Shinzo Abe

What’s wrong with Katsuto Momii, the boss of Japan’s NHK?

He’s up for a second term and critics say he’s too close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 10:05pm

More than 100 prominent Japanese, including academics, authors, journalists and lawyers, have signed a petition calling for Katsuto Momii to not be given a second term as president of national broadcaster NHK when his term expires in January.

The petition has been submitted to NHK’s board of governors, which will make the decision on Momii’s future.

Critics point out, however, that Momii was reportedly appointed in December 2013 at the behest of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he is firm friends, largely because they share the same political outlook.

Equally, other members of NHK’s board are well known for their conservative opinions.

Momii’s role as head of the national broadcaster has been frequently called into question since his appointment due to comments that suggest he is not as impartial as his organisation should be.

Questions were asked after his very first press conference, where he confirmed that NHK would be slavishly following the government line on territorial issues.

“It is only natural to clearly state that the Senkaku Islands and the Takeshima Islands are Japanese territories,” he said, dropping any hint of impartiality and even-handedness that a media outlet needs to retain to ensure it is not seen simply a mouthpiece of the government.

Turning to the controversial issues of the comfort women, he concluded that the fact that the matter is still debated is “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.

“ ‘Give us money, compensate us’ they say, but since all of this was resolved by the Japan-Korea peace treaty, why are they reviving this issue?” he added. “It is strange.”

He is too close to the prime minister - and that’s because they share the same political views, meaning that he cannot be independent or impartial
Makoto Watanabe, Hokkaido Bunkyo University

Momii, former president of the Japanese operations of US technology firm Unisys Corp., also dismissed other nations’ criticisms by adding that brothels were “common in any country at war”.

He has also sided with the government on the deeply controversial State Secrets bill.

Questions are also being asked about whether Momii’s political views are being reflected in NHK’s coverage.

Six months after his appointment, NHK dismissed queries about its impartiality after the corporation failed to report on a protestor who set himself alight in central Tokyo in protest at the government’s reinterpretation of the constitution. In April of this year, an order that Momii sent to NHK newsrooms was leaked and revealed that journalists were to stick to the official government line when reporting on the situation at nuclear plants in Kyushu after a major earthquake.

Questioned later in Parliament, he denied that his orders are the same as Japan’s wartime propaganda.

“I completely agree with this petition - and would have signed it as well if I could,” said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

“Momii is simply not an appropriate person to serve as the head of Japan’s most influential and important public broadcaster. He is too close to the prime minister - and that’s because they share the same political views, meaning that he cannot be independent or impartial.”

Officially, the decision on Momii’s future at NHK will depend on the board of directors, but few doubt that Abe’s influence will play a part.

“Even if Abe wants to keep Momii, he will have to be careful in the words he uses to endorse him,” Watanabe said.