” The Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) president not only instructed subordinates to toe the government line in covering the Kyushu earthquake disaster, but he also urged them to avoid airing the views of outside experts, sources said.
“The reporting should be based on authorities’ official announcements,” the sources quoted Katsuto Momii as saying during a meeting at the public broadcaster on April 20. “If various assessments by experts were broadcast, it would only end up unnecessarily raising concerns among the public.”
Minutes of the meeting obtained by The Asahi Shimbun earlier showed Momii’s instructions to rely on official government announcements in reporting the series of earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture that started on April 14 and the possible impact on nuclear power plants in the region.
But the minutes did not include any passages on Momii’s call to refrain from broadcasting experts’ opinions about the implications on nuclear power plants.
Sources at NHK said Momii indeed said those words at the meeting.
“The part may have been removed (from the record) over concerns that it could cause trouble if left intact,” an NHK source said.
An official with NHK’s Public Relations Department declined to comment on details of the internal meeting, which was attended by about 100 senior officials.
Momii has faced constant criticism since he assumed the NHK presidency in January 2014. At his first news conference as NHK chief, he indicated that the public broadcaster would be a mouthpiece for the government.
On April 26, Momii reiterated his position about toeing the official line for coverage on the earthquake disaster and nuclear facilities in response to a question from Soichiro Okuno, a member of the main opposition Democratic Party.
“Based on facts, we will report on (radiation) figures registered at monitoring posts without adding various comments,” Momii said at a session of the Lower House Committee of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Momii said official announcements would come from the Meteorological Agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority and Kyushu Electric Power Co.
Kyushu Electric operates the Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, which is immediately south of Kumamoto Prefecture. The Sendai plant’s two reactors are the only ones currently operating in Japan, and the plant’s relative proximity to the series of temblors has prompted calls to shut down the reactors until the shaking stops.
“If the NRA believes that the nuclear plant is safe or can remain in operation, we will just report it like that,” Momii said.
The NHK president also said broadcasting such official announcements is not at all like the release of reports that were convenient to wartime authorities when Japan was losing World War II.
“I do not mean official announcements by the headquarters of the imperial military during World War II,” Momii said.
Some NHK reporters clearly expressed their frustration with Momii’s editorial stance.
“I feel that he did it again, which I find saddening,” said a midlevel reporter in NHK’s news department. “But we, who are gathering news on the front lines, want to stick with our mission to report information for the viewers.”
Academics specializing in news media were also upset by Momii’s words.
“NHK has the ability to report on what is unfolding at the scene before the government makes an announcement,” said Yoshihiro Oto, professor of media theory at Sophia University.
Oto mentioned the time when Fukushima Central Television Co., a local broadcaster, showed footage of hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, before the government acknowledged that the explosions had occurred at the plant.
“If a similar thing occurs in the future, Momii’s instructions would mean that NHK would not be allowed to broadcast the footage until the government makes an official announcement,” Oto said. “That would be tantamount to resigning NHK’s editorial rights and suicidal as a news organization.”
Yasuhiko Oishi, professor of media ethics at Aoyama Gakuin University, said the president of the public broadcaster does not have a proper understanding of the role of journalism.
“He completely lacks a perspective to critically evaluate what authorities say,” Oishi said. “If he believes that the news media’s role is just reporting the official line, then that is equivalent to being the government’s mouthpiece.” ”
by Yohei Goto and Misuzu Sato