NHK’s credibility at stake

Even before the storm raised by new NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii’s Jan. 25 remarks on such issues as Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves, the state secrets law and the role of NHK’s international broadcasts has had a chance to die down, two of the public broadcast organization’s 12 governors have made headlines with equally repugnant statements of their own.

On Feb. 3, novelist Naoki Hyakuta asserted that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre never took place while making a campaign speech for former Air-Self Defense Force Gen. Toshio Tamogami, a candidate in the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election.

Michiko Hasegawa, a philosopher and professor emeritus at Saitama University, wrote an essay praising Shusuke Nomura, a rightist who committed suicide inside the Asahi Shimbun building in 1993.

The remarks by Hyakuta and Hasegawa surfaced following news of censorship at NHK. Toru Nakakita, a professor of economics at Toyo University who hosted a popular NHK AM radio show, resigned from the program in protest over NHK’s demand that he refrain from discussing nuclear power until after the Tokyo election.

The comments by Hyakuta and Hasegawa, and NHK’s censorship of the nuclear power issue, are undermining the broadcaster’s credibility as an objective public news organization. To regain the public’s trust, NHK must take immediate actions to restore its independence, neutrality and objectivity in its reporting and programming.

In his campaign speech for Tamogami, Hyakuta not only denied that the Nanjing Massacre took place but also said that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, usually referred to as the Tokyo Trials, was an attempt to gloss over the United States’ March 10, 1945, Tokyo air raid and its atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although opinions are split over how many Chinese were killed in the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, the official position of the Japanese government is that Imperial troops killed noncombatants as well and plundered the city during a six-week campaign to conquer Nanjing.

Hyakuta also overlooks the fact that the Tokyo Trials revealed what the Japanese public had not been informed of during the war years concerning the behavior of the Imperial military forces and that defeated Japan’s acceptance of the trials’ results was key to it being able to rejoin the international community and recover from the war’s devastation.

His remarks will only serve to fan narrow-minded nationalism. It also must be asked whether it is appropriate for an NHK governor to publicly support a candidate for public office at all, much less in the extremely uncouth manner that Hyakuta chose when he likened the other candidates to garbage.

Hasegawa’s essay on Nomura marked the 20th anniversary of his death and was distributed in a memorial event held in October. Nomura ran in the 1992 Upper House election, but his political group was ridiculed by a cartoon that appeared in Shukan Asahi, a weekly magazine published by Asahi Shimbun.

Nomura went to the Asahi Shimbun headquarters on Oct. 20, 1993, to protest. After receiving an apology from the newspaper, he shot himself to death inside the Asahi Shimbun president’s room after reportedly repeating three times “Sumera Mikoto, Iyasaka” (Long Prosperity for the Emperor).

Hasegawa wrote to the effect that Nomura dedicated his death to a god in front of a “bunch of guys” (Asahi Shimbun officials) who didn’t believe that one can have dialogue with a god by means of one’s life. It is bizarre that Hasegawa — who would have known at the time that she would soon be nominated for the NHK board of governors — would distribute her essay praising Nomura, whose actions were widely interpreted by the media as a violent attack on freedom of the press.

She also wrote that when Nomura said “Sumera Mikoto, Iyasaka” three times, he evoked Emperor Akihito, “who was not only a distant descendant of Japan’ gods but also a living god himself.” She added that at that moment, the emperor again became a living god no matter what the Constitution may say about the status of the emperor.

Hasegawa’s essay shows that she has affinity with Japan’s state ideology that existed before and during World War II, under which emperors were worshipped as living gods and served as the spiritual pillar of Japanese nationalism.

The postwar Constitution stipulates that emperors are only a “symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.”

Hyakuta and Hasegawa were among the four people whom Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated to the NHK Board of Governors, and whose appointments were approved by the Diet in the fall of 2013.

Hasegawa insists that members of the board are allowed to freely express their views and engage in political activities. Hyakuta insists that the Broadcast Law does not bind his private activities. But given their behavior, if this logic is upheld, there is a strong possibility that NHK governors will continue to publicly express highly politicized opinions, thus damaging the reputation of NHK as a objective source of news.

Such a situation could also put pressure on NHK workers to make programs that only mesh with the views of NHK governors rather than present a wide range of perspectives. This, in turn, would serve to lead public opinion in the direction favored by the governors.

The law states that NHK governors must be chosen from among people who can make impartial judgments on public welfare and have wide experience and knowledge. Although the law does not explicitly limit their political activities, it is clear that NHK governors need to conduct themselves in a manner that will not exert ideological or political pressure on NHK employees.

Given Abe’s efforts to pack the board of governors with people who share his political and ideological beliefs, and the inappropriate actions of Hyakuta and Hasegawa, there is clearly a pressing need to reconsider the selection process for NHK governors and the rules regulating their actions.