April 15, 2015 / 7:36 AM / in 3 years

Japan ruling party panel summons media bosses over news shows

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s ruling party is summoning officials from two major media organizations for questioning about news shows, an aide to a lawmaker said, the latest in what some experts say is a push by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to quell criticism.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks next to the Japanese national flag at his official residence in Tokyo March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) information and telecommunications strategy panel will question officials from broadcaster TV Asahi and NHK public TV on Friday, an aide to lawmaker Jiro Kawasaki, who heads the committee, told Reuters.

Asked about the hearing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he didn’t know details but that he had been told there was no intent to put pressure on media.

But the move coincides with growing concerns about a trend toward self-censorship by media worried about sparking government anger and losing access to sources.

“This is clearly a case of the administration putting pressure on media,” said Kozo Nagata, a former NHK producer and now a professor of media studies at Musashi University.

“This sort of thing used to go on behind the scenes but now they are doing it publicly.”

TV Asahi officials will be asked about a program on Asahi’s popular “Hodo Station” show last month in which a former trade official-turned-commentator said he was being dropped from the show because of his criticism of Abe.

Commentator Shigeaki Koga caught newscaster Ichiro Furutachi off-guard when he said on the live broadcast that he would no longer appear on the show as a result of being “bashed” by Suga and others in Abe’s government. He also said top TV Asahi officials wanted him out.

“The panel wants to know if the show was impartial,” lawmaker Kawasaki’s aide said.

Furutachi rebutted Koga’s remarks during the show. Suga told reporters later the allegations were groundless. TV Asahi said in a statement it was regrettable that Koga had suddenly aired his personal views and comments that were not based on fact.

Sources familiar with the matter, however, have told Reuters Koga was replaced because of his outspoken criticism.

NHK officials will be questioned about apparent factual errors in a program about fraud on its current affairs show “Close-up Gendai”. NHK has issued its own interim report on potential errors and promised to investigate further.

Nagata said it was inappropriate for the ruling party to get involved in such cases, especially since a non-profit body exists to deal with broadcast ethics issues while ensuring free speech. “It must be said to be an abuse of power,” he said.

An NHK spokesman declined comment on the LDP hearing.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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