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Panel recommends cutting number of NHK channels by 3+
[June 06, 2006]

Panel recommends cutting number of NHK channels by 3+


A panel advising Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Heizo Takenaka submitted a report Tuesday recommending that the number of TV and radio channels of public broadcaster NHK, formally known as Japan Broadcasting Corp., be cut by three from the current eight.

Panel officials said the report calls for eliminating by 2011 two of NHK's three broadcasting satellite-based TV channels, widely known as "BS," as well as one of its radio channels, known as "NHK FM."

The report also proposes that subscription-fee payments by viewers of NHK's TV programs be made mandatory after having NHK make substantial cuts in the fees.

The issue of whether to make fee payments obligatory has been the subject of hot debate following a surge in the number of viewers who refuse to pay over a series of scandals at the public broadcaster relating to the misuse of funds.

The panel submitted the report on reforms of Japan's telecommunications and broadcasting industries to Takenaka.

On telecommunications, the report recommends that the government change laws on the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. group in 2010 to scrap its holding company-based capital structure.

In 1999, the NTT group was split and reorganized into three main subsidiaries -- NTT East Corp., NTT West Corp. and NTT Communications Corp. -- all of which were put under the wing of the holding company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

But the panel recommended that their capital ties be severed and that the holding firm be abolished through relevant legislative measures so as to level the ground with its competitors.

The advisory panel and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's commission on telecommunications and broadcasting affairs have been at odds over positions on NTT reforms and other points.

But Takenaka has said he will hold consultations with the LDP commission to integrate the panel's recommendations into an upcoming high-profile government report, known as "Bold Guidelines," on the government's midterm objectives for fiscal and economic policies, to be adopted in early July.

Apart from these recommendations, the report proposes that the government designates the year 2011 as "the starting year of complete digitalization," as Japan's TV broadcasters will complete the process of shifting their analog-based terrestrial broadcasts to digital that year.

The report recommends that the government ensure that citizens be allowed to enjoy by 2011 the merits of digitalization as well as the harmonization of TV broadcasts with Internet Protocol as far as possible.

Among the panel's other proposals on NTT reforms is the recommendation that the independence of an NTT division in charge of operating the telecom lines that go directly into individual households be enhanced to enable non-NTT carriers to compete with NTT group firms more easily.

The current limits set on the scope of activities for NTT East and NTT West should be eliminated, the report says.

The report also called for easing restrictions that have prevented major TV broadcasters from controlling multiple local TV broadcasters via the acquisitions of large equity stakes.

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