Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party plans to scrutinize recent scandals involving NHK and TV Asahi, in a move that is likely to draw criticism as an attempt to censure the media.
The LDP will soon summon officials of the two major media outlets embroiled in the scandals to demand explanations, senior officials of the ruling party said. Pundits say it’s rare for the ruling party to make such demands to media organizations directly.
Takaaki Hattori, a sociologist and an expert on press freedom at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, warned that the LDP move highlights its disregard for press freedom and constitutes a threat to the principle.
NHK is embroiled in a scandal over allegations that the public broadcaster cooked up an interview with a man identified as a broker in a fraud scheme, on a popular in-depth news analysis program last May.
A recent article published in a weekly gossip magazine said that on May 14 of last year, NHK’s flagship news program “Close-up Gendai” introduced a 50-year-old man in Osaka, describing him as a broker involved in the latest shukke sagi fraud technique. The man has claimed he was asked by NHK to play the role of a broker, according to the magazine.
NHK is probing the case and has issued an interim report saying the verification process was probably insufficient.
In the TV Asahi case, a former industry ministry bureaucrat named Shigeaki Koga, who had been a commentator on the popular evening news program “Hodo Station,” made a surprise show of protest targeting Abe late last month.
During the March 27 live show, Koga held up a piece of paper that said “I am not ABE,” displaying it to millions of viewers. Koga also claimed that TV Asahi gave in to LDP pressure to pull him off the show.
The incident drew flak from the LDP and the government, while TV Asahi denied any political pressure was involved in its decision to change the commentator lineup for the program.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said there is “no problem at all” in requesting explanations.
Senior LDP executive Tsutomu Sato, a member of the party’s panel on telecommunication strategies, said the LDP will seek answers by meeting with representatives of the channel.
But Jun Azumi, the Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, warned that the move may infringe on press freedom.
“Politicians should not interfere with specific programs,” he told reporters, adding that the LDP’s handling of the issue raises many questions.