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Self-censorship sensed as Japan’s TV stations replace outspoken anchors

Kyodo

The faces of Japan’s TV news are changing.

Broadcasters are under increasing political pressure from the government and a succession of outspoken anchors and newscasters have resigned.

Experts worry the situation marks a crisis in TV journalism, for it is believed broadcasters are now exercising self-censorship as they seek to toe the administration’s line.

Hosts Ichiro Furutachi of TV Asahi’s influential “Hodo Station” and Shigetada Kishii of the TBS evening news program “News 23” will both be replaced in April. NHK, too, is considering pulling longtime anchorwoman Hiroko Kuniya from its “Close-up Gendai” news and features program.

Furutachi has often been criticized by the government and its supporters for his commentaries.

He is unrepentant. During a news conference announcing his departure, Furutachi reiterated his motto: “Newscasters at times represent the voices against the powers that be.”

Kuniya’s departure has long been whispered about as she is known for asking big-name politicians tough questions. However, she has survived until now.

Similarly, Kishii expressed opposition to contentious security bills before they cleared the Diet last September and called on fellow opponents to speak up.

“Voices should continuously be raised (for the bills) to be scrapped,” he declared.

Criticism was heaped upon him, particularly from the right. One conservative political group said his statement violated the Broadcast Law, which states broadcasters must be politically impartial.

On Tuesday, TBS named Hiroshi Hoshi, 60, a senior writer with the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun daily newspaper, as Kishii’s replacement.

Some analysts see cause for alarm in the slew of anchor replacements.

“There must be different reasons behind each station’s move, but if three journalists quit in succession, the audience would get the impression that it was the results of their criticism of the administration,” said Hiroyoshi Sunakawa, a professor of media studies at Rikkyo University.

It was around the Lower House election of 2014 that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party began to exert stronger demands on TV stations.

In one example, the government issued a document to Tokyo-based stations demanding that they “ensure fairness, neutrality and correctness” in their election coverage. In 2015, the LDP summoned TV executives for questioning over the content of the “Hodo Station” and “Close-up Gendai” programs.

Having experienced that pressure, the stations now are believed to refrain from running content that criticizes the administration.

“I don’t want to take risks,” said one young employee at a commercial TV station.

A source close to NHK sighed and said there is a growing atmosphere among NHK staff that they should be second-guessing the administration’s expectations.

  • 151E

    Just last year an LDP study group suggested the government should pressure Keidanren to stop its members from sponsoring any media organization critical of government policies. Looks like we’re starting to see the results of that pressure now.

  • 151E

    Just last year an LDP study group suggested the government should pressure Keidanren to stop its members from sponsoring any media organization critical of government policies. Looks like we’re starting to see the results of that pressure now.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    “Just allow me to tighten this noose, just a little more. Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing.”

  • Vichy

    It doesn’t look good at all.

  • Kessek

    Frightening. The Japan Times should make a bigger stink about this. (but they won’t)

  • J.P. Bunny

    The way things are going, may as well forego any pretense of news. An hour of weather, sports, and cute baby animals should suffice.

  • tisho

    I wish international media would cover more about Japan, and what is happening there. If this was about China, it would’ve been all over the media and people would be talking for weeks about how miserable Chinese people are for having a tyrannical government and no media freedom, yet the same thing happens in Japan, nobody even reports on it. Anyone who hopes for justice and fairness will die miserably disappointed, as there is no such thing as justice and fairness. The stronger win, the weaker dies, that’s how nature works, and humans are part of it.

    • JimmyJM

      You should remember that in China, no one reports on government control of the media either. Japan is just starting to limit freedom of the press. In China, there hasn’t been any “freedom of the press” since at least 1949.

    • JimmyJM

      You should remember that in China, no one reports on government control of the media either. Japan is just starting to limit freedom of the press. In China, there hasn’t been any “freedom of the press” since at least 1949.

    • Buck

      What happens in China is far worse. In China reporters “disappear”, get tortured, and plead guilty to bogus offences to spend years in jail. Self-censorship in Japanese media is a problem we should all be concerned about, but the comparison isn`t fair.

    • Buck

      What happens in China is far worse. In China reporters “disappear”, get tortured, and plead guilty to bogus offences to spend years in jail. Self-censorship in Japanese media is a problem we should all be concerned about, but the comparison isn`t fair.

  • JimmyJM

    It would be simple to incorporate “Opinion” sections of the news. Stations could simply state that “the following is the opinion of the reporter and not necessarily those of this station”. Editorials could be handled the same way as “editorial opinion”. If the government were to try and put pressure on that, it would make a good article for print or broadcast. I pay close attention to the opinions presented in The Economist and here in JT. I pay virtually no attention to the opinions expressed on Fox “News”. The government should realize that people are capable of making up their own minds about opinion.
    As for Ms Kuniya, I’ve always been impressed by her skills and intelligence when conducting interviews. My Japanese language skills aren’t good enough to catch all the nuances and subtleties of her interviews but I’ve found her to be very impressive. She should have her own program as a moderator in a “Meet The Press” format rather than her current program which appears to limit her capabilities. But then, she works for NHK. That explains much.

  • Nao Matsutake

    Did not write that it was a biased coverage!

  • Nao Matsutake

    Did not write that it was a biased coverage

  • Nao Matsutake

    Did not write that it was a biased coverage

  • Nao Matsutake

    Did not write that it was a biased coverage!

  • Nao Matsutake

    Did not write that it was a biased coverage!!!

  • samurai novelist

    Good riddance. I hope that circus usher Furutachi will be replaced with a real journalist.

  • kimpatsu

    This racist right-wing government doesn’t want impartiality, they want a sycophantic propaganda organ. It’s as Voltaire said: “To find out who rules over you, just find out who you are not allowed to criticise”. This government is a disgrace, but the apathetic Japanese people won’t improve the situation.