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NHK may charge viewer fees for Internet, smartphone usage

TOKYO —

“NHK is going to start charging viewer fees to owners of smartphones, car navigation units, Nintendo DS game units and the like.”

That’s the rumor going around political and broadcast media circles, at any rate.

But is there any truth to it? Shukan Taishu (June 24) wonders.

“There’s a chance that all households with a TV unit will be saddled with an additional NHK fee of 2,450 yen every two months,” says a source in the broadcast industry.

But the magazine points out that it’s the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (i.e., the government) that approves viewer fees. Which essentially means the buck stops with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While Abe is said to have heated disagreements with NHK in the past, more recently, the two sides have reached a modus vivendi.

The mutual hostility appears to date back to 2005, when NHK’s educational channel broadcast a special documentary on the wartime sex slaves (euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”).

“Just prior to the broadcast, Mr Abe was serving as the deputy-chief cabinet officer,” recalls an LDP Diet member. “He said the program’s contents were ‘too one-sided’ and tried to apply pressure to alter the program. The producer reacted by announcing a press conference at which he wept in front of the media, while protesting government pressure.

“Afterwards Abe remarked that the program was ‘not true’ and the relationship subsequently worsened.”

During his previous tenure as prime minister, at which time he suffered health problems, Abe apparently blamed NHK for negative treatment in the media.

Just after Abe was reelected in December of last year, most of the participants who took part in an NHK panel discussion program called “Tettei Toron” (detailed debate) were critics of Abe and his policies.

As recently as April 8, Abe truculently posted on his Facebook page, “NHK has refrained from reporting on my conference with the president of Mexico, so I am posting it here.” When he subsequently learned that NHK had in fact reported the meeting on its 19:00 news broadcast he posted an apology.

“The Facebook posting did not create much of a stir,” said the previously mentioned broadcast industry source, “But it clearly shows that Abe is oversensitive about NHK in general.”

Meanwhile, as a result of NHK’s reduction in viewer fees from last autumn, the broadcaster’s revenues declined by 1.3 billion yen. The two sides now appear to have announced a cease-fire, and NHK is hoping that in exchange for Abe’s good will it can expect government approval on a new fee structure—a “win-win situation” as Abe likes to call it, according to broadcast journalist Makoto Odagiri.

“From this month, NHK has set up a new ‘Media Planning Office,’” says Makoto Kanazawa, a broadcast critic. “It has shown extraordinary interest in charging fees for Internet usage.”

Imposing such a fee would, needless to say, bring in enormous revenues, but NHK is not satisfied even with that. Not content to stop at personal computers, it is also said to be considering a fee on any device capable of receiving a TV signal—as Article 96 of the broadcast law entitles it to do. In other words, mobile telephones, car navigation systems, and even console type video games.

What’s more, every single unit would be taxed. So a trucking company with 100 vehicles equipped with navigation systems would pay for its office, plus all the trucks in its fleet—101 in total.

Empowered by the laws, NHK will also go after fees from households using cable TV, from which it has not energetically attempted collection up to now.

NHK is also pursuing corporate deadbeats who have neglected to pay. From July 2012 it went to court against the Toyoko Inn and several other business hotel chains, which NHK claims are in arrears for 521 million yen in viewer fees for the TV units in their guest rooms.

From the cozy new relationship between Abe and NHK’s ravenous appetite for money to lavish on its overpaid employees—and abetted by the “spineless” mass media that neglects to report what’s going on—it looks like Japan’s sheeple are being set up for another shearing.

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