Diet OKs Abe-linked NHK board picks, raising specter of potential bias

Move seen attempt by prime minister to influence vote for broadcaster's next president


The Diet has confirmed government-chosen nominees for leadership posts at public organizations, including NHK, with the picks for the public broadcaster’s board of governors seen as having close ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, triggering speculation he is seeking to consolidate his influence in choosing its next president.

On Friday, the Lower House approved the 29 nominees for 12 organizations by a majority vote at a plenary meeting following a similar decision by the Upper House.

This marked the first Diet approval of public organization leadership nominees selected by the government since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won Upper House polls in July, ending years of divided government.

The Diet OK’d the appointments of five people nominated to be NHK governors on its 12-seat Management Committee.

Of them, author Naoki Hyakuta, former Saitama University professor Michiko Hasegawa, Japan Tobacco Inc. adviser Katsuhiko Honda, and Naomasa Nakajima, principal of the Kaiyo Academy secondary school, will be newly appointed, while Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) Chairman Susumu Ishihara will be reappointed.

The four new appointees all have close relations with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Hyakuta and Abe grew close following an interview for a magazine. Hasegawa, a conservative author and professor, is a strong supporter of the prime minister, while Honda was a tutor for Abe during his elementary school days.

Nakajima’s school was established with support from Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), the chairman of which, Yoshiyuki Kasai, serves as an adviser to Abe.

The term of current NHK President Masayuki Matsumoto will end in January 2014 and his successor will be appointed by the board of governors.

Some opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, have expressed disapproval of the moves, saying the proposed appointments would undermine neutrality required for the public broadcaster because of their ties to Abe.

The DPJ rejected the four candidates, while the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party voted against all five NHK nominees.