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Keep a close eye on broadcast law reforms

The Yomiuri Shimbun

From left, Yoshihiro Oto, Tadashi Nishi and Ichiya Nakamura

The Yomiuri ShimbunMisgivings persist about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to reform broadcast laws. These misgivings are based on the strong fear that if Abe succeeds in separating broadcasting facilities from program production, as well as repealing the mandate for political impartiality in Article 4 of the Broadcast Law, broadcasting quality will suffer. The Yomiuri Shimbun asked three experts about the issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2018)

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Quality programming could suffer a decline

Yoshihiro Oto / Professor at Sophia University

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apparently thinks that unifying communications and broadcasting will create competition and stimulate the content industry, but he seems to be moving the discussion forward with no regard to the role broadcasting has played in society. I can’t help but find some of the proposed revisions perplexing.

First of all, I doubt that repealing Article 4 of the Broadcast Law and allowing broadcasting stations to freely compete and express opinions will produce quality programming.

The more diverse media is, the richer discussion it is said to produce. So would removing regulations and giving everyone free rein create diverse programming? Surely things would not go that well. Although complete freedom would increase titillating programming that gets viewers’ attention, there would be less of the sort of programming that is subdued but of high quality and in the public interest, and the overall diversity of programming would actually be likely to decrease.

There may be a surge of politically biased programs and programs full of graphic sex and violence, while programs like documentaries that are made over long periods may be backed into a corner. It would become a world where “bad money drives out good money.”

Some people may think the programming of somewhat regulated broadcasting stations is so sophisticated that it is not interesting when compared to the internet, but a major benefit of maintaining political impartiality through regulations is that more people get access to journalism that is neutral and holds high public interest.

To ensure diverse discussion, it is important to allow the free, unregulated space of the internet to coexist with the regulated space of broadcasting. Keeping internet discussions from going overboard is another reason we need to maintain certain broadcasting regulations to guarantee high standards of public interest and neutrality.

There are also many concerns with these proposed reforms from an economic perspective. Abe seems to think that if the barrier between communications and broadcasting is removed, many internet businesses will jump into the market. However, as far as I know, internet businesses are currently not so motivated to get involved. “AbemaTV,” the internet broadcasting station Abe has appeared on, is still not out of the red, and many internet businesses are biding their time to see what they should do to succeed.

Even if the Prime Minister’s Office takes the lead to remove regulations, the essential new participants may not step forward.

People couldn’t be blamed for seeing the prime minister’s move to revise broadcasting laws at this time as an attempt to restrain critical broadcasts surrounding the scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution. I can’t help feeling like this “reform” led by the Prime Minister’s Office is not so much for the sake of the people as for the sake of the administration.

— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Yasuaki Kobayashi.

■Yoshihiro Oto

He specializes in media theory. He has been in his current position since 2007 after being a guest researcher at Columbia University, among other posts. He also serves as chair of the Association of Broadcast Critics, an incorporated nonprofit organization. He is 56.

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Citizens don’t want broadcasting to be like the internet

Ichiya Nakamura / Professor at Keio University

For over 60 years since the spread of television, broadcasting has been built on the people’s trust. Citizens can share important information during emergencies with no regional disparities and receive honest and politically impartial information. The public has no desire to lose its faith in broadcasting.

The government’s Regulatory Reform Promotion Council is trying to repeal Article 4 of the Broadcast Law, which requires political impartiality, to remove barriers between communication channels such as broadcasting and the internet.

The internet has been playing an increasingly important role recently, but anything goes in the online world. In Japan, the Broadcast Law gives a broad guideline, while the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (established by NHK and an association of commercial broadcasters) has its own autonomous system for program deliberation.

Repeal of Article 4 would mean systems like this would disappear. There might be certain expectations regarding broadcasting on the government’s side, but what is important is how the people react. Citizens do not want broadcasting to go the way of the internet, with fake broadcasts allowed.

Besides fake news, there are many other urgent issues surrounding the internet, such as the safety of young people and the circulation of pirated media. There is an argument in Europe that broadcasting regulations should be imposed on the internet, so a proposal to loosen broadcasting regulations is going against the grain.

However, the government must take care when intervening in the online world. First, efforts to ensure the legitimacy of private online businesses are required.

Also, it would be questionable to consider deregulating the entry of foreign capital into the business. Such deregulation could bring in capital from China and North Korea. This is hardly the time to try to vitalize the business by placing our broadcasts under the risk of foreign influence.

The Broadcast Act already has a system in place to separate commercial broadcasting facilities from program production. Japan has one of the world’s leading systems for this.

However, no business has tried to use this to enter broadcasting, and this is not the time to push it with deregulation. Even if we separate the hard from the soft, there will be no increase in new business endeavors, meaning Nippon TV would only split up into “Nippon TV signal” and “Nippon TV programming,” for example.

We can’t discuss broadcasting policy only as industrial policy, because various issues like public interest and culture come into play. The public interest in broadcasting is also not that simple because people of different generations have different mind-sets, so there seems to be something wrong with the idea of suddenly changing the system. We shouldn’t rush to any conclusion without a clear vision of the place of broadcasting and the internet in the lives of our citizens.

— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Naho Osawa.

■Ichiya Nakamura

He specializes in media policy and has been in his current position since 2006 after serving at the former Posts and Telecommunications Ministry. His written works include “Tsushin to Hoso no Yugo” (The fusion of communications and broadcasting). He is 57.

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Is the true intention to dismantle public broadcasting?

Tadashi Nishi / Broadcasting critic

The goal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s broadcasting reform is to amend the Broadcast Law to encourage internet TV stations to enter the terrestrial broadcasting market, under the assumption that terrestrial broadcasting and internet TV are the same from the viewer’s perspective. This is extremely poor logic that will never be approved of by the public.

Meanwhile, the Regulatory Reform Promotion Council is considering holding frequency auctions for wavelengths — a finite resource — to effectively use broadcast frequencies through its promotion of the internet. These frequency auctions seem to be a way to threaten commercial broadcasting, but all they would do is harm the political impartiality of broadcasting.

It can be inferred that the prime minister’s real intention is to repeal Article 4 of the Broadcast Law. Article 4 demands that political impartiality be maintained. If this is repealed, stations may only be able to air broadcasts that benefit the administration at the time. Considering the fact this article was established in light of the strong influence of broadcasting, we cannot allow it to be repealed so easily.

If Abe wants to create the Liberal Democratic Party’s own channel, it can do so right now on the internet without reforming broadcasting laws. This is because the internet has no particular requirement for political impartiality. The fact that Abe is calling for broadcasting reform shows he is well aware that terrestrial broadcasting and internet TV are not the same thing.

The reason Abe is pushing for broadcasting reform despite this contradiction is probably because he is unhappy with some commercial broadcasters’ critiques of him. I suppose his true intention is to dismantle all of commercial broadcasting.

This would mean that news journalism would be left to NHK, and that anyone who can collect money and buy air time from a commercial broadcaster would do as they please, but this would not maintain the commonality of broadcasting.

Abe is also trying to implement simultaneous online transmissions of NHK broadcasts, but this would mean sending the same content over broadcasting frequencies and online communications channels, a policy that seems to be the complete opposite of effective wavelength use.

The fact that copyrights are treated differently in broadcasting and on the internet when it comes to remuneration and consent is also a problem. For example, let’s say NHK doesn’t get consent to transmit a sumo match in a simultaneous online broadcast. There is a need to ask the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to amend copyright law, but this is not simple because so many different rights are involved. If Abe continues to conveniently harp on only broadcasting reform while avoiding the unresolved issue of copyright law reform, he will only highlight how shallow his proposals are.

— Contributed by Tadashi Nishi

■Tadashi Nishi

He graduated from the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law, then worked at Mitsui Bank (now Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.) and served as the director of the Japan Research Institute Ltd.’s media research center before becoming an independent broadcasting critic. He is 59.Speech

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