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2008年12月26日 (金)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24(IHT/Asahi: December 26,2008)

EDITORIAL: New broom at NHK


Shigehiro Komaru, president of Fukuyama Transporting Co., has been named chairman of the board of governors at scandal-tainted Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK). As head of the public broadcaster's decision-making body, Komaru will be responsible for steering the board in a way that reflects a clear and viable vision for the television and radio network's future.


The board of governors determines NHK's basic management policies, budget allocations and business plans while supervising the executive board headed by the president. The power of the board was enhanced significantly this spring through a revision to the Broadcast Law. This was done in response to a series of scandals that had plagued NHK that included cases of employees embezzling funds for program productions.


Komaru's predecessor, Shigetaka Komori, pushed hard to transform the board from an organization that simply rubber-stamps decisions by the executive board into a vocal watchdog to oversee management operations. In a move that symbolized his reform campaign, Komori ensured that NHK's new medium-term business plan included a 10 percent cut in viewer fees starting in fiscal 2012. The decision was made in the face of strong opposition from the executive board.


Komaru must be willing to disagree and even fight with the executive board if he is to continue his predecessor's efforts to slim down the bloated organization.


Still, Komori made some troubling moves that Komaru should not emulate. The former chief of the board of governors made unwarranted attempts to influence the public network's news reporting and content of other programs. Komori also stirred controversy by saying NHK's broadcast for overseas audiences should be designed to promote Japan's national interests. In addition, he made remarks that could be interpreted as intervention in the network's programs.


Since its budget and some key management decisions must be approved by the Diet, NHK constantly faces the challenge of how to maintain its political independence. The new chairman of the board of governors should have a renewed awareness of NHK's delicate position.


NHK has been hit by a string of scandals that betrayed the public's confidence, including insider trading by reporters and others. On the other hand, some NHK programs are topping prime-time ratings. With commercial broadcasters struggling with the deepening recession, the role of NHK, which secures a stable revenue from viewer fees, is assuming greater importance.


Komaru comes to his new position after having spent four and a half years as a member of the board of governors. In the news conference announcing his appointment as chairman of the board, Komaru repeatedly said his immediate priority is to implement the medium-term business plan. Asked about NHK's future stance, however, he only talked vaguely about such principles as "fairness" and "independence and discipline."


Komaru needs to give viewers and listeners a better idea of how he intends to support NHK's management so that the public network can live up to public expectations.


The enhancement of the board's power requires a review of the way the panel operates. The governors are selected from well-informed and experienced people in various walks of life, including education, culture, science and industry. They are appointed by the prime minister with approval by the Diet. The board is supposed to be composed of 12 governors. But only nine took part in the selection of the new chairman. That's because three of the government's appointees for the position were rejected by the opposition-controlled Upper House.



This unusual situation has drawn fresh public attention to the problem of the selections of governor nominees behind closed doors. One former governor said, "I received no explanation from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications about why I had been picked for the post, and I felt a lack of transparency in the process."


NHK is a public broadcaster that depends on support from the public at large. The ministry should figure out a way to make the selection process more transparent.



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