NHK president faces calls to resign

nhk_logoIs NHK Television – also know as the Japan Broadcasting Corporation – acting as the government’s public relations agency?

Its role is being scrutinised after its president appeared to say it would give priority to official government sources and offer less airtime to people with other points of view.

The comments by Katsuto Momii followed the recent earthquake in Kumamoto prefecture.

He was reported as saying: “If various assessments by experts were broadcast, it would only end up unnecessarily raising concerns among the public.”

Some newspapers, including the Asahi Shimbum, complained.

In an editorial criticising NHK, the Asahi said that Mr Momii has ignored the basic premise of broadcast journalism, which is to accurately reflect a range of views on controversial subjects and not just the opinion of the government.

The Asahi claimed that a citizens’ group has demanded Mr Momii should resign.

Most Japanese people trust NHK but they are have concerns about its accuracy and independence.

They do not want it to “unnecessarily raise concern” but they also do not want it to hide bad news for the convenience of the government.

That is what happened at the time of the Fukushima disaster and it undermined people’s trust in both the government and the media.

In Japan, the relationship between those two institutions has a troubled legacy.

In the run up to the Second World War, almost all the Japanese media was turned into a propaganda tool for the military government. Dissenting voices were suppressed with intimidation and violence.

So the culture of freedom of speech which has emerged since the War is relatively new. It is also relatively unusual in East Asia, where countries such as China routinely censor media reports.

Japanese journalists who work for the major newspapers and broadcasters tend to have a fairly deferential approach towards the government.

This is in contrast to the more adversarial approach of the press in the UK and America, where journalists see it as their role to point out the shortcomings of their leaders.

This week, a senior figure in the Japanese media told me he thought political journalists in Japan often miss the big stories because they are too pre-occupied with trying to predict who will be the next prime minister.

He compared it to sports reporters trying to predict the winner of a horse race.

However, he said there is still a robust and lively media culture in Japan, even though the influence of newspapers is declining as social media grows more popular. 

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