Japan's second-biggest broadcaster, Nippon Television Network (NTV), this week demoted president Toshio Hagiwara to the role of vice president following revelations that one of the network's producers had attempted to rig the independent TV ratings system administered by Video Research.

If not quite falling on his sword, Hagiwara has been publicly humiliated for his [apparently symbolic] part in the scandal. Worse has befallen its perpetrator, program producer Masaomi Ando (41), who has been fired. He also faces a criminal prosecution if he can't repay the ¥10 million ($91,816; €77,063; £53,911) siphoned from NTV's production budget to finance his failed stratagem.

Some observers see the affair more as a tragedy than a crime committed for personal gain. At its core is the relentless pressure to maximize ratings -- which drove the hapless Ando to attempt to massage his programs' viewing figures.

He told colleges he was influenced by the emphasis on the importance of ratings by [then] NTV president Hagiwara. Ando accordingly started to inflate bills from production companies and used the surplus cash to pay private detective agencies to identify the names and addresses of viewers involved in Video Research's viewers panel.

As early as in October 1997 he aired his proposed scheme to NTV colleagues. "By using detective agencies, we may be able to find out which households have the set-top recorders that track channel preferences,'' he told them. "The ratings could improve if we went to those households and asked them to view our program.''

His plan was vetoed as "a stupid idea", but two and a half years later, in March 2000, Ando -- by then responsible for production of what network executives regard as 'second-tier' variety programs -- decided to go it alone. He initially spent ¥1.79 million of his own money to hire the investigators.

"I can do anything as long as ratings go up,'' Ando is said to have told colleagues at the time "But I'm done for if the program tanks. I am not in the mainstream. I am at the end of the line."

In August 2000, no longer able to finance the scheme from his own resources, Ando began to aerate production costs and pocket the excess. "There is a huge difference between a 14.9% rating and a 15.0% rating," he said, "even if it is a result of dirty tricks, it is heartening to see ratings go up."

He persisted with the fraud even after Video Research became aware its viewing panel had been tailed by private detectives -- perhaps because Ando had by then passed the point of no return.

The end came late last month during an internal NTV audit when production expenses were being checked for a program produced by Ando. Investigators found one invoice among the expense vouchers that was ¥1 million above the true production company charge.

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Data sourced from: The Asahi Shimbun (Japan); additional content by WARC staff