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TV network's coverage of anti-U.S. helipad protests in Okinawa sparks outcry

People protest against Tokyo MX's coverage of anti-U.S. helipad demonstrations in Okinawa Prefecture, in front of the network's head office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Jan. 19, 2017. (Mainichi)

Citizens groups submitted a petition to a Tokyo TV network on Jan. 19 to protest a program claiming that demonstrations against the construction of U.S. military helipads in northern Okinawa Prefecture are "radical" and "dangerous."

    The program in question, Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corp. (Tokyo MX)'s "News Joshi (girls news)" -- a show aired every Monday at 10 p.m. and hosted by Yukihiro Hasegawa, deputy executive editor of the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper -- was aired on Jan. 2. The show, sponsored by a subsidiary of a major cosmetics company, invites guests such as policy analysts and TV personalities to debate social issues.

    On the Jan. 2 broadcast, military journalist Kazuhiko Inoue reported on the helipad construction in the Takae district of the Okinawa Prefecture village of Higashi. He claimed during the show that what he hears is that "most locals are not against U.S. military bases" in the island prefecture. In addition, the program inserted voice narration and tickers saying that the protesters are "groups of people aged between 65 and 75 who would not be affected if they were arrested," that they organize "radical" and "dangerous" demonstrations, and that "even police can't handle them."

    No actual coverage of the construction site was aired, however, and the program claimed that the crew could not get close to the site because of "acts of violence by the protesters." In response to questions by other commentators, Inoue said, "There were many South Koreans and Chinese (protesters) at the site," and, "I heard that the locals are furious over these guys holding protest rallies."

    In response to the broadcast, citizens groups gathered in front of Tokyo MX's head office in Chiyoda Ward on Jan. 19, slamming the network for broadcasting a "one-sided, nonfactual" program and for abusing "people's trust in the media." They then submitted a petition demanding a correction and an apology from the network.

    Tokyo MX broadcasted a comment as a ticker on Jan. 16 that the network aired the controversial Jan. 2 program to present "part of a discussion," and that it will "present opinions of people in different positions in a fair and equal manner." The network's editing department told the Mainichi Shimbun that this comment was the broadcaster's present view on the issue.

    The Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization plans to demand a report on the program from Tokyo MX.

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