National

Told not to discuss issue before Tokyo election

Scholar quits NHK over nuclear power hush-up

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

A noted professor who regularly provides commentary on an NHK AM radio show has resigned from the program in protest over the public broadcaster’s demand that nuclear power not be discussed until after the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election.

Toru Nakakita, a professor of economics at Toyo University in Tokyo, said the director of the “Radio 1” morning news program told him Wednesday to change the subject of his commentary, after he had submitted an outline for a segment to air the following day.

The segment, “Business Tenbo” (“Business Outlook”), which is broadcast every weekday morning, features guest commentary from academics in the fields of business and economics. For the Thursday morning edition, Nakakita was planning to talk about the rising operating costs of nuclear power worldwide, in light of a recent surge in insurance premiums and safety costs. He was also intending to discuss the fact that in Japan the cost of decommissioning nuclear plants is not adequately reflected on the utilities’ balance sheets.

After reviewing his draft, the director of the news program told him to wait until after the election, on grounds his comments “would affect the voting behavior” of the listeners, Nakakita quoted the NHK director as saying.

An official in NHK’s public relations department acknowledged the demand had been made. The public TV and radio network, the official said, has a responsibility to “ensure fairness by introducing both sides of the issues on a program-to-program or a series-to-series basis.”

The official said Nakakita’s commentary couldn’t be aired because NHK had determined it wasn’t possible to book another expert with an opposing view during Thursday’s segment, or on the same program before the end of the election campaign.

“Nuclear power is one of the issues in the Tokyo gubernatorial election, and we need to be especially careful about ensuring fairness,” the official said. “It could have been possible to feature another expert with a different viewpoint soon before or after (Nakakita’s) appearance, but because we received his draft the day before the scheduled broadcast, and because we have limited editions of the program during the campaign period, we decided it would be difficult to air a contrasting view.”

“Economists deal in all things in nature,” Nakakita told The Japan Times.

“The director kept insisting that people vote based on ‘impressions.’ But I wonder if it’s OK to say we can talk about (contentious issues) at length only after the election. What if I had talked about welfare? Wouldn’t that have affected the voting behavior?

“The media should choose various issues especially during the campaign,” he added. “If they don’t, voters will go to the polls with no information to base their judgments on. Isn’t it the mission of the news organizations to have the guts to give more information to the public?” he said.

Nuclear power came to the fore of the gubernatorial race when former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, a staunch opponent of nuclear power, announced his candidacy.

Last week, Peter Barakan, a freelance radio show host, revealed in his morning music and news program on InterFM that he had been pressured by “two broadcasting stations” not to touch on nuclear power issues until after Feb. 9. He didn’t identify the stations, but he works for NHK FM Radio and NHK World, as well as other private TV and radio stations.