Yayori Matsui: Why Do We Sue NHK?


Yayori Matsui
VAWW-Net Japan Chairperson

Why Do We Sue NHK?

The objectives and meaning of the Case against NHK to Demand that NHK Take Responsibility For Sabotaging Its Program on the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal Symposium on the Case Against NHK

July 24, 2001

1) Why Sue NHK?

2) What Was the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal?

3) How Was the NHK Program Sabotaged?

4) What Action Has Been Taken to Protest Against NHK?

5) Our Petition to Broadcast and Human Rights/Other Related Rights Organization

6) Forming a Support Network

1) Why Sue NHK?


NHK sabotaged its own TV program on the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal, thereby hiding the fact that Japan's wartime military sexual slavery (the "comfort woman" system) was a war crime. In doing so, NHK not only defamed the honor of the survivors, but by presenting its viewers with a seriously distorted and biased view of the Tribunal, threatened their right to know, as well as their freedom of speech. NHK furthermore abandoned its own rights and responsibilities as a media organization to tell the public the truth. Nevertheless, NHK continues to ignore protests both from within its own organization and from outside, refusing to fulfill its responsibility to explain why and how the program was sabotaged. Remaining silent on this issue is tantamount to supporting the suppression of free speech through violence, as well as the self-censorship of media organizations who wish to curry favor with those in power. A former NHK employee writes, "NHK, a public broadcasting institution, is more concerned with putting on a good show for those in power than with keeping its viewers informed." This is a situation we cannot accept.

We have therefore resorted to legal action in order to expose the truth behind the sabotaged program that distorted and trivialized the significance of the Tribunal, and to redress the damage it entailed. As plaintiff, Matsui Yayori, Chairperson of VAWW-Net Japan, has instituted legal proceedings at the Tokyo District Court, suing for damages incurred on the following two counts: 1) Although she had approved of NHK's project plan and therefore lent her full cooperation to NHK's coverage of the Tribunal, by broadcasting an entirely different program, NHK committed a breach of faith, and 2) NHK has further failed to fulfill its obligation to explain its actions. During the process of the trial, she hopes to show how basic human rights that must be guaranteed to civil society can be protected. Among these are the right to know; freedom of expression and of the press; as well as the media's freedom to tell the public the truth, which of course includes coverage, editing, and broadcasting.

The sabotage of the NHK program took place against a backdrop of the rapidly expanding influence of rightwing and nationalist forces on the media, and of the State's increasing efforts to control the media. Demanding that NHK take responsibility will help relieve the dangerous situation into which the media has fallen.

Forces such as the "Society for New History Textbooks" that seek to distort, whitewash, and silence Japan's history as a perpetrator through its war of aggression and colonial oppression are now beginning to infiltrate our schools. To allow the media to give way to such forces means repeating the history of militaristic education and suppression of free speech that led the Japanese people into war. In order to prevent that from happening, the media has a responsibility to maintain a critical stance toward authority and inform the public about the truth of their history, thereby helping the Japanese people to build a brighter future by squarely facing their past. We are hoping the public will strongly support this trial, which aims to make NHK fulfill that responsibility,

2) What Was the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal?


The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal, which took place in Tokyo fromDecember 8-12, 2000, was set up by an International Organizing Committee composed of representatives from the perpetrating country Japan and six victimized countries, in addition to women human rights activists specializing in armed conflict. It was a People's Tribunal to judge Japan's military sexual slavery (the "comfort woman" system), which is said to be wartime sexual violence on the largest scale in the 20th century. To restore the honor of the survivors, women from many different countries joined forces to make it a reality. Including 64 survivors from eight countries, a total of nearly 5,000 people from Japan and abroad participated. Based on testimony from survivors, Japanese veterans, and expert witnesses, and evidence submitted by teams of prosecutors from each country, the Tribunal heard the indictments of the two Chief Prosecutors. In the light of international law in effect at the time when the crimes were committed, the panel of four Justices, all internationally known specialists in law, then handed down a verdict which found Emperor Hirohito guilty of, and the State of Japan responsible for, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

At that moment, the aged survivors wept with joy, and the entire hall thundered with applause. Emperor Hirohito, the Supreme Commander of the Japanese Imperial Army who should have been tried immediately after the war, had for the first time been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of global civil society. This historical decision was reported and broadcast widely abroad. The domestic media, however, frightened, perhaps, by a Tribunal that dared to deal openly with Japan's greatest postwar taboos?the Emperor and the "comfort woman" system?almost completely ignored it. This gap between the attitudes of the foreign and domestic media is reminiscent of wartime suppression of freedom of the press, whereby, for instance, the Rape of Nanking was reportedly widely abroad, while almost no one in Japan even knew it had happened.

3) How Was the Program Sabotaged?


Amidst this crisis in the Japanese media, NHK expressed its intention to produce a program that would be a record of the Tribunal. VAWW-Net Japan naturally approved of this plan, and cooperated fully with coverage from the planning stages through the four days of the Tribunal itself. However, when "The Question of Wartime Sexual Violence," the second program in the four-part ETV 2001 series "How Should We Adjudicate War?" (January 29-February 1) was aired on the night of January 30, VAWW-Net, Japan was shocked and disappointed. The content bore no resemblance to the original proposal, which was to "closely follow the development of Women's International War Crimes Tribunal through to its conclusion, and to examine how the wartime sexual violence of half a century ago is judged by the world's experts."

The amount of time devoted to the Tribunal was extremely short. There was no mention of the Tribunal's official name, or of keywords such as "the Japanese military," and "the system of sexual slavery." There were no scenes shot inside the hall where the Tribunal was held, the sponsoring organizations were not mentioned, nor were there any comments from the sponsors. Most importantly, there was not one word about the verdict, which was not only the most significant aspect of the Tribunal, but which also struck at the heart of the overall theme of the series, "How Should We Adjudicate War?" All favorable comments concerning the Tribunal were cut. There was very little testimony from survivors in the program, and that of the two Japanese veterans who served as witnesses was cut out altogether. The program opened with the moderator's disparaging comments on the Tribunal, followed by a rightwing scholar's lengthy condemnation of the Tribunal and abusive statements concerning former "comfort women" (claiming that they were prostitutes, that there was no evidence to back up their testimony, etc.).

While there is nothing wrong with introducing criticism of the Tribunal, the NHK program did not even provide basic information about the Tribunal it was criticizing, and furthermore cut all of the lengthy interview NHK conducted with Matsui Yayori, one of the organizers, failing to air a single comment from her. Such a program can hardly be called fair and neutral. By allowing a rightwing scholar to declare openly that "'Comfort women' were not forced; they were prostitutes," without offering the Tribunal side any opportunity to refute his views, NHK in effect endorsed his position, ignoring the view of the "comfort woman" system commonly held by both the United Nations and the international community.

The time that was left over when scenes from the Tribunal were slashed was filled in with coverage of court cases brought by former "comfort women" seeking compensation, and an introduction of the Asian Women's Fund, neither of which is related to the Tribunal's main aim of punishing those responsible for the "comfort woman" system. Scenes from the previous night's program were also repeatedly shown to use up the extra time. None of these time-wasting measures proved sufficient, however, and what was to have been a 44-minute program abruptly ended 4 minutes early. Sabotage to this extent is virtually unheard of in broadcasting history.

It later became clear that although the program was initially finished on December 27, when the Section Chief in charge saw it on January 19, he ordered extensive revisions on the grounds that there was "not enough distance from the Tribunal." A new revised version was completed on January 24, but four days later on January 28, yet another new script was prepared, and one of the commentator's comments was re-taped. On the same day, an interview with a rightwing scholar, in which he freely heaped verbal abuse both on the Tribunal and on the former "comfort women," was hurriedly taped. When a high-ranking NHK executive previewed the latest version of the program, which now included this interview, he order still more revisions, and further cuts were made until just before the program was aired on January 30, changing what was to have been a record of the Tribunal into a wholesale condemnation of it. The program that was finally broadcast was sabotaged through the direct intervention of a high-ranking NHK executive into the actual process of production.

Immediately after the Tribunal, rightwing groups began demanding that the program be cancelled. On January 27-28, just before the program was aired, approximately 30 rightwing activists stormed into the NHK building, and after seeing it they were satisfied at what they interpreted as the success of their efforts. The intervention of a high-ranking NHK executive into the production of a program is virtually unheard of; it is rumored that there was pressure from powerful politicians behind this unprecedented action.

NHK claims that there was no outside pressure, and that it wouldn't have mattered if there had been; that the program was produced in accordance with NHK's editorial policy, based on its own autonomous judgment. If these assertions are true, they show that NHK takes the position of denying Japan's responsibility for war crimes such as the "comfort woman" system. It angers us to think that NHK, which was once the official information agency for the Imperial headquarters, has not reflected on its own past role as a collaborator in the war.

4) What Action Has Been Taken to Protest Against NHK?


In response to NHK's sabotaged program, on February 6, 2001, VAWW-Net, Japan

sent a statement of protest and open letter of inquiry to NHK, demanding a responsible explanation. In its reply, NHK asserted that the program had been produced and edited in accordance with its original plan; that the verdict was not mentioned in the interest of promoting reconciliation with Japan's Asian neighbors; that the program had not been changed due to outside pressure from any specific organization. Finding this reply unacceptable, VAWW-Net Japan sent a second statement of protest on March 2, declaring its intention to "continue to protest until NHK fulfills its responsibility as a public broadcasting institution to reveal the truth as to why and how the program was sabotaged."

The International Organizing Committee, which sponsored the Tribunal, met in Seoul on February 24, where it issued the following public declaration of protest:. "By intentionally hiding the verdict that found Emperor Hirohito guilty of, and the state of Japan responsible for, Japan's military sexual slavery, which is a crime against humanity, and by furthermore airing abusive comments dismissing the "comfort women" as 'in business' (prostitution), the program defamed the honor and dignity of the survivors for a second time."

In addition, on February 16, Takahashi Tetsuya and three others who appeared on the program as commentators also sent a letter of protest to NHK. "Considering that the program actually aired made it was extremely difficult to get a clear understanding of the Tribunal's content and significance, it is reasonable to assume that some sort of pressure forced the production staff to act against their will. If this is true, then we are dealing with a threat to freedom of the press, which is far too grave a matter to be ignored. We therefore demand a reasonable explanation."

Furthermore, Lisa Yoneyama, assistant professor at the University of California, who also appeared as a commentator, sent her own letter of protest: "It is extremely regrettable that NHK failed to inform Japanese society of the significance of the Tribunal. In adjudicating Japan's wartime sexual violence as a system of slavery, the Tribunal was acting in accordance with legal and ethical standards that have come to be shared by global civil society in recent years. As a public broadcasting institution, NHK has a obligation to correctly inform the public about the Tribunal." Yoneyama's letter was signed by 360 prominent scholars from abroad.

Scholars from within Japan collected 2878 signatures, including those of writers and artists, and on May 9, handed their "Opinions and Demands" to NHK. Their main points were as follows: "Intentionally cutting out the very core of the Tribunal was a serious breach of the viewers' faith, as well as a violation of their right to know. NHK has also violated the personal rights of those who cooperated in making the program and those who appeared on it; using the right to edit freely as a shield to deflect all their protests is for the mass media nothing less than an act of suicide. The sabotage of the program presages a dark age in which free speech is suppressed by violence. NHK's buckling under rightwing pressure will be remembered as a blot on its history."

5) Our Petition to BRO


In response to all of these various protests, NHK continues to claim that theprogram was made according to its original plan, and that there was no rightwing pressure, refusing even to admit the indisputable fact that the program was sabotaged. We therefore concluded that there was nothing to do but resort to legal action, and instituted proceedings at the Tokyo district court. At the same time, we decided to petition the Broadcasting and Human Rights/Other Related Rights Organization (BRO). BRO was founded in 1997 by NHK and commercial broadcasting companies as an autonomous organization to deal with complaints concerning programming. When complaints are lodged concerning programs alleged to violate human rights, the eight-member committee conducts an inquiry, after which it compiles its "Opinions" and "Recommendations," which it then makes public.

Concerning the sabotage of the NHK program, Yun Chung Ok (Korea), Indai Sajor (the Philippines), and Matsui Yayori (Japan), the three co-conveners of the International Organizing Committee that sponsored the Tribunal, have jointly submitted the petition.

The petition declares that NHK has committed the three following offences against the ethics of broadcasting: 1) it has failed in its duty to broadcast correct information; 2) it has violated the principles of fairness and neutrality; 3) it has failed in its duty to explain its actions. The Tribunal was sponsored not only by organizations within Japan, but also by many organizations from abroad. We hope that BRO will conduct a sincere inquiry, and give "Opinions" and "Recommendations" concerning the media's violation of human rights that will be convincing to global civil society.

6) Forming a Support Network


We are demanding that NHK take responsibility for its actions through our court case and our petition to BRO, but in order to gain significant results, what we need more than anything is a broad base of support. Since VAWW-Net is both plaintiff and petitioner, we are hoping that a network of support will form outside of VAWW-Net.

Participants in the Tribunal, people interested in the "comfort women" and other war responsibility issues, those concerned with the media, or who have protested against NHK, or are involved in women's rights issues?we are hoping that a wide variety of people will watch the trial as it unfolds, and support us through this struggle.

Our case against NHK originated in our desire to see justice done and the human rights of the survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery restored, and in our belief that showing who was responsible will help to do this. This is why we set up the Tribunal in the first place. We believe that our court case will work against rightwing and nationalistic forces now seeking to deny our past war responsibility and transform Japan into a nation that can once again make war, and help to build a democratic civil society where the right to know, and the freedoms of speech, expression, and the press are guaranteed. This will enable us to bring about true reconciliation with our Asian neighbors, and build a future that we can all share in peaceful co-existence.


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