Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe accused of using NHK to back his nationalist agenda

Suspicions mount over the use of the nation's public broadcaster to back the nationalist policies and philosophies of the government

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 4:43pm

Minutes of a recent governing board meeting of Japan's public broadcaster NHK seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan's news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK's website but not widely reported, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the January 14 meeting.

One of the four new members favoured by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan's territorial claims on islands at the centre of a dispute with Beijing, its wartime history as well as the problems with the post-second-world-war United States-led tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

"I think there should be room for programmes that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with," said Naoki Hyakuta, the author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another new board member, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressed the need to promote "correct education" for the public.

It's unclear whether their statements are affecting coverage, and NHK denied any political influence over its editorial decisions. The board members' comments reflected their personal views, an NHK official said. Hyakuta, according to the minutes, then made sure if it was OK for board members to comment on programming. He was told they couldn't make comments that influenced specific programmes, but they could express their preferences as "personal impressions". Experts say anything board members say could easily cause compromise and self-restraint in coverage.

"Apparently NHK is leaning towards the government, and increasingly neglecting its responsibility to check authority," said Yasuhiko Tajima, a media law professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "I even feel democracy is at risk."

NHK, the country's most respected radio and television network, has been buffeted by a series of developments in the past two weeks that have thrust concern over Abe's influence on the appointments into the headlines.

First, the new NHK chairman, Katsuto Momii, infuriated South Korea and China by saying Japan was unfairly criticised for the use of Asian women as military prostitutes, which he argued was common in countries at war.

The board picked Momii to head NHK late last year after his predecessor abruptly resigned following Abe's ruling party criticism of NHK's news coverage as too liberal.

At his inaugural news conference, Momii also said, "We cannot say left when the government says right," suggesting NHK would be loyal to the government's policies, including the territorial disputes.

His comments triggered criticism that he contradicted NHK's mission to serve the public's interest without bias. Of 12,700 responses from viewers, about 70 per cent was critical of NHK, the broadcaster said last week.

Days later, a professor quit an NHK radio programme on which he had been a regular guest for 20 years after being told not to discuss nuclear energy before Sunday's Tokyo governor elections.

The NHK controversy was further fuelled by comments attributed to the same two board members who spoke out on programming at the board meeting.

In a speech supporting a conservative Tokyo candidate for governor, Hyakuta said the 1937 Nanjing massacre of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers by Japanese troops was false.