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


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.

  • GBR48

    There’s no legal difference between a written pledge to never remove the device and a written pledge to never watch NHK.

    If the device just plugs in the back, then your TV is technically unchanged and still capable of receiving NHK as per the legal requirement. The TV would presumably have to be sold with the device soldered in place, internally, or have a firmware block that could not be undone by the user, to qualify.

    Unless 1seg is excluded from the licence, many people have phones that can receive NHK channels anyway.

    • midnightbrewer

      It’s no less screwy than the laws used to enforce NHK subscriptions in the first place, or ensuring their mandate to be impartial.

  • JimmyJM

    Most TV channel news programs show a political bias. NHK is no exception but it should be. I don’t want to pay a tax (subscription fee) to support a political party I rarely agree with. Unfortunately, Professor Kakeya’s device isn’t the solution. The only likely solution would be to stop the subscription fee and let the broadcaster go private which would mean commercials. Or they could follow the path of America’s National Public Radio which asks for donations and allows sponsors but only announces who they are at the beginning and end of the program.

    • socrateos

      NHK is more like BBC in UK, where people have to pay fee like in Japan. And I find BBC/NHK so much more interesting to watch than PBS, perhaps, due to PBS’s poor financial base.

      I have a strong suspect that most people in Japan watch NHK anyway and his device will not sell very well.

      • JimmyJM

        Thanks for the correction. I said “NPR” but meant “PBS”. Guess I’ve been in Japan too long. I agree there is much that is entertaining on NHK. Their sports coverage without commercials is really a pleasure to watch – particularly the sumo and football. I don’t think the BBC has become as politicized as NHK has. That is NHK’s main drawback. And while I pay the terrestrial “tax”, I dislike the thought that my payment is going to support a particular political party’s efforts. I console myself with the realization that those sports announcers certainly don’t work for free.

  • Doubting Thomas

    The proper solution is to tell the NHK guy “I don’t have a TV.”

    Problem solved.

    • J.P. Bunny

      I just tell the guy “I don’t do that”, then close the door. He once spent several minutes yelling at the closed door demanding payment. Certainly not the way to win customers.

      • Doubting Thomas

        ….don’t do that…. If you tell them you don’t have a TV they will leave you alone.

  • Rebane

    I have an Ōoka-sabaki proposal: How about NHK renting such a device at a price cheaper than an annual fee so that the both sides may share the loss?

  • As Takeshi Kitano said, “Why don’t we make TVs that can’t receive the NHK signal?”

    NHK should be a scrambled for people who don’t pay. If you want to watch it, you have to pay. I guess it’s easier to make money by bullying people into payments by appearing at their doorstep from time to time (like an organized crime syndicate).