‘Shoko’ testimony goes live on TV

After a 20-year hiatus, the public eye was fully readmitted Tuesday to the drama of someone giving sworn testimony before the Diet, as the presidents of two “shoko” moneylenders under fire for heavy-handed loan collection tactics took the witness stand before the Upper House Financial Affairs Committee. The committee hearing for Nichiei Co. President Kazuo Matsuda and Shohkoh Fund and Co. President Kenshin Oshima was aired live on NHK. Both executives’ firms specialize in shoko collateral-free loans that are guaranteed by a third party. The live TV broadcast was the first since the Diet hearing into the Douglas-Grumman scandal in 1979. Such broadcasts during witness questioning were banned in 1988 in the wake of the Recruit stocks-for-favors scandal. Tuesday’s was the first since the ban was lifted last year. The Diet can summon witnesses and collect evidence as part of its constitutional right to check national governance. Originally, there was no clause banning broadcasting specified in the law concerning the summoning of witnesses. The televised hearing in 1976 attracted wide public attention during testimony in the Lockheed bribery scandal. In one scene, the hands of a witness were seen shaking as he tried to sign an oath.However, lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and others criticized the decision to broadcast the hearing as a violation of human rights, saying it led to “trial by mob.” Since then, live broadcasts have been replaced with still images taken before questioning and accompanied by audio. During the period when live broadcasts were prohibited, political heavyweights, including former Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone, Noboru Takeshita and Morihiro Hosokawa, took the stand. The opposition used those opportunities to criticize the ban for violating the public’s right to know. Tuesday’s broadcast was unanimously approved at the start of the day’s committee session.