A TV production company was handed a court order Wednesday to pay 1 million yen in damages to a Tokyo-based citizens’ group for misleading its members about the content of a program on the “comfort women” issue.
However, the Tokyo District Court ruled that public broadcaster NHK, which aired the program produced by Documentary Japan Inc., does not have to pay damages to the group, Women Against Violence in War Network Japan (VAWW-NET Japan).
The program, shown in January 2001, was about a citizens’ tribunal held the year before on Japan’s responsibility concerning the ordeal of women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
VAWW-NET Japan co-organized the mock trial.
Lawyers representing VAWW-NET Japan said they would appeal the ruling immediately, describing it as unjust. They said it shifts all responsibility to the subcontractor and fails to recognize that NHK erred.
VAWW-NET Japan sued NHK, NHK Enterprises 21, Inc. and Documentary Japan in July 2001, demanding 20 million yen in damages for breach of trust, alleging the program was totally different from what the NGO’s members had earlier agreed to.
They alleged that the changes were due to pressure from rightwing groups.
NHK had contracted out production of the program to subsidiary NHK Enterprises 21, which in turn subcontracted it to Documentary Japan.
The court only held Documentary Japan liable, saying it “gave wrong expectations about the program to the NGO, when the subcontractor had no authority to determine its contents.”
The group’s expectations were heightened because Documentary Japan gave it the production plan, which normally should not be shown to outsiders, the court said.
The court further said that NHK, as a broadcaster, is guaranteed the freedom to edit its programs.
According to the lawsuit, VAWW-NET Japan agreed to cooperate with NHK and the two companies in October 2000 to produce the program. The group alleged that NHK and the two other parties gave it the impression that the purpose of the program was in line with the wishes of the NGO, which wanted to emphasize the significance of the tribunal.
However, the final version of the program failed to show that the mock trial was about the responsibility of the late Emperor Showa and the government over the comfort woman policy, the group said.
NHK also failed to keep its promise of showing testimony by former soldiers, while on the other hand it featured an interview with a rightwing scholar who claimed the women were mere prostitutes, the NGO said.
The group claimed that a rough cut of the program as of December 2000 featured the content it said it was promised. But extensive revisions were suddenly made after an NHK executive was shown that version just before the program was aired, when the network was facing growing pressure from rightwing groups opposing the program’s content, the group said.
VAWW-NET representatives and their attorneys lashed out at the ruling.
“What we asked for was that all three parties be held responsible for the breach of trust, but the court judged only Documentary Japan was at fault. Such judicial precedent will further allow the media to do whatever they like,” said Rumiko Nishino, corepresentative of VAWW-NET Japan.
In a written statement, NHK hailed the ruling as basically accepting its assertion that how the program was edited was within its purview.