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NHK taps former Mitsubishi executive Ueda as new president

Japan's public broadcaster aims to start fresh after controversies

Incoming NHK President Ryoichi Ueda

TOKYO -- Japanese public broadcaster NHK's board of governors has unanimously selected a former Mitsubishi Corp. executive as its next president, betting that his private-sector expertise will help restore a reputation tarnished by controversy.

Ryoichi Ueda replaces President Katsuto Momii, who will step down when his term ends on Jan. 24, NHK announced Tuesday. Ueda, 67, has been a full-time member of the board of governors since 2013.

The board had been debating whether to place Momii, 73, on the short list of candidates to serve the next three-year term. Those discussions have not been made public, but "some governors praised him highly while others were critical," said Susumu Ishihara, chairman of the board.

The various clouds hanging over Momii may have led to his departure. Immediately after the Mitsui & Co. alumnus and former Nihon Unisys president took his current position in January 2014, he made comments about NHK's neutrality and the issue of wartime "comfort women," which later drew criticism. Momii was also stung by a string of scandals, including using NHK funds to pay for a private driver, holding on to signed resignation letters from members of the executive board, and an embezzlement scheme uncovered at an affiliate.

On the other hand, Momii stepped up NHK's international broadcasting and online presence during his term. "For matters of concern, he took aggressive action and realized results," said Ishihara. Under Momii's business reforms, the broadcaster collected record subscription fees. But budget proposals were not decided unanimously for three straight years, signaling a lack of order during his reign.

NHK wants to vigorously complete the tasks started by Momii, according to Ishihara. At the same time, the broadcaster has decided to switch to more stable leadership, especially with regard to dealing with Japan's Diet.

Although a number of candidates were brought up by the nominating committee Tuesday, Ishihara said Ueda has earned the deep trust of many inside and outside the group.

Ueda, a onetime senior executive vice president at Mitsubishi, has served on NHK's audit committee for three and a half years. "Even if my position changes to that of president, I seek to provide public broadcasting that is trusted," he said Tuesday.


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