NHK apologizes for death of overworked journalist

AFP, TOKYO

Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 6

Japan’s public broadcaster yesterday apologized to the parents of a young reporter who died of heart failure after logging 159 hours of overtime in a month.

NHK reporter Miwa Sado, 31, who had been covering political news in Tokyo, was found dead in her bed in July 2013, reportedly clutching her mobile phone.

“The chairman met the parents at their home in the morning and apologized,” an NHK spokesman told reporters.

A government inquest a year after her death ruled that it was linked to excessive overtime. She had taken two days off in the month before she died.

NHK eventually made the case public four years later, bowing to pressure from Sado’s parents to take action to prevent a recurrence.

The case has again highlighted the Japanese problem of karoshi, death from overwork, and is an embarrassing revelation for NHK, which has campaigned against the nation’s long-hours culture.

Sato covered Tokyo assembly elections for the broadcaster in June 2013 and a Japanese House of Councilors vote the following month. She died three days after the upper house election.

“My heart breaks at the thought that she may have wanted to call me” in her last moments, her mother told the Asahi Shimbun. “With Miwa gone, I feel like half of my body has been torn off. I won’t be able to laugh for real for the rest of my life.”

The revelation shocked the nation, as NHK has actively reported tragic deaths at other companies, including advertising giant Dentsu, which a Tokyo court yesterday fined about ¥500,000 (US$4,423) for making employees work overtime beyond legal limits.

NHK’s chief has pledged to improve work conditions at the broadcaster.

“We are sorry that we lost an excellent reporter and take seriously the fact that her death was recognized as work-related,” NHK president Ryoichi Ueda said on Thursday.

“We will continue to work for reform in cooperation with her parents,” he told reporters.

Every year in Japan, long working hours are blamed for dozens of deaths due to strokes, heart attacks and suicides.

In July, the parents of an unnamed 23-year-old worker on Tokyo’s New National Stadium who killed himself applied for compensation and asked the government to recognize his suicide as a case of death from overwork.

The construction firm employee, who began working on the project in December, clocked 200 hours of overtime in the month before his body was found in April with a note that said he had “reached the physical and mental limit.”

A government report on death from overwork released yesterday showed there were 191 karoshi cases in the year ending March.

The report also showed that 7.7 percent of employees in Japan regularly log more than 20 hours of overtime per week.

Japanese Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato yesterday told reporters that the government would “do its best” to reduce the number of people who die from overwork to zero.