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Editorial: Why was PM Suga's son charming Japanese bureaucrats?

Punishments including salary cuts have been announced by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda for 11 ministry bureaucrats over revelations that they had accepted lavish dinner invitations from Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's eldest son and other employees of Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a broadcasting company. Those penalized include vice-minister for policy coordination Yasuhiko Taniwaki.

    Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada, who was also a vice-minister when she accepted entertainment totaling over 70,000 yen (about $660) from the younger Suga and his associates, was not reprimanded as she now belongs to a special service position and is no longer under the communications' ministry's authority. However, she will apparently return part of her salary.

    One can certainly say that this entire affair has shaken the Suga administration to its roots. And yet, the core of the problem -- whether Tohokushinsha benefited from special treatment when it received ministry approval for its satellite channels -- remains a black box.

    And so, these penalties for ministry officials cannot be allowed to be the end of the story. Takeda told reporters that he would "set up an internal investigative committee to elucidate the situation," but we cannot trust the conclusions of an inquiry whose independence is not guaranteed.

    We must also question leaving Taniwaki and the other bureaucrats in their current posts. Of course, they will have to cooperate with the investigation, but can they really continue to be in charge of overseeing the administration of Japanese broadcasting?

    Regarding Yamada, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato was quick to confirm that "we'd like her to continue with her present duties."

    During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration, Yamada became the first woman ever to be named a prime ministerial secretary. She is also considered essential by Abe's successor, Suga, and continues to be a core figure in the Cabinet, moderating the prime minister's press conferences among other roles.

    Yamada was scheduled to appear as a witness at the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Feb. 25. There, she has a duty to explain in convincing terms how she came to accept Tohokushinsha's abundant hospitality, and her involvement in broadcast administration.

    Exactly what was behind Tohokushinsha's dinner-and-drinks lubricated charm offensive on elite communications ministry officials?

    As of late, satellite broadcasters have been under severe pressure from the expansion of internet streaming services, and their subscriber numbers have plateaued. It is said that, in response, Tohokushinsha and other satellite channel operators have been pressuring the communications ministry to reduce fees for using satellites.

    So far, Taniwaki has been telling the Diet, "I have no memory of them (Tohokushinsha) mentioning a request to reduce satellite fees." However, if, for the sake of argument, Tohokushinsha was indeed seeking some specific benefit, this would not be just a violation of the National Public Service Ethics Code. It may constitute bribery.

    Prime Minister Suga's style of politics is in question. As a first step, he and the ruling parties should respond to calls to summon his eldest son to the Diet as a witness.

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