High Court Rules on Editorial Interference in Japan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on the Japanese government to refrain from editorial interference, after last month’s ruling from Tokyo’s High Court that Japan's public broadcaster, Nihon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), bowed to political pressure and censored a 2001 program regarding Japan's wartime sex slavery.

According to online newspaper reports, politicians, including the then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is now prime minister, pressured NHK to delete scenes of a mock trial held in December 2000 in which the Emperor was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

“This is a clear case of editorial interference and is particularly concerning considering Prime Minister Abe’s new position,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

While NHK and Abe reportedly denied claims of coercion, the court disagreed, ruling that NHK had made the changes out of consideration to Abe and other ruling party politicians; however it said it could not prove whether the broadcaster was under specific instructions.

According to local reports, on January 29 the court ordered NHK and two TV production firms to pay 2 million yen (approximately USD 16,400) for breach-of-contract damages to women’s rights group Violence Against Women in War Network Japan (VAWW-NET Japan), who had staged the mock trial to push for government compensation for women forced to work as sex slaves, or “comfort women”, for Japan’s military during the Second World War.

While NHK is not funded by the government, relying instead on viewers' subscription fees for revenue, its budget still needs parliamentary approval.

“Editorial independence is indispensable to press freedom and quality journalism, and the IFJ urges the Japanese government, and Prime Minister Abe, to learn from this ruling and ensure the independence of the public broadcaster is respected,” Warren said.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries