Friday, November 10, 2006

NHK - bad sign

Japanese Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshihide Suga issued an unprecedented and controversial order today, Friday 10 November which requires the Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) to air programmes focusing on North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals on its shortwave radio service. It is the first time a minister has issued a detailed and specific order to Japan's public broadcaster, stirring criticism in the media and among experts in Japan that it will lead to further government interference with freedom of the press.

"We don't intend to influence programme content. Our purpose is only to repatriate abductees as soon as possible," Suga said. "We hope the public understand."

NHK Chairman Genichi Hashimoto told reporters after receiving the order from Suga at the ministry that the public broadcaster will "stick to its basics of independent and autonomous programme editing in its international broadcasting" just as in its other broadcasting services.

Article 33 of the Broadcast Law says the communications minister "may order NHK to conduct international broadcasting by designating areas of broadcasting, matters for broadcasting and other necessary matters".

This past Wednesday, the Radio Regulatory Council, an advisory panel to the communications minister, endorsed the order for NHK in a report after Suga asked it to deliberate on the mater earlier in the day.

The panel concluded that it is appropriate for the minister to tell NHK to be "specifically mindful of the problem of North Korea's abduction of Japanese" in the service, noting the need to take NHK's editorial freedom into consideration.

Sounds like pure government interference to me. And an incredibly stupid move. If the subject of abductees North Korea was being discussed in Japan (which it is), NHK would be covering that discussion as part of its normal journalistic work. It also seems bizarre that the order is only for the SW radio broadcasts, when NHK is putting far more money into its overseas TV operations, closing a number of radio services next year.

Governments make bad radio programmes. Journalists make lousy politicians. Keep it that way.

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