A producer at Nippon Television Network Corp. has bribed TV viewer rating monitors in a bid to manipulate the viewer ratings of his own shows, it was learned Friday.

Nippon Television President Toshio Hagiwara apologized over the scandal in a news conference held at the firm’s headquarters in Tokyo, promising an in-house probe into the matter.

“I deeply apologize to the viewers, sponsors and all other people involved in the broadcasting industry,” Hagiwara said. “The sin of damaging the fairness of the viewer rating survey is significant. It is a despicable betrayal of (others) who make TV programs and is blasphemy.”

According to the major broadcaster, the 41-year-old producer, who name has not been revealed, hired a Saitama Prefecture-based credit research agent to identify about a dozen households chosen by Video Research Ltd. to serve as TV viewer rating monitors.

Video Research is Japan’s sole TV ratings survey firm.

On four occasions between July 2002 and last month, the producer asked the households — via an acquaintance — to watch at least six shows that he was involved in producing.

On each occasion, four or five households complied with his request, with the producer later mailing rewards of between 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen in the form of gift certificates per household for each show, the broadcaster said.

The producer also paid the credit research agent in Saitama 100,000 yen as a reward for identifying each of the households serving as viewer rating monitors.

In order to cover up his acts, the producer also asked the households to watch at least two shows aired by other broadcasters.

Hagiwara quoted the producer as saying that he wanted to raise the viewer ratings of his programs — and denying that he had acted on the orders of his superiors at the company.

The producer has told the company that he used his own money to pay the rewards. Hagiwara said, however, that the firm will examine whether the producer had misappropriated funds allocated toward the production of his shows.

The producer joined Nippon TV in 1984. He has been in charge of variety shows since 1991.

Video Research, which launched its TV ratings surveys in 1962, selects households from across Japan for its polls and replaces them periodically. It has 600 households serving as monitors in the Kanto region.

The identities of the households are strictly confidential, with the firm excluding households whose members are connected in any way with the broadcasting industry.

Until now, the manipulation of viewer ratings was unheard of in Japan. Broadcasting critic Nobuo Shiga said, “In the TV industry . . . viewer ratings are sacrosanct, they are like God,” given that even the slightest rating change has a significant impact on a TV station’s business.

“What NTV has done this time is blasphemy and a taboo,” Shiga said. “It has destroyed the rule (the industry) itself created and it is a self-destructive act that damages the credibility of the whole TV industry. NTV must realize it has caused a serious problem that cannot be solved simply by an apology.”

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