Fumio Sudo, chairman of the board of governors of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) and adviser to steelmaker JFE Holdings Inc., has been tapped as a new outside director for Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Sudo’s appointment to the board of the embattled electric utility, operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, has created a stir both inside and outside the publicly funded broadcaster.
The move has raised concerns that NHK’s reporting on the utility in the future could be perceived as biased.
Sudo should devote himself to either of the two jobs instead of holding both posts concurrently.
TEPCO, which the government has decided to put under effective state control, is one of the biggest news topics at the moment.
Meanwhile, NHK’s board of governors has the power to appoint the broadcaster’s president, who chairs the executive board. The president’s choices of other members of the executive board, such as executive vice president and the managing directors, need to be approved by the board of governors. There is no denying that the chairman of the board of governors wields strong influence over the broadcaster’s top executive appointments.
If Sudo serves concurrently as chairman of NHK’s board of governors and director of TEPCO, the credibility of the broadcaster’s news coverage of TEPCO could be undermined, warns a worried senior NHK executive. Even if NHK reports on developments concerning TEPCO from a neutral position, “viewers may suspect that we are skewing our coverage in favor of the utility out of consideration for Sudo,” the executive says.
The Broadcast Law bans members of NHK’s board of governors from concurrently holding certain kinds of jobs, such as central government employees and board members of TV manufacturers. But the ban is not applied to a director of an electric utility.
When asked if he was not concerned that his position at TEPCO could place restraints on the journalistic activities of NHK’s reporters, Sudo said, “The question is whether NHK has good judgment as a news organization.”
The Broadcast Law also prohibits NHK’s governors from interfering with the content of individual programming.
Still, the top management official of a public broadcaster that is required to maintain fair and impartial news reporting should not become involved in the management of a company that will be put under effective state control. That could only raise doubts about the broadcaster’s relations with the government.
From the viewpoint of the basic principles of journalism, it is important for NHK to refrain from doing anything that may incur suspicion.
A revision to the Broadcast Law that was put into effect in 2008 in response to a series of scandals involving NHK employees that began surfacing in 2004 has given the board of governors more power to supervise the executive board.
The chairman of the board of governors now has far greater responsibilities than during the era when the post was widely regarded as a mere figurehead.
After assuming the top post at NHK in April last year, Sudo led the development of a new business plan, which included the first-ever cuts in NHK’s viewing fees. The plan, which covers the three years starting in the current fiscal year, was endorsed by the board of governors last October.
It is believed that Sudo was tapped as an outside director of TEPCO because of the leading role he played in engineering the 2002 merger of Kawasaki Steel Corp., a company he belonged to, and NKK Corp. to create JFE Holdings.
Immediately after becoming chairman of NHK’s board of governors, Sudo pledged to “raise the quality” of the broadcaster’s programming and “push through rationalization” of the organization when he talked about his management goals.
Will he seek to accomplish his original management goals for NHK or will he devote all his efforts to helping TEPCO, whose predicament he described as “a national crisis?”
He could cause serious confusion if he pursues the two missions at the same time. He should decide which job to take as soon as possible and announce his decision.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17
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