NHK and the Asahi Shimbun are still at odds over allegations that an NHK war crimes documentary was censored under political pressure, and a new report by the daily threatens to add fuel to the fire.

The unusual report, carried in the Monday morning edition, is intended to verify allegations it made in January that NHK re-edited the program about a mock war crimes tribunal after being pressured to do so by two leading LDP politicians.

The redacted sections included one about the tribunal’s December 2000 verdict, which found Emperor Hirohito guilty of sanctioning sexual slavery.

The daily used two pages to explain how its reporters investigated, re-examined what happened to NHK when the broadcaster made the program, and detailed NHK’s views on the issue.

“We thought we could make clear through a series of (past) reports that NHK is close to politics. But since (NHK) clearly denied the reports, we could not remain silent,” an Asahi Shimbun official said, explaining why it ran the intensive report.

The Asahi interviewed more than 150 people, including officials from NHK and the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, and LDP politicians for the report.

In response, NHK repeated its original denial, claiming: “There was no pressure, and we edited (the program) independently.”

The newspaper accused the public broadcaster in January of caving in to pressure from powerful Liberal Democratic Party politicians who it claimed wanted NHK to cancel the 2001 show, which documented a mock war crimes tribunal that was held in Tokyo to judge Japan’s institution of sexual slavery during the war.

If the argument continues, however, the two media giants may have a difficult time regaining the public’s trust.

After the daily ran the report in January, an NHK producer who was in charge of the 2001 program said tearfully that he had heard that Shinzo Abe and Shoichi Nakagawa, the two LDP lawmakers, had politically intervened.

NHK acknowledged that an NHK executive met Abe and was told to be fair and neutral in covering the event one day before the program aired.

But the broadcaster also claimed the change in the program’s content was only made to maintain fairness.

The confrontation between NHK and Asahi escalated after Asahi said NHK falsified the program. NHK then accused Asahi of slander.

Although the two media outlets have issued protests and open written questions are flowing back and forth, the situation appeared calm, at least on the surface, in April.

But then different problems started cropping up.

Weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported in March that the Asahi received 50 million yen in the name of editorial assistance from Takefuji Corp. to run a series of articles about the consumer finance company in its weekly magazine Shukan Asahi.

Asahi admitted its “blunder,” and President Shinichi Hakoshima was replaced by Kotaro Akiyama in June. But the daily denied there was a link between Hakoshima’s exit and the Takefuji scandal.

When “the Takefuji problem surfaced. We felt a strong sense of crisis,” a veteran Asahi reporter said.

NHK was also hit by another crisis after it was reported last year that its employees have been embezzling funds, including a chief producer who was indicted for pocketing 48 million yen in fictitious production funds.

The revelation triggered a flood of refusals to pay NHK fees, forcing Katsuji Ebisawa, who used to be called the “one-man” president of NHK, to resign in January to take responsibility.

New NHK President Genichi Hashimoto replaced Ebisawa with a pledge to reform the public broadcaster and make a fresh start.

However, whether NHK caved in to political pressure over the 2001 documentary is still being argued in the Tokyo High Court in a suit filed by Violence Against Women in War-Network Japan, an organization that cooperated in the making of the program. The group claimed during a recent hearing at the court that its “trust was betrayed by the changed program.”

Some NHK employees have also said that the re-editing of the program was an “excessive reaction to politics” and proposed distancing NHK’s management from politics.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.