Japan: Prime Minister appoints tobacco executive to board of national broadcaster

 

Earlier this year, tobacco control advocates from around the world supported an effort by their counterparts in Japan to block a proposed appointment of Mr Katsuhiko Honda, former President of Japan Tobacco, to serve on the Board of Governors of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster (Japan’s equivalent of the BBC). Unfortunately, the temporary success there has been fully reversed.

This month, Honda’s name came through again, this time after the summer election where a coalition led by the powerful Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) obtained a majority in the Upper House and accordingly the LDP gained essentially complete control over the nation’s legislative affairs. Renominated by Prime Minister Abe, Mr. Honda’s appointment was approved by both houses of Japan’s national Parliament on Friday 10 November.

According to the University of Hawai’i’s William S. Richardson School of Law Professor Mark Levin, author of a Spring 2013 law journal article on Japanese tobacco control law and policy: “This appointment is troubling for many reasons, work in tobacco control being just one. Nonetheless, the fact that this appointment violates Japan’s international obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article  5.3 seems very clear. At the very least, this matter deserves to be noted and criticised accordingly with regards to international tobacco control advocates’ reports on and discussions with Japan.”

Tobacco control advocates in Japan are dismayed both for the immediate implications to their efforts and the challenge to the application of Article 5.3’s principles more broadly. Katsuhiko Honda still serves as an adviser to Japan Tobacco Inc., while this posting will give him direct authority over important management and policy decisions and presumably indirect sway in NHK’s daily operations as well. The Japan Society for Tobacco Control has condemned the move. (Japanese)

However, Levin points out that context here also matters. “Of course, Mr Honda’s desire to serve might well be driven by his unmitigated pro-tobacco industry agenda. But it’s important to note that the motivation for Abe’s selection of Honda may be barely related to tobacco control, at least from Mr Abe’s perspective.”

As widely reported in the national press, the appointment comes as part of a larger political move by Abe to secure a strong say in the selection of NHK’s next president and general affairs of management and budget. Abe seems to be getting many players in place for a dramatic set of legal, political, and even constitutional changes to swing Japan to the right. In this, Honda is a truly long-standing and trusted friend, having been Abe’s private home academic tutor in the future Prime Minister’s high school days.