The move seeks to discourage ongoing media attention to the church, journalist says
Members of the Unification Church attend a rally in Seoul on Aug. 18, 2022, to protest against the media coverage the group received in Japan following the assassination in early July of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
The Unification Church of Japan has deplored a TV program aired by state broadcaster NHK as defamatory, demanded its cancellation and an apology for damages it caused, says a report.
The church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, issued a protest note asking NHK to immediately halt the show 'Kikenna Sasayaki,' (Dangerous Whispers), claiming it has caused “serious damages” to its reputation, the Mainichi Shimbun reported on Sept. 26.
The program previously titled 'Akuma no Sasayaki' (The Devil's Whispers) was changed and the details were removed from the NHK website, following the protest from the church.
"The program has already been introduced and publicized by multiple celebrities under the name 'Akuma no Sasayaki,' resulting in serious damage to our organization's reputation,” the church said in its Sept. 21 press statement.
The church also demanded a formal apology for "clearly insulting" phrases such as "victims whose lives have been ruined" which was earlier seen on the NHK website but has been removed.
The words "make it sound as if our organization is fraudulently inducing believers to join us and ruining their lives," the church claimed.
The show is based on court documents from a lawsuit filed against the church by a former female member and includes a dramatization of past attempts to recruit believers, including hiding the group's name and door-to-door sales tactics disguised as charitable activities.
Experts say the church’s demand for shutting the show is part of its attempts aimed at discouraging further media coverage of its activities which came under the spotlight and criticism following the assassination of former premier Shinzo Abe during a street rally.
Abe was shot on July 8 last year by Tetsuya Yamagami who reportedly told investigators he had a grudge against the former PM for his ties to the Unification Church.
His family has reportedly been ruined financially after his mother, a member, donated some 100 million yen (US$720,000), a parcel of land and their house, to the church.
An unnamed official from NHK's public relations bureau justified the content of the show.
"Based on the records of an actual court case, it attempts to clarify why people are captivated by illegal solicitation,” the official said, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
The show examines “why they lose their composure with these dangerous whispers, by using a reenactment and psychological analysis to show the mechanisms of the mind at that moment,” the official emphasized.
The unnamed official also pointed out that the name change of the show was something that broadcasters do “before the program is aired based on a comprehensive judgment."
The Unification Church is accused of making millions for its alleged shady activities including massive financial donations from followers and so-called “spiritual sales.”
Journalist Eito Suzuki said that the move protesting the TV show was aimed at discouraging any further media attention towards the church.
"The program used facts from the court documents, and it is not the kind of content that the religious group would usually ask to be canceled,” Suzuki said.
“Protests by the church have become more intense since [the government's] request [to the court] to issue an order to formally dissolve the organization,” Suzuki added.
The Japanese government is seeking a court order to dissolve the church.
The decision to disband the church is based on testimony from former church followers who made donations, court rulings in civil lawsuits that ordered damage payments to the organization, and records submitted by the church, say media reports.
Reportedly, before the church issued its public statement, a sympathizer had posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, a post stating that they had "called NHK in protest while crying loudly."
However, the church’s objection to the content drew fierce criticism from former believers and other groups who took to social media to urge more people to watch the program.
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