Communications ministry distorted broadcasting regulatory administration

A third-party panel of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry that examined the issue of the violation of foreign capital regulations by broadcasting-related company Tohokushinsha Film Corp. has released a report determining that the ministry cannot escape from accusations that “regulatory administration has been distorted.”

The communications ministry bears a heavy responsibility for undermining public trust in regulatory administration. The ministry must seriously reflect on this and make efforts to improve the transparency of administrative procedures.

The Broadcast Law stipulates that foreign investment in a broadcasting operator must be less than 20%. In 2016, when Tohokushinsha applied for approval for its satellite broadcasting business, the figure exceeded 20%. The ministry revoked the approval for the company to operate as a satellite broadcaster on May 1 after the problem came to light this year.

The president of Tohokushinsha, who was summoned to testify before the Diet as an unsworn witness in March this year, explained that he had already reported the matter to the ministry in August 2017. However, the ministry official in charge at that time repeatedly said that he did not remember receiving the information.

It would be problematic if the ministry knew about the violation of the foreign capital regulations in 2017 and ignored it.

In October 2017, after obtaining approval from the ministry, Tohokushinsha moved its satellite broadcasting business from its main unit to a subsidiary.

One of the focal points of the third-party panel’s investigation was clarification of the discrepancy in the explanations of the ministry and Tohokushinsha regarding when they realized that the company had violated the foreign capital regulations.

The report said that the panel failed to determine the facts, but pointed out, it is “highly likely that the division chief in charge and other ministry officials were aware of the facts at the time.”

According to the report, despite the high possibility that the ministry had been aware of the violation of the foreign capital regulations, it did not take any steps to revoke the authorization for Tohokushinsha’s satellite broadcasting business, and instead confirmed its policy of allowing the broadcaster to continue the business. The report concluded that such behavior constituted a “distortion of regulatory administration.”

However, such issues as the discrepancy between the explanations given by the ministry and Tohokushinsha, and whether the excessive wining and dining of ministry officials by the company distorted regulatory administration are the key to the true nature of this scandal. Therefore, the scandal should not be wrapped up while these issues remain unclear. Further investigation is needed.

Meanwhile, the ministry has released the results of an internal investigation into the wining-and-dining scandal, identifying a total of 78 cases of dinners that are suspected of violating the national public service ethics code, including those involving Tohokushinsha. The number has greatly increased from the 38 cases that were revealed in February this year.

In response, the ministry imposed such disciplinary measures as pay cuts and reprimands for 32 officials.

The ethics code bans wining and dining with business figures and others, in principle. However, such events are allowed if bureaucrats pay a certain amount of the bill themselves and prior notification is given to the ministry, among other conditions.

To formulate policies, it is necessary to listen to the opinions of business figures to understand the current state of affairs. If such dinners are held, they must be in line with the rules. The ministry should take thorough measures to prevent the recurrence of such cases.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 5, 2021.