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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006, 06:36 GMT
Japan's NHK in media control row
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

North Korea said this photo showed Megumi Yokota as a young woman (file photo)
Megumi Yokota's parents believe she is still alive
Japan's government has given the go-ahead to order public broadcaster NHK to focus on North Korea abductions in its international broadcasts.

An advisory panel rubber-stamped the proposal, which issues an order giving topics the government wants covered.

Opposition politicians have criticised the move, saying ministers should not be able to influence media reporting.

The issue of the Japanese abducted by Pyongyang decades ago is still a sensitive issue in Japan.

Raising awareness

Japanese law states that the government can tell NHK what to broadcast on its international services.

Until now, though, such orders have used only vague phrases like "policies that are important to the state".

Now ministers want to be more specific. An independent advisory panel says they can tell the broadcaster to be "specially mindful of the problem of North Korea's abduction of Japanese".

The authorities in Pyongyang abducted foreign nationals, mostly Japanese, in the 1970s and 80s to train their spies.

Five were allowed to return to Japan in 2002.

North Korea claims the others are dead, but many Japanese do not believe that.

The government says it wants to use the NHK broadcasts to raise international awareness of the plight of the abductees, and put pressure on the North to reveal more information about what has happened to them.

It also hopes the programmes will let any abductees still alive in North Korea know that they have not been forgotten.

But critics of the move paint it as an attack on press freedom.

They fear it will set a precedent for further interference in news reporting.

The broadcasting minister is unmoved. He is expected to issue the order to NHK in the next few days.

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