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Editorial: Japan broadcaster NHK evades accountability by withholding meeting details

Public broadcaster NHK's Board of Governors responded to a freedom of information request and released the minutes of the board's meetings concerning its rebuke of former NHK President Ryoichi Ueda over the network's coverage of the Japan Post group's illicit insurance sales practices. However, the released documents were just cut-and-paste copies of what has already been made public.

    The board's move tramples on viewers' right to know, and is a response unbecoming of a public broadcaster.

    A freedom of information and personal information protection committee set up by NHK had recommended that the minutes be released in full, but what the broadcaster did was the equivalent of ignoring that recommendation.

    Critics have pointed out that the actions taken by the Board of Governors amounts to interference with programming, which is prohibited under the Broadcasting Act. The latest development only adds to the public's distrust toward NHK.

    The board's rebuke of Ueda in connection with coverage of the Japan Post group scandal became public through the Mainichi Shimbun's reporting. In response to complaints from the Japan Post group, then NHK Governor Susumu Ishihara and former Acting Chairman and current Chairman Shunzo Morishita agreed with the Japan Post group, and reprimanded Ueda, citing insufficient corporate governance.

    Prior to the reprimand, two online videos requesting information from the public on the issue to produce a follow-up program had been taken down, and the follow-up program itself was postponed.

    The Board of Governors had been criticizing, in Ueda's presence, the way in which the program accusing post offices of illicitly selling life insurance policies had been made. Furthermore, the Mainichi learned that Morishita stated, "What Japan Post is actually dissatisfied with is the reported content."

    It is believed that the Japan Post group's purpose was to apply pressure on the program that was criticizing its practices. It wouldn't be surprising if NHK's Board of Governors, the public broadcaster's top decision-making body, were accused of being complicit in the move.

    The NHK Board of Governors and its leadership both claim that the broadcaster's autonomy and independence have not been compromised. If that is the case, there should be nothing preventing them from releasing the minutes of their meetings.

    For public broadcasting that relies on reception fees, viewer confidence is crucial. The purpose of NHK's freedom of information system, which was established in 2001, is to fulfill accountability to its viewers and increase transparency of its operations.

    The latest decision by the Board of Governors violates the spirit of that purpose. We cannot help but question Morishita's qualifications as the chairman of the board.

    The board has not provided an explanation for why it has not released its minutes in full. The proactive release of the minutes is the way to win back viewers' trust.

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