The new chairman of public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) filled his first news conference with one-sided arguments and antagonistic opinions on history, sparking immediate calls for his resignation.
The news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 25 was intended to mark Katsuto Momii’s appointment to the top post at NHK, but he instead raised eyebrows by defending the wartime “comfort women” system, criticizing South Korea, pushing Japan’s territorial claims, and downplaying opposition against the state secrets protection law.
His words led to criticism at the highest levels of government.
“I am extremely angry because these gaffes are unthinkable for the head of a media company,” said a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet. “He should immediately resign.”
Momii said NHK programming would abide by the Broadcast Law, which stipulates that all broadcasting companies must exercise political fairness. However, he showed no neutrality in giving his own views on a number of issues, a highly unusual move for the head of the public broadcaster.
Momii was asked about past NHK programs on the comfort women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese military personnel before and during World War II.
“(Such women) could be found in any nation that was at war,” Momii said.
He then named nations like France and Germany as having used such women when those nations were at war, and he asked why the Netherlands still has brothels.
“Under current morals, using comfort women is wrong,” he said, adding that the system was a reality at the time of the war.
Momii went on to make comments that he said were outside his position as NHK chairman.
He took a critical view at the continuing demands from South Korea for Japan to pay compensation to former comfort women.
“Matters have become much more complicated because South Korea seems to say that only Japan forcibly transported such women,” he said. “They also say hand over money or compensate the women, but why are they trying to bring up the subject again when all issues were resolved under the Japan-South Korea treaty. That is wrong.”
When a reporter pointed out to Momii that the news conference was being held to mark his becoming NHK chairman, he said, “I retract everything I have said.”
Before becoming NHK chairman, Momii was president of Nihon Unisys Ltd., which has capital ties with Mitsui & Co., where Momii served as vice chairman. He does not have broadcasting experience.
“This is a major development that could lead to his dismissal,” a high-ranking executive of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said after Momii’s news conference. “This could affect Diet deliberations because NHK’s budget will have to be discussed.”
LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said, “As the individual responsible for corporate management, he should have made the judgment of what would be in the national interests from the standpoint of a public broadcaster.”
According to officials with the Abe administration, the prime minister is not acquainted with Momii. The NHK chairman also has only weak ties with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, they said.
The following is the gist of Momii’s comments from his Jan. 25 news conference:
Momii: My main duty will be to retighten the nuts and bolts (at NHK). I want to become involved in various matters while abiding by the Broadcast Law.
Q: Do you believe it is better for domestic programs to transmit Japan’s position on the territorial issue surrounding the Senkaku Islands?
A: Since it is clearly Japanese territory, there is a need for the Japanese people to properly understand that fact. I want to examine if programming until now has been adequate.
Q: Do you intend to transmit the government’s position as Japan’s position for international broadcasting?
A: International broadcasting will be different from domestic programs. Regarding the territorial issue, it will only be natural to clearly present Japan’s position. It would not do for us to say “left” when the government is saying “right.”
Q: What are your thoughts regarding visits to Yasukuni Shrine and the inclusion of Class-A war criminals among those memorialized there?
A: Since the prime minister made the visit based on his beliefs, that in itself is all right. I am not in a position to say whether it was right or wrong.
Q: What do you think about how NHK has reported on that matter?
A: All we can do is to simply say the prime minister visited Yasukuni, period.
Q: What are your views regarding the comfort women issue?
A: While I have absolutely no intention of saying whether it was right or wrong because it happened during the war, the issue could be found in all nations that were at war.
Q: Are you saying the issue existed in all nations that were at war?
A: Do you think it only happened in South Korea? I believe it could be found in all regions that were at war. Can you say such facilities were not available in Germany or France? It could be found everywhere in Europe. Why do you think the Netherlands still has its red-light district?
Under current morals, using comfort women is wrong. But comfort women accompanying the military was a reality of that time.
Putting aside my position as chairman, matters have become much more complicated because South Korea seems to say that only Japan forcibly transported such women.
They also say hand over money or compensate the women, but why are they trying to bring up the subject again when all issues were resolved under the Japan-South Korea treaty. That is wrong.
Q: You just said putting aside my position as chairman, but this is an official news conference, isn’t it?
A: Then I will retract everything I have said.
Q: You cannot do that.
A: While I cannot respond as chairman, I responded by saying I would put aside my position because without that all my replies would be “no comment.”
Q: What do you think about the state secrets protection law?
A: It would be a major problem if what the public is concerned about is what the government’s objective was. But I don’t think that is the case. Since the government explained there was a need for the state secrets protection law, we can only wait and see how it will turn out.
Q: Are you saying that despite the fierce opposition that arose?
A: It is understandable that various opinions emerge. There are some in government who feel that all the media are opposed and that there should be some support.
Q: Do you intend to have your thoughts reflected in programming?
A: No. Regardless of what my views are, all judgments will be based on the Broadcast Law.
Q: Do you have a desire to represent the intentions of the Abe administration?
A: No. The reason I have repeatedly touched upon the Broadcast Law is that distance can be maintained because of that law. My comments are in no way any reflection of what the government has asked me to say.
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