A Tokyo television broadcaster recently aired a news program that was factually incorrect and sprinkled with comments that could encourage discrimination and prejudice against a specific group of people. This should never happen again.
The program, broadcast Jan. 2 by Tokyo Metropolitan Television (MX TV), a local terrestrial TV station, was part of the broadcaster’s weekly news show titled “News Joshi” (News Girls).
The report was on helipads built for the U.S. military in the Takae district of Higashi, a village in Okinawa Prefecture.
The report was simply scandalous.
A self-styled military journalist gave an “on-site” report on activists opposed to the helicopter landing sites. But the report only offered video footage of the helipad opponents shot from afar. It described the activists as “terrorists” and said their activities were centered in “a lawless area.”
Even though the news show advertised the report as “on-site coverage of the radical opposition movement” against the Takae helipads, the reporter didn’t visit the site and only reported from 40 or so kilometers away.
The report offered baffling “coverage” of the movement and deeply biased comments about it.
Sugok Shin, co-representative of a citizens group called “Norikoe Net” that has been supporting the anti-helipads movement, filed a complaint with the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO), the broadcasting watchdog.
In her complaint filed with the BPO’s human rights committee, Shin said she was slandered in the program as her role in the activist movement is purely “professional.”
Separately from actions taken by people involved, the BPO’s committee for monitoring issues concerning broadcasting ethics, set up with the mission of improving the quality of broadcast programs, has requested that MX TV submit a report on the issue.
The BPO was established as an independent broadcast watchdog jointly by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), the public broadcaster, and commercial broadcasters to prevent government intervention in broadcasting and protect the freedom of broadcasting and expression. This issue is shaping up as an important test of the BPO’s relevance.
It needs to respond to questions raised by the program in a way that is acceptable for viewers and the public.
The program in question was produced by a production company affiliated with cosmetics maker DHC Corp.
While the program has also been published in a video-sharing website, the fact that it was aired on a frequency used for TV broadcasting raises serious questions that cannot be overlooked. Television frequencies are limited resources that are supposed to be used only for broadcasting of a public nature.
The Broadcast Law demands that news reporting be based on facts and free from biases. It also calls on broadcasters to offer diverse viewpoints when they report on issues on which public opinion is divided.
MX TV should conduct a swift investigation into the aim of the program and how it was made, and broadcast a report on how it checks the content of its programs. Then, the broadcaster should explain its findings to the public.
Responding to the protest against the program in its website, the production company criticizes the helipads opponents for “tolerating groups engaged in crimes and illegal acts” and contended there is “no need to pay attention” to their arguments. This is nothing but a defiant rejection of reasonable criticism.
We are troubled by a growing wave of unfounded and malicious slander against the movement opposed to U.S. military bases in Okinawa. The trend has become pronounced in recent years. Such attacks have spread from online to the streets. This time, slanderous remarks about the movement were made openly in a TV program.
Broadcasting exists for the promotion of healthy democracy. MX TV’s program clearly runs counter to the purpose.
The act of using broadcasting to fuel confrontation and create social division should be vigorously denounced.