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Political winds buffet NHK

The selection of the next president of Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) is part of personnel affairs at Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), boasts Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of JR Tokai, who has close ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The biggest task facing the Abe-Kasai affiliation is to choose the successor to incumbent NHK President Masayuki Matsumoto, himself a former JR Tokai president.

But a person who has served as a member of the NHK Board of Governors expressed his anger when he said, on condition of strict anonymity, that while Abe appointed people close to him to posts like the governor of the Bank of Japan and the director general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, his unjustifiable intervention in the selection of the NHK president is of different dimensions.

“Abe is trying to transform NHK to suit his needs,” he said, “which would be a threat to the freedom of broadcasting, which must be impartial and nonpartisan, and jeopardize democracy at its foundation.”

There is no secret about the close affinity between Abe and Kasai, according to a political editor of a newspaper with nationwide circulation.

On Aug. 22, the two met for less than an hour at Hotel Okura, joined by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita. The same political journalist said that the top item in their discussion was who should become the next president of NHK.

Kasai played a key role in sending Matsumoto to NHK as its new president in January 2011 when the Democratic Party of Japan had difficulty selecting the NHK president. But Kasai is now anxious to depose Matsumoto.

At a June 11 meeting of the NHK Board of Governors, Nami Takenaka, head of a nonprofit organization for social welfare activities, is reported to have approached Kasai after submitting her resignation from the board. Takenaka added that she was much obliged to Matsumoto.

But Kasai became infuriated and reportedly fired a broadside at Matsumoto, saying that he had been using taxpayers’ money to broadcast programs that ran counter to national interests. Asked if this was true, Takenaka declined to comment other than to say that as the head of a powerless NPO, she was afraid to antagonize Kasai.

Kasai has taken many occasions to criticize Matsumoto by saying that NHK is leaning toward opposing nuclear power generation or by asking which country NHK is trying to serve as a public broadcasting organization. But an NHK insider has confided that Kasai is actually angry at Matsumoto himself rather than at the content being broadcast by NHK.

In 2011, Kasai asked Matsumoto to appoint Mamoru Morohoshi, a former political reporter for NHK, as executive vice president of NHK. Matsumoto flatly rejected the request. It is said that Kasai is infuriated over the simple fact that Matsumoto declined a personal request from him — Matsumoto’s former boss at JR Tokai.

According to a Liberal Democratic Party member who served as a Cabinet member, Abe is critical of NHK’s reporting, viewing it as left-leaning like the Asahi Shimbun. By taking advantage of this, Kasai is simply seeking to bring Matsumoto down.

There’s a reason why Matsumoto can stand firm against his former boss, according to an informed source. When Kasai was JR Tokai president, a labor union descended from the National Railway Workers Union (Kokuro) went after him over a reported scandal involving a woman. Matsumoto worked hard to prevent the scandal from becoming big news.

Thus Matsumoto, with the knowledge of a stain on Kawai’s past, has been able to rebuff the latter’s pressure for resignation. But there is a limit to this resistance.

An NHK president is chosen by the consent of nine or more of the 12 members of NHK Board of Governors. So far, eight governors have been appointed through the influence of the Abe administration. Thus the board has come very close to the number needed to select a person favored by Abe to replace Matsumoto.

Being mentioned as the next NHK president is Morohoshi, whom Matsumoto had refused to name to the No. 2 position. As a protege of former NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa, he displayed uncommon shrewdness. After Ebisawa resigned, Morohoshi was forced to move to NHK International with him.

During the presidency of Shigeo Fukuchi, the immediate predecessor of Matsumoto, Morohoshi tried to regain power. According to the aforementioned NHK insider, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone telephoned Fukuchi and demanded that he name Morohoshi as executive vice president. But Fukuchi, like Matsumoto, is said to have turned down the request.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sugita, who had served as head of the Security Bureau of the National Police Agency, had introduced Morohoshi to Kasai. After resigning in 2004 as deputy chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management in the Koizumi administration, Sugita landed a job at JR Tokai as an adviser.

Kasai is known for his anti-labor union initiatives. According to a city news reporter of a national newspaper, under the leadership of Kasai, JR Tokai crushed a labor union close to the Revolutionary Marxist Faction (Kakumaru-ha) in cooperation with the public security office. Kasai accepted Sugita, a former career bureaucrat for the security police, as an adviser for JR Tokai. Sugita, who has been called the “Joseph Goebbels” of the prime minister’s headquarters, is trying to have Morohoshi — whom he has known since Morohoshi was a reporter — become the NHK president by strengthening Morohoshi’s ties with Kasai and Abe.

But a political reporter for NHK does not believe that Morohoshi will gain the president’s position because, in the past, those whose names had been mentioned as possible presidents seldom reached the position and those who were influential during the Ebisawa presidency have already been purged from NHK.

A number of business leaders could be candidates for NHK president such as Katsuhiko Honda, adviser to Japan Tobacco Inc., who failed in June to become a member of the NHK Board of Governors; and Shigetaka Komori, chairman of Fuji Film Holdings Corp, who had served as chairman of the Board of Governors while Abe was in his first stint as prime minister.

A high-ranking official of the Japan Broadcasting Labor Union has said that while NHK cannot be totally independent of politics, he does not welcome current moves to select the next NHK president.

Even though Matsumoto has been active in cost-cutting, such as carrying out a 10 percent wage cut for NHK employees, the union leader evaluates Matsumoto somewhat highly by saying that he has not blundered even though he is an amateur in the broadcasting business.

After a nomination section of the Board of Governors nominates the next NHK president, he or she will be elected president in January 2014.

Abe and Kasai are pushing their maneuver to select the next NHK president. The NHK insider warns that the nation’s public broadcasting system is threatened by the “worst personnel appointment” being pushed by Abe.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the October issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic issues.