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NHK under fire over 'interference' as sex slave row rumbles

Japan's public broadcaster was defending itself Friday over claims of political interference in its coverage of the Tokyo governor election, as its chief readied for a parliamentary grilling over his comments on "comfort women".

TOKYO: Japan's public broadcaster was defending itself Friday over claims of political interference in its coverage of the Tokyo governor election, as its chief readied for a parliamentary grilling over his comments on "comfort women".

Publicly-funded NHK admitted it had asked an academic to avoid talking about atomic power during his radio slot ahead of next month's poll, which is effectively a contest between a candidate backed by the pro-nuclear government, and a former premier who wants all of Japan's reactors permanently shuttered.

But the broadcaster said Friday it had only done so because it was not able to book a pro-nuclear guest to balance professor Toru Nakakita's opinion.

The furore comes as the corporation's new chairman is embroiled in a row over comments he made at his first press conference, when he claimed the system of sexual slavery used by Japan's imperial army in World War II was "common in any country at war".

Critics say the view -- which finds echoes among supporters of right wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- makes him unfit to lead an organisation that should uphold the highest standards of truth in its journalism.

Katsuto Momii was due to face a parliamentary committee later Friday over his comments.

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 not to talk about the issue of atomic power.

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.

But after reviewing a draft of his script, the producer asked him to drop the topic for the duration of the election campaign period in the Tokyo gubernatorial vote, which culminates on February 9, reports said.

"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.

"In the past we have taken up the nuclear issue many times on this programme," she added, denying there was any pressure from NHK management.

Nakakita told Jiji Press and other media that he had explained he was not supporting a particular candidate, but NHK rejected his script, saying it could affect voting behaviour.

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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