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Editorial: Cozy ties between Japan's communications industry and ministry must be unraveled

The cozy ties between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the broadcasting and communications industry have once again been brought into sharp relief.

    A third-party panel launched an investigation into the wining and dining of senior ministry officials by satellite broadcaster Tohokushinsha Film Corp., and concluded, "claims that it distorted public administration can't be avoided."

    Tohokushinsha says it realized that it was in violation of broadcasters' foreign investment regulations under the Broadcasting Act in August 2017, and reported the violation to the head of the section in charge of the matter at the communications ministry. But the senior official who was section head at the time said they had no recollection of being told about it.

    The third-party panel reached the conclusion that it was highly likely that while the section head and others recognized there was a regulatory violation, they did not revoke Tohokushinsha's license or take any other punitive action.

    The official who was section head and others have reportedly continued to deny this, but they were repeatedly wined and dined by the broadcaster, and even received tickets to professional baseball games. As the panel has pointed out that public administration has been warped, the development of events surrounding the issue must be thoroughly probed and brought to light.

    It is said that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's son was often present at the wining and dining of ministry officials by Tohokushinsha. It is still unknown what role Suga's son, who was not directly in charge of the matters discussed, had.

    Meanwhile, the internal probe found that wining and dining of senior ministry officials was not just something that was carried out by Tohokushinsha.

    There have been a total of 78 wining-and-dining cases that violated the National Public Service Ethics Code, including by Tohokushinsha and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT). Thirty-two communications ministry officials were newly punished for ethics code violations, which comes out to one in every five officials who were investigated. This can only be characterized as an extraordinary situation.

    Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda and past ministers who have overlooked this state of affairs bear an extremely heavy responsibility.

    Of the newly discovered cases of wining and dining, more than 50 were carried out by NTT and their mobile unit NTT Docomo Inc.

    After the launch of the Suga administration, NTT announced that it would turn Docomo into its wholly owned subsidiary and changed its president. The company was also being pressured to drop the prices of cell phones and plans, which Suga had promised the Japanese public as a signature policy. What exactly occurred in the background of NTT's and NTT Docomo's excessive wining and dining of ministry officials?

    The third-party panel says that it will continue investigating the matter, including the issues surrounding NTT.

    A thorough probe is indispensable to eliminate the mistrust that has spread among the public. There is a limit to what a third-party panel can do. The Diet should also engage in a hunt for the truth.

    The cozy relationship between government bodies and the companies that they oversee must be unraveled using all of the tools at our disposal.

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