(Tokyo Shimbun: February 10, 2016 – p. 2)
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi referred again to the possibility of the government issuing a suspension order based on the Radio Act if broadcasters repeatedly violate the law at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 9. The opposition parties have expressed criticism that such an act could lead to intimidating broadcasters and reporters.
Question: Is it possible for the government to block radio waves?
Answer: There are two laws that govern the suspension of radio waves. One is Article 4 of Broadcast Act, which stipulates rules on the editing of programs. This requires broadcasters to edit programs in a way that ensures political fairness.
Q: How about the other law?
A: The Radio Act governs permits and licenses concerning the use of radio waves. Article 76 says that the minister can order a broadcaster to suspend its operations for up to three months if it violates the Broadcast Act. Takaichi mentioned that this punitive provision can also apply to a broadcaster which fails to maintain political fairness.
Q: If a broadcaster airs a program that takes a different stance from the government’s, could the government block radio waves?
A: The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The Broadcast Act states that its purpose is “to ensure freedom of expression through broadcasting.” Takaichi explained that a broadcaster would not face suspension of radio waves for violating law only one time. But she added that the suspension of radio waves would be carefully considered if the same broadcaster committed similar violations repeatedly and did not make efforts to improve the situation.
Q: So there’s not much to worry about, is there?
A: What is worrisome is that moves are being made to intimidate broadcasters. In April, the Liberal Democratic Party questioned senior officials of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) and TV Asahi. NHK allegedly aired a “staged” news program. As for TV Asahi, an anchorperson criticized the government in a news program. In November, the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) criticized the LDP’s questioning of NHK official s as “applying pressure.” Later, NHK decided to replace the anchorperson of the program. These moves are sparking fears about the nature of broadcasting.
Q: That sounds serious.
A: Goshi Hosono, policy affairs chief at the Democratic Party of Japan, said at a Feb. 9 press conference: “I am extremely concerned that the government is taking advantage of Article 4 of Broadcast Act to intimidate broadcasters.” The way the government is handling this issue will likely stimulate further discussion in the Diet.