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Probe Abe’s ties with the media, Maekawa urges

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Staff Writer

Kihei Maekawa, the former vice education minister who rocked the political arena last month by vouching for the leaked documents behind the Kake Gakuen scandal, told reporters Friday he is concerned about a related issue: the relationship between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet and the media.

Maekawa also urged Abe to fulfill his responsibility to respond properly to the claims against him.

“I have recognized a totally new problem, which is about the relationship between the state power and the media,” Maekawa told a news conference at the Japan National Press Club.

Maekawa said he gave his first interview about the Kake Gakuen documents to NHK. But NHK has yet to use any of the exclusive interview in any of its programs, he said.

When contacted by The Japan Times, a spokesperson for NHK said it would not comment on the details of its editorial policy or the processes behind individual reports. The spokesperson added that the public broadcaster has continued to cover the Kake Gakuen issue, including through reports based on its own sources.

The documents quoted Cabinet Office officials appearing to pressure the education ministry to approve an application from school operator Kake Gakuen to open a new veterinary medicine department at a university, citing “the intent of the prime minister.”

The revelation has raised suspicions that the government might have favored Kake Gakuen because it is chaired by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends.

Maekawa held a news conference on May 25 to vouch for eight of the documents about the scandal and said he was willing to give sworn testimony in the Diet about it.

Three days before the news conference, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Maekawa frequented a shady dating bar in the Kabukicho district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward while serving as vice education minister.

Maekawa, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, said he believed that “the Prime Minister’s Office was involved” in publishing the unusual report.

“Media people should investigate to find out what actually happened behind the scenes” of the Yomiuri report, he said.

According to Maekawa, on May 20 and 21, Yomiuri reporters contacted him for a comment about the planned report. Also on May 21, Hiroto Izumi, special adviser to Abe, contacted Maekawa via an education official to ask whether he was “interested in seeing” Izumi.

Maekawa said he felt the approaches by the daily and the adviser “were working in tandem with each other” to intimidate him into keeping his mouth shut about the scandal.

“This is my speculation,” Maekawa said.

Critics and opposition lawmakers likewise suspect that the Prime Minister’s Office leaked information about Maekawa’s behavior to the Yomiuri to discourage him from divulging more information.

The Yomiuri strongly denied the allegation and said its article was based on “original” sources.

Maekawa has argued that the government’s administrative processes were “distorted” to approve Kake Gakuen’s application because of pressure from the Cabinet Office officials who cited “the intent” of the prime minister.

Maekawa’s statements last month caused a public sensation. They were followed by leaks of more education ministry documents that apparently recorded the words of senior officials who pressured the ministry.

Among the new documents is one quoting Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda — one of Abe’s closest aides — as saying Abe “set the deadline” for the opening of the new veterinary department to April 2017. Hagiuda denied the allegations.

Maekawa quit the ministry in January to take responsibility for his involvement in “amakudari,” the unethical practice of securing post-retirement jobs for former officials in sectors they once oversaw.