TV Asahi has punished executives involved in producing the popular evening news program “Hodo Station” over surprise on-air comments by an ex-bureaucrat that were critical of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Shinichi Yoshida, president of TV Asahi, told a news conference on Tuesday that three network executives — including the head of the department in charge of the news program — have been reprimanded over the incident, in which Shigeaki Koga said the broadcaster gave in to pressure from the Abe administration to pull him off the show.
Yoshida said what happened on the show was “inappropriate” as it caused confusion among viewers.
The disciplinary action, along with similar measures announced by NHK over one of its news programs, is a further blow to press freedom as the government continues to rein in broadcasters, experts said.
At TV Asahi, three other top executives, including Yoshida and Chairman Hiroshi Hayakawa, will voluntarily return 10 percent of their pay for a month.
During the March 27 live show, Koga, a former industry and economy ministry official, appeared as a guest commentator. He was asked to comment on news in the Middle East, but changed the subject and said he had been subjected to a heavy “bashing” by the prime minister’s office. He alleged that TV Asahi had given in to government pressure to stop using him on the show, a claim that made international headlines.
Later in the program he held up a piece of paper that said “I am not ABE,” displaying it to millions of viewers.
Koga’s criticism of the government drew the ire of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. TV Asahi said political pressure had played no part in its decision to change the commentator lineup.
TV Asahi’s announcement came on the same day as similar moves to punish executives at NHK, which had also recently come under attack from the government over one of its news programs.
NHK said it will discipline 15 employees for their involvement in the program, “Close-up Gendai,” which aired last May and which weekly Shukan Bunshun alleged had included a fake interview.
The magazine quoted a contributor to the program as saying that an NHK reporter had asked him to pretend to be a broker in a fraud during a filmed interview, which he complied with.
An NHK panel that investigated the matter said Tuesday the episode included “excessive staging” but no fabrication.
Hiroyoshi Usui, a media professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, warned the scandal could exacerbate a “negative spiral” in broadcast media, in which the public loses trust in networks over bad reporting.
That could lead to journalists losing editorial freedoms and lowering the quality of their programs, he said.
“This is exactly in line with the wishes of the government, which wants to control the media,” he said.