Controversy engulfs Japan's NHK over failure to cover pacifist fire protest

National broadcaster won’t comment on decision not to report on man who set himself alight to protest reinterpretation of constitution to allow troops to fight overseas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 10:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 2:22am

Japan’s national broadcaster has dismissed queries about the impartiality of its news coverage after failing to report on a protester who set himself alight in central Tokyo on June 29 in protest at the government’s reinterpretation of the constitution.

Other broadcasters and national newspapers covered the dramatic incident, using still images or footage captured by horrified onlookers on mobile phones.

The man had been addressing crowds from the top of a pedestrian bridge outside Shinjuku Station. As police and fire crews arrive to bring the man down, the footage shows him pouring liquid from two plastic bottles over his clothing before setting fire to himself.

The footage has gone viral on the internet and has been picked up by foreign media, but NHK carried nothing on the incident on any of its television or radio programming.

Asked to comment on its decision by The South China Morning Post, a spokesman issued a terse statement: “NHK has not reported the incident mentioned in the question.

“I’m afraid we do not answer [about] the decision in regard of the news coverage.”

The corporation declined to comment on why the incident was not considered newsworthy or whether any political pressure was brought to bear against airing the dramatic footage.

NHK was at the centre of a political storm earlier this year after Katsuto Momii was hand-picked to serve as president of the broadcaster by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At his inaugural press conference in January, Momii parroted the government’s position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, at the centre of a territorial dispute with China, which knows them as the Diaoyu Islands.

Momii made things worse by describing the issue of “comfort women” forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army during the early decades of the last century as “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.”

Naoki Hyakuta, another member of the NHK board, subsequently claimed that the 1937 rape of Nanking (today known as Nanjing) was Chinese “propaganda”.

“Countries around the world ignored the propaganda ... that Japanese troops carried out a massacre in Nanjing,” Hyakuta said at a campaign meeting for a candidate for the election for Tokyo governor.

“Why? There was no such thing,” he added.