Photo/IllutrationNHK Broadcasting Center in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

After a protest from the Japan Post group, Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) postponed a TV program about inappropriate sales by the group’s insurance arm and issued a warning to the NHK president.

The public broadcaster’s Board of Governors also ordered NHK President Ryoichi Ueda to deal appropriately with Japan Post’s protest, sources said Sept. 26.

Ueda has complied, and the issue appears resolved between Japan Post Holdings Co. and NHK.

But criticism has emerged that the Board of Governors, the supreme decision-making body of the public broadcaster, caved in to pressure from an outside source over the content of its programming. Experts note that it is abnormal for the top executive of NHK to deal with an individual complaint.

The protest was not made by an ordinary individual.

Japan Post Holdings is a financial behemoth whose government-held shares will be sold to the public, possibly by the end of the year.

One name involved in the protest was Yasuo Suzuki, vice president of Japan Post Holdings, who used to be an administrative vice minister at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which supervises the broadcasting industry.

According to the sources, NHK first reported about inappropriate sales of insurance products of Japan Post Insurance Co. on the TV program “Close UP Gendai +” in April 2018.

Problems arose when the production team of the TV program planned to broadcast a sequel on the scandal. The team posted a video on Twitter that called on affected people to offer information.

The Japan Post group demanded the deletion of the video, saying the content was one-sided and that the group had not been interviewed before the video was produced.

According to the sources, Japan Post’s protest insisted that words in the video, such as “oshiuri” (pushy selling) and “sagimagai” (close to fraud), could be regarded as defamation.

Executives of the planned TV program explained to Japan Post that production of programs and management of NHK are separate functions, and that the NHK president is not involved in program productions.

However, the Japan Post group argued that under the Broadcast Law, the person who bears final responsibility for programs is the president.

The group on Aug. 2, 2018, sent a document to NHK President Ueda, seeking his explanation over the matter.

It also rejected requests for interviews for the sequel.

NHK deleted the video the same month. It also postponed the sequel.

On Oct. 5, the Japan Post group sent a letter to NHK’s Board of Governors, demanding a review on governance at the broadcaster.

In response, the board judged that the remarks made by the executives of the program to Japan Post were wrong.

On Oct. 23, Susumu Ishihara, chairman of the board, gave a verbal warning to Ueda under the name of “strengthening governance.”

On Nov. 6, Ueda sent a letter to the Japan Post group that said the remarks made by the program’s executives “were extremely regrettable.”

The next day, Japan Post sent a reply under the name of Suzuki to end the dispute, saying, “You fully understood our views.”

But criticism emerged over NHK’s response to Japan Post’s protest.

On Sept. 26 this year, the NHK public relations bureau and Ishihara both released statements vehemently denying that NHK’s independence and freedom of program productions were damaged.

On the same day, Japan Post Holdings also released a statement: “We made the protest about the content of the video. The protest was not intended to put pressure on reporters or producers.”

Hiroyoshi Sunakawa, a professor of media at Rikkyo University, said the NHK Board of Governors effectively intervened in an individual program.

He said the presence of a former administrative vice minister with influence over broadcasting put pressure on NHK.

“Then, the top executive of NHK appeared. Given the circumstances, it is natural to believe that NHK paid consideration to the wishes of the Japan Post group,” Sunakawa said. “Many people will feel discomfort over the fact that the top executive acted because a protest was made by a huge organization.”