Recurrence Cannot be Prevented Without Investigating the Cause

The truth remains a mystery as to why NHK decided on a budget for distributing satellite TV programs on its online streaming service in violation of relevant regulations. Without investigating to determine the background and cause, it will be impossible to prevent a recurrence.

NHK has recently compiled preventive measures in response to the problem, in which the broadcaster formulated its budget in violation of the regulations. In addition to educating board members about the Broadcasting Law, the broadcaster will strengthen inspections of the process by which management makes decisions from a legal compliance perspective, according to the measures.

Under the law, NHK’s primary operation is broadcasting, therefore online operation is considered an optional service that complements broadcasting, and NHK needs to obtain approval from the internal affairs and communications minister regarding which programs are to be distributed online.

It is difficult to understand at this late stage that NHK needs to educate its executives, who are at the core of the organization, about the law that the broadcaster is supposed to comply with.

The problem began last December when former NHK President Terunobu Maeda and some other board members circulated a letter seeking internal approval and decided to earmark ¥900 million for equipment costs to distribute satellite programs on the broadcaster’s online service.

Currently, according to the regulations approved by the minister, the content that NHK can stream online is basically limited to terrestrial broadcast programs. Despite this, the budget had been formulated based on the assumption that satellite programs would also be distributed, and the broadcaster obtained approval from the Diet.

The violation of the regulations came to light in April, and subsequently, NHK entrusted outside parties including a lawyer with the task of compiling measures to prevent a recurrence. Meanwhile, the broadcaster itself conducted an audit of the then board members and others involved in the case, but claimed that the details of the facts were still unknown. This cannot be overlooked.

NHK President Nobuo Inaba has explained that the stories of those involved contradicted one another. However, it is imperative to find out the details of the cause, such as who took the initiative and why the regulations were not widely disseminated, in order to prevent a recurrence of such a problem.

With those facts remaining vague, it is only natural that the public sees NHK’s audit as too lenient on its own people. It cannot be said that the broadcaster has fulfilled its accountability to its viewers, who pay viewing fees.

NHK’s budget must be approved by the Diet, but it has failed to function in its oversight role. It may be worth considering that the Diet, which passed a budget in violation of the regulations, could launch an investigation.

An expert panel of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is currently discussing the pros and cons of making NHK’s online service part of its primary operation.

If NHK, which gains ample revenue from viewing fees, were to expand its online operations in an unregulated manner, it may put pressure on small regional TV stations and newspaper businesses that are engaged in the online business. This could undermine the diversity of the media, which is essential for a healthy democracy.

It can be said that NHK’s organizational governance regarding online operations is dysfunctional. An expansion of the service should be carefully discussed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 7, 2023)