National

Commission warns Johnny & Associates about alleged pressure on broadcasters over ex-SMAP members

Kyodo

Johnny & Associates Inc., one of the most powerful talent agencies in the country, is suspected of having pressured commercial broadcasting television stations to stop inviting three former members of popular boy band SMAP on their shows after they left the agency in 2017, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

The Fair Trade Commission has warned that the agency might be in violation of the antimonopoly law, the sources said.

It is apparently the first case of a talent agency receiving a warning from the watchdog based on the law that deals with artists who change agents.

In a statement on its website, the agency denied it had used any pressure tactics but admitted it was investigated by the commission.

“It is untrue that our company applied any pressure on a TV station and that we received administrative measures or warnings from the Fair Trade Commission for violating the antimonopoly law,” it said. “However, we take seriously that we have been investigated by the commission and we would like to pay attention (to our conduct) in order to prevent any misunderstandings.”

Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori had been part of the five-member boy band, which the agency helped propel to fame. SMAP was so popular that more than 370,000 people signed a petition begging them to reconsider their breakup in late 2016.

The three left the agency in September 2017, forming a group called Atarashiichizu.

Since then, their regular TV appearances have dropped to almost zero.

Kusanagi described the years since becoming independent on an internet program that aired April 30.

Noting that something might be going on behind the scenes, he said, “It certainly could be said that we’re not yet where we’d like to be.”

The sources said the agency had used pressure tactics, including strongly hinting to TV stations that all Johnny & Associates entertainers won’t be allowed on their programs if the three former SMAP members were to appear on their shows.

The warning was given to prevent any potential violation of the antimonopoly law, and not on the basis of hard evidence of such a violation.

Cases involving arguments over contracts between artists and agents have increased in recent years.

A commission panel said in February last year that talent agencies who leverage their power to sign unfair agreements with artists or impose extreme restrictions on those who wish to move to a different management company could potentially violate the law. The watchdog at that time urged agencies to better their practices.

Johnny & Associates was founded by Johnny Kitagawa in 1962. The 87-year-old mogul died of a stroke last week.