The Abe administration has prepared a list of five people to fill vacancies on the Board of Governors of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.). The list was submitted in late October to the rules and management committees of the Lower and Upper houses, as the Diet is empowered to approve or turn down the appointment of NHK governors.

At least three of the five people picked by the Abe administration are close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There is concern that the neutrality of NHK as a public broadcast organization could be violated. One wonders whether Mr. Abe understands the importance of ensuring NHK’s neutrality and independence.

The five people picked by the Abe administration include Mr. Naoki Hyakuta, a novelist who supported Mr. Abe in the election for Liberal Democratic Party president in September 2012; Mr. Katsuhiko Honda, formerly president and currently adviser of Japan Tobacco Inc., who tutored Mr. Abe when he was in elementary school; and Ms. Michiko Hasegawa, a conservative philosopher and a professor emeritus at Saitama University, who also supported Mr. Abe in the LDP presidential election.

The Democratic Party of Japan has made it clear that it will oppose the appointment of the three people as new NHK governors, because it believes that their close relationship with Mr. Abe could pave the way for turning the board into something akin to Mr. Abe’s private property and hinder free speech. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has countered that there is nothing wrong with the prime minister asking people whom he trusts and values to serve as NHK governors. But the DPJ’s criticism remains valid.

The 12-member NHK Board of Governors may not intervene in individual NHK programs. But the board can influence NHK’s overall direction because it has the power to select its president and decide on its management policy and budget. The term of NHK President Masayuki Matsumoto ends Jan. 24, 2014. The board will decide whether it will let him stay on or appoint a new president.

There is reportedly criticism within the LDP of NHK’s reporting on issues such as nuclear power and the deployment of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa. It would be reasonable to assume that such critics would like to have a greater ideological influence on NHK’s programming.

Nine or more of the board’s 12 members must support the appointment of a new NHK president. Ten board members have been appointed, or are about to be, under the Abe administration. It seems likely that a person with similar thinking and ideological views to Mr. Abe will be chosen as the next NHK president. If so, NHK could come under pressure to pay attention to what certain people in the Abe administration are thinking and to try not to displease them. That would spell the end of NHK’s neutrality and its credibility as an independent public broadcaster. Mr. Abe should refrain from taking any actions that would lead to such an outcome.

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