Seeking to avoid a political minefield, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined Tuesday to comment on NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii’s recent explosive remark on wartime sexual servitude, saying only that he hopes the public network will “maintain fair and neutral broadcasting” by defying all external political pressure.
“I don’t think I’m in a position to comment on individual remarks made by the top (executive) of a broadcast organization,” Abe told lawmakers during a plenary session of the Lower House, answering questions from Democratic Party of Japan President Banri Kaieda.
“I hope the chairman and NHK employees will maintain fair and neutral broadcasting without giving in to any political pressure,” Abe said.
During his debut news conference Saturday as chairman of the public broadcaster, Momii caused a public stir by claiming “every country” has had systems similar to the Japanese military’s “comfort women” wartime brothel system.
The system has long been criticized by human right groups and media outlets as sex slavery, given the severe conditions and lack of freedom for females to quit.
Later Tuesday, a senior official explaining Abe’s remark insisted the government should maintain political distance from NHK.
“Momii was appointed by (NHK’s) management committee members,” the official said. “We shouldn’t make comments on what he says.”
Nonetheless, media outlets both at home and abroad have speculated that Abe had a hand in Momii’s appointment.
Momii was appointed in December by the 12-member management committee that is NHK’s top decision-making body. Four of the 12 members were replaced in November, while one was reappointed. Four of these five are reportedly close friends or acquaintances of Abe.
His Cabinet proposed the five as candidates to the Diet, which approved them in December.
The Lower House Internal Affairs and Communications Committee is set to soon start deliberating NHK’s budget for fiscal 2014, where opposition lawmakers are expected to harshly criticize Momii and likely seek his resignation.
“(Momii’s statement) is a shameful remark that we even hesitate to quote,” Kaieda said during Tuesday’s plenary session.
Kaieda pointed out that Momii named Germany, France and Holland as countries which he believes had wartime institutions similar to the comfort women system.