by Jon Day
TOKYO, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- The newly appointed head of Japan's public broadcaster NHK has backtracked on his recent disparaging remarks made about the use of comfort women during World War II, but his demeaning comments have already undermined his credibility as NHK's chairman.
With Japan embroiled in bitter rows with some of its neighboring countries over its brutal colonial rule in some Asian countries during WWII and its misperception and at times outright denial of the brutality inflicted on the nations by its Imperial Forces, as well as souring diplomatic ties caused by ongoing territorial disputes, NHK's new chairman Katsuto Momii's comments have served to only further worsen Japan's ties in the Asia Pacific region.
Momii told a news conference to mark his appointment on Saturday that "comfort women" existed in any country at war, not just Japan, but also France and Germany, 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 continued to politicize and undermine his appointment, much to the exasperation of the global community, by stating that for him it was "puzzling" why there remains so much international condemnation of Japan's involvement in war-time sexual slavery.
The 70-year old former president of Nihon Unisys and a vice president of Mitsui trading house, has no former broadcasting experience and his three-year appointment as NHK president, a position that gives him considerable scope to shape the broadcaster's policies, has confounded both media analysts and the public alike.
"Japan seems to be digging itself into a large political hole at the moment and Momii's comments have done little to help Japan' s predicament with South Korea and China," political commentator and author Philip McNeil told Xinhua.
"Both countries, and other countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, saw hundreds of thousands of women forcibly conscripted to work in Japanese brothels during the war and it's no wonder calls from these countries for Momii to resign are so vehement," McNeil said.
He went on to say that Momii's apology over the matter, stating that he made the remarks as an individual and not as the head of NHK, would most likely fall on deaf ears of the more than 200,000 women who were forced to work in Japan's war-brothels.
The political commentator also pointed to a broader, conspiratorial picture of Momii being the head of NHK, as despite NHK's revenues being derived mainly from viewer fees, the firm's 12-member board of governors who appointed Morri, are themselves appointed by parliament.
NHK refutes claims that it is a state broadcaster and while its board doesn't oversee the day-to-day operations of the broadcaster, its annual budget is subject to parliamentary approval.
"It would appear that we're seeing a clear and contrived government-led shift in public broadcasting in Japan as NHK basically answers to parliament, which, to a degree, equates to Momii answering to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration," McNeil said.
"Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga has downplayed Momii inflammatory remarks, but the new NHK chief has only held the position for a couple of days and has already politicized his appointment and said that he plans to tow the government line," McNeil said.
McNeill was referring to Momii also saying he had no opinion regarding Abe's controversial visit last December to the Yasukuni war shrine, which honors 2.5 million of Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A convicted war criminals.
Abe's visit was condemned by the global community, including the United States, who have been calling on Japan to do its utmost to improve diplomatic ties with its neighbors, as tensions continue to rise in the East China Sea.
However, NHK's new chairman has also stated that the broadcaster might focus more air time on covering Japan's views on territorial disputes with both China and South Korea, stating that he will do the government's bidding if asked, which seriously brings the public broadcaster's pledge of neutrality, impartiality and objective news reporting into question.
"It would not do for NHK to say left when the government says right," Momii told a news conference when asked on the broadcaster's official programming stance henceforth on the current territorial standoffs with China and South Korea.
Concerns are now rife that Momii and NHK are heading towards a new right-leaning programming policy, as called for by Abe who has faced criticism from nationalist factions within his government for NHK airing programs deemed to liberal.
"Working for NHK used to be one of the most credible, well- regarded media positions possible for journalists and editors in Japan and those working overseas," a senior Tokyo-based English- language news editor told Xinhua speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We have always taken great pride in the fact that we are an objective source of information for the world, unlike other institutions and news agencies whose private revenue sources can dictate their policies," he said.
"The fact is, that in a matter of days, the image of NHK as ' one of the good guys' in terms of its objective news reporting, high-quality and wide-ranging broadcasting in Japan and beyond, has been severely damaged, and a forced apology from a guy with no broadcasting experience is an insult not just to the people who work for NHK, but to the millions of people around the world we serve," the NHK insider said.
"Long story short, Momii should quit, but even then that might not be enough. The damage has already been done," he said.
In prominent media circles in Japan and on popular social networking sites where the NHK scandal story has gone viral, the consensus among industry professionals is that unions and press clubs henceforth need to redouble their efforts to ensure they don' t wind up in Abe's new nationalist choke hold.
"We are all very concerned at what's happening in Japan recently and how the media can be manipulated by the government to help it carry out its new right-wing agenda," said a prominent political writer at a regular gathering at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.
"The concern now is that with the new state secrecy law, we could be gagged at the source, or even find ourselves not wanting to break certain stories that the government might find sensitive, or we could wind up in jail. We all believe the public has the right to know, but Abe's moves recently seem to be running contrary to this," he told Xinhua.
"If he's eyeing Japan's most revered public broadcaster to help push his own nationalist agenda, then Japan may as well just forget its democratic ideals. The media, when misused, can become one of the most powerful weapons to affect and control public thinking and action," the widely published writer said.
"If NHK can't be trusted to be independent, as seems to be the case, the whole nation is in trouble and may be moving in a very dangerous, bellicose direction without fully realizing it. Something must be done to stop this before its too late," he said.