- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

TOKYO — More than 1 million Japanese households are refusing to pay a $12 monthly fee to NHK, the nation’s elite public broadcasting corporation, to protest censorship of a documentary segment on crimes against humanity by Japanese soldiers in World War II.

Among the pieces of tape left on NHK’s cutting room floor was footage of a “people’s tribunal” organized by human rights groups and women’s organizations, which contained testimony from victims and scholars surrounding the “comfort women” issue.

Moreover, the tribunal concluded with a “verdict” finding the late Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government guilty of war crimes.

The viewpoint proved unacceptable to senior Japanese politicians, who were allowed to view the documentary before it aired. They demanded changes and NHK reportedly complied.

“Having close ties with politicians and allowing them to preview programs — people were really exercised about that,” said Keiichi Katsura, a prominent media critic and a professor at Tokyo’s Rissho University.

“As NHK becomes bigger, it has also become more powerful, but it is not using its power properly and viewers were starting to lose confidence in public broadcasting. And the people most angry at NHK were its longtime supporters.”

NHK denied charges of bias in the wartime documentary.

Every night across Japan, millions of homes tune in to the state-owned broadcasting network, Japan’s answer to the British Broadcasting Corp. No commercial network in Japan even comes close, in terms of viewers or resources.

The first broadcaster in Japan, NHK was conceived in the early 20th century as a tool to enlighten the population. From a sprawling complex in western Tokyo, it now runs five TV channels and three radio services.

The broadcaster has been reeling from two recent scandals, one involving embezzlement of funds by a producer.

The second and more serious charge centers on accusations that NHK caved in to pressure from politicians and right-wing groups to alter its series, entitled “How Should We Adjudicate Wars?”

One group behind the people’s tribunal, Violence Against Women in War — Network Japan, sued NHK in Tokyo District Court.

It claimed the broadcaster gained permission to film by saying it planned to document the proceedings, but later hastily and clumsily eviscerated the program, expunging all mention of the verdict and even of the tribunal itself.

The case, which has worked its way up to the Tokyo High Court, helped spark the boycott.

By the end of July, more than 1 million Japanese households were refusing to pay the monthly subscriber fee.

The offending segment, according to the women’s group, prominently featured critics of the mock tribunal and cast doubts on the veracity of the comfort women’s accounts.

Japanese rightists say comfort women were prostitutes who willingly worked at Japanese army brothels throughout Asia during World War II.

Lisa Yoneyama, an associate professor at the University of California at San Diego, and an expert in the politics of war memory and colonialism, was among the commentators for the NHK series.

In a letter urging colleagues to join the protest, she charged that “the erasure and distortion of my statements are but symptoms of a larger ideological configuration in which attempts to critically remember Japan’s past injustices are constantly marginalized or suppressed in public discourse.

“It is also yet another instance in which invocation of the abstract and universal notion of ‘humanity’ tends to reduce the immediacy of and the need to make reparations for specific acts of violence.”

The $12 monthly fees, levied on more than 25 million households, are the primary source of income for public broadcasting. The network operates this fiscal year on a budget of about $6 billion.

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