TOKYO, Feb. 6 -- Japan's national public broadcaster NHK has once again found itself in hot water as a recent slew of gaffes involving members of its board have culminated in one of the 12 single-handedly destroying the fabric of a media institution once globally revered for its high standards of broadcasting, based around a clear ethos of integrity and neutrality.
Such an ethos is now being questioned as the publicly funded broadcaster has seen three of its board members, all hand-picked by the government for their positions, erode domestic and international faith in the institution's former impartial programming foundations.
Naoki Hyakuta, a novelist and member of the NHK board after being hand-picked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, himself a hawkish conservative, last year dumbfounded the global media community, politicians and the public alike, by unabashedly stating the Nanjing Massacre"never happened."
Hyakuta made the benighted comments in a stump speech in Tokyo while he was supporting a right-wing candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Japanese capital. "In 1938, Chiang Kai-shek tried to publicize Japan's responsibility for the Nanking Massacre, but the nations of the world ignored him. Why? Because it never happened," the NHK executive was quoted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper as saying.
Further stoking the fires of controversy, as Abe has set about revising textbooks in Japanese schools to gloss over certain parts of its militaristic history, Hyakuta said with reference to denying the Nanjing Massacre ever happened, there was"no need to teach such things in schools."
The primary officers in charge of the mass slaughters, rapes and looting by Japan's Imperial Forces in Nanjing during the World War II in 1937, that, according to incontrovertible records,saw some 300,000 lives lost, were indicted before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal for flagrantly breaching The Hague Convention. "Hyakuta's offhanded comments were utterly disgraceful and a major embarrassment to NHK who have, for the best part, been a trustworthy and reliable broadcaster. Moreover, they're an embarrassment for regular Japanese who know and feel real contrition over the true facts regarding the atrocities caused by Japanese troops in Nanjing," said political analyst Teruhisa Muramatsu. "Hyakuta's comments are tantamount to someone denying the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or someone, of both authority and education, picked to oversee a national broadcasting institution, refuting the holocaust ever happened. It's ridiculous and shameful," Muramatsu told Xinhua.
He went on to say that whether the comments were made in an individual, professional or political capacity, it has no bearing on the devastation they've caused, because as a board member of NHK, anything he says or does in public is under scrutiny and reflects the perceived ideology of NHK, be this his intentional or not. "It's almost inconceivable that an NHK executive could make such a horrendous gaffe. There's no backtracking on that. He's (Hyakuta) outed himself as an ignorant, unworldly individual and also brought the government into question for selecting him in the first place. It's a shambles," added a foreign editor of a prominent newspaper here, requesting anonymity. "On the back of Katsuto Momii's comments I see no way forward for NHK other than the government forcing the 12 board members to resign and figuring out a more democratic way to select its new board, rather than cherry-picking bureaucrats who have no business working in the broadcasting world," he said.
The comments made by NHK new chief Momii flagrantly glossed over Japan's forcible conscription and use of comfort women during World War II.
Momii told a news conference to mark his appointment on Jan. 26 that "comfort women" existed in any country at war and blasted South Korea for continuing to call for compensation for these women, claiming the matter had already been concluded with the signing of a peace treaty.
Momii finally retracted his remarks, but along with Hyakuta's latest outburst, observers here say the damage to NHK is irreversible, compounded by the fact that NHK itself didn't report on Momii's comments until three days later.