Japanese Citizen Groups Call for Head of Public Broadcaster NHK to Resign

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Seven organizations, including the Congress of Japanese Journalists, have called for NHK's chairman and two top execs to step down, after their nationalistic public comments raised concerns about political independence.

TOKYO – Citizens groups in Japan delivered a petition to national broadcaster NHK, with nearly 34,000 signatures calling for the public broadcaster's president and two governors to resign following controversial remarks by the trio, who were appointed by the country's prime minister last year.

NHK chairman Katsuto Momii caused concern in Japan, and provoked anger in South Korea and China, with remarks at his inaugural press conference in January about women in brothels used to service the Japanese Imperial Army before and during WWII. The issue is controversial in Asia because nationalist elements in Japan deny that any women were forced into the brothels, despite Japanese soldiers having testified that it occurred. Many of the women were from South Korea and China.

NHK has separately received tens of thousands of emails and phone calls about Momii, though nearly 20 percent of them have been supportive.

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The Congress of Japanese Journalists (CJJ), which includes NHK reporters among its members, collected signatures for the petition and called for the president and two board members to step down.

"Someone like Momii can't be allowed to be the head of NHK," a CJJ spokesperson, who asked not to be identified, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Some of the groups are calling for a campaign of non-payment of license fees, though the CJJ is not endorsing that. NHK is funded almost entirely by monthly license fees of around $12.20 (¥1,260). Any household that has a television, or a device such as a tablet or smartphone that can receive NHK, is required to pay. However, there are no penalties stipulated by law for non-payment.

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Michiko Hasegawa, one of the governors who are being called on to quit, withheld payment of the fees in 2005 to protest about the contents of a program she disagreed with.

Hasegawa was appointed last year, a month after she published an essay praising the leader of a right-wing group who committed suicide at a newspaper's offices in 1993 after it had criticized him.

Naoki Hyakuta, the other governor in the trio, recently denied that a brutal massacre in China by Japanese troops in World War Two ever took place.

Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero), a film about a wartime fighter pilot based on Hyakuta's debut novel, took more than $85 million at the box office and has become one of the 10 highest grossing Japanese films of all time.


Twitter: @GavinJBlair