• Kyodo

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Outspoken NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii is unlikely to be reappointed after his term ends next month because of opposition from the public broadcaster’s management board, sources close to the matter said Friday.

Momii, widely seen as a favorite of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, found himself mired in controversy at his inaugural news conference in 2014 after he appeared to defend the Imperial Japanese military’s use of “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for those who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II. He also appeared to condone taking the government line in news coverage.

Momii, whose term will end on Jan. 24, is unlikely to win the minimum of nine votes needed from NHK’s 12-member management board. Multiple members have raised questions about his competence, the sources said.

“I will think about it only when I am offered (to assume the post again),” Momii said at a regular news conference on Thursday. “I am not thinking anything about it right now.”

NHK’s budget is mostly financed by subscription fees, but its leadership and budget are subject to Diet approval. The board will meet Tuesday to discuss Momii and other candidates floated by its members. They are expected to have a new candidate by the end of the month.

Momii’s past remarks have given the impression that NHK is standing up for the government, triggering public criticism about its supposed neutrality. Amid strong opposition camp protests, the Diet has failed to give unanimous support to NHK’s budget for three years running.

In October, the NHK management board announced new criteria to be used when choosing its chairman, including that the person be “politically neutral.”

NHK “would fall apart under Mr. Momii,” one of the board members said.

Momii and his aides proposed last month to raise viewership fees starting next fall, but the plan was rejected by the management board.

“We couldn’t find common ground even if we discussed it many times. (Momii) is irresponsible,” another board member said at the time.

Before he became NHK chairman, Momii was an executive at giant trading house Mitsui & Co. and president of Nihon Unisys Ltd.

Asked about the comfort women at his inaugural news conference in January 2014, Momii asserted that the practice was something every country did and is only considered wrong by today’s moral standards.

The comment drew fierce criticism from other countries, particularly wartime foes South Korea and China. Momii later said it was his personal view, not NHK’s.

He has also been reprimanded by the board, which found that he billed NHK for a limousine he used for private golf trips.

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