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Editorial: PM Suga responsible for getting to bottom of scandal at Japan's comms ministry

The cozy ties that have been exposed in connection with the administration of broadcasting in Japan and the low respect for social norms among those involved are appalling.

    It has emerged that senior officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications were wined and dined by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's son, who works for Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a company that offers satellite broadcasting services. A total of 13 of the ministry's senior officials were found to have been treated to expensive meals a total of 39 times. The results were released by the ministry after an internal investigation.

    In addition to the four officials who had already admitted to being treated to meals, eight other officials including section chiefs primarily in broadcast administration were found to have been wined and dined. It also emerged that Cabinet public relations secretary Makiko Yamada, who at the time was vice minister for policy coordination at the communications ministry, participated in these meals.

    The National Public Service Ethics Code prohibits public servants from being treated to meals or entertainment, or receiving money from interested parties.

    Prime Minister Suga apologized to the Diet, saying, "I feel very sorry that my eldest son was involved, and as a result, public servants violated their ethics code."

    Communications minister Ryota Takeda is poised to reprimand the senior ministry officials, but we cannot allow that to be the end of the scandal.

    There is a need not only to unravel the violations of the National Public Service Ethics Code, but figure out whether the integrity of broadcasting administration was distorted as a result. If the company that Suga's son works for received any special treatment over the certification of satellite programs, it would raise the possibility of bribery.

    Last week, after the communications ministry completed its own investigation, the communications minister asserted that there had been absolutely no distortion of broadcasting administration. It appeared as though the conclusion that there were no problems had been decided upon before an investigation even took place.

    It has been a standard tactic since the days of the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to avoid criticism by definitively denying any doubts when they arise. Such a practice can make it difficult to voice diverging views and put a lid on doubts and suspicions.

    The communications minister says that he told ministry staff to be open and candid when cooperating with the investigation. But it has come to light that during questioning in the Diet that a senior ministry official gave a false answer.

    Senior officials of the ministry say that they did not meet for meals because Suga's son was there, but they have no explanation for why they agreed to be treated to meals by the company where he worked.

    Prime Minister Suga once served as communications minister, and maintains a strong influence in the field. Perhaps there is still a lot of surmising going on about what Suga wants. And still, the prime minister has not shown any initiative in clarifying the state of affairs.

    There are limitations to an internal investigation. To maintain objectivity, a third party committee must be brought in to conduct an investigation.

    The prime minister should instruct the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to comply with demands to summon his son to the Diet and to summon communications ministry officials as sworn witnesses. The prime minister has a responsibility to make efforts to get to the bottom of the suspicions.

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