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Suspicion arises over de-facto 'Dentsu quota' in Japan Cabinet's PR office

TOKYO -- The Cabinet Secretariat's public relations office that is tasked with sending out the prime minister's office's information via the internet has constantly accepted one to two employees from Japan's largest advertising firm Dentsu Inc. for nine consecutive years, it has emerged.

    The finding implies that Dentsu has been involved with the dispatch of information from the prime minister's office since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012. As the government has been criticized for its close ties to Dentsu over public relief projects to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the government may face calls for accountability over the latest revelation about the suspected "Dentsu quota."

    According to government data released annually over the status of the state's acceptance of employees from the private sector, the Cabinet Secretariat's Cabinet Public Relations Office accepted two workers from private companies between 2008 and 2010 -- one from Yahoo Japan Corp. and the other from CA Mobile (present-day CAM). The government data is current as of October every year, while until 2014 it was current as of August.

    Under the previous administration of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the number of private-sector personnel working for the Cabinet Public Relations Office increased to four in 2011, with two recruited from another advertising giant, Hakuhodo Inc., one from Yahoo and one from Nissan Motor Corp. An individual who was connected to the then DPJ government recalls, "Personnel from Hakuhodo and other firms were added after (the late former) Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku insisted that private-sector experts should take part in the government's public relations."

    Toward the end of the DPJ administration, the number of personnel from private enterprises shot up to 10 in 2012, with one newly added from Dentsu on top of two Hakuhodo staffers.

    After Abe returned to power, Hakuhodo was excluded from the government's PR job in 2013, while Dentsu's "quota" increased to two. The Cabinet Public Relations Office has since accepted around 10 personnel from private businesses annually, with Dentsu taking up one to two of those posts each year. Meanwhile, there is no data suggesting that the second Abe administration recruited staff from Hakuhodo, though personnel from affiliated Hakuhodo DY Capco Inc. were accepted in 2018 and 2019.

    Currently, one Dentsu employee works for the Cabinet Public Relations Office as a part-time "public relations researcher" who is tasked with the management of the prime minister's office's social media accounts. The tenure for the publicly solicited post is set for two years from April 1 this year. The current PR researcher's predecessor also hailed from Dentsu.

    When the Mainichi Shimbun made an inquiry in writing with the Cabinet Public Relations Office over suspicions that the office has a de-facto "Dentsu quota" for having accepted personnel from the ad giant for nine straight years, the office replied, "It just happens to continue as a consequence and there is no such thing as a Dentsu quota." The public relations section of Dentsu, meanwhile, responded in writing, "The matter concerns the personnel affairs of the Cabinet Public Relations Office, so please enquire with that office."

    Ryosuke Nishida, associate professor of sociology at the Institute for Liberal Arts at Tokyo Institute of Technology, commented, "It is a blatant act to employ personnel (from Dentsu) for nine years in a row. A question arises over whether the post was publicly solicited or it was part of personnel exchanges with Dentsu in mind. It should be made clear how and why the (Dentsu) workers came to work for the government."

    (Japanese original by Shinya Oba, Political News Department)

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