Johnny & Associates Warned by Fair Trade Commission Over Ex-SMAP Members

Yesterday, the Fair Trade Commission issued a warning to Johnny & Associates over suspicions that the company may have pressured TV stations to stop inviting the three former members of SMAP who left the company onto their shows. The commission said that Johnny & Associates may be violating the anti-monopoly law. This is the first time a talent agency has received a warning from the Fair Trade Commission based on the law that deals with artists who change management companies.

Johnny & Associates denied it had put any TV station under pressure, but the company did admit it was investigated by the commission. A statement on the Johnny & Associates website read, “It is untrue that our company applied any pressure on a TV station and that we received administrative measures or warnings from the Fair Trade Commission for violating the anti-monopoly law. However, we take seriously that we have been investigated by the commission and we would like to pay attention (to our conduct) in order to prevent any misunderstandings.”

Tactics used to put pressure on TV stations include strongly hinting to TV stations that no Johnny & Associates talents would be allowed on their shows if the three former SMAP members were to appear on their shows.

The Fair Trade Commission warning was given to prevent any potential violation of the anti-monopoly law, not on the basis of any hard evidence of such a violation.

Inagaki Goro, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, and Katori Shingo left Johnny & Associates in September 2017, forming a new group, Atarashii Chizu. Since then, the regular TV appearances they enjoyed while in the company have all but vanished.

On an April 30 internet program, Tsuyoshi talked about the time since leaving Johnny & Associates. He acknowledged that there may be something going on behind the scenes, saying, “It certainly could be said that we’re not yet where we’d like to be.”

Cases involving contract arguments between talents and management companies have increased in recent years. In February 2018, a commission panel said that talent agencies who leverage their power to sign unfair agreements with talents or impose extreme restrictions on those who wish to move to a different management company could potentially violate the law. The commission urged agencies to improve their practices.

All of this comes in the wake of the death of Johnny & Associates founder Johnny Kitagawa last week.