New NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii’s remarks on Jan. 25 on such issues as wartime use of sex slaves, the state secrets law and the role of NHK’s international broadcasts shows that he is not aware of the proper role of the public broadcast organization and his responsibility as the one with the final power to direct NHK’s news coverage and programs. Although he retracted his remarks, he should realize that they have greatly harmed the credibility of NHK as a news organization.

At his first news conference as chairman, Momii said that wartime sex slave system existed in all “war areas”: “Can we say that it did not exist in Germany or France? It existed everywhere in Europe.” He also said that while such a system is wrong in view of today’s morality, it was a reality of those days. This callous stance, which makes light of women’s human rights, is abhorrent and must be criticized. Momii also asked, “Why are there still show windows [for brothels] in the Netherlands?” This statement could be taken as an insult toward the Dutch women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese armed forces.

Momii added that South Korea is complicating the situation by insisting that only Japan did “something like” recruiting sex slaves against their will. He also said that although South Korea demands that Japan give it money and compensation, the issue was resolved by the Japan-South Korea basic relations treaty of 1965 and wondered why South Korea “rakes over old ashes.” His reckless attitude toward such a politically sensitive international issue will create further difficulties in Japan’s already strained relationship with South Korea, not to mention other countries.

Asked about NHK’s international broadcasts, Momii said that NHK should make the same assertion as the government concerning the territorial issues Japan has with neighboring countries. He said that when the government says something should be “right,” NHK cannot say that it should be “left.” So it seems that Momii is perfect willing to, in effect, turn NHK into a propaganda mouthpiece of the current administration, discarding its responsibility as an independent news organization. He does not seem to understand that the system in which NHK receives most of its operating revenue — from viewing fees paid by the public, not from the government — is intended to ensure its independence, neutrality and objectivity in reporting and program making.

At the outset of the news conference, Momii said, “My task is to refasten nuts and bolts.” Although he said that he will follow the Broadcast Law in executing his job, his remarks give the impression that he will place strict controls over NHK employees’ activities, which may lead them to exercise self-censorship.

Concerning the state secrets law, Momii said to the effect that because the government has insisted that the law is necessary, he can only wait for instances of its application and see what the results are. This shows that he neither understands the anti-democratic nature of the law nor appreciates NHK’s fundamental responsibility to thoroughly report events that threaten the people’s right to know. As for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, Momii said in effect that it was OK for NHK to merely report the fact that Abe visited the shrine. He doesn’t seem to realize that it is the public duty of a news organization to also report on the historical and political issues related to Abe’s controversial visit, and its impact on Japan’s foreign relations.

Momii’s remarks create the impression that he not only is close to Abe in thinking but also serves as his proxy in the media, even if he has no personal ties with the prime minister. His Dec. 20 appointment as NHK chairman followed the Diet’s approval of four new members of the Board of Governors who are close to Abe. The prime minister was reportedly intent on “packing” the board with people who shared his conservative perspective. Under NHK regulations, opposition by four of the 12 board members is enough to veto the appointment of a new NHK chairman.

Momii’s thoughtless and embarrassing remarks demonstrate that he is not qualified to serve as chairman of NHK. Either he should resign or the Board of Governors should remove him.

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