Japan cracking down on NHK license fee nonpayment

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TOKYO -- Concerned that the mandatory nature of television license fees is still not getting through to a lot of Japanese households, the communications ministry is pushing through an amendment to the Broadcast Law that will enable it to add a surcharge to outstanding bills.

Well over 1 million households have refused to pay the annual ¥7,650 ($70) license fee to view channels provided by state broadcaster NHK after a series of scandals damaged the corporation's reputation.

The law at present states that viewers are required to "take out a contract" with NHK, not that an annual fee is mandatory.

"The situation on the number of people who are not paying the fee has not changed at all," said Naoko Sakamoto, a spokeswoman for NHK. "We are trying to make the situation fair for everyone who does pay the annual fee. There are various ways to improve the situation and we will determine the best, most effective method for fairly receiving the fees."

The reworded law will be submitted to the Japanese parliament at the outset of the next session in January. It would enable the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to add a fine of 2% for every two months the fee is overdue.

NHK has started pursuing a series of test cases through Japan's courts against households and companies that have failed to pay their license fees.

Initially, 100 letters were sent out to delinquent viewers requesting that they pay and threatening legal measures if the letters were ignored.

While it was rare in the past for householders to refuse to pay for their access to NHK, non-payment has become an epidemic in the last three years.

In fiscal 2005, revenues plummeted by ¥47 billion ($410 million) and the corporation was forced to announce wide-ranging restructuring plans, including the axing of 1,200 jobs over the next three years.

The problems at the broadcaster include funds being siphoned off by employees and claims for millions in expenses being falsified. NHK employees also have been arrested in connection with a spate of crimes, including arson.
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