NHK criticized for airing 'government PR'
BY TOSHIHIRO OKUYAMA, AND SHIGERU HIRUMUTA
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) concealed the fact that its subsidiaries were paid to organize symposiums that were aired and withheld the identities of sponsors of many of the events, including government ministries.
Between November 2004 and June this year, at least 10 such programs were shown on channels of the public broadcaster.
Each contract was worth 10 million yen to about 30 million yen per symposium. If the sponsor was a governmental organization, the payment came from taxpayers' money.
Under the Broadcast Law, NHK is supposed to be impartial and refrain from showing programs that represent the interests of a specific person or group--including the government.
NHK is financed by fees received from viewers.
Critics say the programs featuring the symposiums were mere publicity stunts sponsored by the government.
"These programs are nothing but PR," said Takaaki Hattori, a Rikkyo University professor and a member of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization's Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics. "Even if NHK itself received no money, it used the subsidiaries as covers."
An NHK official, however, defended the programs.
"The symposiums that we broadcast on TV were highly public in nature, and they were completely different from PR programs sponsored by the government," the official said.
"Organizing symposiums is a legitimate business of our subsidiaries, which are private companies."
The NHK official also denied allegations that the subsidiaries gained contracts from sponsors by assuring them that the symposiums would appear on TV.
Three of NHK's production subsidiaries, including NHK Enterprises Inc. and NHK Joho Network Inc., were commissioned to organize the symposiums.
NHK owns a majority of shares in these companies, and former NHK employees are on the boards of the subsidiaries.
For years until July 2006, only those three affiliates had the right to propose program ideas directly to NHK. Other competitors, such as ad agencies, did not have that right.
According to sources, many symposium sponsors signed contracts with the NHK subsidiaries, believing that their events would be broadcast on NHK.
In one case, an employee of one of the subsidiaries allegedly obtained a contract by saying to the sponsor: "How about this plan? We'll see to it that it will be aired on TV."
At most of the symposiums, NHK announcers or other employees served as emcees. These events were later broadcast nationally on NHK's Educational or Satellite 2 channels.
The programs included a series of five symposiums on work skills, sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which paid an NHK subsidiary 85.32 million yen to organize. The program was aired in February and March 2007.
Another program, broadcast in March 2006, featured a symposium on how to deal with business scams. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry paid an NHK subsidiary 23.14 million yen to put together the symposium.(IHT/Asahi: August 23,2008)