NHK wary of reduced license fee

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TOKYO -- The head of Japan's national broadcaster is questioning a government plan that would reduce the annual television license fee by 20%.

NHK president Genichi Hashimoto on Thursday told reporters that he had been surprised by comments the day before from Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshihide Suga, who floated the plan during a trip to Indonesia.

"I am not able to comment on the 20% issue as I have no idea how that figure came about," Hashimoto said. "Realistically, this is quite a difficult situation."

Suga said his ministry will propose reducing the fee as well as making the license fee a legal requirement of TV viewers when Japan's Broadcasting Law is put before the parliament for revision Jan. 25.

And while NHK welcomes the license fee being made obligatory, the broadcaster fears any reduction in its income will affect its programming.

"We have many things that we still want to achieve, such as improving broadcasting services and introducing digitalization," he said. "We have also had to postpone capital investments."

Under the ministry's plan, the annual license fee for a color TV would fall to about ¥1,000 ($8.47) per month from the present ¥1,345 ($11.40).

Hashimoto indicated that he would fight plans to downsize the broadcasting behemoth.
NHK got itself into financial trouble after a series of scandals put it in the headlines and outraged viewers who simply stopped paying their license fees.

While it was rare in the past for householders to refuse to pay for their access to NHK, the corporation's revenues plummeted by ¥47 billion ($410 million) in fiscal 2005 and it was forced to announce wide-ranging restructuring plans, including the axing of 1,200 jobs over the next three years.
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