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Editorial: Full minutes of NHK meeting on post office insurance expose interference

Public broadcaster NHK's reporting of Japan Post Insurance Co.'s predatory sales practices was lambasted by its own Board of Governors in a way that may have infringed on the Broadcasting Act, newly released documents have confirmed.

    Minutes from meetings in which the board censured then NHK President Ryoichi Ueda over the programs have finally been released by NHK, exposing details of the exchanges.

    The issue was brought to light by the Mainichi Shimbun's reporting. The reprimands were primarily guided by then chairman of the Board of Governors Susumu Ishihara and then Acting Chairman Shunzo Morishita, who is now chairman of the board, in response to resistance from management at Japan Post Holdings Co.

    The publicly released minutes show that severe reprimands were issued a total of three times, including at a meeting held on Oct. 23, 2018.

    The program in question was public in its means of reporting, and had used open journalistic methods including putting out calls online for people to come forward with information.

    Morishita is recorded as making critical statements at the meeting, including, "Was this a proper investigation?" and, "What does it mean for us to have a program that only puts forward a one-sided view?" He was also described as saying, "The reporting, including coverage for this program, has been totally amateurish."

    Japan's Broadcasting Act forbids the Board of Governors from interfering with the editing of individual programs. The act aims to separate management and editorial activities.

    Morishita's statements touched on the manner of reporting and the content of programming, and there are suspicions they infringed on the law. Ueda was concerned enough at the meeting to say the reprimand would "become an extraordinarily big problem."

    Morishita maintains that he only raised issues with the NHK president's organizational management. But the minutes show that he attempted to portray the issue as being about governance while being aware that interference in programs was forbidden.

    The board of governors' extended reluctance to fully publish the minutes is also problematic.

    A third-party body established by NHK twice recommended the full disclosure of the minutes. After the first recommendation, the board of governors released a redacted version of the document in response to a freedom of information request filed by the Mainichi Shimbun.

    Although the full document has now been released, it came five months after the third-party body's second recommendation -- after the National Diet session has ended. It is unavoidable for the prolongation to be interpreted as an attempt to avoid the matter being pursued in the legislature.

    The Board of Governors is NHK's most powerful decision-making body. Its members are appointed by the prime minister upon approval by the Diet.

    Since the issues came to light, Morishita has been again named to the board, later becoming its chairman. This inappropriate appointment should be retracted immediately.

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