NHK fee boycott to tune of 50 billion yen

Scandal-tainted broadcaster vows autonomy, eyes legal action for payment

NHK anticipates up to around 50 billion yen in revenue loss for the fiscal year ending next March because many viewers are refusing to pay fees to the public broadcaster, NHK President Genichi Hashimoto said Tuesday.

Households refusing to pay and citing the recent NHK scandals and other reasons are estimated to number about 1.3 million at the end of this month, and the revenue from viewer charges for the six months through September will be around 23.7 billion yen short of the company’s projection, Hashimoto said.

If nonpayments continue at this pace, NHK could see a fiscal 2005 loss of around 50 billion yen, he said at a briefing in which he also announced an NHK “revival plan.”

In the plan, which will serve as the basis for its management programs for fiscal 2006-2008 to be drawn up by January, NHK will strive to be independent and autonomous as a public broadcaster, and aim to cut its workforce by 10 percent or some 1,200 workers.

The plan, approved at a meeting of the broadcaster’s executives Tuesday, also calls for considering legal action against viewers who refuse to pay fees.

Earlier Tuesday, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso said the government might allow NHK to take such action.

“It may be one of the options at present,” Aso said, referring to media reports that the public broadcaster is considering asking summary courts to issue orders for payment from fee dodgers.

A group of citizens refusing to pay the fees petitioned NHK on Tuesday to refrain from taking any legal action.

The group, led by University of Tokyo professor Satoshi Daigo, said in the petition, “NHK catered to politicians’ intervention and did not provide the autonomous broadcasting required of a public broadcaster,” referring to allegations that lawmakers pressured NHK in 2001 to alter a documentary on a tribunal that held the late Emperor Hirohito responsible for Japan’s wartime sex slaves.

The group says it is justifiable for viewers to withhold fee payments, arguing that NHK is not fulfilling its responsibility as a party to the viewership fee contract.