Scandal prompts new Japan TV regs


TOKYO -- Japan's communications minister is being given new powers to regulate and punish television broadcasters that include false information in factual programming.

The new rules are expected to be enacted before the end of the current session of the Japanese parliament and have been drawn up by the government in response to scandals involving broadcasters that have aired shows containing claims that were either not backed up with facts or simply fabricated.

In February, an investigation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications confirmed that a program aired by Kansai Telecasting that claimed a type of fermented bean could lead to rapid weight loss was based on falsified statistics and exaggerations. It was subsequently learned that other similar shows in the long-running "Hakkutsu! Aruaru Daijiten" also had been inaccurate.

Ministry chief Yoshihide Suga told reporters that his ministry has the responsibility to protect viewers from spurious claims, particularly shows "that can exert very serious effects on members of the public."

He singled out Tokyo Broadcasting System for a program that encouraged extreme weight-loss methods that have been criticized for possibly damaging people's health.

The new regulations will permit the ministry to take measures against broadcasters found to have willfully misled the public and require measures to make sure the problem does not crop up again.

In a severe case, a company could have its broadcasting license revoked.

With concerns over the increasing influence the government is exerting on broadcasters, however, there are likely to be concerns that any legislative changes could enable the government to interfere in a company's editorial independence.