NHK wins court case against fee cheats

First of eight cases on non-payment issues

TOKYO -- Pubcaster NHK won a Tokyo High Court battle on Tuesday against two men who had claimed the Broadcast Law that stipulates payments of monthly fees violated their constitutional rights. NHK is also considering canceling its live coverage of a sumo tournament for the first time, due to a yakuza-linked betting scandal.  
The men had claimed that the compulsory fees were unconstitutional because their access to knowledge would be damaged by not owning a TV – the only way they could avoid paying the monthly dues of 1,345 yen ($15).
They now face back-payments totaling over 90,000 yen ($1,000)
The two defendants had previously signed contracts with NHK to pay the monthly fees back in 2002 and 2003, but then ceased payments in 2004. The two argued that they were dissatisfied with NHK programming and a series of money scandals that befell the broadcaster in the following years.
This was the first in a series of eight cases that NHK has brought against long-term non-payers nationwide as part of a crackdown.
‘‘For TV owners to bear the responsibility to pay license fees, and for NHK to collect them, does not infringe upon the public’s property rights,’’ said Judge Tatsuki Inada in ruling.
The legal situation regarding the fees has always been a gray area, with payments compulsory but no stipulation of penalties for those who don’t pay. 
NHK is set to cut fees by 10% after the digital changeover in July 2011.
Meanwhile, NHK may not broadcast the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament due to begin July, due to an illegal mob-run betting scandal that has engulfed the tradition-steeped national sport.
Sponsors have already pulled out of the tournament and the loss of NHK – sumo’s biggest benefactor through its purchase of broadcast rights – would be a huge blow to the troubled sport.
At the end of last month an entire sumo stable was disbanded after it emerged that stable-masters had provided tickets to gang bosses to sit in VIP ringside seats at last year’s Nagoya tournament. The gangsters had allegedly wanted to be seen by imprisoned associates, who are allowed to watch NHK sumo tournament broadcasts.