National / Politics

Popular news program hit by LDP demand for 'neutral' coverage of 'Abenomics'

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

During last November’s campaigning for the Lower House election, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sent a written document to TV Asahi demanding it create “fair and neutral” programs about the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, dubbed “Abenomics,” and criticizing one of the most popular nightly news programs in the country, it was learned Friday.

The revelation, first reported by the daily Mainichi Shimbun and later confirmed by The Japan Times, immediately drew criticism from media researchers who said the party put unjustified pressure on the broadcaster.

The news program in question is Hodo Station, which starts shortly before 10 p.m. on weekdays. It is one of Japan’s most popular nightly news programs.

In the document, the LDP claimed Hodo Station on Nov. 24 gave the impression to viewers that Abe’s economic policies were only of benefit to large companies and rich people, thereby focusing only on “the lifestyles of certain wealthy-class people.”

Criticizing TV Asahi, the LDP cited Article 4 of the Broadcasting Law, which stipulated programs of state-licensed TV broadcasters should be “politically neutral” and “issues should be made clear from as many angles as possible if opinions are divided over them.”

But Kenta Yamada, professor of media studies at Senshu University, argued that one of the main purposes of the law is to guarantee a station’s freedom of broadcasting and self-governance.

Indeed, Article 3 of the law stipulates programs “shall not be interfered with or controlled by any (outside) party” unless such action is based on separate laws.

Article 4, meanwhile, was drawn up to set broadcasting parameters for the benefit of viewers, not for the benefit of the government or a ruling party, Yamada argued.

“(The LDP) interpreted the law erroneously. A ruling party should not say to a broadcaster that an individual program should be (presented) this way or that way based on the Broadcasting Law,” Yamada said.

The LDP confirmed to The Japan Times that it sent the request as reported by the Mainichi.

Meanwhile, the public relations section of TV Asahi declined to comment on the content of the document, but said the program “routinely tries to be fair and neutral, and would not be swayed by opinions from certain individuals or groups.”

Asked for comments during a regular morning news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, also from the LDP, denied his party tried to pressure TV Asahi.

“I haven’t fully grasped the facts, but I don’t think (the LDP) put pressure on news reporting,” Suga said.

This is not the first time the LDP has been suspected of pressuring the media.

On Nov. 20, the day before Abe dissolved the Lower House to call a snap election, the LDP sent a written request to major TV stations demanding “fair and neutral” reporting about election campaigns.

Specifically, the LDP “requested” that the guests, commentators and topics selected for news programs be chosen to guarantee “fairness and neutrality” and that certain opinions not be played up one-sidedly, according to media reports.

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