NHK should Put Lowering of Fees ahead of Intensifying Fee Collection

Rather than thoroughly collecting receiving fees, drastically cutting the fees and boldly streamlining the organization should be prioritized. To establish a fair receiving fee system, the most important thing is to win the understanding of viewers.

The government has approved a bill to revise the Broadcast Law at a Cabinet meeting and has submitted it to the ordinary Diet session. The main pillar of the bill is to establish a system to set aside funds in order to secure financial resources to reduce NHK’s receiving fees.

Under the reserve funds system, NHK will accumulate part of its surplus funds carried forward (internal reserves) plus a certain amount of earnings for each fiscal year, during the mid-term management plan that is compiled by NHK every three years.

NHK’s surplus funds are expected to reach about ¥145 billion at the end of fiscal 2020. NHK plans to secure about ¥70 billion to reduce the fees by about 10% in fiscal 2023. It aims to do this by using part of the surplus funds and other means, such as generating funds through reviewing a construction plan to build a new broadcasting center.

However, it is unclear how much of the ¥145 billion in surplus funds will be spent as financial resources for that purpose. It is essentially inappropriate for NHK, a special corporation, to accumulate internal reserves.

NHK intends to give priority to cutting its satellite broadcasting contract fees, but also to maintain the level of receiving fees for terrestrial broadcasting for the time being. The timing of the fee reduction set for fiscal 2023 is also late. It cannot be said to be a drastic reform of the fees that viewers would appreciate.

It is also worrisome that the revision bill includes a system to levy a surcharge on households that have not signed viewership contracts with the broadcaster despite owning television sets.

Last year, NHK called for making it mandatory for people with television sets to report to the broadcaster. However, due to strong opposition from the public, the surcharge system was proposed as an alternative.

NHK’s current rules on receiving fees also include a provision regarding a surcharge, but there have been no examples of applying the provision before. NHK apparently hopes that the surcharge system will be specified in the Broadcast Law and will have the effect of encouraging payment of the receiving fees.

Nearly 20% of all households in Japan did not pay the receiving fees in fiscal 2019. It is understandable that NHK aims to correct the resulting sense of unfairness.

However, if the broadcaster wants to strengthen the collection of the receiving fees, convincing viewers is the prerequisite. If the public considers the surcharge as a “fine,” it would work adversely and public distrust of NHK could increase. The issue of the propriety of the surcharge should be debated at the Diet.

The revision bill would allow NHK to set up an “intermediate holding company” to manage its subsidiaries in such areas as event planning and product sales. The move is aimed at improving the efficiency of each subsidiary’s administrative divisions and reducing the number of those in executive positions.

Rather, it is more important to examine whether there is a real need for subsidiaries competing with the private sector, and to downsize bloated businesses. Based on that, NHK should make efforts to further cut the receiving fees so that the public will be able to enjoy the benefits.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 3, 2021.