The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has submitted a proposal to an expert committee that would create a legal requirement for people to pay public broadcaster NHK's receiving fee.
The current requirement under Japan's Broadcasting Act is merely that households and businesses that install reception equipment such as TVs conclude a contract with NHK for the reception of those broadcasts. The obligation to pay the receiving fee is stipulated only in NHK's contract, not in the law.
The aim of obligating payment within the Broadcasting Act is to give legal force to fee collection. There has also been a request by the ministry to consider legislating penalties for those who illicitly avoid payment.
This would change the relationship between the public and NHK in a profound way, from one of "consent" to "coercion." The government should be cautious about making such a move.
Besides the question of mandatory fees, NHK has proposed making it compulsory for people to report whether or not they have a TV. Furthermore, NHK has also called for legal changes that would allow it to access personal data held by local bodies and public utilities, including power and gas companies, to pinpoint the names of inhabitants of households without an NHK fee contract and the places they have moved to.
Around 20% of households did not have a contract with NHK as of the end of last year. Visits to households for payment cost about 30 billion yen a year. NHK hopes to cut costs from visits.
However, a system that requires people to register would place a new burden on the public. Furthermore, looking up personal information, such as where people have moved to, could constitute a violation of privacy.
Due to the spread of the internet, the number of people without television sets is increasing, especially among younger generations. It is only natural that a succession of expert committee members expressed resistance to the proposal.
Making payments obligatory has been discussed time and again. In 2007, then-Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Yoshihide Suga stated that such a move be made in tandem with a reduction of about 20% in the receiving fee. The latest proposal surfaced a month after Suga began serving as prime minister.
Ongoing reviews of the standards for the receiving fee are required. But no matter how much the receiving fee is lowered by, unless NHK presents the shape it should take as a public broadcaster and receives a sense of approval from the public for it, then it will not be able to win the people's understanding in making fees compulsory.
Suspicions of intervention by NHK's Board of Governors in an NHK-produced program about illicit practices at Japan Post Insurance Co., Ltd. have surfaced, but the broadcaster did not respond sincerely to a freedom-of-information request regarding the case. Before anything, NHK should try to dispel a sense of distrust toward it.