The Tokyo High Court on Monday overturned a lower court ruling and said the owner of a cellphone with a mobile TV function is obliged to pay the NHK subscription fee.
Under the Broadcast Law, anyone who installs a TV receiver is obliged to sign a contract with NHK regardless of he or she views its programs.
Masanobu Ohashi, a 42-year-old assemblyman in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, claimed the law does not cover cellphones and thus he was not obliged to sign a subscription contract.
Ohashi said he doesn’t have a TV set at home and has never watched an NHK program using his cellphone.
But Judge Toshimasa Fukami said the legal wording is not necessarily the same as its plain interpretation and that the law covers cellphones.
The case was one of five similar lawsuits filed in Japan. In the four other cases, district courts ruled in favor of NHK, also known as Japan Broadcasting Corp., while the Saitama District Court ruled against it.
In August 2016, the Saitama court ruled it is unreasonable to say that possessing a cellphone amounts to “installing” a TV function. It also ruled that the criteria for paying the NHK fee needs to be clearly stipulated as with taxes.
Two previous rulings handed down by the Tokyo High Court determined that owners of cellphones with TV functions are obliged to sign a contract with NHK.
Ohashi said he intends to appeal the decision, but NHK’s public relations bureau said in a statement that the ruling was “reasonable.”
NHK argues that a cellphone with mobile TV capabilities should be considered a receiver, noting: “As long as its programs can be watched, an owner has an obligation” to pay the subscription fee.
In December last year, the Supreme Court ruled that owners of TVs in Japan are legally required to sign up with NHK and pay the fee, dismissing a claim that the fee collection system violates the freedom of contract guaranteed by the Constitution.
With more people watching TV programs only via cellphone or the internet, observers say the top court may need to rule on whether the fee should apply in those cases.