NHK chief urges staff to exclude experts’ views on quake coverage — The Asahi Shimbun

” 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

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How Japan came to rank worse than Tanzania on press freedom — Los Angeles Times

” The state of press freedom in Japan is now worse than that in Tanzania, according to a new ranking from the non-profit group Reporters Without Borders.

Japan came in 72nd of the 180 countries ranked in the group’s 2016 press freedom index, falling 11 places since last year.

Europe’s media was deemed to have the most freedom this year, but the situation has worsened significantly in most of the Asia-Pacific region.

For Japan’s journalists, things have taken a turn for the worse relatively recently. Just six years ago, the country ranked 11th in the world.

Getting worse

Japan’s poor performance on press freedom is particularly surprising given its standing as one of the world’s leading developed countries. The island nation of 125 million people has the world’s third-largest economy and a vibrant democracy whose postwar constitution guarantees freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

“With Japan hosting the G7 meeting next month of leading democracies, the press crackdown is an international black eye for Japan and makes it an outlier in the group,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor of history and director of Asian studies at Temple University and author of the book “Contemporary Japan: History, Politics, and Social Change since the 1980s.”

The 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant set the stage for the erosion of press freedoms, Kingston said. “Japan’s slide in the rankings began with the incomplete coverage of the Fukushima meltdowns and the government’s efforts to downplay the accident; Tokyo Electric Power Company (and Japan) denied the triple meltdown for two months,” he said. “Sadly, the Japanese media went along with this charade because here it is all about access. Those media outlets that don’t toe the line find themselves marginalized by the powers that be. Since [Fukushima], Japan’s culture wars over history, constitutional revision and security doctrine have been fought on the media battlefield.”

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned for a second term in 2012, five years after he resigned abruptly amid growing unpopularity in 2007, his administration began cracking down on perceived bias in the nation’s media.

At first, the media didn’t hold back in criticizing his administration. The press lambasted Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso for saying that Japan should learn from the way the Nazi party stealthily changed Germany’s constitution before World War II. But critics say Aso’s suggestion foreshadowed things to come.

Two years ago, the Abe administration pushed through a state secrets bill ostensibly designed to prevent classified information from leaking to China or Russia. But the measure allows for journalists and bloggers to be jailed for up to five years for asking about something that is a state secret, even if they aren’t aware it is one. Thousands protested the law when it was passed on Dec. 6, 2013.

Abe’s friend, conservative businessman Katsuto Momii, became the head of Japan’s major public broadcasting company, NHK, in 2014, in a move that has compromised the independence of its reports. Momii has stated publicly that NHK “should not deviate from the government’s position in its reporting.”

Abe’s Liberal Democratic party also recently proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to curtail speech that “harms the public interest and public order.”

In June 2015, members of the party urged the government to punish media outlets critical of the government and pressure companies not to advertise with them.

This year, Abe’s Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi threatened to shut down news broadcasters over “politically biased reports” — something TV and radio laws in Japan empower her to do.

A week later, three television presenters who had been critical of the Abe administration were all removed from their positions.

Veteran reporters in Japan have criticized Abe’s government for applying pressure to reporters, but also decry the increasing self-censorship going on in the country’s press. “To me, the most serious problem is self-restraint by higher-ups at broadcast stations,” Soichiro Tahara, one of the country’s most revered journalists, told reporters last month.

“The Abe administration’s threats to media independence, the turnover in media personnel in recent months and the increase in self-censorship within leading media outlets are endangering the underpinnings of democracy in Japan,” Reporters Without Borders concluded in its report released this month about declining media freedoms in Japan.

“Independence of the press is facing serious threats,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday. “Many journalists who came to me and my team asked for anonymity in our discussions. Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from politicians.”

The state originally invited Kaye to visit last December, but the trip was canceled abruptly after Japanese authorities claimed to be unable to set up meetings in time.

Kaye called for Japan’s Broadcast Law to be revised to ensure press freedom, and criticized Japan’s press club structure as detrimental to an independent press. In Japan, reporters are granted access through press clubs, or “kisha clubs,” formed around groups and government organizations. They serve as gatekeepers, and typically don’t grant access to weekly magazines, like Shukan Bunshun, which excel at investigative journalism.

“Journalists in those kisha clubs tend to be focused very much together in this same kind of social network. And I think that allows for mechanisms of pressure. It may be a kind of peer pressure that’s very difficult to resist,” Kaye said. ”

by Jake Adelstein

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Are forces of darkness gathering in Japan? — The Japan Times opinion

” Certainly it’s worse in China, South Korean security recently beat demonstrators and Spain faces a blanket gag rule, but are concerns about the anti-democratic forces of darkness in Japan unduly alarmist? How bad can it be if protestors in Hibiya Park can carry placards depicting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Adolf Hitler?

Bad enough, alas. New York Times Tokyo bureau chief Martin Fackler, among others, recently implicated Team Abe in getting Shigeaki Koga, a prominent Abe critic, axed from Asahi TV’s “Hodo Station” program.

“I am afraid that media organizations’ self-restraint is spreading and, as a result, accurate information is not reaching the public,” Koga said at a press conference, claiming he was the victim of a political vendetta and corporate media timidity.

Mindful of the orchestrated attacks on the Asahi’s news organs and fearful of right-wing reprisals, self-censorship is a growing problem. Columbia University’s Gerald Curtis told me about the recent cancellation of a planned television interview that was to take place in New York. The local correspondent informed him that the Japanese network’s management in Tokyo nixed the interview because it was going to assess how Abe has handled the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and this topic was deemed too sensitive.

Curtis says the worrying lesson here is that “the government doesn’t have to muzzle the press if the press takes it upon itself to do the muzzling.”

But the government is taking no chances.

Conservative Abe cronies were appointed to NHK’s top management last year, and Katsuto Momii, a man without any media experience, was named chairman. He later declared to the press, “When the government is saying ‘Right’ we can’t say ‘Left.’”

Since Momii began promoting this curious vision at NHK, staff have complained that managers are strictly insisting on wording that hues to government views on controversial topics such as Yasukuni Shrine, disputed territories and the “comfort women.” To ensure conformity, NHK now publishes an internal censorship manual, called the “Orange Book,” banning the use of the term “sex slaves” and other phrases identified as problematic. NHK insiders told me that some recalcitrant staff suffered career derailments because they didn’t toe the line, including a group that openly called on Momii to step down.

There is no smoking gun, and it could be a routine staff rotation, but an apparent casualty of the purge is NHK’s “News Watch 9″ anchor Kensuke Okoshi, who has spoken out against nuclear power and committed other “transgressions.”

Controversy erupted last summer when Naoki Hyakuta, a best-selling writer and conservative on history issues, was handpicked by Abe to serve on NHK’s board of governors. Hyakuta criticized Okoshi’s on-air comments about ethnic Korean residents in Japan that were aired July 17, 2014. Okoshi said: “The first-generation Korean residents were those who were forcibly brought to Japan or moved to the country to seek jobs after the annexation of Korea in 1910. They had a lot of difficulties establishing their foundations for living.”

At the subsequent NHK board of governors meeting, Hyakuta reportedly asked: “Is it acceptable to say ethnic Korean residents are those who were forcibly taken by Japan? That is wrong.”

The acting chair informed Hyakuta that as a governor, comments about the content of an individual program violated the broadcasting law. Hyakuta has since resigned his position, complaining he wasn’t able to have any impact, but one can imagine that NHK staff felt his presence, and indeed Okoshi is no longer a newscaster despite being one of the most respected in the business.

“The systematic suppression of the press and freedom of speech by the Abe government and its functionaries is very, very disturbing in terms of its effects on the future course of Japan and its democracy,” says Ayako Doi, a journalist based in the United States who is currently an associate fellow of the Asia Society. In her view, things have gotten significantly worse under Abe. She cites the Liberal Democratic Party’s summons of Japanese media executives, the Japanese consul general in Frankfurt’s visit to the editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and a Foreign Ministry official’s visit to publisher McGraw-Hill in New York to ask for changes in the descriptions of Japan’s comfort women system of sexual slavery written in a U.S. history textbook.

“They have become more numerous, blatant and unapologetic,” she says, adding that the government is targeting both Japanese and non-Japanese critics alike.

Japan Times columnist Gregory Clark says the atmosphere of intimidation has become exceptionally “ugly,” attributing it to a “right-wing rebound and revenge.”

“Something strange is going on,” he says, citing recent attacks on progressive media. “Particularly given that Tokyo keeps talking about its value identification with the West.”

Well-placed sources in Washington previously told me that even overseas the Japanese government actively disparages Abe’s critics, something that Doi isn’t surprised by.

“It seems that under the Abe government, efforts to silence critics of his policies and interpretation of history have become systematic,” she says. “It now appears to be a concerted effort orchestrated by Kantei (the prime minister’s office).”

Japan’s right-wing media also engages in trans-Pacific intimidation. For example, a rightwing pundit slammed the National Bureau of Asian Research’s Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum, making groundless accusations about an anti-Japan bias. He also attacked the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership for sponsoring a research project regarding Sino-Japanese relations and history issues. This research project was deemed a waste of Japanese taxpayers’ money and some of the researchers were subject to defamatory attacks on their professional integrity. But it would be a sad day for Japanese democracy if the right wing gets to set the research agenda, pick the scholars and decide what they should conclude.

Clark himself was publicly defamed for his alleged anti-Japanese views because he raised some questions about government and media representations concerning the North Korean abductions of Japanese nationals. Following that, he says his university employer received a cascade of threatening letters demanding he be sacked.

“Requests to write articles for the magazines and newspapers I had long known dried up,” Clark says. “Invitations to give talks on Japan’s lively lecture circuit died overnight. One of Japan’s largest trading companies abruptly canceled my already-announced appointment as outside board director with the vague excuse of wanting to avoid controversy.”

Lamentably, he added, “You cannot expect anyone to come to your aid once the nationalistic right-wing mood creators, now on the rise, decide to attack you. Freedom of speech and opinion is being whittled away relentlessly.”

Exposing such orchestrated attacks and highlighting the dangers of self-censorship are all the more important in contemporary Japan because, as Doi puts it, media freedom is “sliding down a slippery slope” and it’s important to “speak out before the momentum becomes unstoppable.” ”

by Jeff Kingston

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