National / Politics

DPJ lawmakers grill Momii over his performance as NHK chairman

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The nation’s largest opposition party has identified a new target for attack: the gaffe-prone, apparently pro-government chairman of NHK, the country’s sole public broadcaster.

On Wednesday, the Democratic Party of Japan invited NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii to a meeting to discuss NHK’s midterm business management plan.

But what ensued ranged from an animated exchange of views to outright jeering by DPJ lawmakers. Video clips of the meeting were widely and repeatedly aired by national TV stations later in the day and on Thursday.

DPJ Lower House member Takeshi Shina laid into Momii for demanding, soon after he took the post in January 2014, that NHK managing directors submit a signed but undated letter of resignation, an apparent move to exert full control over NHK executives.

During a Diet session last February, Momii said such a request is “common practice” among corporate executives. On Wednesday, Shina asked Momii to retract that remark. Momii refused, drawing harsh jeers from DPJ members.

DPJ members also questioned Momii’s qualifications as chairman of a public broadcaster, pointing out that he was quoted telling a Feb. 5 news conference that NHK should “really carefully consider” if its programs should address the so-called “comfort women” issue because “the government’s official stance has not been become clear yet.”

“Comfort women” refers to those who were forced to work at Japanese wartime military brothels in the 1930s and ’40s. The issue has recently become quite politically sensitive in Japan.

“My true intent was to say (NHK) should carefully consider how (such matters) should be taken up,” Momii told the meeting.

“It doesn’t matter what the government says, but this . . . can develop into a big diplomatic issue. So we have to deal with military comfort women issues considering factors like that,” Momii said at the DPJ meeting.

Separately on Wednesday, Jun Azumi, the DPJ’s deputy Diet affairs chief, called Momii “unqualified” to be the NHK chairman because he “tries to surmise and cater to what (people in power) are thinking.” Azumi is a former NHK political reporter and was speaking at a news conference.

DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano said the party would continue to grill Momii in the Diet.

“The chairman might have the wrong ideas about NHK, believing it is a news media organization for the sake of the government,” Edano told a news conference on Wednesday.

NHK raises revenues mainly from subscription fees imposed on all TV viewers, but its annual budget needs Diet approval.

Theoretically, the DPJ could exert political pressure on NHK by threatening not to approve its fiscal 2015 budget, which, according to a long-held Diet custom, is usually endorsed by all groups represented there.