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Japan's weather agency website starts carrying ads in controversial move

Ad spaces on the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) website are outlined in red in this image provided by the agency.
An ad space is seen outlined in red on the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) mobile site's page for mapping raincloud movements, landslide risks and other emergency information, in this image provided by the agency.

TOKYO -- In a highly unusual move for a Japanese public institution, the country's weather agency website started carrying ads on Sept. 15.

    The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) website gets about 7.9 billion hits per year, traffic projected to generate significant ad income that the agency judged could be used to help defray it costs. The ads will appear not just on the weather forecast and cloud map pages, but also on those directly concerning public safety in emergencies, such as the landslide risk map page, drawing criticism from both inside and outside the government.

    The JMA pays a private company some 240 million yen (about $2.63 million) per year to manage its website. The agency has awarded an ad display contract to an advertising firm lasting until February 2021. Under the contract, the ad firm will apparently get to keep all the revenue generated by the JMA site ads in exchange for paying the webpage management company 87 million yen, reducing the JMA's own webpage fee to 153 million yen for the year.

    The JMA site will host real-time advertising, or ads that change depending on the visitor's search and page viewing history. While the ads will appear on emergency safety-related pages, the agency claims that it has set standards for keeping them off the site, including if the adverts "risk violating public order or morals," and ads that "the JMA judges are inappropriate."

    The agency's budget has been cut by some 2.5 billion yen over the past decade. At a July news conference, JMA chief Yasuo Sekita told reporters, "Hosting web advertisements is expected to produce a certain amount of income. It's necessary to undertake this kind of step to reduce the burden on the people of Japan if even by just a little."

    According to the JMA, the Foreign Ministry put ads on its website about five years ago, creating a precedent. A source close to the situation told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The Defense Ministry auctions off equipment on the internet among other measures, so every ministry and agency is doing something to reduce annual expenses. This (JMA) initiative is just another in a series."

    However, the labor union for Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism employees, which includes JMA staff, issued a statement in August opposing putting ads on the site, declaring, "The cost of running a website dedicated to providing information for the protection of the lives and property of the nation should be borne by the state. Hosting adverts should be stopped."

    Naoya Sekiya, an associate professor at the Center for Integrated Disaster Information Research at the University of Tokyo, told the Mainichi, "Setting aside regular weather forecasts, I don't believe there is such a thing as an ad that is appropriate to display during a natural disaster emergency. JMA site ads will also put commercial pressure on private weather information services. JMA information is intended to protect people from death or injury, so it should be funded from tax revenue."

    (Japanese original by Shinji Kurokawa, City News Department)

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