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Tokyo's protest over comedian's mistake on TV sparks outcry, sympathy

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike meets reporters at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on March 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

TOKYO -- Social media users remain divided over the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's sharp reaction to a comedian's mistaken comment on the production cost of a promotional video even though he corrected the error, with some criticizing the response as excessive and others expressing sympathy in light of the comment's impact.

    The remark in question was made by Cunning Takeyama, a male comedian, during the live daytime TV show "Akko ni Omakase!" aired by Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc. (TBS) on March 28. In the program, Takeyama touched on PR videos featuring Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and others, designed to raise public awareness about the coronavirus, and claimed, "One of them cost 470 million yen (about $4.3 million). Those videos are made using hard-earned taxpayers' money." He later corrected his remark during the same program, saying, "It was the cost of (the Tokyo government's) ads overall," and apologized.

    Despite his correction and apology, the metropolitan government lodged a protest with TBS and Takeyama's agency Sun Music after the program, pointing out the error in Takeyama's remark and requesting that the broadcaster make reports based on the facts. "The content of the correction has not gotten across to Tokyo residents sufficiently," the metro government said.

    After the evening tabloid Nikkan Gendai reported on the issue in its April 1 online edition, various opinions flooded social media. One of the posts read, "The (metropolitan) government's action like this against an individual constitutes suppression of speech. Has the metro government lost even its common sense?"

    Former Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe also posted a comment saying, "(The metro government's reaction) came even though Takeyama corrected his simple numerical error immediately during the program. He has recently been criticizing the problems of the Koike administration sharply, so the metro government likely finds him annoying. The Tokyo government's reaction resembles one by a totalitarian state that stifles free speech."

    Meanwhile, some people voiced sympathy with the metro government's response in light of the impact of Takeyama's comment.

    "His statement that 470 million yen in taxpayers' money was spent on a YouTube video is ill-considered," one post said. Another commented, "(Takeyama) has a considerable social impact, so he should be more careful about his remarks."

    An official at the metropolitan government's Office of the Governor for Policy Planning explained, "We are aware of the fact that (Takeyama) corrected his statement. Even so, we filed the request after judging that his correction had not gotten across to the public." They added, "The amount he referred to -- 470 million yen -- was inaccurate, and we explained that the actual cost of video production totaled 18 million yen (about $165,000)."

    Regarding the reason why the metro government lodged the protest, the official said it was because it received numerous phone calls and emails protesting about the amount after the TV show, such as one saying, "You used 470 million yen on a single promotional video?"

    In a program aired on April 4, TBS issued a renewed apology, with a male announcer saying, "We apologize for conveying erroneous information to viewers."

    Experts offered mixed views over the issue. Hiroyoshi Usui, a media culture critic and former professor at Sophia University's Department of Journalism, said, "I didn't find any issue because (Takeyama) swiftly corrected his remark and apologized during the live show." He speculated that the flood of phone calls to the metro government "were protests by people skeptical of the metro government's administration thus far amid uncertainty about the cost-effectiveness of the use of taxpayers' money," and that people's frustrations against the Tokyo government triggered a backlash.

    Lawyer Ichiro Ishii, meanwhile, was critical of Takeyama. "Whether they be comedians or critics, as long as those who hold social influence make comments on TV, they need to be prepared, and it's only natural for them to receive protests when they communicate false information. Takeyama in a sense fueled viewers' sentiment by 'staging' an erroneous figure of 470 million yen. It is possible for the Tokyo government to file a protest to the effect that he 'should be mindful from now on.'"

    Ishii continued, "Takeyama's comments could, with just a single misstep, stir up trouble. The feeder effect of TV and the internet is huge. To consider the need for a certain level of constraint cannot be regarded an infringement of freedom of expression."

    Nonetheless, the lawyer praised Takeyama in that his comment raised questions about the propriety of the use of tax money.

    "Behind some viewers snapping at the figure of 470 million yen there is probably an underlying sense of distrust toward the government. That Takeyama attempted to call people's attention to the problem over the use of taxpayers' money itself should not be denounced," he said.

    (Japanese original by Yuka Ikuno and Yukiko Ono, Digital News Department)

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