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Governing board of Japan's NHK unanimously reappoints controversial chairman

Shunzo Morishita, chairman of NHK's Board of Governors, speaks at a news conference following his reappointment at the NHK broadcasting center in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, on March 9, 2021. (Pool photo)

TOKYO -- NHK's Board of Governors on March 9 unanimously reappointed Chairman Shunzo Morishita, who remains suspected of violating the Broadcasting Act by intervening in the public broadcaster's coverage of a scandal in 2018.

    Morishita, 75, who also serves as the chairman of incorporated foundation Kansai Institute of Information Systems, caused a stir during his tenure as the board's acting chairman when he sided with the Japan Post group in criticizing an NHK report in 2018 on predatory insurance policy sales tactics by Japan Post Co. Morishita said the way the program was produced was "problematic," and he played a leading role in rebuking NHK's president at the time over its coverage.

    The Broadcasting Act bans board members from intervening in the broadcaster's programs.

    Morishita previously served as president of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corp. He assumed the position of governor of NHK's highest decision-making body in 2015. A governor's term is set at three years, and this month marks the start of his third term as a board member. Following his stint as acting chairman, Morishita assumed chairmanship of the board in December 2019. In that role, he has pushed for organizational reform of NHK and online streaming of its programs.

    At the March 9 meeting of the board of governors, one other person was nominated to chair the board, but they declined the nomination. The board's 12 members ultimately picked Morishita unanimously. Doshisha University professor Koji Murata, 56, was also reappointed as acting chairman.

    Speaking at a press conference following his reappointment, Morishita said, "NHK is at an important stage in the realization of its mid-term business plan for fiscal 2021 to 2023, including lowering reception fees. I accept grave responsibility (as the chairman) and will put my utmost efforts into gaining stronger (public) trust (in NHK) on behalf of the public broadcaster."

    Asked about suspicions that he intervened in the broadcaster's coverage, Morishita said, "I have no recollection of intervening in the program, and the NHK leadership also says that such a thing did not happen."

    However, Japan's opposition parties and those within NHK have voiced criticism over Morishita's reappointment. House of Representatives member Soichiro Okuno of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who has raised issues with how the Japan Post group and NHK governing board handled the broadcaster's reporting on the insurance policy scandal in the Diet, slammed the board's decision to reelect Morishita.

    "Morishita intervened in the program, an act suspected of violating the Broadcasting Act, by rebuking (NHK's) then president, and withheld the governing board's meeting minutes over the matter even though NHK's freedom of information committee recommended that the documents be fully disclosed. His reappointment is unacceptable," Okuno said.

    A source related to NHK told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The judgment of the governing board as a whole is under question for allowing Mr. Morishita, who is responsible for distorting NHK's independence and autonomy, to retain his position."

    (Japanese original by Tomonori Matsuo, Cultural News Department)

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