Firms that Wine and Dine Regulators Inevitably Stir up Public Suspicion

This is a serious situation that has raised doubts about the fairness of the regulation of broadcasting. The government must conduct thorough investigations into the background of senior ministry officials being repeatedly entertained by a specific company and the impact on the ministry’s policymaking.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has released the results of an investigation into the issue of ministry officials having been entertained by Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a company involved in broadcasting for which Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s eldest son works. Since 2016, the officials and company members have dined together on a total of 38 occasions that are suspected of violating the ethics code based on the National Public Service Ethics Law.

Meals between public servants and interested parties can become a hotbed of collusion and shake public trust in government. This case reveals a significant lack of respect for norms.

According to the investigation results, four senior officials, including Yasuhiko Taniwaki, a vice minister for policy coordination, and eight other officials, including a division chief of the Information and Communications Bureau, were found to have been entertained. In addition, Makiko Yamada, the Cabinet public relations secretary, dined with members of the company when she was vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry.

Ministry officials, including vice ministers for policy coordination, who hold the second-highest administrative posts in the ministry, and successive directors general of bureaus and division chiefs in charge of satellite broadcasting businesses, were the targets of the wining and dining. It is essential to reflect sincerely on the increasing practice of giving ministry officials gifts of monetary value.

The communications ministry, which allocates radio waves as public property, must avoid any contact with companies with interests in broadcasting that could raise suspicion of collusion. It is necessary to strictly punish those involved and investigate the background of this rampant entertainment.

At a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting, opposition parties asked about the impact of the series of entertainment occasions on broadcasting regulation. The renewal of business approval for satellite broadcasting, which is run by a subsidiary of Tohokushinsha, was approaching in December last year, and it is said that the renewal period coincided with the four senior officials being entertained by Tohokushinsha in October to December last year.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda emphatically said, “Whether the regulation of broadcasting was distorted has not been confirmed.” Denying the impact of the incident on broadcasting regulation without clarifying what kind of communications the ministry officials exchanged with Tohokushinsha will not be enough to satisfy the public.

The senior ministry officials have denied having dinner with other broadcasters. But the question of why they were entertained by Tohokushinsha alone is growing.

Suga’s son, who served as his secretary when Suga was the internal affairs and communications minister, may have taken advantage of his personal connections. It cannot be helped if the bureaucrats are believed to have been overly conscious of his father being the prime minister and thus felt unable to refuse the entertainment.

The prime minister apologized, saying, “I am very sorry that my eldest son was involved, and that public servants violated the ethics law as a result.” But he denied any involvement in the scandal, stating, “I never talked with my son about the company.”

The perception of the issue by the prime minister who said that his son is “a completely different person” in itself is problematic. As long as the prime minister is in a position to assume the responsibility for the administration of laws and regulations, it is only natural for him and his family to refrain from activities that could cause suspicion. The prime minister should clarify the facts about the scandal.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 23, 2021.