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NHK exec handed apology letter to Japan Post after illicit insurance sale program protest

The NHK Broadcasting Center is seen in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward in this March 2019 file photo. (Mainichi/Masaaki Shimano)

TOKYO -- The top executive for broadcasting at NHK handed a de-facto apology letter from the public broadcaster's president to Japan Post Holdings Co. over a senior staff member's comment regarding a program exposing post offices' illicit sales of life insurance policies, it has been learned.

Yukinori Kida, executive director of broadcasting at NHK, brought the letter to Japan Post Holdings Senior Executive Vice President Yasuo Suzuki on Nov. 6, 2018, on behalf of NHK President Ryoichi Ueda, according to a document obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun.

It is very unusual for the top official of NHK's General Broadcasting Administration to directly respond to a protest over a specific program.

Kida, accompanied by senior officials of NHK's Programming Department, read aloud the letter in front of Suzuki, former vice-minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications -- which has jurisdiction over broadcast administration -- before handing it over to him.

In the letter, NHK President Ueda referred to a comment by a senior employee in charge of the program "Close-Up Gendai Plus" to the effect that the NHK president was not involved in the production of individual programs, and said, "It is very regrettable as the explanation was obviously insufficient." The staffer's comment had come after Japan Post Holdings raised an issue with an episode of the program aired on April 24, 2018, that exposed the post offices' practice of selling life insurance policies to elderly people and others using illicit methods.

According to sources close to the broadcaster, the decision to dispatch Kida to Japan Post Holdings was discussed by several senior officials of NHK's executive body and was finalized by President Ueda.

"It is wrong to have decided to get the top broadcasting official to respond to a specific protest. It is also problematic from the viewpoint of autonomy and independence of broadcasting," said a person associated with the broadcaster.

While President Ueda had initially refused to respond to Japan Post Holdings' demand to explain NHK's governance system in connection with the senior program staff member's comment, he ended up delivering the letter of effective apology after he was rebuked by the NHK Board of Governors, which complied with Japan Post Holdings' request, in October last year, according to an individual connected to the broadcaster. The Board of Governors is NHK's top decision-making body.

As executive director of broadcasting, Kida is at the helm of the broadcasting division and shares the editorial rights over programs with the president. A senior official of the General Broadcasting Administration explained about Kida's visit to Japan Post Holdings, saying, "The executive director was dispatched as someone responsible because the problem involved trouble over broadcasting."

However, a source close to the broadcaster blasted the NHK executive body's decision. "They should have dispatched a senior official in charge of external affairs. I suspect they sent the executive director of broadcasting (Kida) because the other party was Japan Post Holdings, which has close ties with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. They deserve being accused of succumbing to the protest."

In 2001, the then NHK executive director of broadcasting and other officials explained the contents of a special program about "comfort women" forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels to then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, now prime minister, immediately before the airing of the program. The contents of the program, titled "ETV 2001 Series: How war should be judged" that focused on wartime sexual violence, was subsequently modified.

The Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics of the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO) denounced the move in 2009, saying, "It undermines NHK's principles of autonomy and independence and raises suspicions among viewers."


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