National

NHK filter gives viewers ‘legal’ way to avoid Japan’s TV tax

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

All households in Japan that possess a TV set are legally obliged to pay subscription fees to NHK regardless of whether they watch the public broadcaster’s programs. An engineering professor at Tsukuba University is now challenging that, with a device that filters out NHK’s broadcast signal.

Around 130 of the devices have been sold so far, mostly through online retailers, according to Hideki Kakeya, an associate professor of systems engineering at Tsukuba University in Ibaraki Prefecture. He developed the device with students.

One filter user, a member of the municipal assembly in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, filed a lawsuit June 1 demanding that NHK acknowledge he has no legal obligation to pay the fees.

Dubbed the Iranehk — a play on “NHK” and irane, a colloquial phrase meaning “I don’t need it” — the device filters out NHK signals only, thereby giving users the option of legally refusing to pay the subscription fee, he said.

The filter for terrestrial broadcasting, which measures 7.5 cm by 2.1 cm, costs ¥7,965, while one designed for BS programs, 6 cm by 2.1 cm, costs ¥7,587.

Article 64 of the Broadcast Law stipulates that “a person who has installed equipment capable of receiving NHK broadcasts is mandated to reach a subscription contract (with NHK),” giving the broadcaster a legal basis for charging the monthly fees of ¥1,225 for terrestrial broadcasting programs and ¥2,170 for BS programs.

Kakeya says he came up with the idea for the device after witnessing NHK neglect its legal duty to uphold political neutrality, a threat, he says, to democracy. Article 4 of the Broadcast Law states NHK must be “politically impartial.”

In particular, he cites NHK’s request in 2013 that YouTube remove a video clip showing Diet deliberations on the “comfort women” issue.

In March 2013, YouTube users uploaded two clips of NHK coverage of the Diet deliberations. While the clips showed lawmakers with opposing views, NHK tried to take down only one of them — evidence it failed to meet impartiality, Kakeya said.

He also cited the alleged staging of an interview in a May 2014 episode of the news feature program “Close-up Gendai.”

“Fake interviews, intentional editing and numerous other incidents that go against the public nature of NHK have come to light,” Kakeya said. “Behind such incidents is the lack of a system to ensure NHK retains a public character. . . . As long as such a system does not exist, citizens should be guaranteed the right not to subscribe to NHK. We developed this device so as to give the citizens the technical option of choosing whether or not to subscribe.”

NHK said in a written statement to The Japan Times that the broadcaster is aware of Kakeya’s filter, but people using it are still mandated to pay subscription fees.

“The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (formerly the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications), which has jurisdiction over the Broadcast Law, has said that TV sets that have been altered so as not to receive NHK signals will be subject to contracts (with NHK) if they can be restored to the original state,” NHK said. “TV sets that have their antennas removed and have temporarily lost access to NHK broadcasts also need to have a contract, because access will return if the antennas are re-connected. Therefore, it’s our position that (people using) an antenna that is capable of cutting NHK signals need to subscribe.”

Takashi Tachibana, a member of the Funabashi Municipal Assembly who filed a lawsuit asking that the court confirm his right not to subscribe to NHK, said he has submitted a written pledge that he will not remove Kakeya’s filter from his TV set, or else he will pay the fees. The first session of Tachibana’s case is scheduled for July 10 at the Tokyo Summary Court.