NHK President Katsuto Momii has come under fire from journalism experts and from within his organization over his recent remarks on how the public broadcaster should report on nuclear power after the Kumamoto earthquakes, in which he was quoted as saying that reports "should be based on official announcements so as not to unnecessarily stir up residents' anxiety."
Momii reportedly made the controversial remarks during an April 20 meeting of the public broadcaster's disaster policy headquarters following the powerful earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture.
Asked about the authenticity of his comment during a House of Representatives Internal Affairs and Communications Committee session on April 26, Momii said what he meant by "official announcements" was "basically about figures," explaining that NHK would report figures measured by radiation monitoring devices set around nuclear plants as well as views presented by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. He added, "It seems a little strange to spread (information that would trigger) concern and anxiety among locals without grounds in terms of avoiding unnecessary confusion."
In response to Momii's comment, former Kyodo News reporter and Doshiha University journalism professor Jun Oguro pointed out that official announcements failed to provide information necessary for evacuation to local residents at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
"It is odd to conceal information just because some believe that it could cause panic. Broadcasters should offer various types of information, making clear the sources of their information," Oguro argued, adding, "Viewers who are on the receiving end of information will sort out what they need. If broadcasters concealed information they had, their journalistic responsibility would be called into question." He further criticized the NHK president, saying, "His attitude is almost as if he doesn't trust NHK reporters or viewers."
In response to the president's controversial remarks, Masatoshi Nakamura, chairman of NHK's largest union, the Japan Broadcasting Labor Union, released a comment on the organization's website on April 25, saying, "As a public broadcaster, its reporting is based on facts uncovered through interviews and research." He went on to say, "'The confirmation of 'facts' does not come upon announcements or acknowledgment by administrative bodies. The 'facts' are unveiled through NHK's independent research efforts."
A middle-ranking NHK employee working on the ground told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We have been told by our seniors that those in power do not reveal things that are inconvenient to them. We should deliver objective facts learned from public entities, scientists, private organizations and other sources that we believe are necessary." The employee added, "It is extremely dangerous to put restrictions on sources at one's own discretion and depend solely on information provided by the authorities. The NHK president should think about the role of news reporting."
A NHK producer appeared appalled at Momii's remarks, saying, "He really doesn't get what a news organization is." At the same time, the producer said, "This (kind of situation) is to be expected as long as the system allows NHK's governors, who are appointed by the prime minister, to pick its president. Unless changes are made to the Broadcast Act (that sets regulations regarding operation of NHK), there will be no fundamental improvement." The producer stressed the importance of constructive criticism from outside NHK since it is difficult for its employees who are the subject of regulation under the Broadcast Act to voice criticism about the organization.