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Editorial: Tokyo MX needs to be aware of its responsibility as broadcaster

Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corp. (Tokyo MX) has come under fire for its coverage of demonstrations against the construction of U.S. military helipads in northern Okinawa Prefecture, which critics have pointed out is factually incorrect and biased. The case has called into question the broadcaster's awareness as an organization that uses public radio waves.

Tokyo MX's news-entertainment show "News Joshi" (news girls) aired on Jan. 2 contained an obviously false claim that demonstrators blocked an ambulance from entering the construction site, which is supposedly based on interviews that a journalist specializing in military affairs conducted with local residents. Moreover, the program quoted baseless comments such as, "The demonstrators are just like terrorists" and "I haven't heard that a majority of Okinawa residents are against the presence of U.S. bases."

Behind such reporting is hostility toward anti-base movements in Okinawa. The contents in the TV program are outrageous. Tokyo MX's responsibility for using radio waves, which are public property, to air such a program is grave. The TV station must thoroughly investigate the process leading to the broadcasting of the program.

It is only natural that the Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO) has begun looking into the case in response to viewers' voices that what the program reported is problematic. Tokyo MX commented that it will sincerely cooperate with the probe.

In an earlier move, a human resource development consultant filed a complaint with the BPO, accusing the same program of infringing on human rights by calling her a "behind-the-scene fixer who is instigating anti-base movements." The BPO, a broadcasting watchdog established jointly by public broadcaster NHK and private broadcasters, should demonstrate its ability to rectify unfair coverage.

The "News Joshi" program is produced by a subsidiary of major cosmetics company DHC Corp., as well as other firms, and is sponsored only by DHC. Moreover, DHC is the largest business partner of Tokyo MX, according to the broadcaster's securities report.

In response to criticism that the program failed to interview those opposing U.S. bases in Okinawa, the DHC subsidiary commented, "There's no need to listen to the arguments made by anti-base demonstrators who approve organizations involved in illegal activities." However, this explanation is far from convincing.

The BPO needs to demand that the production company fully cooperate in investigating to see if the program is sufficiently backed by evidence. Attention will be focused on whether and how far the broadcaster evaluated the appropriateness of a program produced by its sponsor before airing it.

The Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association, of which Tokyo MX is a member, is of the view that each broadcaster is responsible for the contents of programs they air even if they are produced and provided by their sponsors.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi, the regulator of the broadcasting industry, told the House of Representatives Budget Committee that she will watch over Tokyo MX's efforts to air politically fair programs. She made the comment in response to a question as to whether the Jan. 2 segment of the "News Joshi" program constitutes a violation of Article 4 of the Broadcast Act, which stipulates that programs must be politically fair. The ministry interprets the clause as applicable to all broadcasters.

A situation in which broadcasters fail to be aware that radio waves are public property, eventually allowing the government to intervene in their program production, must be avoided by all means. It must be guaranteed that broadcasters can independently and autonomously correct any problems involving the TV and radio programs they air.

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