National

NHK boss exits as viewers stop paying

Fees fall by 7 billion yen amid scandals

Faced with a rising number of people refusing to pay viewer subscription fees due
to embezzlement scandals, NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa tendered his resignation Tuesday.

“I believe I was able to put comprehensive reforms for NHK’s revival on course,” the 70-year-old Ebisawa said during a news conference held after he submitted his letter of resignation to the NHK management committee in the evening.

He added that the sharp decline in the number of households paying their NHK fees as a result of the embezzlement was regrettable.

“I ask our viewers and the general public to trust those who come after me as they work single-mindedly toward the revival of NHK,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kunio Ishihara, head of the management committee, said the body accepted Ebisawa’s resignation because “top officials need to change and NHK must try to make a fresh start if it is to overcome this crisis.”

The committee tapped Genichi Hashimoto, NHK’s chief engineer and executive director, to replace Ebisawa. Taeko Nagai, a former NHK commentator, was chosen as vice president and will be the first woman to assume the post.

For months, Ebisawa persistently rejected pressure to leave despite the flak over the embezzlement scandals involving NHK employees that broke starting in July.

The broadcaster has of late also been embroiled in a scandal over claims that it censored a documentary of a mock trial on Japan’s wartime atrocities under pressure by two Liberal Democratic Party bigwigs.

Ebisawa submitted his letter of resignation after first going to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which has jurisdiction over NHK, to present the public broadcaster’s budget for fiscal 2005, which begins in April.

More than 113,000 households have refused to pay mandatory subscription fees for those owning televisions as of the end of November, apparently out of outrage over the embezzlement fiasco. As a result, NHK is facing financial difficulties in compiling its budget, and pressure had been mounting for Ebisawa to resign to take responsibility.

The fiscal 2005 budget endorsed by the management committee Tuesday was the first decrease in subscription fee income in NHK’s history.

Projected income from subscription fees for fiscal 2005 is down 7.2 billion yen, or 1.1 percent, from that in the current fiscal year budget, according to sources close to the broadcaster.

Salaries for 15 top NHK executives will be cut by 15 percent to reduce costs to soften the impact from the drop in income, the sources said.

NHK plans to establish an ombudsman committee to strengthen supervision of management in the wake of the scandals.

The last time an NHK president stepped down before completing his term was in 1991, when Keiji Shima resigned amid criticism over false statements he made to the Diet.

Ebisawa became NHK president in 1997. He is currently serving his third term, which would have expired in July 2006.

NHK tried to fix its tarnished image by airing a live program last month in which Ebisawa himself appeared and apologized for the embezzlement scandals. It called on viewers to call and fax in comments regarding NHK reform.

NHK also made headlines in recent weeks over a controversy erupting on whether it succumbed to political pressure when editing a program on a mock trial on Japan’s use of wartime sex slaves and the culpability of the late Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa.

It has locked itself in a heated battle with the daily Asahi Shimbun over an Asahi article that reported that LDP lawmakers Shinzo Abe and Shoichi Nakagawa pressured NHK over the program’s contents. NHK executives say there was no such pressure, but the program’s producer claims otherwise.