The Fox-ification of the
It was not a “mock tribunal” as its detractors style it, but a “civil” tribunal, that is to say it did not have the punitive powers of a state-backed tribunal but possessed moral force, the credibility that resides in expressions of shared human conscience irrespective of endorsement by states. Its precedent was, therefore, not so much the large, state-run tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo in the late 1940s as civic tribunals such as that in Stockholm in 1967 (sometimes called the “Russell Tribunal” because of the close association with it of the philosopher Bertrand Russell) that investigated and publicized United States war crimes in Vietnam, including indiscriminate bombing and defoliation. The basic stance of the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal was that acts of violence committed against women constituted the single major, unacknowledged category of “neglected” crimes of World War Two: neglected by the
The issue of
Even then, however, responsibility remained bitterly contested. When from 1997 token references to the “comfort women” system were included in some school history texts, the Association for New History Textbooks (Tsukurukai) was formed and together with other neo-nationalist organizations began to attack what it described as a “masochistic” view of national history and to propagate in its stead a “proud” view of a pure, honorable Japanese history. To such groups, the “comfort women” were greedy prostitutes, the tribunal an outrage, and the inclusion at the centre of the indictment of the late “Showa” emperor (Hirohito, 1901-1989) absolutely intolerable.
When the allied powers occupied
The documentary film on the tribunal was shown on NHK’s second, or educational, channel on
The issue suddenly exploded into the public arena on 12 January 2005, however, when Asahi Shimbun, a national daily with a circulation of around eight million, published a “scoop” alleging manipulation and political interference in NHK’s production process. The allegations were repeated the following day in a press conference by Nagai Satoru, a director within NHK, who had become an internal “whistle-blower” one month earlier by launching a complaint of interference and political pressure to NHK’s newly set-up “compliance committee.” The nub of the matter was that the documentary, originally prepared by an independent production company under a sub-contracting agreement with NHK, had been subject to a series of changes due to political interventions. The “in-house” editing process was conducted while the company was in a state of semi-siege, as rightists mobilized and sound trucks circled the NHK building blaring hostile messages and employees were jostled and abused as they entered or left the premises. Changes made at that phase of editing included the incorporation of the views of a hostile critic of the “comfort women” and the tribunal, (the historian Hata Ikuhiko, an associate of the Tsukurukai group). Then, just days before the film was shown, a meeting was held between senior executives of NHK and two prominent politicians, Abe Shinzo, then deputy chief cabinet secretary and as of early 2005 acting secretary-general of the LDP, and Nakagawa Shoichi, then an LDP diet member and as of 2005 minister for economy, trade, and industry. Further, major changes were then made, adding new material while cutting the 44 minute film to 40 minutes. All reference to the emperor’s responsibility was deleted (even though that had been central to the tribunal process), the testimony of the former “comfort women” witnesses was much reduced, the space for hostile comment on the tribunal increased. The process was completed hours before broadcast
Abe and Nakagawa are prominent conservative politicians, both neo-nationalists, advocates of revision of the constitution and the fundamental law on education and proponents of sanctions against
One of the sources Asahi relied on for its initial “scoop” was an interview it conducted on 9 January, i.e. before the story broke, with “a senior NHK executive.” Matsuo Takeshi, executive director-general of broadcasting at NHK at the time in question, quickly acknowledged that he was the executive in question, that there had been such a meeting, and that he had felt “pressured” by it. He recognized, however, that had he not gone as summoned to meet the politicians the pressure would be much greater, “perhaps three or four times greater,” and the film might not have been shown at all. The politicians gave him this “overall impression”: “Be careful” and “I’ll be watching.” Later, however, he revised his story: he was not summoned to meet the politicians but had gone there for a routine discussion of budget matters; the question of the documentary had come up, but not in such a way that he felt pressure.
Political intervention in the media is forbidden by both Article 21 of the constitution and Article 3 of the Broadcasting Law. Both Abe and Nakagawa moved quickly therefore to negate key parts of the Asahi story.
Nakagawa agreed (to Asahi on 10 January) that he had indeed met the NHK executives days before the documentary was shown, and he confirmed it to the media in general in an interview conducted while he was traveling, in Paris, on the 12th. But he insisted that he merely demanded that NHK maintain “fairness and impartiality.” The following day, however, he changed his story to say that no such meeting had taken place till after the screening, on 2 February (and also on the 8th and 9th), and therefore he could not have brought any pressure to bear on the documentary editing. Denying the admission attributed to him by Asahi of trying to bluff NHK into dropping the program altogether before settling for a drastic re-editing (cutting) process, he demanded retraction and an apology from Asahi.
Abe confirmed that he had indeed met the NHK executives, but rejected the suggestion of improper behavior and launched a bold counter-attack. He said that he had learned from “interested parties” that the tribunal was biased. He himself evidently did not see the film but still concluded that both tribunal and film were deeply flawed: despite the trial format, the court had made no provision for defense counsel; it required a pledge of support for the tribunal’s cause as a condition for admission by observers, and it chose a particular venue in order to be, as Tribunal organizer Matsui Yayori put it, as close as possible to the imperial palace so as to maximize the sense of confrontation with the “root of evil.” Further, Abe asserted, the Tribunal served North Korean agitation and propaganda purposes, being designed to soften Japanese anger over the issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens by casting it in the light of victim, with a North Korean agent or agents even participating on the bench. He added that he thought North Korea was trying to use the tribunal to deflect attention from criticism of it over the abduction of Japanese citizens, but that he was used to being slandered for his principled efforts to address the North Korea issue and would not yield. As his press release put it, “Because I was told that the mock trial was going to be reported in the way that the organizers wanted it to be, I looked into the matter. I found out that the contents were clearly biased and told [NHK] that it should be broadcast from a fair and neutral viewpoint, as it is expected to.” In other words, he had indeed instructed the national broadcaster about the content of its program, but far from it being a breach of any law, it had been his duty as a public official to do so.
Abe acted with the confidence of a politician who enjoys massive public support. His popularity has been honed in recent years as the epitome of the ‘hard-line” position on
However, what he had to say was not only of dubious constitutionality and legality, but much of it was simply absurd, though neither the national media nor the parliamentary opposition pursued him. The tribunal was in fact organized by an international committee, not by Matsui Yayori alone, although Matsui was indeed a prominent figure in the organizing group. (Matsui, a former Asahi foreign correspondent, long active in war-related and feminist issues, died in December 2002.) The remarks attributed to her about the imperial palace being the “root of evil” were a complete (and possibly libelous) fabrication, and the hall in which the meeting took place was the only one capable of accommodating and offering relative security from attack to the thousand-plus participants (and accommodation for hundreds of the visitors including the former “comfort women”). As to the North Koreans, abductions were not an issue in the Tokyo of late 2000 and did not become so till North Korea’s admission and apology of September 2002, and, while it is true that four North Koreans participated in the tribunal they did so as members of a nine-person joint South-North Korean prosecution team (under a South Korean chief prosecutor), having the same role as prosecutors in other national teams — to lead the presentation of evidence of former “comfort women” who lived then and now on both sides of the state borders of North and South Korea. Although he dropped the more absurd of his allegations in subsequent statements, Abe may have judged, perhaps correctly, that in 2005 the best way to blacken the image of the tribunal would be to create in the public mind the suspicion of a North Korean link. Deleting his earlier, wild accusations, including the charge that the Tribunal had been manipulated by North Korean agents, Abe came to focus on the demand that Asahi back its accusations of improper influence by substantive evidence or else apologize.
As the slanging match between the country’s two media giants escalated into something like war, NHK exploited to the full its power to form public opinion by including long statements by Abe, Nakagawa and Matsuo denouncing Asahi on its national news broadcasts. Denunciation of Asahi was featured repeatedly on national news programs. The 7 pm national news on 20 January, for example, roughly equivalent to the main evening national news on BBC in Britain, carried a special caption “the problem of Asahi shimbun‘s false reporting,” which was only removed under protest from later news broadcasts. Despite NHK’s obligation under Article 3 (2) of the Broadcasting Law, to introduce “as wide a range of viewpoints as possible” on matters on which opinion is divided, Asahi’s counter claims were ignored, leading it to complain, somewhat plaintively, of “one-sided slander through the use of the public airwaves.”
Much was disputed, but one crucial, and damning, detail was agreed: it was routine for NHK to engage in consultation on matters of programming with politicians, and this practice was carried to new lengths under the regime of Ebisawa as president from 1997. “Given that NHK’s budget has to be approved by the Diet under the Broadcast law, it is necessary to have them understand correctly both about management planning and about individual programs” (italics added), said Sekine Akiyoshi, head of broadcasting at NHK. On 17 January 2005, both the secretary-general and the president of the Diet Members “Association to Think about the Future of Japan and History Education” confirmed that the NHK bosses had come to consult with Abe about the forthcoming program because of concerns about “problems that might arise if the program were presented in its present state.” Not only was the public broadcaster committed to the principle of clearing individual programs in advance with politicians, but it paid special attention to consult with those who were members of an avowedly neo-nationalistic group.
By late January 2005, two weeks after the original Asahi article, ultimatums, demands for explanation, and writs were being prepared, issued, or threatened on all sides. Abe and Nakagawa continue to insist that their pleas for “fairness and impartiality” were completely open and above-board, and not to be seen as thinly veiled threat designed to manipulate the mass media by imposing their own extremely partial views. Some one has been lying. Whether it is these senior figures in the government and ruling party, the national broadcaster or the national daily paper, or perhaps all of these, remains to be seen.
NHK also faces a separate, but severe institutional crisis. A series of embezzlement scams within the corporation and their inept handling under President Ebisawa — who outraged nearly everybody by cutting the television broadcasts of the Diet session at which he had been called to explain the scandals — led in 2004 to a mass “rebellion.” With the number of citizens participating in this protest by refusing payment of their compulsory license fees approaching the half million mark, on
The Asahi scoop and the Nagai whistle blast exposed large problems at the interface of
Seven decades after the Japanese government and military took the decisions to organize trafficking in women in
1. Honda Masakazu and Takada Makoto, “LDP pressure led to cuts in NHK show,” Asahi shimbun,
2. This committee, (Horei junshu sokushin iinkai), set up in September 2005, was problematic for several reasons: it was headed by company president Ebisawa, and the “external broadcast” section, to which Nagai sent his complaint, comprised the three lawyers who were defending NHK against charges of improper handling of the film in question. It was thus in no position to independently assess Nagai’s complaint. (“Seijika kainyu no nichijoka ukabu,” Akahata,
3. “NHK bangumi kaihen mondai — honsha no shusai hodo no shosai,” Asahi shimbun,
4. “Nihon no zento to rekishi kyoiku o kangaeru wakate giin no kai,” (literally: “Association of Young Dietmembers to Think about the Future of Japan and History Education”) See Tawara Yoshibumi homepage.
5. “Whistle-blower: NHK president let LDP interfere,” Asahi shimbun,
7. “Asahi refutes NHK official’s claim,” Asahi shimbun,
8. Asahi shimbun,
9. Abe speaking on Asahi TV’s program, “Hodo Station,”
10. “NHK censored TV show due to political pressure,” Japan Times,
11. Philip Brasor, “LDP big guns fight NHK censorship claims,” Japan Times,
12. See VAWW-Net’s web response “Abe Shinzo shi no jujitsu waikyoku hatsugen ni tsuite,” and the article by the research group of Shukan Kinyobi, “Bangumi e no atsuryoku mondai o surikaeta Abe Shinzo shi,”
13. Asahi shimbun,
14. “Legal action eyed,” Asahi shimbun,
15. “NHK no ‘seiji hodo’ shisei to wa,” and “Ebisawa NHK kaicho jinin,”
16. “Jizen setsumei wa tozen,” Asahi shimbun,
17. Shimomura Hirofumi and Furuya Keishi respectively, “NHK gawa kara hoso mae ni setsumei,” Asahi shimbun,
18. “NHK boss exits as viewers stop paying,” Japan Times,
19. Yamaguchi Jiro, “Hodo ni atsuryoku o kakeru nante jibun-tachi ga hinan shite iru dokusaisha to onaji hasso de wa,” Shukan kinyobi,
Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of Japan Focus and the author of Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe, Nation Books, 2004.