A panel of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization has issued a written opinion on the Jan. 30, 2001, NHK Education TV program “Towareru Senji Sei-Boryoku (Wartime Sex Violence Being Questioned).” It dealt with the Imperial Japanese armed forces’ use of wartime sex slavery for soldiers, but was hurriedly revised following two high-ranking NHK officials’ meeting with then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

The written opinion makes no judgment on whether the meeting had any effect on the program’s content. But it contains an important message not only for NHK but also for mass media in general. It says that some NHK officials’ behavior that led to the revision of the program jeopardized the principle of autonomy, which the opinion says is the most important principle for a public broadcasting entity like NHK. Stressing the importance of keeping a proper distance with politicians, it says that program production officials should not meet with politicians.

The panel report shows that the NHK official in charge of contact with Diet members and the broadcasting administration chief met with Mr. Abe on Jan. 29, 2001, to explain the program. Mr. Abe called for fair treatment of the theme. After the two came back to NHK, officials concerned previewed the program and the Diet affairs official told the chief producer to make five changes.

The next day, the broadcasting administration chief and the program production chief called for further revisions and the testimonies by a former Chinese sex slave and a former Japanese soldier were deleted. The program was shortened from the original 44 minutes to 40 minutes and broadcast from 10 p.m. Paying attention to the fact that these two NHK officials used the word “safety” in calling for the revisions, the report says that these and other high-ranking NHK officials sacrificed program quality for the sake of “perfunctory fairness and neutrality.”

In documentary production, presenting the theme in a convincing manner and paying attention to true fairness, while not bowing to pressure from outside forces, will be important.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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