Public broadcaster must make every effort to substantially lower rate

It is only natural for NHK to substantially reduce its receiving fees. NHK must maximize the return of its unused surplus funds and establish a fee structure that is acceptable to the public.

The revised Broadcasting Law, which includes a provision to lower NHK’s receiving fees, has been passed during the current ordinary Diet session. A new system has been established under which a portion of surplus funds carried forward, tantamount to an internal reserve, will be set aside and used as a source of funds to lower the receiving fees.

NHK plans to lower its receiving fees in fiscal 2023. It is said to be planning to use about ¥70 billion of its surplus funds, equivalent to about 10% of its annual receiving fee income, as a source of funds. But is this really sufficient?

The surplus funds carried forward are expected to reach ¥198 billion at the end of fiscal 2022, about ¥40 billion more than two years ago. The reason for this is said to be a decrease in expenditures due to such factors as the cancellation of events because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

NHK is a special corporation under the law and is not required to pursue profits. It is inappropriate for NHK, which collects receiving fees from the public at large, to save an amount equivalent to nearly 30% of its annual income.

For a contract that includes access to satellite broadcasting, the annual receiving fee exceeds ¥20,000. It is important to further increase the source of funds for fee reductions and reduce the burden on households suffering from high prices of goods and services.

The revised law also introduced a system to collect a surcharge from households that own TV sets but do not sign a receiving contract without a valid reason.

It is said that nearly 20% of all households do not pay receiving fees. While it is understandable that the aim of the revised law is to correct the sense of unfairness, a system to impose what would be felt as a “penalty” may cause distrust among viewers. It should be administered with caution.

The revised law allows NHK to establish an intermediate holding company in order to unite subsidiaries that generate revenue through event planning, product sales and other businesses. The purpose is said to be to improve the efficiency of management.

However, specific measures to streamline the organization, such as the consolidation and elimination of businesses, have not been adequately presented. Some have cautioned that the management of the subsidiaries will become less transparent after they are put under the intermediate holding company. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry must continue to monitor NHK to ensure that improvements in efficiency are made.

Concerns about the bloating of NHK’s operations have not disappeared. This spring, NHK carried out a test run of program distribution online for those who do not own or watch TV.

However, under the law, the use of the internet is regarded as a “supplement to broadcasting.” Questions have been raised about NHK’s decision to expand its online business, which is supported by TV receiving fees.

An expansion of business operations in an unplanned manner is unacceptable. The first priority is to make bold efforts to lower receiving fees and to optimize the scope of business.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2022)