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People protesting against this summer’s Tokyo Olympics have asked Japan Broadcasting Corp., or NHK, to investigate after the public broadcaster cut the sound while livestreaming an Olympic torch relay run to mute their chants of opposition to the games.

On the night of April 1, the livestream of the torch relay in the city of Nagano fell silent for about 30 seconds from about one minute after the seventh runner departed, when chants of protest against the Tokyo Olympic were heard.

NHK officials said that the broadcaster muted the voices out of consideration for torch relay runners and other circumstances.

Members of a civic group opposed to holding the Tokyo Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic have asked NHK to investigate after the broadcaster cut the sound of a livestream as they chanted in opposition during an Olympic torch relay run. | KYODO
Members of a civic group opposed to holding the Tokyo Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic have asked NHK to investigate after the broadcaster cut the sound of a livestream as they chanted in opposition during an Olympic torch relay run. | KYODO

The protesters were members of a civic group that is opposed to holding the sporting event amid the COVID-19 pandemic. About 10 members chanted slogans against the Tokyo Games at the relay venue, according to Masao Ezawa, the 71-year-old leader of the group.

Ezawa, who works in the dyeing industry, said he learned about what NHK had done from those who watched the streamed video in which the members’ voices were abruptly muted.

Muting the voices “was inappropriate. Everybody has the freedom to express themselves,” he said, stressing the need to identify who did it and for what purpose.

On Friday, his group made a protest against NHK and requested an investigation.

Media law expert Takaaki Hattori, professor emeritus at Rikkyo University, described NHK’s act as “distorted broadcasting.”

NHK cannot escape criticism for the act, which can be viewed as an attempt to avoid harming the image of the Tokyo Olympics, Hattori added.

Hiroyoshi Sunakawa, a professor and journalism expert at Rikkyo University, said NHK was a “public broadcaster relying on subscription fees from the public, and should give explanations they can understand” regarding the problem.

NHK may edit the sounds of ceremonies, Sophia University professor Hiroaki Mizushima with expertise in journalism said. But it is necessary “to explain in what situations it mutes (sounds),” Mizushima added.

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