NHK violated Obokata’s rights: broadcasting ethics panel

JIJI, Kyodo

An independent committee said Friday that an NHK TV program committed a human rights violation against disgraced biologist Haruko Obokata, who claimed to have discovered a faster way to generate iPS cells that can grow into any tissue in the human body.

The human rights committee of the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization judged that the program defamed her and decided to issue an advisory urging NHK to prevent similar incidents.

It was the first time that the ethics group has recognized a human rights violation in a program produced by the public broadcaster.

“We see here a human rights violation of defamation,” its report said.

The program, broadcast in July 2014, investigated alleged fraud in Obokata’s research on so-called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) published in the scientific journal Nature.

Obokata, a former researcher at Riken, a top state-backed research institute, submitted a complaint to the ethics group claiming that the program was produced to show that she had stolen embryonic stem cells to conduct her STAP experiments.

NHK rejected her claim, saying it produced the program using objective facts and used care in the expressions it used.

The program investigated allegedly fraudulent acts related to embryonic stem cells found at Obokata’s laboratory office.

The ethics committee concluded that the evidence presented by NHK was insufficient to support the claim that Obokata stole embryonic stem cells.

Furthermore, the committee said NHK’s news-gathering activities, which saw TV crews hounding Obokata, were problematic in terms of broadcasting ethics.

Saying NHK may have intended not only to seek the scientific truth, but also to make Obokata look like a fraud, the ethics committee urged it to reconsider its news-gathering and broadcasting techniques when media coverage is excessive.

“I appreciate the fair conclusion,” Obokata said through her agent in response to the panel’s findings. The NHK program’s “impact on my life will never disappear,” she said.

Obokata does not intend to file a lawsuit at the moment, lawyer Hideo Miki said.

Riken concluded in December 2014 that Obokata’s “STAP cells” were most likely embryonic stem cells.