Claiming that NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii demonstrated subservience to the government and lack of repentance for Japan’s wartime use of “comfort women,” 172 former employees of the public broadcaster submitted a petition Friday calling on its board of governors to advise him to resign or strip him of power.

“We decided to take this action because we wanted to stress once again that NHK is supposed to be a news organization independent of government authorities and exists to foster Japan’s development of democracy,” it said.

The list of former employees included some prominent names, notably former news anchors and announcers.

The move follows similar campaigns launched by at least two citizens’ groups in May to demand Momii’s resignation.

In his inaugural news conference in January, Momii touched off a firestorm by stating that NHK should toe the government line on Japan’s territorial issues with China and South Korea in its international programs. The petition, criticizing this remark as belying the broadcaster’s supposed immunity from political power, said: “If Momii stays at the helm any longer, that will pose a significant threat to NHK’s independence.”

At the same conference, Momii also justified the use of “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the mostly Korean women and girls coerced into sexual servitude by the Imperial Japanese Army, according to the petition. Such a comment is tantamount to a “fabrication of history” and reflects “his inability to imagine as a human being the devastating plight those women went through,” the petition said.

Momii was appointed by the broadcaster’s 12-member board of governors, who were handpicked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is no stranger to NHK’s affairs.

One of the directors, writer Naoki Hyakuta, drew widespread ire in June when he reportedly said in a speech in Shizuoka Prefecture that the 1937 Nanking Massacre never took place.

The petition lamented these gaffes have made it harder for NHK’s staff, including reporters, to do their jobs as they wrestle with the heated public backlash and viewers increasingly refuse to pay their subscription fees.

Keiichi Kubota, who stepped down as a governing board member in April, said in his resignation speech that morale at NHK has deteriorated since Momii took the helm and that their “efforts to maintain pride in undertaking public broadcasting are now on the verge of collapse.”

“We hope the governing board will make a wise decision (to dismiss Momii), or the current phase of NHK will forever be remembered as an embarrassment in its history,” the petition said.

An NHK spokesman said the broadcaster will pass the petition to the board of directors.

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