NHK was bombarded by about 600 complaints Wednesday as a new embezzlement case broke at a time when the government is talking about forcing viewers to pay the public broadcaster’s subscription fees.

The communications ministry has been threatening to make payment mandatory to shore up the finances of the ailing broadcaster, which has alienated viewers with a series of embezzlement and censorship scandals.

It has been estimated that about 30 percent of households that receive NHK now refuse to pay the fees.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is likely to submit a bill on making payment mandatory to the Diet next year, the sources said.

Satoru Matsubara, a professor at Toyo University and chairman of an advisory panel to the communications minister, said Tuesday that the broadcaster might be able to lower its fees by streamlining the fee collection process.

The network spends some 80 billion yen a year, or 12.9 percent of its annual revenue, on collecting subscription fees, which is “abnormal, however you look at it,” Matsubara said at a news conference.

He said the panel is likely to ask NHK to cut the fees before resorting to mandatory collection.

The fees account for most of NHK’s revenue, and there is no penalty for not paying.

The panel will address the question of how subscription fees should be collected when it publishes its report in May, Matsubara said.

The panel’s plan took a blow Wednesday as yet another case of embezzlement struck the public broadcaster.

Michisada Hirose, chairman of the Japan Association of Commercial Broadcasting in Japan and chairman of TV Asahi Corp., said he backs the idea of mandatory payment, noting that those who already pay it are critical of the current payment system.

NHK announced Tuesday that it had fired Tetsushi Oshita, 43, chief producer of its sports section in Sapporo, for swindling the broadcaster out of 17 million yen by claiming expenses for fictitious business trips. Oshita has admitted taking the money and has repaid it.

According to NHK, Oshita embezzled funds from January 2001 until this month, falsely claiming 17.62 million yen in expenses for a total of 242 business trips he never made. He allegedly used the money to buy clothes and for wining and dining.

NHK has also punished 12 others — Oshita’s current and past supervisors — with pay cuts and suspensions.

On a news program early Wednesday morning, NHK Chairman Genichi Hashimoto apologized for the incident.

But an outraged public flooded the NHK switchboard with calls after the announcement, with about 410 complaints received as of 10 a.m., according to NHK’s customer service center.

“Why do scandals like this continue for so long?” an NHK official at the customer service center quoted a caller as asking. Another caller was quoted as saying, “NHK must sincerely reflect on what it has done.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.