Japan Broadcasting pursues delinquent license fees


TOKYO -- Japan's national broadcaster has finally lost patience with viewers who are refusing to pay its annual license fee and has announced that it intends to pursue them through the courts for payment.

Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) on Friday notified 47 households and one company in Tokyo that they need to pay bills that have been delinquent for between 30 and 45 months by the end of October or they will receive court summons.

The outstanding license fees range between ?41,850 ($380) and ?123,360 ($1,121), but failure to pay by the deadline will enable NHK to seize the defaulter's assets in compensation.

NHK chairman Genichi Hashimoto told reporters that the public feels that while some people are paying what is nominally a mandatory payment of ?7,650 ($70) a year, others "feel it is unfair."

"The final notice will be sent to 48 non-payment cases in the 23 wards in central Tokyo," said Naoko Sakamoto, a spokeswoman for the corporation. "These non-payers have refused to pay despite our repeated efforts by phone, letter and direct visits. We will send similar letters to other nonpayers as well in the future."

Japan's television viewers stopped paying the household fee about three years ago after a series of scandals involving its staff. 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 boadcaster involved funds being siphoned off by employees and claims for millions in expenses being faslsified. NHK employees have also been arrested in connection with a spate of crimes, including arson.

"Currently, about 30% of the households in Japan do not pay the license fee," said Sakamoto. "Of the 36.19 million NHK subscribers, there were 3.61 million cases -- some 10% -- of non-payment as of the end of July.

"This is part of NHK's efforts to ensure fair sharing of the fee payment," she added. "Some 70% of the households in Japan are paying properly, and we want to respect their opinions.

"We have received complaints from them that the current system is not fair and that they feel there are more and more people who don't pay just because other people don't pay," she added.

With falling revenues from license fees, NHK is apparentely hoping to make an example of the 48 households and companies that it has demanded pay up before the end of the month.

To close a legal loophole, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry plans to introduce a bill next year that will require all households with a TV to pay for NHK service because there are almost no TVs that cannot receive NHK channels.