• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is considering abolishing a legal clause demanding broadcasters ensure political fairness, claiming it would spur competition and diversify programs, an internal document obtained by Kyodo News showed Thursday.

By loosening regulations for TV and radio programs, the government aims to help more businesses enter the broadcasting market, but the envisioned overhaul is likely to spark controversy as broadcasters with strong party allegiances could be established.

The government plans to abolish Article 4 of the broadcasting law, which provides that a broadcaster shall not negatively influence public safety and morals, shall be politically fair, shall not distort the facts and shall clarify the points at issue from as many angles as possible where there are conflicting opinions.

But a senior official of a private broadcaster expressed caution about removing the clause, saying, “The government is probably hoping to create a broadcaster that speaks for the administration.”

Due to various views surrounding Article 4, it remains unknown whether the government will actually be able to abolish the clause.

Article 4 was also often used by politicians and bureaucrats to pressure broadcasters airing programs critical of the government as the Internal Affairs and Communications minister can, according to government interpretations, suspend the use of radio broadcasts or take other administrative measures if broadcasters are deemed to have violated the provision.

While some in the broadcasting industry favor the abolition of the article for fear of its potential abuse, others are concerned about the proliferation of possibly more diverse but also more one-sided programs.

In the United States, TV and radio programs were said to have developed stronger alignments to political parties, aiding social divisions in the country, after the principle of broadcasting fairness was abolished in 1987.

According to the document, Japan’s government plans to unify different regulations currently applied to online and conventional broadcasters. A simple copyright procedure currently allowed for conventional broadcasters will also be expanded to online ones.

As for public broadcaster NHK, officially known as Japan Broadcasting Corp., current program editing disciplines will be maintained, while it will be permitted to simultaneously broadcast its programs both on TV and the internet.

Under the plan, businesses dealing with program editing or other content services and others handling broadcasting equipment will be completely separated. Different legal systems will be applied according to functions, such as video transmission, rather than according to traditional business sectors.

The reform “will create a growth market where a variety of broadcasters can offer attractive programs to consumers by competing with one another,” the document said.

It is believed the government is considering letting existing broadcasters return part of the radio spectrum they’ve been allocated, as the document touched on “the establishment of a program distribution network with reduced dependence on radio wave broadcasting so that waves, an asset for people, could be better utilized.”

Since January, Abe has repeatedly spoken about “the need to drastically review the broadcasting business.” The Cabinet Office’s regulatory reform promotion council is considering an overhaul and its policy proposal is expected to be compiled in a report around May.

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