NHK boss stirs controversy over “comfort women” remarks

News & Views - January 28th, 2014
tatsuto-momii

Katsuto Momii, the new head of NHK, caused a media storm just days after taking over the reins of the Japanese national broadcaster after remarking that the use of wartime sex slaves were not particular to Japan.

Speaking at his first press conference as NHK chairman, Momii said the Japanese army’s use of so-called “comfort women” during World War II was common practice in any country at war.

“The comfort women system is considered wrong under today’s moral values. But the military comfort women system existed as a reality at that time,” Momii said, adding that international anger was “puzzling.”

“Such women could be found in any nation that was at war, including France and Germany.”

The issue has become a political flashpoint in Japan’s relations with neighboring countries like South Korea and the Philippines where most women were forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese militarymen during its occupation of the Asian nations. Many women have sought compensation from the Japanese government although protests raged on over what they perceive is Japan’s lack of remorse.

Momii did not shy away from more pressing political issues such as the simmering territorial dispute with China. He said that NHK should support the Japanese government’s official position on the row.

“It’s only natural to clearly state that the Senkaku Islands and the Takeshima Islands are Japanese territories,” said Momii.

Momii’s remarks raised concerns of greater government influence over the publicly funded broadcaster. NHK should be politically neutral under Japanese broadcasting law. But the law also states that the minister of internal affairs and communications may make requests regarding international broadcasting to promote state interests while respecting NHK’s editorial independence.

“If we comply with the broadcasting law, NHK won’t be called right, left or center and there won’t be any problems,” Momii said. “When it comes to international broadcasting, though, there’s a slight difference with domestic broadcasting.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Momii saying what he expressed was merely “his personal view.”

Momii has since apologized, stating that he made the comments due to a “lack of discretion,” and admitting that he thought “it was very inappropriate that [he] made the comments at such places.” South Korean politicians have called for his resignation.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: jykthemuse/Flickr