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Japan, US academics demand NHK explain editorial choices behind offensive BLM anime

An NHK animated explainer on Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. which was widely condemned as racist and subsequently removed by the broadcaster, is seen in this screen capture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Academics in Japan and the United States submitted a letter to NHK on June 12 demanding the Japanese public broadcaster clarify why it broadcast an anime explainer of Black Lives Matter protests that was subsequently condemned as racist, and that it also outline its views on the matter and possible preventive measures.

In their five-page letter to NHK, the experts in U.S. studies describe the video as "including content that cannot be overlooked." Among its 13 signatories are professor Fumiko Sakashita of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto and professor Yasumasa Fujinaga of Japan Women's University, based in Tokyo. The letter is addressed to the president of NHK, as well as the heads of the international news division and the News Department. The writers say they will recruit supporters in both the U.S. and Japan.

The around 1-minute-20-second animated video that the letter discusses was originally shown on NHK news program "Kore de Wakatta! Sekai no Ima" (Now I Understand! The World Now) and shared on the broadcaster's official Twitter account on June 7. It was intended as an explanation for the demonstrations that began in the U.S. after George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer kneeling on his neck. It features a muscular, vested black man shouting about economic inequality in the U.S., and makes no reference to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

The letter to NHK described the depiction of the man as stereotypical, saying, "He is given an excessively muscular appearance, and speaks in an emphatically coarse and violent way." It added that in the U.S., "This stereotype has a history of being used to legitimize lynching of black people and the loss of their lives from police brutality."

It also criticized the program itself for suggesting that one cause of violence by police toward black people is "a fear of black people," and for offering a "completely insufficient" explanation of issues around "the historic background of police brutality, from slavery to the modern prison industrial complex."

It then mentioned that by the time the NHK show was aired on June 7, rioting and looting had already waned, and that the mostly peaceful protests were also being joined by many white people. Referring to this, the writers said the content of both the program and the animated explainer were "not an accurate reflection of the current state of protests."

The letter also says the program didn't give enough consideration to anger toward systemic racism as one of the causes of the protests. It also puts forward questions as to why the content wasn't checked internally and corrected.

On June 9, NHK apologized for the video, saying, "There was not enough consideration made at broadcast, and we apologize to those who have been offended by it." The program was removed from its online streaming services, and the tweet sharing the video also deleted.

Regarding its response, the letter says NHK has not clearly elucidated what was problematic about the program, and criticized the broadcaster strongly for "trivializing the matter as a case of viewer interpretation." It went on to ask that NHK clarify both its understanding on the issue and the events that led to the problematic content being broadcast and tweeted.

(Japanese original by Sumire Kunieda, Integrated Digital News Center)

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