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Chief Producer at NHK whistleblows in Japanese way

Satoru Nagai, a 42-year-old chief producer at the already scandal-tainted Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), "whistle-blew" at a press conference he staged on January 13. Because of the ambiguous and feeble way he brought up the accusation against whoever it was, the personal ordeal he has gone through with a lot of sweat and tears seems to be getting nowhere. Since the way things have unfolded around Nagai's accusation, however, are pretty much indicative of the situation with press freedom in this nation, I will try to reconstruct the entire chronology below here as far as I can:

1) December - A civic group that calls itself "Violence Against Women in War - Network Japan" (VAWW-Net Japan) held a mock tribunal to try the Japanese Imperial Army and Emperor Hirohito for forcing as many as 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula, into sexual slavery.

2) January 29 - Then deputy chief Cabinet secretary Shinzo Abe "summoned" Takeshi Matsuo, then executive director general, and some other executives from NHK to brief Abe on the budget proposal for fiscal year 2001. On that occasion Abe demanded, explicitly or implicitly, the NHK executives to make the TV program featuring the VAWW's mock trial "fair and impartial." The program was to be aired the very next day. (According to the allegation, on this date the NHK executives also met with another LDP lawmaker Shoichi Nakagawa, who is now Economy, Trade and Industry Minister. But Nakagawa denies having met them before the program was aired.)

3) January 30 - The mock tribunal went on air after a 4-minute footage had been edited out. As a result the verdict part was entirely cut simply because the judges had found the Emperor guilty of the prewar and wartime slavery.

4) February 2 - Nakagawa admits having met on this date some NHK executives, including Matsuo, primarily over the broadcaster's annual budget, although the lawmaker now admits he has difficulty recollecting what may or may not have happened 4 years ago.

5) July - VAWW-Net Japan filed a lawsuit against NHK with the Tokyo District Court.

6) March - The court ordered the NHK's subcontractor that actually produced the program in question to pay JPY 1 million to VAWW-Net Japan in compensation for its breach of trust. The subcontractor had assured VAWW-Net Japan that the program would be aired unchanged from the initial version envisioned at the planning stage.

7) December - Nagai, after 4 years of hesitation, demanded NHK's legal compliance panel look into the possible violation of Article 3 of the broadcasting law that prohibits any external party including the government from interfering with broadcasters' editorial rights. (Note: It's a laugh that the compliance panel is chaired by NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa himself. It's all the more unlikely that the panel could conduct an independent in-house probe into Nagai's allegation because Ebisawa had already been under a strong pressure to step down to take responsibility for another series of irregularities.)

8) January 9 - Having somehow learned of Nagai's internal petition, an Asahi Shimbun reporter visited Matsuo to ask him to confirm he'd met Abe and Nakagawa and that he'd "felt" the lawmakers were urging him to alter the TV program.

9) January 12 - The Asahi Shimbun carried a detailed report that NHK had bowed to the political pressure from Abe and Nakagawa to have the show of the tribunal mutilated.

10) January 13 - Having been flooded with too many inquiries to field separately, Nagai held a press conference to openly explain his allegation against Abe's and Nakagawa's attempt to meddle in. Before the press, Nagai refused to name the internal source of the information that he was disclosing at the conference so as not to implicate that person. Nagai, however, added that President Ebisawa was fully aware of what was going on all along.

11) January 14 - NHK lodged a written protest against the Asahi Shimbun, demanding the publisher retract its unsubstantiated Jan. 12 report and offer an apology for unduly undermining NHK's credibility. According to NHK, the last-minute alteration to the program was nothing unusual and it wasn't because of the pressure from Abe and Nakagawa that the public broadcaster edited out the problematic footage at the last minute. The Asahi refused to comply with the demand saying the protest was absolutely groundless.

12) January 16 - In response to the voices of the opposition's lawmakers and some other parties that required Abe testify before the Diet on the alleged censorship of the NHK program, he said he didn't find it necessary to comply with those voices for an absurd reason that the Nagai's allegation was a total fabrication and does not deserve to be taken seriously. Another implausible pretext on which Abe based his refusal to testify was that the opposition would abuse this hearing to stall the planned deliberations on the fiscal 2005 draft budget. Apparently the LDP members had realized by then that answering the easier part of the questions did not help much. Their favorite questions had included such trivia like a) whether they summoned Matsuo and his colleagues or the NHK executives voluntarily visited them, b) which issue was the primary topic at the meeting, the 2001 budget or the mock tribunal, c) whether they met the people from NHK, in person, before the program was aired, or after, d) whether they urged explicitly the public broadcaster to edit out the problematic footage or just hinted implicitly that the budget proposal for 2001 wouldn't be approved unless it complied with the requirement, etc. As to question c), not a single reporter had asked them whether they had contacted NHK on the phone or by e-mail, before January 30, 2001.

13) January 17 - The rally of criticisms between NHK and the Asahi, which, to date, had involved other media organizations such as the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun, was somehow subsiding as the things touched off by Nagai was getting real ugly for them. Obviously it had dawned on them that the central issue here was press freedom, or lack of it, not the alibis the professional liars were telling reporters. The deeper they dug into this issue, the more they would hurt each other among the buddies in the exclusive and collusive community of kisha kurabu (Japan Reporters Club), instead of unblushing lawmakers. (See Oct.31, 2004 TFP article titled "Japan ranks 42nd in press freedom".) In the end they would also be hurting themselves.

14) January 18 - The Sankei, after a brief letup, reopened its propaganda against Nagai and the Asahi Shimbun. In its editorial, the daily reiterated, in the same old right-wing rhetoric, that those 200,000 "comfort women" were not forcibly brought to front-line brothels as if that was what's at issue here. The Sankei editorial added that the Nagai's allegations now backed by the Asahi do not deserve to be taken seriously in the light of Article 3 of the broadcasting law, as if the daily had not been noisiest of all since the press conference staged by Nagai on January 13. Also the Sankei and some other anti-Pyongyang conservatives speculated on the reason why it took the whistle-blowing chief producer as long as four years until he made up his mind to do what he did on January 13. They tentatively concluded that Nagai must have intended to have Abe and Nakagawa framed because they have been known for their get-tough policy toward North Korea. But the fact remains that if these lawmakers really deserved to be called hawks with respect to the abduction issue, the things with Megumi Yokota and other abductees must have unfolded quite differently.

15) Same day - The Asahi printed a follow-up piece on the alleged interference primarily based on its January 9 interview with Matsuo. In a matter of hours NHK sent another protest letter to the Asahi saying the follow-up article once again distorted the facts and that it contradicted the way Matsuo told "his colleagues" had answered questions by an Asahi reporter. The Asahi once again refused to apologize.

16) January 19 - Nagai belatedly issued a statement to make his allegation a little more focused. He said: "I cannot trust the results of the (internal) probe led by the current top management who has sold its soul to politicians." He added that a thorough investigation into the matter should be conducted by an independent third party because NHK is unable to clean house on its own.

That's about it. From the way it looks, all this fuss touched off by the chief producer of NHK will most probably end up in the air without making any difference to the general behavior of the Japanese media. As I have persistently argued in the past, the mainstream media here have been acting like "political sandmen" (Ian Buruma's "Inventing Japan, 1853-1964".) In the prewar and wartime era, it was NHK that kept propagating what the military told it to. Likewise, during most of the 60-year postwar period, the subtle suppression of press freedom, lined with the myth of homogeneity, has still been an integral part of the rotten regime called the 1955 System. And the bad news we have learned most recently is that there are little signs that this will change anytime soon.

The good news is, however, now potential whistle-blowers, including myself, could draw some lessons from the fuss over Nagai's failed attempt to bring the unrepentant broadcaster to justice. These are:

- One should refrain from whistle-blowing unless he is fully prepared for carrying through his undertaking at any cost. If he, like Nagai, hesitates to implicate other people by disclosing the sources of information, be it his bosses or colleagues, he'd better forget it. He might as well suck it all up.

- He must act quickly. The recent legislation meant, in effect, to dissuade conscientious insiders from whistle-blowing stipulates that he should be held responsible onus probandi-wise (see Nov. 14, 2004 TFP piece titled "Whistleblowers to remain public enemy No.1 without all-out support by the media") as if he were a police investigator. So it's all the more true, especially with a non-penal offense case such as the NHK's, that establishing a solid case against the wrongdoer is the hardest part for the whistle-blower. If it takes him 4 years to make up his mind to come forward, all the fingerprints that these culprits have left on the scene will have gone by then, or these gentlemen will have become "oblivious" of what happened.

- He should point his finger at specific person(s) on specific charge(s) and shoot point-blank at the target because closeness to the target is the whistleblower's biggest advantage. Otherwise the likes of the Sankei Shimbun will certainly try to mislead the "public opinion" into believing the "comfort women", for instance, are what his allegation is all about when that is not the case at all. Talking about the VAWW's mock tribunal, it seems to have involved a lot of flaws. For one thing, the list of the "country prosecutors" included a former North Korean agent. Also it included some South Koreans. But the diplomatic documents newly declassified in Seoul on January 17 indicate that the comfort women issue was fully settled when Japan paid in 1965 a US$ 300 million reparation for its prewar and wartime atrocities and slavery. Another drawback lies with the fact that no defense attorneys were appointed in the mock trial. And most importantly there are equally serious, more current and more relevant crimes against women that the VAWW should have tried before the wartime sexual exploitation. (See Nov.25, 2004, TFP story titled "Compliance with someone else's moral standards is far from enough".) But anyhow Nagai didn't intend to take sides with, or against, the VAWW when bringing all this up, despite all the malicious distortion by the Sankei Shimbun.

- He should never dream of attacking the entire system all by himself because the whistleblower's biggest disadvantage lies with the very fact that he is an insider. This system we are living in can be undermined over time, even from within but it will never be overturned, or even reformed, by a handful of insiders. All he can do in that respect is just to cross his fingers that a hostile external power, such as gaiatsu or the "black ship", will come along to help him out some of these days.

I don't know what sort of persecution is waiting for Satoru Nagai if he stays with the rotten public broadcaster. If he decides to seek a second career in a private media organization, e.g., the Asahi Shimbun or TV Asahi, still he will face the same or similar problem ahead because this is not a problem particular to the public media organization. ·

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