokyo was keeping silent after a report said Ambassador Caroline Kennedy had declined to be interviewed by Japan's national broadcaster because of controversial comments about the second world war by a member of the corporation's board of governors.

A spokesman for the embassy yesterday would not comment on the ambassador's schedule. That was not a denial of the Kyodo News report on Saturday that said the embassy was ignoring NHK's request for an interview because of remarks a fortnight ago by Naoki Hyakuta.

Speaking in support of candidate Toshio Tamogami in the February 9 election for governor of Tokyo, Hyakuta said the Tokyo war crimes trials conducted after the war were ordered to conceal the "genocide" of the firebombing raids on Tokyo in the early months of 1945 and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought the war to its end. Hyakuta went on to say that the 1937 Nanking massacre was Chinese "propaganda".

Kyodo reported that NHK had made a request to the embassy for an interview with Kennedy, the daughter of late US president John F. Kennedy, shortly after she took up her post on November 15.

The broadcaster apparently wanted the interview to appear on the Close-up Gendai current affairs programme.

The ambassador's schedule made it difficult for her to carry out the engagement in the early weeks of her time in Japan, but comments by senior NHK officials now appear to have ruled out the possibility of an interview in the foreseeable future.

Kyodo cited "sources close to the matter" saying that an embassy press officer had told NHK staff that it was both Kennedy's and Washington's will that no interview be granted in light of Hyakuta's remarks.

NHK has been embroiled in a series of controversies in recent weeks, starting with Katsuto Momii, the new president of the corporation, who expressed the Japanese government's position on the sovereignty of islands that both Tokyo and Beijing claim at a press conference last month. Momii also said the issue of "comfort women" forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army during the early decades of the last century was "puzzling".

"[The issue of] comfort women is bad by the morals of today, but it was a fact of those times," he said. "Korea's statements that Japan is the only nation that forced this are puzzling."

NHK's impartiality was questioned when it was learned that another of its governors, Michiko Hasegawa, had praised the suicide of an ultranationalist in 1993.

In an essay, Hasegawa said that by praying for the emperor's prosperity before shooting himself in the offices of the left-wing Asahi newspaper in protest at its coverage of his political group, Shusuka Nomura had elevated the emperor to the status of a living god.

It is the comments Hyakuta made that Kennedy appears to have taken particular offence to.

In his remarks in support of Tamogami's unsuccessful campaign, he said: "Countries around the world ignored the propaganda ... that Japanese troops carried out a massacre in Nanjing . Why? There was no such thing."

The US embassy called Hyakuta's claim preposterous. China called the comments "a barefaced challenge to international justice and human conscience".