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NHK president's switch to reappoint exec with gov't ties sparks internal outcry

Terunobu Maeda, president of public broadcaster NHK. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The president of Japanese public broadcaster NHK retracted a plan to have an executive director step down and replaced it with a proposal to reappoint him, sparking criticism within the organization as the executive is said to have close ties to the government.

    In April, NHK President Terunobu Maeda, 76, initially gave orders for a personnel plan to have executive director Yuji Itano, 67, retire from the broadcaster to be sent to members of the Board of Governors. But shortly before the plan was to be approved in a board meeting, he replaced it with the reappointment proposal, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    While the board approved the latest plan by a majority, two members opposed it. It is extremely unusual for an NHK personnel plan that has already been sent to the board's members to be retracted. It is also extraordinary for a personnel proposal to be met with objections from the board's members. Some within NHK have accordingly raised questions about the process of reappointing Itano to his post.

    According to several individuals close to the broadcaster, the personnel affairs of NHK executives, including Itano's resignation, were due to be finalized at a Board of Governors meeting on April 6. On April 2, President Maeda had ordered administrative staff to send the initial personnel plan to each board member. However, shortly before the April 6 meeting, an administrative staffer contacted every board member, saying, "Please forget about the plan." Then at the April 6 meeting, the initial written personnel proposal was withdrawn without any explanation.

    Under the Broadcasting Act, NHK's vice president and other directors are to be appointed by the president after obtaining approval from the Board of Governors, the highest decision-making body for the broadcaster's management policy and operations. The 12-strong board comprises experts such as business figures and university professors. The board, as a general rule, meets every other Tuesday.

    Shortly before the board's meeting on April 20, President Maeda had the final personnel plan sent to each board member. At the April 20 meeting, some members raised objections to Maeda's proposal to reappoint Itano, but the plan was approved with 10 members voting in favor of it. Board members Hiromi Watanabe and Masako Ii opposed the plan, citing Itano's advanced age as the reason.

    Itano's reappointment and other executives' appointments were officially announced on April 25. While an NHK executive director normally steps down after serving two terms for a total of four years, Itano has already served as director and executive director for three terms for a total of six years, and is now set to enter his fourth term.

    Itano has close ties with the prime minister's office. Several Diet members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with detailed knowledge of broadcast administration, have pointed to the possibility that the intentions of the prime minister's office lie behind the latest change in NHK's personnel plans.

    According to individuals affiliated with NHK, Itano previously ordered the broadcasting of several programs relating to the controversial security bills be scrapped in 2015, in tandem with the intentions of the administration of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At the time, Itano was NHK's executive director of broadcasting, which put him in a position to preside over programs overall.

    When queried by the Mainichi Shimbun regarding the shift to Itano's reappointment plan, President Maeda stated, "As it's a matter of personnel affairs, it's normal to have various candidates." When asked about the initial plan to have Itano step down, Maeda only remarked, "I presented my plan to the Board of Governors only once (on April 20)," referring to the one to reappoint Itano. When questioned whether the prime minister's office had a hand in the personnel affairs, Maeda said, "There's no way I would do it because I was told by others," stressing it was his own decision.

    The Mainichi also contacted Itano and asked whether the prime minister's office was involved in his reappointment. Itano replied, "I've no idea. The personnel appointment was decided by President Maeda."

    The secretariat of the Board of Governors declined to clarify its views on the issue, stating, "We will refrain from commenting on individual personnel affairs."


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