Public interest in daytime live television broadcasts of Diet proceedings — more often than not shunned for being stiff, weighty and tedious — appear to have been suddenly piqued.

Even though the broadcasts, courtesy of the public television network, are during daytime working hours, the maiden policy speech by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi earlier this month and subsequent Diet budget committee proceedings have commanded a viewer rating of up to 7 percent — a level previously unheard of.

The public’s curiosity appears to be focused on the histrionics of the blunt-speaking new prime minister and his feisty foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka.

The viewer rating when Koizumi gave his policy speech on May 7 was 6.4 percent for the Kanto region, 2.5 points shy of the all-time high of 8.9 percent set by former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa when he delivered his initial policy speech to the Diet on Aug. 23, 1993, according to the rating agency Video Research.

On Monday, when Tanaka crossed swords with Naoto Kan, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, at the House of Representatives Budget Committee over the embezzlement scandal at the Foreign Ministry, the rating averaged 6.5 percent between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. that day.

On Tuesday, the rating for the Lower House Budget Committee debate rose to 7.6 percent, and jumped momentarily to 13.1 percent when Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Social Democratic Party rose to fire volleys at the government bench.

“We are broadcasting in the same way as we always have,” an NHK public relations official said. “We aren’t using new approaches. It’s probably Koizumi’s popularity and the fact that a large number of people want to have a look at him.”

The NHK spokesman also noted that as of Tuesday, the network had received 988 telephone calls from viewers watching the Diet broadcasts — at least twice the number of previous years.

According to NHK, many of the callers are middle-aged women — some calling to find out when the rest intervals are between Diet relays, “so that they can go shopping,” while others say they had never watched live Diet broadcasts and were surprised to find them entertaining.

In April 2000, when Koizumi’s predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, gave his maiden policy speech in a live TV broadcast, the rating was 4.3 percent.

When Mori gave another policy speech in September, the rating fell to 1.8 percent.

The rating for the debate in the Lower House Budget Committee at the time hovered around 1 percent.

Bureaucratic aides

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has set up a new team of aides in his office, appointing five members to the group that will help him draw up policies and responses to questions in Diet sessions.

The five aides are drawn from the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry; the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry; the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry; the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry; and the Defense Agency.

Their job is to assist the prime minister while maintaining close contact with his secretaries from the Finance Ministry; Foreign Ministry; the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; and the National Police Agency, government officials said.

Past prime ministers usually had up to four policy aides from the bureaucracy.

Koizumi chose the additional aides from the five government agencies because they cover policies he wants to pursue, including reform of the social security system and the privatization of the nation’s postal services.

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