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2011年1月14日 (金)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13
EDITORIAL: Picking an NHK president

The Board of Governors of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) is the supreme decision-making body of the public broadcaster.

Selecting the president of NHK is the board's most important job. The panel is now in serious disarray over the selection of the new president just as the term of the incumbent is about to expire.

Late last year, Shigehiro Komaru, chairman of the board, asked former Keio University President Yuichiro Anzai to become NHK president.

After obtaining Anzai's informal consent, however, Komaru urged him to decline the offer, citing slanderous rumors about Anzai as the reason for the about-face. Unsurprisingly, Anzai became infuriated and refused to assume the top post at the broadcaster.

An NHK president serves a three-year term. The incumbent chief, Shigeo Fukuchi, has long made it clear that he intends to retire from the post.

There has been enough time for the board to select Fukuchi's successor.

But Chairman Komaru dragged his feet on the selection in hopes that Fukuchi might change his mind and agree to serve another term. The current snafu is Komaru's fault. He should take responsibility for failing to build a consensus among the governors on the selection of the new NHK head.

The board of governors should not take the path of least resistance by picking an insider for the job simply to make the appointment in time for the end of Fukuchi's term on Jan. 24.

The board took the correct position when it said Wednesday that it had not yet decided whether to choose the next president from inside or outside the organization.

The broadcast law contains a provision that requires the NHK president to stay in office until a successor is selected. The only reasonable option for the board is to ask Fukuchi to remain in his job for the time being and carefully choose his successor.

The business environment for broadcasters is changing radically due to the scheduled shift to digital terrestrial television and a growing trend toward convergence between broadcasting and telecommunications.

While commercial broadcasters are facing a rough going because of dwindling ad revenue, NHK is on a stable financial footing supported by the mandatory subscription fees. What kind of role should the public broadcaster play under these circumstances?

The selection of its new leader has huge implications for this question.

What are the key qualities the NHK president is required to have?

First of all, NHK's chief needs to demonstrate a strong commitment to protecting the broadcaster's independence and freedom in news reporting and program production while keeping a safe distance from politics.

A second important quality for the NHK head is the ability to govern and manage the huge organization.

When Fukuchi, a former adviser for Asahi Breweries Ltd., was named NHK president, some people secretly expressed concerns that he had had no journalistic experience.

But Fukuchi has proved to be worth his salt. He has allowed programs to be made in a free atmosphere, and his policy has paid off in some brilliant documentaries and creative dramas.

When a scandal over alleged insider trading by NHK employees came to light, Fukuchi set up an independent committee to investigate the allegations.

His presidency has helped restore public confidence in NHK and reduce the number of viewers who refuse to pay the fees.

When the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, it is said, the party's heavyweights pulled the strings from behind the scenes to influence the selections of the NHK president. It is hard to believe that all the choices were based totally on the decisions by the Board of Governors.

Now that the old system is gone, the governors, appointed with the approval of the Diet, need to deal with the task through their own efforts and responsibility.

But this is how things should be. By regarding the current confusion as part of its growth pains, the board should choose the new president through a transparent process based on serious discussions from various perspectives.

We hope the board will understand its mission and fulfill its responsibility.


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