Article 4 of the Broadcast Act provides general rules to edit TV and radio programs. Sharp antagonism is seen on this article between the Broadcasting Ethics Verification Commission of the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO), a third party institution which advocates the human rights as well as freedom of expression, which insists that ethical standards should be set forth by broadcasters themselves, and the government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which regards the rules in the article as ‘legal norms’ that broadcasters should observe. The issue constitutes freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
GOVERNMENT THREATENS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
An NHK TV documentary program edited by the Close-UP Gendai is criticized for its set-up. In relation to the issue, a lawyer Kawabata Yoshiharu, President of the Broadcasting Ethics Verification Commission of the BPO, published an open letter November 6.
The letter criticizes the broadcaster NHK for ‘serious violation of broadcasting ethics’. Simultaneously, it harshly accuses the government for the fact that Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae summoned the broadcaster in April when a verification process was going on and one that the LDP’s Information and Communication Strategy Investigation Association held a meeting to inquire leaders of NHK in the same month. The open letter claims these facts as ‘a pressure’. The Verification Commission strongly reacts to the government and ruling parties and criticizes them because severer restrictions are imposed on mass media, especially on TV programs, by the administration.
On Broadcast Act
On November 10 Prime Minister Abe Shinzo told in the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives: ‘the said rules are not simply ethical norms but legal standards. The program violates the regulation and therefore it is right for the ministry to respond from a legal perspective’. Premier justified administrative guidance of Minister. As for the meeting of questioning the broadcaster, he told that it was quite natural for a parliamentary member, who is in charge of budget compilation of NHK, to discuss programs whether the broadcaster may distort facts’.
The Broadcast Act was legislated in 1950. It guarantees editorial freedom of programs under Article 3, while rules of editing programs are stipulated under Article 4: 1) it shall not harm public safety or good morals, 2) it shall be politically fair, 3) its reporting shall not distort the facts, and 4) it shall clarify the points at issue as many angles as possible where there are conflicting opinions concerning an issue.
Prime Minister Abe claims the rules are legal norms, justifying summon and questioning. Meanwhile, the letter presented by the BPO defines the rules as ethical norms to be respected voluntarily by broadcasters and criticizes administrative guidance and questioning of the ruling party as ‘pressures’.
Severer Restrictions Imposed
The governments maintained a stance for a while after the enactment that the rules constitute broadcasters’ criteria. The then-Minister of Postal Affairs Hirose Masao told in the Diet in 1972 that the ministry would not engage in administrative guidance.
However, as TV programs have had bigger impact on people’s consciousness, the government shifted to intensifying restrictions. In 1993 the government began interfering to broadcasting companies, reacting to a statement by Tsubaki Sadayoshi, Chief of News Bureau, the TV Asahi. He had told to release news programs to help to establish an anti-LDP coalition government. Minister of Internal Affairs Aso Taro (then) agreed administrative guidance in the Diet in 2005. Restrictions have been intensified since then.
Democracy means that broadcasters should respect ethical rules and rectify, if they violate them, complying with advice of the BPO. Administrative guidance may leads to ‘pressuring freedom of expression’ (President Kawabata). Interference to broadcasting by the government destroys democracy and renounces the constitutional rights.
December 8, 2015