Senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Shinzo Abe admitted Wednesday that he told NHK to edit its coverage of a mock trial that found Emperor Showa guilty of war crimes before it was aired in 2001, raising questions about government censorship of the media.
The government has denied that Abe’s conduct constituted state interference in public media, even though he was deputy chief Cabinet secretary at the time.
“Because I was told that the mock trial was going to be reported in the way that the organizers wanted it to be, I looked into the matter,” Abe, now deputy LDP secretary general, said in a statement released to the media.
“As a result, I found out that the contents were clearly biased, and told that it should broadcast from a fair and neutral viewpoint, as it is expected to,” he claimed.
The lawmaker issued the statement after the daily Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday that he and LDP colleague Shoichi Nakagawa pressured NHK to edit out parts of the program, which was aired in January 2001.
Nakagawa is now minister of economy, trade and industry.
According to the report, Abe and Nakagawa learned of the contents of the program shortly before its scheduled broadcast and met with NHK executives to outline their objections.
The program, part of a series on how Japan’s responsibility for the war was judged, covered a mock tribunal organized by civic groups. In the trial, the government was held responsible for forcing thousands of women into sexual slavery for its troops at frontline brothels during the war.
The verdict found the late Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, guilty of approving a policy that allowed the institutionalization of sexual slavery. The verdict was issued in December 2000.
After the meeting, NHK edited the tribunal’s guilty verdict from the program. It was aired on Jan. 30, 2001.
Violence Against Women in War-Network Japan has charged that NHK altered the contents due to pressure from rightwing forces. The Tokyo-based women’s rights group co-organized the tribunal.
According to the group, key information related to the tribunal was in the rough cut just before the show was broadcast. This included the verdict holding Emperor Hirohito responsible and testimony by surviving sex slaves and Japanese soldiers who were involved in the slavery. These segments were cut out of the program, the group said. NHK claims its editor removed the footage at his own discretion. It has denied being pressured by outside forces.
In response to the Asahi report, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Abe and Nakagawa must speak for themselves. He said the government might ask them to further explain the matter.
The nation’s broadcasting law stipulates there should be no external interference with broadcasters. When asked if Abe and Nakagawa’s actions might have infringed on this law, Hosoda said he has not confirmed whether the newspaper report is true.
He dismissed the suggestion that Abe’s action could be interpreted as government intervention in the media on the grounds that Abe was deputy chief Cabinet secretary at the time. After Abe issued his statement, Hosoda maintained that the government does not plan to question him.
He said the government does not believe Abe was acting in his capacity as deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
VAWW-Net Japan said later Wednesday that Abe’s statement shows that NHK censored the program following intervention from politicians.
“It is a grave violation of the freedom of speech and the media guaranteed by the Constitution, and runs counter to the principle of fairness and impartiality that NHK claims to respect as a public broadcaster,” the group said in a statement.
“We strongly protest that NHK has covered up the facts, and demand that the broadcaster launch a thorough probe into how the program had been altered and disclose all the facts before the public,” it said.
VAWW-Net Japan has earlier filed a lawsuit against NHK and two production companies over the changes made to the program.