TV censorship of women's war tribunal documentary

Jonathan M. Hall jmhall
Mon Jul 22 19:42:03 EDT 2002

Dear All,

In response to Joanne's query about the NHK censorship incident, I've taken
the liberty of re-posting to the list a long letter of protest (and
petition) written by Lisa Yoneyama, a professor of Literature at the
University of California San Diego.  Yoneyama was one of discussants on the
censored NHK program and, incensed at how her own comments were edited and
deleted in the final version of the program, she was an organizer of the
protest.  Please note that the deadline to send your support for this
petition is well over.  I don't believe signatures are still being
collected.  I am posting it to the list as an historical and informational

Yoneyama does go into full detail of many of the surrounding events, but
important here are reports of "visits" to the NHK HQ by the right-wing
"paramilitary" squads--what Yoneyama refers to here as "right-wing physical


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Jonathan M. Hall
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
301 Wieboldt Hall
University of Chicago
1050 E. 59th Street, Chicago IL 60637
1-773-834-8346 office tel./messages
1-773-834-1323 fax 
jmhall at


March 1, 2001
Dear Friends,
I am writing to ask for your support in lodging a protest against NHK (Nihon
Hoso Kyokai), the Japanese public broadcasting agency, for its censorship of
a recent television program that aired on the second night of the ETV 2001
series, Senso o Do Sabaku ka (How Should We Adjudicate Wars?).
I became involved in this incident because I was asked to appear as one of
two principal commentators on the second and third nights of the series. The
second night?s program considered the issue of the Japanese military's
sexual enslavement of women and the Women's International War Crimes
Tribunal on Japan?s Military Sexual Slavery (December 2000, Tokyo).  The
third night?s program covered the more general topic of sexual violence
against women in wars. However, I was surprised and angered to learn that
the final content and emphases of the second night's program differed
radically from what had originally been planned. Critical comments by many
individuals, including me, had been extensively purged, truncated in
misleading ways, or replaced with statements denying the facticity of the
"comfort women's" testimonies and the legality of the Women's Tribunal.
In what follows I will describe the contents of the original and revised
programs and the process by which changes were made to the programming,
apparently as a result of political pressure from the far right. (For a
comprehensive perspective report on the incident, please refer to Honda
Masakazu?s newspaper article in the Asahi which will appear within the next
few days.) I ask you to join me in protesting NHK's actions by signing the
letter that I have drafted below. To be sure, NHK?s ETV 2001 made the only
attempt to cover the Women's Tribunal extensively on television. And in
lodging this protest, it is not my intention to demean the efforts of
conscientious and socially conscious individuals within NHK. However, the
program that aired on January 30 barely reflected the responsible
perspectives that had gone into the original plan for the program. My hope
is that a letter collectively signed by concerned scholars outside of Japan
will send a strong signal to NHK that it has an ethical duty to make
knowledge about the Japanese military's sexual enslavement of women
available, and that as a public agency it is legally obligated to resist
If you agree to support this collective protest, please send me a note
(lyoneyam at indicating that you would like to be included on the
letter as a signatory, preferably by Friday, March 9. Please include your
full name and institutional affiliation. I would appreciate any comments you
might have about the letter or any suggestions about further actions we
might take. If you are a member of relevant list-servers, please feel free
to forward this message.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this long message, and for
your support. 
Lisa Yoneyama
Department of Literature
University of California, San Diego

(1) The Incident
Last January, NHK's educational television channel (ETV) aired a four night
series on recent attempts throughout the world to address and redress acts
of violence and injustice that have never adequately been prosecuted under
the category of  ?crimes against humanity.?  The ETV series titled,  ?How
Should We Adjudicate Wars?? contained testimonies on many ghastly incidents
of the twentieth century. These included pan-European participation in the
Nazi Holocaust, mass rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the French war against
Algeria, sexual violence and torture in Guatemala, the Japanese military?s
sexual enslavement of women, and South African Apartheid. By exploring
memories of these atrocities, the program sought to show how the concept of
?crimes against humanity? had been critically challenged and reconfigured
in such ways as to help communities remember, to make reparations for, and
to determine accountability and to atone for racial, gender, ethnic, sexual,
colonial and other forms of violence and injustice. NHK subcontracted the
series to a small, socially conscious video production company, Documentary
Japan (DJ).
I participated on the second and third nights as one of two studio
commentators. The second night's programming was heavily censored. This part
of the series was originally supposed to cover the ?Women's International
War Crimes Tribunal on Japan?s Military Sexual Slavery? that had been held
in Tokyo last December. As I will describe in further detail below, the
Women?s Tribunal was an transnational people?s court that utilized
international law to try individuals within the Japanese military, including
Hirohito, for their alleged involvement in the sexual enslavement of women.
However, what aired on January 30, 2001 as the program titled, "Wartime
Sexual Violence" ("Senji sei boryoku") differed drastically from the version
that was filmed on December 27, 2000.
The third night's program covered the Public Hearing organized by the
International Criminal Court's (ICC's) Women's Caucus, which was held in
conjunction with the Tribunal. Included were testimonies of gender violence
in on-going wars and conflicts in different parts of the world, such as
Guatemala, East Timor, and Burundi. This program was not extensively revised
or censored.

(2) The Tribunal
While there were a number of feminist and other progressive grass roots
groups and NGOs that organized the Women's Tribunal, the three primary
convenors were the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual
Slavery by Japan, the Asian Centre for Women's Human Rights (ASCENT) of the
Philippines, and the Violence Against Women in War-Network (VAWW-NET),
Japan. More than seventy survivors of the "comfort stations" and other
wartime violence gave testimonies. Among the most important International
Law experts who participated were Patricia Viseur-Sellers and Gabrielle Kirk
McDonald, who respectively served as chief prosecutor and presiding judge.
They had both been centrally involved in considering gender and sexual
violence at the former Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal.
For the first time in history, the Women's Tribunal tried the Japanese
military?s sexual enslavement of women as a ?crime against humanity,? and
it found the late Hirohito, the howa Emperor and the Japanese government
guilty. It also determined that initial responsibility for suppressing
knowledge of Japanese crimes committed against women from occupied
territories rested with the Allied Forces because, despite the weight of
available evidence, they had failed to pursue this issue at the
International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo War Crimes Trial),
and thereby allowed similar cases of violence against women to remain
uninterrogated in subsequent decades.
The Women's Tribunal does not possess the power to enforce its legal
decisions. Yet because the Tribunal was a formal trial authorized by
international law and because it was an event that conveyed the weight and
force of international opinion against the Japanese government's
unwillingness to face up to its war responsibilities  -- these factors and
others suggested the possibility that if knowledge about the Tribunal were
properly conveyed to the public, this could impact Japanese opinion and lead
to legislative measures for an official apology, reparations and eventually
healing.  It is therefore truly regrettable that NHK failed to capitalize on
the opportunity to report fully and honestly on the Tribunal?s
accomplishments. (For an eloquent summary of the Women's Tribunal in
Japanese please refer to the conversation between Norma Field and Takahashi
Tetsuya in the March 2001 issue of SEKAI. Takahashi was a commentator
throughout NHK?s ETV 2001 series.)

(3) Censorship
As far as I know, NHK significantly changed the second night's programming
in two stages. The first took place between December 27 and January 28, that
is from the time of studio filming based on an original script and a partial
re-recording that followed a revised script. My co-commentator, Takahashi,
participated in the re-recording on January 28. Further changes were made
between January 28 and the date when the final program aired, January 30.  I
was not informed of any of these revisions.
It is known that changes imposed during the first stage were in large part
the result of the tremendous pressure that an NHK executive applied on DJ's
producer, who is a woman.  I recently learned that during this stage the
program?s emphasis shifted from the ?Women?s International War Crimes
Tribunal? to the theme of ?crimes against humanity.? I have also been
informed that the DJ producer resisted the demands for revisions and
subsequently withdrew from the program.
According to Takahashi, although the January 28 version de-centered the
Tribunal, it at least retained some extensive testimonies of survivors, key
statements by the Tribunal justices, as well as most of my commentary. (The
verdict declaring Hirohito guilty was apparently replaced by video clips
from overseas media reports on the Tribunal.) However, the disparity between
the January 28 and January 30 versions is so extensive that it is obvious
that the program received last-minute editing and revising in order to erase
almost every direct reference to and positive assessment of the Tribunal. My
comments and those of Takahashi on the empowering effects of the Tribunal as
a gathering of transnational grassroots organizations, on the significance
of the survivors? testimonies, and on the potential of the Tribunal's
findings to effect social transformations at various levels of Japanese
society, were entirely deleted. In fact, because I spoke primarily on the
Tribunal?s significance, most of my statements were cut, my sentences were
shredded to pieces, and the few utterances of mine that remained did not
make sense because they had been lifted out of context.
Furthermore, at the time of the December 27 studio recording, the script did
not include an interview with Hata Ikuhiko, the conservative historian and
critic who has been actively denying the Japanese military?s systematic
involvement in the "comfort station" system. Yet the January 30 broadcast
contained several minutes of a video recording in which Hata not only denied
the military's involvement in recruiting women for sex, but disparaged the
Tribunal as biased and fraught with technical shortcomings from the
standpoint of law. Moreover, in order to fill in the gaps created by the
deletion of our studio conversations, NHK had inserted extended and
irrelevant film footage from European wars, the signing of the San Francisco
Peace Treaty, the 1980s democratization of South Korea, and the like.
Still, the program came out four minutes shorter than the other three  (40
minutes as opposed to 44 minutes). More disturbingly, those of us involved
in the program have been receiving comments from viewers unaware of the
censorship that the program as a whole seemed to assess the Tribunal
Reliable sources report that there have been a number of right wing physical
threats against NHK. It is also alleged that several members of the Liberal
Democratic Party threatened one of the NHK?s executives with budget cuts if
they did not censor the program. This is despite the fact that by law the
government is not allowed to interfere in NHK programming.

(4) Issues
As you can imagine, I feel terribly violated personally. However, the issue
involves much more than simply freedom of speech and protection from
censorship. I do not by any means wish to privilege the question of the
violation of my legal rights when what are centrally at issue here are the
original acts of sexual violence that precluded even the right of women to
living lives with dignity.
The erasure and distortion of my statements are but symptoms of a larger
ideological configuration in which attempts to critically remember Japan?s
past injustices are constantly marginalized or suppressed in public
discourse. It is also yet another instance in which invocation of the
abstract and universal notion of ?humanity? tends to reduce the immediacy
of and the need to make reparations for specific acts of violence.
Ironically, this was a point that I had made in my book on Hiroshima
NHK's failure to broadcast undistorted and accurate information about the
Tribunal should not go unquestioned. NHK owes those involved in the program
and the general public an apology, disclosure of accountability, and
compensation for damages.

(5) Letter to NHK 
What follows is the letter to NHK that I am asking you to sign.
Ebisawa Katsuji, President of  NHK
Japan Broadcasting Corporation
2-2-1 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku,
Tokyo, 150-8001
March 10, 2001
Dear Mr. Ebisawa
We, the undersigned university professors and scholars, hereby express our
urgent concerns regarding the program you aired on January 30, 2001,
entitled "Wartime Sexual Violence" ("Senji sei boryoku"), which was the
second segment in the ETV 2001 series, Senso o do sabaku ka (How Should We
Adjudicate Wars?). 
We are deeply disturbed by recent reports that NHK revised and heavily
censored the program that was originally to cover the Women?s International
War Crimes Tribunal on Japan?s Military Sexual Slavery (December 2000).
These reports inform us that changes to the program?s content resulted in
negative and distorted representations of the Tribunal, as well as the
history of the Japanese military's "comfort station" system.
According to our colleague Lisa Yoneyama (University of California, San
Diego), who participated in your program as one of two principal
commentators, she made a number of remarks during studio recording last
December that positively assessed the historical and philosophical
significance of the ?Women's International War Crimes Tribunal.? However,
Yoneyama?s statements were almost entirely eliminated from the program that
aired on January 30 and the actual amount of coverage given to the Tribunal
was radically reduced.
Moreover, reliable sources report that there had been a number of right wing
and conservative threats against NHK prior to the program's airing. It is
also believed that several members of the Liberal Democratic Party
influenced NHK in its decision to censor the program. This is despite the
fact that by law the government is not allowed to interfere in NHK
To be sure, Japan is not the only country in which violent attempts have
been made to suppress and silence unflattering parts of national pasts. We
are also fully aware that some individuals in NHK have had the vision and
conscience to reject narrow-minded views of Japanese history.
However, as scholars and critics who specialize in issues concerning Japan,
Asia, U.S. relations with Asia, and in studies of gender, race, and
colonialism, we find it truly regrettable that NHK failed to inform the
general Japanese public about the significance of the Tribunal. This
Tribunal was the first legal proceeding to adjudicate on the Japanese
military's enslavement of women as a ?crime against humanity.? The Women?
s Tribunal does not represent any particular national interest. Nor does it
endorse any particular political ideology. Rather, it adheres to the legal
and ethical standards that are rapidly coming to be shared by the
international community for judging wartime crimes of sexual violence and
enslavement. We believe that as a public broadcasting corporation, NHK is
obligated to report on this international event in a full and accurate
We demand that NHK remedy the damages caused by the revisions and the heavy
censorship it imposed upon the program that aired on January 30 by agreeing
to do the following.
(1) To explain in detail the incidents and the decision-making processes
which led to each of the revisions to the original plans for the program.
(2) To acknowledge NHK's responsibility for the damages it caused through
its failure to accurately report on the Tribunal.
(3) To broadcast a program that will report on the Women?s International
War Crimes Tribunal in a full, accurate and positive manner.
Thank you for your attention to this letter. Please send your response to
Takashi Fujitani by e-mail (tfujitani at or fax (+1-858-453-0835) by
March 20, 2001. 

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