A member of NHK’s board of governors wrote an essay praising a right-wing activist who committed suicide in the Asahi Shimbun building in 1993, raising questions about the public broadcaster’s political neutrality.

The memorial essay by Michiko Hasegawa, a philosopher and professor emeritus at Saitama University, was distributed in October to people attending a memorial ceremony for Shusuke Nomura, who shot himself to protest a cartoon printed in the Shukan Asahi that ridiculed his political activist group. The suicide was criticized by the media as a violent attack on freedom of the press.

Hasegawa’s essay is likely to raise questions about her political neutrality as a member of NHK’s board, which has the power to appoint and sack the network’s chairman, who holds the ultimate editorial control over all NHK programs.

“When Shusuke Nomura committed suicide, he never died for the sake of Asahi Shimbun. (The people of the Asahi Shimbun) do not have the right to accept the death of someone else,” Hasegawa wrote.

She also wrote that Emperor Akihito “again” became a “living god” when Nomura praised him just before he shot himself, “whatever (the postwar) Constitution might say.”

Before the end of World War II, emperors were worshipped as living gods and served as the spiritual pillar of Japanese nationalism. The postwar Constitution stipulates that emperors are only a “symbol of the State and of the unity of the People.”

The content of Hasegawa’s essay came to light in the Wednesday’s morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.

Contacted by The Japan Times for comment Wednesday, Hasegawa confirmed her essay was correctly quoted by the Mainichi. She said she discussed Nomura’s death in the context of the “intellectual history” of the Japanese people and not that of social incidents. “The dimensions (of my discussion are) different,” Hasegawa said.

She also pointed out that members of the NHK board of governors are allowed to freely express their views and engage in political activities, saying, “As far as NHK is concerned, there is no problem.”

Hasegawa caused a public stir last month by contributing an essay to the conservative Sankei Shimbun that stated a “woman’s most important job is to give birth to and raise children” and that women should “prioritize” raising children ahead of “actively working outside.”

“Such a division of roles based on sex is very natural for humans as mammals,” she wrote.

Hasegawa was among four governors selected and appointed by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November.

Writer Naoki Hyakuta, another of the new four governors, is also controversial. He maintains that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre never occurred, echoing the opinion of many right-leaning lawmakers.

He has also given speeches in support of Toshio Tamogami, the ex-chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force who is running for Tokyo governor, raising further questions about his political neutrality.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined comment on Hasegawa’s and Hyakuta’s remarks, saying freedom of thought is guaranteed for NHK’s governors and the administration is not in a position to comment on their individual remarks.

The official government position on the Nanjing Massacre is that Japanese troops did kill noncombatants and plundered locals when conquering Nanjing, but opinions are split over the number of victims and the government cannot accurately set the number of victims.

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