“Abe critic claims on air he was axed from TV program at behest of management”

“Abe critic claims on air he was axed from TV program at behest of management” (The Asahi Shinbun)

A former government bureaucrat critical of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed live on a popular TV news program that he had been dropped as a commentator on the broadcast due to pressure from the station’s management.

Shigeaki Koga, who formerly worked at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, had often appeared on TV Asahi Corp.’s “Hodo Station” (News reporting station).

In the program aired March 27, newscaster Ichiro Furutachi asked for Koga’s opinion on the situation in the Middle East. Koga suddenly changed the topic and said, “Today is the last time for me (to appear on this program).”

He argued that the decision to sideline him reflects the desires of the top officials of TV Asahi and Furutachi’s management agency.

“I faced extreme bashing from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and other members of the prime minister’s office,” Koga said. “But thanks to stronger support from all of you, I was able to enjoy appearing on this program.”

Furutachi disputed Koga’s remarks, saying, “I cannot accept what you said.”

The newscaster said, “You said that you are being dropped altogether by this TV station. But I don’t think that is the case.”

Koga told Furutachi, “Referring to the plan to drop me, you told me, ‘I was not able to do anything. I am really sorry.’ I recorded all (of the conversation).”

Koga subsequently presented a paper with the words “I am not Abe” he had written, which is regarded as criticism of the Abe administration.

“Criticism (against me) could come from the prime minister’s office,” Koga said. “But I want any complaints delivered to me directly, instead of being said behind my back.”

On a previous broadcast, Koga criticized the Abe administration over the government’s handling of the recent crisis in which two Japanese citizens were taken hostage by the radical Islamic State group. His comment at the time, “I am not Abe,” stoked controversy.

TV Asahi’s public relations office said, “We can neither accept Koga’s personal opinions nor his suddenly making remarks, part of which was not based on fact, when the program was live on the air. We apologize to viewers about the confusion seen in part of the program.”

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party asked media organizations to conduct “fair reporting” before the Dec. 14 Lower House election. Koga at the time said, “There are three steps before freedom of the press is lost.”

According to Koga, suppression of news reporting is the first step, and media organizations’ self-restraint is the second, and they would set the stage for an autocratic government born through an election in the final step.

After the hostage crisis ended, Koga held a news conference on Feb. 9 along with freelance journalists, scholars and others to warn that self-restraint of criticism against the government is spreading in society.

“I am afraid that media organizations’ self-restraint is spreading and, as a result, accurate information is not reaching the public,” he said.