Terunobu Maeda, a former chairman of Mizuho Financial Group Inc., will take over from Ryoichi Ueda as president of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) in late January.

The next chairman of the Board of Governors, the public broadcaster's top decision-making body, will also be decided shortly.

We hope the “twin reshuffle” will serve as a cue for NHK to seriously reflect on the reason for its existence.

Specifically, NHK needs to define its proper function and scale of operation as a public broadcaster. As a media organization, it must examine the health of its impartiality from government authorities. Crucial to such an undertaking is a viewer-first stance.

At least Ueda, during the three years he was at the helm, did not repeat the biased, pro-administration verbal blunders that were so characteristic of his predecessor, Katsuto Momii.

Still, the fact remains that a spate of incidents occurred that raised serious questions about NHK’s true colors.

The latest had to do with confusion over its planned online simulcast services. Just prior to receiving the green light for operational standards from the communications ministry, NHK was ordered to review its plans and ensure the services would operate at an “appropriate scale.”

NHK complied immediately. In revising its plans, NHK reduced the budget appropriated for the services and decided to provide selected hours of simulcast daily, not 24 hours as initially envisaged. It also decided to close one of its four satellite TV channels.

What we don't understand is why NHK failed to envision such revisions on its own in the first place.

NHK’s revenues from subscriptions stand at an all-time high of 700 billion yen ($6.44 million) or more, and its reserve carried forward is a hefty 110 billion yen. Concerns have been voiced that such financial strength could jeopardize the healthy balance between NHK and commercial broadcasters. Certainly, the opinions of paying viewers are growing more diverse.

Even though it has promised to reduce its subscription fees by no later than next year and also collaborate with commercial broadcasters, NHK appears unwilling to rein in further bloating of its operations.

NHK’s most crucial responsibility is to adhere to the principle of “autonomy and independence” in programming under the Broadcast Law. But here again, questions must be raised.

NHK was the first to air, back in April 2018, a report on inappropriate sales of policies of Japan Post Insurance Co., a subsidiary of Japan Post Holdings. But when senior executives of the Japan Post group, including a former administrative vice communications minister, protested to NHK’s Board of Governors, the latter issued a stern warning to Ueda. The airing of a sequel to the original program was postponed.

We strongly hope that Maeda will lead NHK with a sense of commitment as the top executive of a news organization.

NHK’s mission is to disseminate information that will serve the viewing public’s interest by standing up to pressure from politicians, industry leaders and special-interest groups.

At a news conference on Dec. 10, Maeda vowed to “create reliable, high-quality programs.” NHK is rated highly for its documentaries and disaster coverage, made possible by its technological prowess and top-notch work force.

We hope the entire organization will reconfirm its heavy responsibility to make full use of its valuable assets and contribute to the enhancement of democracy and the public’s right to know.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 11