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Panel balks at proposing the killing of Japan’s political fairness clause

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A government deregulation council on Monday dropped a key proposal — reportedly favored by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — to eliminate the political fairness clause from the Broadcast Law.

The proposal drew criticism for potentially opening up the nation’s airwaves to a deluge of politically charged programs and internet-driven “fake news.”

The Regulatory Reform Promotion Council submitted to Abe a final set of recommendations meant to foster deregulation in areas including agriculture, employment, medicine and investment.

The recommendations include a series of measures aimed at helping students from overseas land jobs in Japan as the nation struggles to meet a goal adopted by the government’s 2016 growth strategy to boost the foreign student employment rate in Japan to 50 percent.

The final report skirts any mention of the Broadcast Law’s Article 4, which requires broadcasters to keep their programming politically neutral, despite an initial plan within the government to repeal it.

Instead, the council listed measures designed to, among other things, facilitate live-streaming of TV content and better promote Japan’s TV content, such as anime, overseas.

“I want the internal affairs ministry and other related entities to comprehensively study how to make our broadcast business more future-oriented — in particular from the perspective of how to make it more innovative, global and user-friendly,” Abe said upon receiving the report.

Media reports emerged in mid-March that the Abe government was eyeing a drastic overhaul of the nation’s broadcast businesses by stripping away a batch of regulations imposed by the Broadcast Law — including the principle of political fairness — on TV and radio stations. Article 4 has often drawn comparisons with the now-defunct Fairness Doctrine in the U.S., which required political balance in broadcasting.

The deregulation could have paved the way for internet-based, video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu to make greater forays into the world of TV and thus encourage competition with conventional broadcasters.

But the notion of scrapping Article 4 at the same time spurred worries that it may lead to the advent of politically marketed programs that could polarize the public, possibly even underscoring, as some experts noted, Abe’s desire to see the birth of TV programs that advertise his views.

Momentum for revising the Broadcast Law, however, appeared to fizzle out after TV station representatives and some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including internal affairs minister Seiko Noda, publicly denounced the reported plan.

With Article 4 also urging broadcasters to keep their programming factually correct, Noda, for one, said its annulment could “lead to an increase in reportage that is not based on facts.”

Monday’s report by the council instead proposes establishing a “common platform” shared by broadcasters for livestreaming their content, and improving the business infrastructure of local TV stations.

To make Japan’s broadcast industry more globally competitive, it suggests “fundamentally strengthening” international broadcasting by NHK and further investing in efforts to clamp down on “illegal content” that undermines the profits of Japanese anime, including measures against pirate websites.

The recommendations also include a series of measures aimed at helping overseas students land jobs in Japan. The council, for one thing, proposed streamlining the red tape that small and midsize companies currently must go through to hire foreign students.

The council took issue with the dearth of Japanese universities whose foreign graduates are designated by the Justice Minister as eligible to receive extra points under the government-backed “highly skilled foreign professionals” program.

The report says the number of such institutions, which currently stands at 13, should be increased so that more students will qualify for a variety of visa perks granted by the program and feel encouraged to keep working in Japan.

In another suggestion, the council said not only local municipalities but universities should be declared eligible to help aspiring foreign entrepreneurs prepare capital of ¥5 million — the amount they need to amass to switch their visa status from students to business managers. Currently, local governments are allowed to finance up to ¥2 million on behalf of students.