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Japanese gov't seeks to make NHK fee legal responsibility for everyone with TV

The NHK Broadcasting Center in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)
The sign for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in this file photo. (Mainichi/Makoto Negishi)

TOKYO -- Every household and business with a television would be explicitly legally required to pay reception fees to public broadcaster NHK under an Oct. 16 recommendation from Japan's communications ministry to a ministry expert committee considering NHK's future.

    The ministry's request is bound to stir opposition as it would fundamentally alter the current fee system, based on the contractual consent of viewers.

    Also at the Oct. 16 committee meeting, NHK requested that the body consider recommending legal revisions making it mandatory for people to formally report any newly acquired TV. The broadcaster also called for legal changes that would allow it to access personal data held by public utilities including residents' names and changes of address of households without an NHK fee contract.

    Both requests are intended to boost contract numbers and revenue and cut back on costs, as the fee collection system, including paying door-to-door fee collectors, ran to 75.9 billion yen (about $720 million) in fiscal 2019.

    The communications ministry explained that its suggestion would be accomplished through a Broadcasting Act change that would make it clear that "there is a responsibility to pay the (NHK) reception fee under a legal contract" on the part of the person who obtains a television. In addition, the ministry sought deliberation of a legal change to impose extra charges on anyone failing to report getting a TV and thus evading the fee, alongside discussions on NHK's request to require households to report their ownership of televisions. The broadcaster also wants the committee to consider recommending mandatory reporting for households that don't have a TV as well.

    The experts will now debate the proposals, but some members were already voicing caution on Oct. 16 about creating an explicit legal duty to pay the NHK fee. Furthermore, some on the committee voiced personal privacy and other concerns with NHK's proposal to give it legal authority to ask public utilities and local governments for information in relation to people without an NHK contract.

    Regarding the communications ministry's demand that NHK reduce the reception fee, the broadcaster also demanded a revision to the pertinent ministerial ordinance to allow it to slowly build up surpluses from each fiscal year in a separate account and use it to fund future fee reductions. It also sought legal revisions to enable it to set up intermediate holding companies to facilitate mergers and streamlining of the broadcaster's subsidiaries.

    (Japanese original by Naoyuki Inukai and Tomonori Matsuo, Cultural News Department)

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