JAPAN: NHK closes ranks agaisnt Asahi, whistle-blower

Network protests newspaper story alleging that politicians influenced program content; program producer alleges he was "ordered" to edit show

The Japan Times
Saturday, January 15, 2005

NHK said Friday it has demanded that the daily Asahi Shimbun correct a story it ran claiming the public broadcaster, due to political pressure, altered a 2001 TV program on a mock trial on Japan's use of wartime sex slaves.

"The story reported by the Asahi Shimbun distorts the facts to suggest we altered the program in response to political interference," the broadcaster said in a protest letter to the publisher.

The Asahi Shimbun said: "We repeatedly interviewed the people concerned, including two lawmakers and senior NHK officials, before releasing the article. We don't believe the article constitutes a distortion of facts."

The program's chief producer, Satoru Nagai, in a news conference Thursday, said: "We were ordered to alter the program before it was aired. I would have to say that the alteration was made against the backdrop of political pressure."

On Friday, NHK claimed the story published Wednesday is erroneous, because trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa -- one of the two Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers mentioned in the article as having applied the pressure -- met NHK officials over the program only after it aired in January 2001, not beforehand, as the paper states.

NHK admitted meeting lawmaker Shinzo Abe, then deputy chief Cabinet secretary and current LDP acting secretary general, before the broadcast but claimed it met him to brief him on its annual budget.