Japan TV network fights ethics charges

By FUMIKO YAMAOKA  |  April 3, 1996
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TOKYO, April 3 -- A leading Japanese television network defended its reputation Wednesday as it faced a parliamentary grilling over its ethics after it showed a doomsday cult an interview that may have resulted in the death of an anti-cult figure. A Tokyo Broadcasting System official admitted for the first time that the channel agreed to show to members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult a 1989 videotaped interview, which had not yet aired, of Japanese lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto. Sakamoto had been aiding families of cult members in freeing their relatives from the sect. Nine days after TBS let the sect members view the tape, Sakamoto, his wife Satoko and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko disappeared. Their bodies were found almost six years later, and Aum's second in command, Kiyohide Hayakawa, pleaded guilty at the end of March to their murders. TBS Managing Director Atsuo Suzuki admitted Tuesday, 'A producer said he agreed with Aum members to show the footage before airing and asked them not to tell anybody about the deal.' The producer in charge of the interview, who later was fired by TBS, never told police that Aum members had seen the videotape even after the disappearance of the Sakamotos was widely reported. A lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest partner in the three-party ruling coalition, suggested officials should review TBS's license conditions because its actions might have triggered the three killings. 'We will take tough action against TBS,' said Posts and Telecommunication Minister Ichiro Hino at a communication committee hearing in the lower house of the Diet, Japan's parliament.

He did not elaborate on specifics. Thirteen of Aum's leaders face charges related to the March 20, 1995, poison gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500 others. Media sources have alleged that TBS agreed to show theinterview footage to cult members in exchange for their arranging of an one-on-one interview with Aum leader Shoko Asahara in Germany. 'I sincerely want to apologize to Sakamoto,' said TBS president Hirozo Isozaki at the Diet hearing. 'He accepted the interview because he trusted us. We betrayed the trust not only of ourselves, but also of the entire broadcasting industry.' 'The fine line between journalism and entertainment has become ambiguous especially in the private broadcasting industry,' said television producer Junichi Ushiyama in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. 'Now everybody in the industry has to think about how journalism should be.' The mass circulation newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which has an alliance with TBS, said in its editorial section that competitiveness of the rating system had contributed to the decline of journalistic ethics. 'TBS has abandoned its ethics and fallen in the trap,' said the editorial. The bodies of the Sakamoto family were discovered last September following a confession by an Aum member after he was taken into custody by the police. More executives, including Isozaki and other network leaders, continued to answer questions in Parliament Wednesday. The interview with Sakamoto was never aired publicly.

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