HONG KONG and TOKYO — The new president of NHK, Katsuto Momii, stirred up controversy this weekend when he made several inflammatory comments, including a statement that the public broadcaster’s programming should follow the Japanese government line.
The 70-year old former president of Nihon Unisys and a VP of the Mitsui trading house, Momii was recently appointed to a three-year term as NHK president, a post that gives him considerable power to shape the broadcaster’s policies.
Momii told reporters that the pubcaster, which has long insisted on its editorial independence, should not “much deviate from the position of the [Japanese] government in its programming,” using the example of Japan’s territorial tussles with China and South Korea.
He defended the controversial bill for the protection of state secrets pushed by conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe and passed into law late last year by a parliament dominated by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party allies. “It’s pointless to question [the bill] now that it’s been made into law,” Momii said.
“When the government says ‘right,’ we can’t say ‘left,'” Momii said.
Momii’s remarks have the potential to damage NHK’s reputation abroad. The broadcaster is a major force in factual programming and is renown as a developer of broadcasting technology.
Momii’s speech was quickly picked up in China, Korea and The Philippines. There his comments about the Japanese military’s past use of Chinese, Korean and Filipina sex slaves – referred to as “comfort women” — sparked indignation. Momii said the practice was common in any country at war.
In an English-language clip on NHK World (pictured), the company’s international service, Momii took a less inflammatory line.
“My approach to management has always been frank and open to our clients and colleagues, and to get a clear understanding of their needs.
“Now that I am entering the field of broadcasting, I will do my very best to provide you with fair, impartial, and accurate news reporting and high quality programming of all kinds.
“Especially at this time, with Asia’s development drawing global attention, we take our responsibility very seriously. With a commitment to independent journalism, NHK will continue to provide high-quality information from Japan and throughout the region,” he said.
Although NHK funds its operations mostly viewer fees, its budget is subject to parliamentary approval. The firm’s 12-member board of governors, which supervises NHK, though not on a day-to-day basis, is also appointed by parliament. The pubcaster, however, has long insisted that it is not a state broadcaster.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper has reported that Momii has since retracted his remarks about comfort women.