A TV Asahi drama producer’s 2015 death due to heart failure was determined by labor authorities later that year to be caused by overwork, sources close to the matter revealed Wednesday.
A local labor standards office found the producer, who was in his 50s, had worked up to 130 hours of overtime per month, leading to his death in February 2015. He was in a managerial and supervisory position and thus his working hours were not restricted under the law.
The revelation follows the April 21 death of a 49-year-old male editor who was loaned out to TV Asahi from its subsidiary, and the 2013 death from overwork of a 31-year-old female reporter at the Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), highlighting the grim working environment of the Japanese media industry.
TV Asahi said it takes the producer’s death “very seriously and will implement additional measures to protect employees’ lives and health.”
TV Asahi has not revealed the working conditions of the editor in detail, saying they are still consulting with his family over his death.
According to the sources, the producer, who had been in charge of a samurai and detective drama series since joining the broadcaster in the 1980s, was taken to hospital after developing angina — chest pains due to lack of blood flow to the heart — during a business trip in July 2013. He also suffered from a brain disorder triggered by poor oxygen flow. Despite treatment, he died 19 months later.
In the three-month period before developing angina, he worked 70 to 130 extra hours per month, exceeding the 80-hour threshold where the risk of karōshi (death from overwork) is said to increase.
The Mita labor office in Tokyo has urged TV Asahi to control the working hours of those in managerial positions. So far, the broadcaster has only taken measures for workers in the production section whose monthly overtime exceeds 160 hours. TV drama production is said to be taxing work that requires a set of special skills.
After disclosing last fall the death of female reporter Miwa Sado, NHK unveiled their own labor reform plans in December, such as limiting reporters’ night duties and ideally finishing drama filming by 9 p.m.
However, a senior NHK official said the latter move might be problematic.
“If daily drama shooting hours get shorter, the entire period of filming will become longer,” making actors’ schedule management more difficult, the official said.