NHK should Present Concrete Measures for Cut to Receiving Fees

It is vital for NHK to expedite self-sacrificing reform and drastically reduce receiving fees. The public broadcaster should release to the public as soon as possible concrete measures on how it will realize this.

NHK has recently compiled its midterm business plan for fiscal 2021 through 2023 and announced it will lower the receiving fees it collects sometime in fiscal 2023. It plans to allocate about ¥70 billion, or about 10% of its annual receiving fee revenue, to financial resources to cover the fee cut and study ways of cutting receiving fees at a later date.

By the end of fiscal 2020, NHK’s surplus funds, or internal reserves, are expected to total ¥145 billion, nearly double the fiscal 2015 amount. It reportedly plans to establish a system to set aside part of the funds to realize a reduction in receiving fees.

In August last year when the broadcaster announced its business plan, it said it would keep receiving fees unchanged. Now that Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda, who took office in September, has strongly demanded the lowering of receiving fees along with mobile phone fees, NHK probably had no choice but to include a fee cut in the latest plan.

First and foremost, NHK is a special public corporation under the Broadcast Law, thus it does not need to make a profit. Accumulating internal reserves is inappropriate, and it is only natural for the broadcaster to return the money to viewers.

Regarding specific methods to lower receiving fees, NHK President Terunobu Maeda said at a recent press conference that the outline will be ready after the end of fiscal 2022. He said the broadcaster would also assess variations in receiving fee revenues, but NHK’s response is too slow.

Takeda has asked NHK to help households suffering financially due to the novel coronavirus pandemic by reducing fees, but it will not be in time.

In addition, the planned receiving fee reduction may be in place only for a year, depending on future trends of fiscal balance. A temporary fee cut will never win the understanding of viewers.

It is necessary to drastically review not only the handling of surplus funds but also the business in a bid to realize a receiving fee system that can convince many people.

NHK should accelerate the restructuring of subsidiaries that compete with the private sector in such areas as event planning and product sales. The plan calls for reducing the size of the NHK group and the number of related companies, but it does not provide concrete measures for how to do it.

While speeding up the review process, NHK should additionally examine whether each segment of work is necessary in the first place.

The plan also calls for the elimination or consolidation of its satellite broadcast and radio channels. Some fear that cultural programs such as language-learning radio programs might be discontinued. Service degradation must be avoided in its core business of providing high-quality programs.

Entertainment programs similar to those of commercial broadcasters have become more conspicuous. It is essential for NHK to reconfirm its primary role as public broadcaster, as more viewers turn away from watching TV due to the widespread use of the internet. It is not just a matter of lowering receiving fees.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 18, 2021.