- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007


TOKYO — In May 2000, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, whose administration was under fire partly because of a string of gaffes, erred again when he called Japan a “divine nation with the emperor at its center.” The remark scandalized many Japanese, who considered it a reminder of the country’s militaristic past when its soldiers ravaged Asia in the name of the emperor.

With his approval ratings tumbling, Mr. Mori agreed to take questions at a press conference. But behind the scene, the prime minister was being coached by a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) reporter.

In a secret memo prepared for the prime minister, Jun Oki, the reporter who covered the prime minister for NHK, warned him that other reporters were going to press him on the issue of his remark. He advised the prime minister to “dodge their questions” and “terminate the conference when time is up.”

A reporter for the Nishinippon Shimbun, a local newspaper, found the memo left on the copy machine in the reporters club at the prime minister’s office. The paper published the memo, but most of the mainstream press ignored it. Some major counterparts scolded the paper’s reporters for disclosing what was supposed to be an “insider’s anecdote.”

Nishinippon said it was simply doing its job: reporting the news.

A few called for the resignation of Mr. Oki, whose name was kept out of initial reports, and criticized NHK, which often is compared to the British Broadcasting Corp. for its lack of accountability. Neither Mr. Oki nor NHK ever admitted wrongdoing.

Kenichi Asano, a journalism professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto, described the incident as “egregious, given that the reporter helped the prime minister blur his political responsibility for his ‘Japan-is-a-divine-nation’ remarks at a critical stage in Japanese politics.”

The issue also typified incestuous relations between the Japanese press and government, critics said. Japan is one of the few developed nations that has rarely experienced change in political administration, as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has ruled the nation for most of its postwar period. Some credit the press for what amounts to LDP’s one-party rule.

“For a long period of time, the major media have been serving at the LDP’s discretion. That is one of the secrets of the LDP’s long-term rule,” said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst.

At NHK, Mr. Oki, having kept a low profile in the intervening years, was recently promoted to executive editor for a morning news program. Asked recently whether he wrote the memo to Mr. Mori, Mr. Oki responded: “I said I did not do it. Shut up.” He then hung up. NHK corporate communications did not respond to questions regarding the affair.

Mr. Oki’s promotion is in stark contrast to the demotions of two producers involved in the production of a documentary on the 2000 mock tribunal over Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, which found the late Emperor Hirohito guilty of permitting the sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of Asian women during World War II. The producers said they had been ordered to alter the content of the program under political pressure.

NHK sent a totally wrong message that honest and serious people cannot be rewarded while those who fawn upon authority take the lion’s share,” said Yasushi Kawasaki, a former NHK political reporter who taught journalism at Sugiyama Women’s University in Nagoya.

Mr. Kawasaki was forced out of a career track at the network after his coverage of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka’s faction was pulled off the air because of purported pressure from the LDP.

Nationalist politicians like Shinzo Abe, then acting secretary-general of the LDP, and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, were reported to have pressured NHK. But NHK, Mr. Abe and Mr. Nakagawa repeatedly denied the charge.

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