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Japan's NHK chief sorry for 'comfort women' comments

The head of Japan's public broadcaster told lawmakers on Friday he was sorry for saying the Japanese Imperial Army's system of wartime sex slavery was commonplace, and pledged he would safeguard the network's neutrality.

TOKYO: The head of Japan's public broadcaster told lawmakers on Friday he was sorry for saying the Japanese Imperial Army's system of wartime sex slavery was commonplace, and pledged he would safeguard the network's neutrality.

Katsuto Momii apologised for "causing trouble" when he said last weekend that the practice of forcibly drafting women into military brothels during World War II was "common in any country at war".

Momii, who was recently appointed to head one of the world's biggest broadcasters, blamed his inexperience for the gaffe at his inaugural press conference.

"I was not familiar with that kind of opportunity... from now on I will do my job based on the Broadcast Act," he said.

"NHK will broadcast programmes based on the principles of political neutrality, fairness and freedom of expression that are written in the Broadcast Act. My personal view will not be reflected in programmes," he said.

Momii, 70, was reportedly Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's choice for the influential role. Critics say his apparent willingness to cleave to the government's position is worrying for Japan's democracy at a time of rising nationalism.

In comments he later tried to retract, he told reporters last week that NHK's international programmes should follow the official state line.

"We can't say it is left if the government says it is right," he said, adding he had the final say on the network's output.

Momii's appearance before a parliamentary committee came as NHK fended off accusations of interference after it told an academic not to talk about nuclear power in the run-up to the election for the post of Tokyo governor next month.

The poll is seen as a contest between a candidate backed by the pro-nuclear government, and a former premier who wants all of Japan's reactors permanently shuttered.

Toru Nakakita, a Cambridge-educated economist and professor at Toyo University, who regularly provides commentary on an NHK radio programme, told local media he had resigned after a producer warned him to avoid the issue.

The academic said he had been planning to comment on the costs of nuclear if the risk of accidents is included, during the Thursday morning slot.

After reviewing a draft of his script, the producer asked him to steer clear of the topic for the duration of the election campaign.

The broadcaster said on Friday it had only done so because it was not able to book a pro-nuclear guest as a balance to his views.

"We asked the professor to drop the nuclear issue because we have to ensure fairness during the election campaign where nuclear power is one of the issues," a spokeswoman for NHK told AFP.

"It's theoretically possible for us to introduce both an anti-nuclear opinion and the opposite opinion during the campaign period, but in this case it was not possible to book an expert with the opposite view for the same programme," she said.

Japan's public has become nervous about nuclear power since the disaster at Fukushima, sparked by the 2011 tsunami.

Supporters say its huge economy needs the plentiful power that reactors can produce, and cannot afford to keep importing expensive fossil fuels to bridge the gap left by the shuttering of all 50 viable reactors.

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