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NHK president was rebuked after Japan Post objected to program on illicit insurance sales

"Close Up Gendai Plus" aired on April 24, 2019. (Image taken from the program's website)

TOKYO -- The NHK Board of Governors reprimanded the president of the public broadcaster following a protest by the Japan Post group over a program accusing post offices of illicitly selling life insurance policies, those linked to the matter and documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun have shown.

In an extremely rare move, the board in October 2018 severely warned NHK President Ryoichi Ueda that the broadcaster should "strengthen its corporate governance."

Those linked to NHK have pointed out that the Board of Governors' actions could constitute a violation of the Broadcasting Act that bans the board from intervening in individual programs. They added that they felt the Japan Post group's protest was pressure on the broadcaster's news coverage.

The program in question is "Close-Up Gendai Plus" aired on April 24, 2018. Subtitled, "Are post offices involved in coercive sales? Confessions by postal workers," the program exposed post offices' practices of selling life insurance policies to elderly people and others in an inappropriate manner.

Before airing the program, the public broadcaster uploaded a video message to its Twitter account asking the public to provide information on the matter.

According to the sources, the producers of the program uploaded similar video messages to its Twitter account on July 7 and 10 last year with the goal of airing a follow-up program in early August.

The Japan Post group sent a message to NHK President Ueda on July 11 last year, urging that the broadcaster delete the two additional video messages on the grounds that the messages could give the public the impression that the postal group as a whole was involved in potentially illegal sales activities.

A senior producer visited Japan Post and explained that NHK management and the program production division are separate entities and that the president is not involved in the production of programs.

In response, Japan Post officials argued that it is obvious the president has the ultimate responsibility for production and editing of programs and the senior producer's explanation highlights the broadcaster's complete lack of governance. The postal group sent a letter to NHK president Ueda on Aug. 2, 2018, demanding an explanation about the situation.

Around the same time, the Japan Post group notified NHK that it would refuse to cooperate with the public broadcaster in producing a follow-up program. Because of this and other reasons, the broadcaster decided in early August to postpone airing the show and delete the two video messages.

The Japan Post group then sent a letter to the NHK Board of Governors on Oct. 5 last year, demanding that the board examine the broadcaster's corporate governance after Ueda failed to provide an explanation about the broadcaster's governance.

In compliance with the demand, the board severely reprimanded NHK President Ueda on Oct. 23 last year, urging him to strengthen the broadcaster's corporate governance, and sent a notice to the Japan Post group explaining that the board had conveyed the postal group's protest and warned the NHK president.

On Nov. 6, 2018, Ueda sent a letter to Japan Post effectively apologizing for the senior producer's statements. "It was clearly an insufficient explanation, and indeed regrettable," the letter said.

Those involved in the production of the program continued to gather information on post office sales of life insurance policies and aired the follow-up program on July 31 this year, on the same day the presidents of three companies in the postal group -- Japan Post Holdings Co., Japan Post Insurance Co. and Japan Post Co. -- apologized for illicit sales of insurance policies.

Susumu Ishihara, chairman of the Board of Governors, explained that the board warned President Ueda over the inaccurate explanation and not over the contents of the program.

"We're aware that the board mustn't intervene in the contents of programs. We warned the president about the senior producer's incorrect explanation, in response to the postal group's protest, that the president is not responsible for program production. We meant that NHK management should respond properly to the protest," Ishihara said.

The NHK Public Relations Department denied that the Board of Governors' warning "damaged its independence and freedom to produce programs."

Japan Post Holdings declined to comment on the matter saying it cannot confirm relevant facts at this time.


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