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Gov't mulls repealing clause for politically fair programs under broadcast reform plan

(Mainichi)

The government is considering abolishing a Broadcasting Act clause binding TV and radio programs to be politically fair under its broadcasting system reform plans, it has been learned.

    The move specifically targets Article 4 of the Broadcasting Act, which calls upon broadcasters to comply with four principles when editing broadcast programs -- to be politically fair, not to negatively influence public safety or good morals, to ensure reporting must not distort the facts, and to clarify the points at issue from as many angles as possible.

    In addition, the government is also considering eliminating regulations peculiar to the broadcasting sector, such as a principle to maintain a balance between broadcast programs by establishing cultural programs or educational programs, news programs and entertainment programs, as well as a regulation restricting the foreign investment ratio in domestic broadcasters.

    Such reforms would in effect eliminate the guidelines for the content of broadcast programs, as in the communications business, and are feared to allow for an increase of politically biased TV and radio programs.

    The move comes as part of measures to integrate the regulations for the broadcasting and communications businesses, with the aim of taking in new entrants into the broadcasting sector.

    However, extant regulations will be maintained for NHK in order to underline its role as a public broadcaster. The government is also looking to give the green light to constant simultaneous television and online broadcasting of NHK programs.

    Under the reform plans, software businesses such as the production of broadcast programs and hardware business including the management of broadcasting facilities will be thoroughly separated.

    The government embarked on the broadcasting system reform at the strong urging of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In early February, he said, "In order to effectively utilize radio waves, which are common property for the public, it is necessary to boldly review the allocation of frequencies and the way the broadcasting business stands." Abe's remarks sparked full-scale discussions toward the reforms.

    However, commercial broadcasters have reacted sharply to the government's move, with Nippon Television Network Corp. President Yoshio Okubo saying, "It is tantamount to saying that commercial broadcasters are unnecessary, and we cannot accept it. We are strongly opposed to the move."

    Some within the government have also voiced strong reservations about the reform plans. Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda, who is in charge of overseeing the broadcasting sector, told a House of Representatives Internal Affairs and Communications Committee session on March 22, "If Article 4 of the Broadcasting Act is abolished, there will likely be an increase in programs that could offend public order and morals and news programs that are not based on the facts."

    The reform plans will be finalized by the government's Regulatory Reform Promotion Council before being reported to Prime Minister Abe as early as June. A relevant bill will be submitted to an extraordinary Diet session this autumn at the earliest, for possible implementation in 2020 or later.

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