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Gov’t mulls abolishing political fairness clause in broadcasting law

  • March 15, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 2:54 p.m.
  • English Press

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is considering abolishing a legal clause demanding broadcasters ensure political fairness, claiming it would spur competition and diversify programs, an internal document obtained by Kyodo News showed Thursday.


By loosening regulations for TV and radio programs, the government aims to help more businesses enter into the broadcasting market, but the envisioned overhaul is likely to spark controversy as broadcasters with strong party colors could be established.


The government plans to abolish Article 4 of Japan’s broadcasting law, which provides that a broadcaster shall not negatively influence public safety and morals, shall be politically fair, shall not distort the facts and shall clarify the points at issue from as many angles as possible where there are conflicting opinions.


But a senior official of a private broadcaster expressed caution about removing the clause, saying, “The government is probably hoping to create a broadcaster that speaks for the administration.”


Due to various views surrounding Article 4, it remains unknown whether the government will actually be able to abolish the clause.


Article 4 was also often used by politicians and bureaucrats to pressure broadcasters airing programs critical of the government as the Internal Affairs and Communications minister can, according to government interpretations, suspend the use of radio waves or take other administrative measures if broadcasters are deemed to have violated the provision.


While some in the broadcasting industry favor the abolition of the article for fear of potential abuses, others are concerned about possibly more diversified but one-sided programs.


In the United States, TV and radio programs are said to have developed stronger party colors, aiding a social division in the country after the principle of broadcasting fairness was abolished in 1987.


According to the document, the government will unify different regulations currently applied to online and conventional broadcasters. A simple copyright procedure currently allowed for conventional broadcasters will be expanded for online ones.


As for Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, also known as Japan Broadcasting Corp., program editing disciplines will be maintained, while it will be permitted to simultaneously broadcast its programs both on TV and the internet.


Under the plan, businesses dealing with program editing or other content services and others handling broadcasting equipment will be completely separated. Different legal systems will be applied according to functions such as video transmission, rather than traditional business sectors.


The reform “will create a growth market where a variety of broadcasters can offer attractive programs to consumers by competing with one another,” the document said.


It is believed the government has an idea of letting existing broadcasters return part of the radio waves they were allocated, as the document touched on “the establishment of a program distribution network with reduced dependence on radio wave broadcasting so that waves, an asset for people, could be better utilized.”


Since January, Abe has repeatedly spoken about “the need to drastically review the broadcasting business.” The Cabinet Office’s regulatory reform promotion council is considering an overhaul and its policy proposal is expected to be compiled in a report around May.

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