TV shows must work to protect personalities from malicious posts

In the current era, it is no longer unusual for viewers to post comments on the internet while watching TV programs. The broadcasting world as a whole must consider how to care for the people who appear on such shows, so a tragic incident is not repeated.

The broadcast and human rights committee of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) has released its opinion regarding the suicide in May last year of professional wrestler Hana Kimura, who appeared on Fuji TV’s popular program “Terrace House,” stating that the TV show “had problems in terms of broadcasting ethics.”

Claiming a human rights violation, Kimura’s mother has said the show was “excessively staged.” The committee stopped short of recognizing a human rights violation but said the broadcaster “lacked consideration for Kimura’s mental health.” Fuji TV needs to take the committee’s view seriously.

The committee examined the reality show, where six young men and women live together and compete over romantic relationships, among other activities. Kimura was severely defamed on social media regarding her behavior on the program.

Fuji TV knew that Kimura was worried about the program after it was first shown through online streaming services, and then physically harmed herself. Nevertheless, the show was later broadcast on terrestrial television without any modifications.

It was four days later that Kimura took her own life. It is undeniable that Fuji TV was too careless in its judgment. Shouldn’t the broadcaster have dealt with the problem through such measures as cutting the scenes in question?

It is easy for viewers to become emotionally involved in reality shows, and sympathy and opposition can be readily directed at the people who appear on them. Because of the high risk of participants being attacked on social media, program producers have a responsibility to check more carefully whether they have been defamed.

In response to the BPO’s conclusions, Fuji TV issued a statement saying that the broadcaster would “make organizational efforts to address social media-related measures and challenges involving program production, mainly at a newly established specialized department in charge of these issues.” Fuji TV needs to take thorough measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents, with the safety and security of the people appearing on its shows as the top priority.

Viewers should also refrain from getting unilaterally angry at the words and actions of participants, and hurting them.

Prosecutors brought a summary indictment on charges of criminal insult against a man who posted abusive messages to Kimura on Twitter, and he was ordered to pay a fine. A lawsuit seeking damages from another man for separate posts is ongoing. People should be aware that they can be held liable for careless posts in both criminal and civil cases.

The government intends to make efforts to improve the consultation system for online defamation victims. A bill to revise a law has also been submitted to the current Diet session to make it easier to identify the senders of abusive comments. Every possible measure should be taken to get rid of heartless online posts.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 1, 2021.