Statement of Protest to NHK: VAWW-NET Japan


We Refuse to Accept the Revision of the Program on the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal Under Rightwing Pressure


March 2 2001

EBISAWA Katsuji, President of NHK

Violence Against Women in War Network, Japan
MATSUI Yayori, Chairperson

The Historical Significance of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal


A decade has passed since survivors of the Japanese military's " comfort women" system, said to be one the largest scale incidences of wartime sexual violence in the 20th century, began to speak out. As women of the perpetrating country who sought to respond to their pleas for dignity and justice, the Japanese women who formed VAWW-NET Japan proposed that a Women's International War Crimes Tribunal be held to judge the Japan's military sexual slavery. In solidarity with support groups from the victimized countries, and people from many other countries who were involved in women's human rights issues, the Tribunal was held in Tokyo from December 8-12 of last year.

Sixty-four survivors of Japan's sexual slavery came to the Tribunal from eight different countries. Each day, a total of more than a thousand observers from both Japan and abroad were present. Country prosecutors and Chief Prosecutors read out indictments; there was testimony from women survivors, former Japanese soldiers, expert witnesses, and an amicus curiae who explained the position of the Japanese government, which failed to answer an invitation to send a representative in its defense. At the end of the three days of hearings, a panel of four judges, all experts in international law and human rights, handed down their summary of findings, based on international law. They declared that Japan's military sexual slavery,known as the "comfort women" system, was not only a war crime, but a crime against humanity; they found the Showa Emperor Hirohito guilty, and the Japanese government to have incurred state responsibility.

At that moment, the women survivors wept tears of joy, and the entire hall thundered with applause. This historical judgement, the first to be handed down by the global civil society, was widely reported by the international media, with broadcasts on BBC, CNN, and German television. Chinese Central Television broadcast programs of over an hour on its stations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Compared to this enthusiasm, the response of the Japanese media was all too timid and passive. The Tribunal has been accredited with having made a positive contribution to the development of international law, helping it to take a step toward ending the cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence, and is expected to be referred to in a report to be submitted to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Scenes from the Tribunal Slashed from NHK's Program


When asked by NHK to cooperate in the production of a program on the Tribunal, for which it was then preparing, VAWW-NET Japan agreed, on the premises that the program would present a fair and balanced account of the Tribunal. However, the contents of "The Question of Wartime Sexual Violence," the second program in the educational television ETV 2001 series "How is War to be Judged" (four parts aired January 29-February1), were completely different from what we were expecting. The full name of the Tribunal, which included the phrase "On Japan's Military Sexual Slavery " was not once mentioned, nor were the sponsoring organizations. Other basic facts, such as the aims of the Tribunal, and the defendants who were indicted at the Tribunal were totally left in the dark, and not even the verdict, which is the essential part of the Tribunal was introduced.

Furthermore, the moderator, who should have remained neutral, listed the faults and deficiencies of the Tribunal, and Prof. HATA Ikuhiko of Nippon University, known as a rightwing scholar, was given ample time to air his critical views. Although he attended only the final day of the Tribunal, when the verdict was handed down, Hata appeared on the program as "a historian who attended the Tribunal." He cast doubt on the survivors' testimonies, none of which he had heard, on the grounds that there was no corroborating evidence to support them. He then proceeded to present his well-known assertion, which has already been refuted by recent scholarship: namely, that prostitution having been legal at the time, "comfort women" were sold by sex traffickers of their own countries and taken to "comfort stations," where they were engaged in legal business (prostitution). The Tribunal's sponsors were given no chance to correct or refute his arguments. The statements of other commentators concerning the Tribunal were cut in an unnatural way, so that the line of argument they wished to present was not communicated to the viewers.

In addition, in order to fill in the time that was left over where scenes of the Tribunal were slashed from the program, lengthy footage from the previous night's program was shown, along with visual materials that had nothing to do with the theme of judging wartime sexual violence. Even these measures were not sufficient, however, and the program ended four minutes early, which must have seemed most odd to all concerned.

This program presented a one-sided, distorted, and intentionally mistaken view of the Tribunal, which could only have left bias and misunderstanding in the minds of its viewers. In doing so, it defamed the honor not only of the survivors, but of people all over the world who sponsored, participated in, and supported the Tribunal.

An Open Letter and Enquiry to NHK Demanding an Explanation of What Really Happened


In the belief that, as a public broadcasting station, NHK should be held accountable for having produced such a program, and for explaining the process of revision that took place, on February 6, VAWW-NET Japan sent an open letter to NHK explaining our view of the program, along with a list of 11 questions. In the reply we received on February 14, NHK stated that the program did not mention the Tribunal's verdict in the interest of reconciliation between Japan and its Asian neighbors, that the program as broadcast was based on the original project plan and … and that they had not changed its contents in response to pressure from any specific organization.

This reply is by no means acceptable to VAWW-NET Japan. It is simply not consistent with what we have found out about the actual process of revision. We have investigated the matter on our own, by interviewing a number of people involved with the program, including YOSHIOKA Tamio, Chief of NHK's Educational Programming Section, and SHIMAZAKI Motohiko, Chief of the NHK Enterprise Special Programming Section.

The information we have thus obtained concerning the actual process through which the program was altered is as follows: The commentary of TAKAHASHI Tetsuya, Assistant Professor of Tokyo University, and YO‚m‚dYAMA Risa, Lecturer of the University of California, was filmed in the NHK Studio on December 27. In this taping session, Takahashi and Yoneyama explained the meaning of specific scenes from the Tribunal, shown on videotape, as well as commenting on the general theme of how wartime sexual violence and crimes against humanity should be prosecuted. At this point, the program included a shot of the banner which read, "Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery," as well as the painting by former "comfort woman" Kang Duk Kyung, which moved the sponsors to envision the Tribunal. Also included were interviews in which sponsors explained the Tribunal's aims, scenes of the hall where it was held, testimonies of more than two women survivors as well as the perpetrators, two former Japanese soldiers, and the all important verdict, but in the program aired on January 30, all of this footage had been cut, along with Takahashi and Yoneyama's comments on the Tribunal itself.

Rightwing Organizations Barge into NHK to Demand the Cancellation of the Program


All during the Tribunal, members of rightwing organizations gathered outside the venues to shout their protests against the Tribunal, and immediately after it was over, they began demanding that NHK cancel the program on the Tribunal. In January, rightwing protests against the Tribunal and NHK escalated. In this tense atmosphere, NHK executives who saw the program that had been taped in the studio in December ordered that it be altered so as to distance it from the Tribunal, and the producers were forced to revise it many times over. On January 27, three days before the program was to be broadcast, more than 30 members of a number of rightwing organizations barged into the NHK building, violently demanding that the program be cancelled. On the following day, December 28, the interview with Prof. HATA Ikuhiko was added, and further revisions continued until immediately before the program was aired.

As a result, only the barest outlines of the part concerning the Tribunal remained, and although the theme of the program was supposed to be wartime sexual violence, phrases such as "Japan's Military" and "sexual slavery" were unaccountably absent. Stranger still, Japan's responsibility for the "comfort woman" system was not even touched upon.

Accordingly, rightwing organizations are crowing on their homepages, "Victory over NHK! We really took the backbone out of that program! Let 's keep the pressure on!" However, it is rumored that it was not only the violent intervention of rightwing organizations, but also the pressure put on NHK executives by government party politicians that led to the revision of the program. NHK denies this, but we cannot allow a public broadcasting corporation to continue to hide the truth behind the aegis of editorial rights. We will therefore continue to demand that NHK reveal the truth for all to see.

The Protest of the International Organizing Committee and the Threat to Free Speech and Freedom of the Press


The revision of this program shows that rightwing and nationalist forces, which justifies Japan's war of aggression, denying its war responsibility, have grown strong enough to sabotage the programming of a public broadcasting corporation. This is a problem that does not stop with the Tribunal. Our freedoms of speech and of the press are in crisis; this is a situation we cannot ignore.

On February 24, the International Organizing Committee which sponsored the Tribunal held a meeting in Seoul, where they published a statement of protest concerning this program. The reasons given for this protest are as follows: 1) The program hid the fact that the Japan's Military Sexual Slavery, also known as the "comfort women" system, is a crime against humanity; 2) Its failure to mention the judgment that found Emperor Hirohito guilty will hinder the process of reconciliation between Japan and its Asian neighbors; 3) One-sided statements to the effect that "comfort women" were engaged in business (prostitution) slandered the survivors for a second time; 4) One-sided disparagement of the Tribunal and the manner in which it was conducted was an insult to the global civil society which supported it; 5) In revising the program under pressure from rightwing organizations, NHK abandoned its responsibility to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and in doing so, caused anxiety about the possibility of a revival of Japan's militarism under repression of these freedoms.

Our Protest and Demands as the Tribunal's Sponsors Whose Honor has been Defamed


Both in its reply to our Open Letter and Inquiry, and in the explanations of individuals in charge, NHK has apologized to us, saying that although the program was produced in accordance with the original plan, with no alterations having been made, it was regrettable if VAWW-NET Japan was not properly informed during the process of filming and production. However, we would like NHK to explain clearly how it is planning to compensate the people all over the world who helped make the Tribunal possible; and in particular, VAWW-NET Japan, for having defamed its honor in the eyes of Japanese society by airing a program that was altogether different from the one to which VAWW-NET Japan understood it was lending its cooperation.

Until NHK fulfills its responsibility as a public broadcasting corporation, and tells the truth about how the program was revised, we will continue to voice our protests, along with the many others throughout the world who lent their support to the Tribunal.


EBISAWA Katsuji, President of NHK

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