Outspoken NHK boss makes power grab at Japanese broadcaster

TOKYO (AFP) - The controversial boss of NHK, who has defended Japan's practice of wartime sex slavery, has launched a power grab at the public broadcaster, it emerged on Tuesday, forcing directors to submit undated resignations.

In a revelation that looked set to stir further controversy at the embattled broadcaster, executive directors of the company told lawmakers that Mr Katsuto Momii had made them write letters of resignation.

This would allow Mr Momii, the NHK chairman, effectively to fire them whenever he chose.

The directors - who have charge of the day-to-day running of the body, including editorial control - are selected by the chairman of the time with the consent of the government-appointed committee that dictates NHK's management policy, a spokesman for the broadcaster said.

"They are also discharged by the chairman with the consent of the committee," he said, without offering an explanation for Mr Momii's demand for their undated resignations.

"I don't have the material to answer the question. I am not in the position to do so either," he said.

It is the latest controversy to hit NHK, one of the world's biggest broadcasters, and one that could further undermine its reputation for impartiality.

That was called into question at Mr Momii's first press conference as head of the corporation in which he said the national broadcaster should not contradict the government.

In the same press conference he said Japan's "comfort women" system - where foreign women in subject states were forced into sexual slavery for the imperial military - was not unique to Japan and had been practised by many other countries.

No mainstream historian - and few regular Japanese people - accept this interpretation, which he subsequently defended as a personal opinion.

Kyodo News and the Tokyo Shimbun have reported that Mr Momii called an extraordinary board meeting on January 25, the day he began the job, and told the directors to give him their resignations.

"You were chosen by the former chairman. I will decide my own path," he told the directors, according to the Tokyo Shimbun, which cited sources close to the broadcaster.

Mr Momii was selected as NHK chairman by the management committee, some of whom were hand-picked by conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year.

The choice of Mr Momii is thought to have been approved by Mr Abe.

Two members of the management committee - akin to outside directors in a publicly-listed company - have already stirred controversy since being appointed by Mr Abe late last year.

Mr Naoki Hyakuta dismissed as "propaganda" the orgy of murder, rape and pillage carried out by invading Japanese troops as they took the then-Chinese capital Nanjing in 1937.

Mr Hyakuta made the claim while stumping for a far-right candidate in the election for Tokyo governor.

Days later, it emerged philosopher and fellow committee member Michiko Hasegawa had praised the protest suicide of an extreme nationalist as an act that validated the divinity of Japan's emperor.

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