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Opinion: NHK's conspicuously passive coverage of Kake scandal

Tetsu Ukita, professor in media theory at Hagoromo University of International Studies. (Mainichi)

Problems swirling around the planned establishment of a new veterinary department by Kake Educational Institution have created a stir among media organizations in Japan.

    The story unfolded following a report in the May 17 morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper headlined "New department 'will of prime minister,'" which evoked a strong public response.

    In its morning edition the following day, the Asahi published a separate memo with a date and name, which was introduced as an internal document of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. This contained the phrase, "The highest level of the prime minister's office is saying this."

    Public broadcaster NHK's reports on this internal document, however, was inexplicable. It first covered the news late on the evening of May 16, a day before the Asahi Shimbun's coverage, in its "News Check 11" TV program. But in doing so, it did not mention Kake Educational Institution by name, and replaced the phrase "national strategic special economic zone" with "regulatory easing." Furthermore, the key phrase "the highest level of the prime minister's office" was blacked out and not mentioned at all during the broadcast. NHK blandly reported, "The education ministry holds that there are issues with the veterinary department that is due to be established." It is unthinkable, however, that NHK reporters did not realize the significance of the documents, and I cannot understand its coverage.

    The document reported in the Asahi Shimbun on May 17 was also covered in the midday news program on NHK the same day, but the news was buried at the No. 5 spot, and coverage lasted just 2 minutes, 46 seconds. In its evening news broadcasts, NHK placed the item in the third slot or later. Its top item on each news broadcast was the planned engagement of Princess Mako.

    This contrasted with the news coverage of commercial broadcasters. TV Asahi's "Hodo Station" program devoted its first 14 minutes to the Kake issue. TBS's "News 23" program also opened with the issue in a segment running 8 minutes, 30 seconds. Both programs requested that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explain the sudden approval of the establishment of the veterinary department. NHK's passive stance on the news seems conspicuous in comparison.

    In an editorial on May 26, the Mainichi Shimbun said that the ministry's documents could no longer be labeled "anonymous objectionable documents," and proposed that Kihei Maekawa, former vice minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, who recognized the existence of the documents, be called in the Diet to testify on them. In order for the media to unite in urging the government to get to the bottom of the scandal, I earnestly hope that NHK will put into practice fair journalism that maintains criticism.

    (By Tetsu Ukita, professor in media theory at Hagoromo University of International Studies, based on articles published in Osaka)

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