Japanese media facing political pressure, says Abe critic

Japanese media facing political pressure, says Abe critic

Japanese media facing political pressure, says Abe critic

A Liberal Democratic party panel is to question the show’s broadcaster, TV Asahi, on Friday over Koga’s claims. His unscripted remarks, made during his final appearance last month, were challenged by the host, Ichiro Furutachi, who denied channel officials had wielded the axe.

LDP officials will also question executives at Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, over alleged factual errors in an item about fraud on the current affairs programme Close Up Gendai.

Critics say Friday’s meeting is part of a worrying trend that has seen Abe and other LDP officials openly interfere in editorial decisions. “What’s happening in Japan is that the media are avoiding confrontations with the government because of the pressure it applies, instead of putting up a fight,” Koga said.

Koga and other journalists turned on fellow reporters in February, accusing them of going soft in their coverage of Abe after two Japanese hostages were beheaded by Isis.

The LDP asked media organisations to “show fairness” in their coverage of last December’s general election, an unprecedented move critics believe carried an implied threat to broadcasters who did not comply.

Koga said the LDP had not explicitly demanded favourable coverage during the election: instead, TV networks were being threatened implicitly because the government has the power to grant, and revoke, their broadcasting licences.

“Years ago, producers would have probably ripped up a letter like that and thrown it in the bin, but in this case they copied it and sent it to their news departments,” he said. “The Japanese media are reaching crisis point because if this pressure and their own tendency to exercise self restraint when confronted with that pressure.”

Abe has also been accused of attempting to influence NHK by hand-picking Katsuto Momii, a fellow conservative, as chairman last year. Momii caused consternation after his appointment when he suggested that NHK would toe the government line on key diplomatic issues, such as Japan’s dispute with China over sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

“International broadcasting is different from domestic,” Momii said. “It would not do for us to say ‘left’ when the government is saying ‘right’.”

Senior LDP figures have denied putting pressure on Asahi TV to sack Koga, a respected commentator who had made numerous appearances on Hodo Station.

The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga reacted angrily to claims that he and other officials in the prime minister’s office had “bashed” Koga for his frequent criticism of Abe. “I understand that [Friday’s] meeting is not about pressuring the media,” Suga said. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

It is not the first time that Abe has been embroiled in controversy over broadcasters’ editorial independence. In 2005, he admitted he had urged NHK staff to alter the contents of a documentary about wartime sex slaves.