The Lower House Internal Affairs and Communications Committee on May 25 railroaded a bill to establish a new Broadcast Law, and the bill is now before the Upper House’s corresponding committee. The ruling parties should not pass the problematic bill. Instead they should put it to public discussions so that a better bill is developed.

The bill originally contained a clause that would strengthen the power of the Radio Regulatory Council, an advisory body for the internal affairs and communications minister, by allowing the council to examine important factors in broadcasting such as “contribution to the development of democracy,” “neutrality” and “truthfulness” on its own and then present its opinions to the communications minister.

Opposition forces and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations argued that the wording of the clause is so vague that it could lead the council to interfere in broadcast content. These criticisms forced the ruling bloc to drop the clause before sending the bill to the Upper House.

Still the bill remains problematic. It would allow the entry of firms that broadcast programs even though they don’t own their broadcast facilities. At present, in principle, broadcast firms that have adequate broadcast facilities receive licenses. The new system proposed in the bill could lead to the minister’s interference in broadcast content because the minister would examine and certify such companies.

The bill would allow the minister to stop these firms from broadcasting if they violate the law.

Under the bill, the president of NHK, who chairs the executive board of Japan’s public broadcast organization, would also serve as a member of the board of governors, who represent the public and decide on important matters concerning NHK’s operations. The proposed system could disproportionately increase the president’s influence.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi should give serious thought to how to prevent his ministry’s interference in the freedom of expression.

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