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Japan High Court Orders NHK Redress over Sex-slave 'Trial' Program
Former sex slaves of South Korea are still demanding an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government.

The Tokyo High Court on Jan. 29, 2007 ordered Japan Broadcasting Corp. and two TV production companies to pay 2 million yen in compensation to a women's rights group over a 2001 television program on Japan's wartime sex slavery, Kyodo News has reported.

The court acknowledged that the national broadcaster known as NHK altered the contents of the program, which was based on a mock tribunal organized by the group on the issue of so-called "comfort women," after taking into account the remarks of politicians, but it fell short of recognizing intervention by Shinzo Abe, who is now prime minister, or other senior politicians.

NHK said it will immediately take steps to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Presiding Judge Toshifumi Minami said the broadcaster's senior officials thought the program could affect the Diet's approval of NHK's budget plan and "took the words of parliamentary members more seriously than necessary and guessed their intentions, and changed the program to a safer content."

He further said the program aired by NHK had "betrayed the trust and expectations of the plaintiff" as it significantly deviated from what had been explained to the plaintiff beforehand.

The judge also said NHK failed to fulfill its obligation to explain the changes to the plaintiff sufficiently.

But the ruling fell short of recognizing the plaintiff's claim that politicians, including then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe, directly intervened in the editing of the program.

"I believe the ruling has made it very clear that politicians have not intervened," Abe told reporters in the evening when asked to comment on the case.

Members of Violence Against Women in War-Network Japan (VAWW-NET Japan), nonetheless, called the ruling "an overall win" for the group and expressed joy.

Rumiko Nishino, the group's co-leader, said, "I was nervous that if this ruling certified that the case still falls within the range of NHK's editing rights, political interventions would be overlooked under the name of editing ... But I am happy now."

Rutsuko Shoji, also co-leader of the group, said, "We want NHK to read the ruling and apologize to us, and we want them to broadcast from a citizen's point of view."

The group, which organized the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal in December 2000, initially sought 20 million yen in damages at the Tokyo District Court saying its members felt betrayed because the defendants in the suit reedited the program without explanation to the group.

It then raised the compensation claim to 40 million yen at the appeals court, arguing that NHK bore heavy responsibility for allowing political intervention.

The group helped the defendants produce the program in which the late Emperor Hirohito was found guilty by a mock tribunal of crimes against humanity for accepting institutionalized sex slavery. The sex slaves, mostly from Korea, were referred to as comfort women by the Japanese authorities.

Abe has admitted urging NHK to alter the program as he felt the contents were "biased," but he denied having pressured the broadcaster and NHK has also said it made the changes in the course of regular editing operations and on its own initiative.

The reedited program omitted certain elements, including the mock tribunal's "guilty" verdict on the late emperor, who is posthumously known as Emperor Showa, testimonies by former soldiers and the name of the event organizer.

The group also said during the appeals court hearings that the reediting of the program would lead to a further coverup of the issue of wartime sex slavery and tolerance of political interventions.

The mock tribunal was intended to urge the Japanese government to take legal responsibility and to compensate women forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military before and during World War II, according to the group.

The "ruling"' by the mock tribunal was handed down by a panel of four judges led by Gabrielle McDonald, the former president of the International War Crimes Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia.

In March 2004, the Tokyo District Court ordered one of the production companies to pay 1 million yen to the group over the case, leading the company and the advocacy group to file appeals. The district court dismissed the group's demands for redress from NHK and the other production company.

Abe and Shoichi Nakagawa, another senior lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, were reported to have pressured NHK to refrain from broadcasting the content that was later removed.

NHK is chiefly funded by viewers' subscription fees. Its budget and business plan require parliamentary approval. The government also provides funds to NHK's international shortwave radio service and is authorized by law to issue orders on what to air on its international shortwave radio programs.

Under Abe's administration, the government issued an unprecedented order to NHK in November to place emphasis on the issue of North Korean agents' past abduction of Japanese nationals in its international shortwave radio service.

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