「停波」発言 放送局の姿勢を見たい

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 7
EDITORIAL: Broadcasters must stand up to LDP pressure
(社説)「停波」発言 放送局の姿勢を見たい

Communications minister Sanae Takaichi has reiterated that she or others in her post could order broadcasters to suspend operations if they repeatedly air politically unfair programs.

Takaichi, who also said some of her predecessors made similar remarks, has ruled out changing her position despite a series of statements by media executives and legal scholars criticizing her assertion.

Takaichi doesn’t understand the spirit of the Broadcast Law.

The principal aim of the law is to secure the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

The law’s Article 4, which requires political fairness in broadcasting, should not be used as a legal base to penalize broadcasters with orders to suspend their operations. That’s because there can be no clear definition of the term “political fairness.”

The communications minister, who is a politician, cannot be expected to serve as a good judge of whether a program is politically fair or not.

The current Liberal Democratic Party has taken a series of aggressive actions to meddle in the content of TV programs. The ruling party has made “requests” and conducted “interviews” that could be regarded as attempts to intimidate broadcasters.

Coming from a Cabinet minister of this high-handed governing party, Takaichi’s reference to possibly ordering broadcasters to suspend programs can be taken as an open challenge to the freedom of broadcasting.

What is worrisome is that TV broadcasters could be daunted by her words.

Some employees of TV stations have reportedly said they feel silent pressure from their higher-ups. Others have mentioned growing signs that the people involved in producing TV programs are exercising self-restraint and using their own judgment to avoid provoking controversy.

The people’s right to know, a foundation of democracy, would be seriously undermined if broadcasters conduct docile news reporting out of fear of being labeled “unfair” by the government.

Even if they are undaunted by the government’s threat, TV broadcasters would lose the trust of viewers if they suspect TV programs are made in line with the government’s wishes.

Takaichi’s remarks have effectively aroused such suspicions among the public. The situation is causing heavy losses for society.

Asked about Takaichi’s remarks, the heads of all the national TV networks have stressed that broadcasters are committed to the principle of “independence and autonomy.” They should demonstrate their commitment to the principle through their programs.

Some TV broadcasters have already aired programs that dug into this issue and showed their own positions while providing viewers with information to think about related questions themselves.

But such moves have been limited in scope and show no signs of developing into a major trend.

Many newscasters who have criticized the government will be replaced as part of program changes this spring. This has made Japanese TV viewers attentive to the attitudes of TV broadcasters toward news reporting.

As an important player in journalism, TV stations should do more to communicate their views and opinions directly to viewers.

Article 1 of the Broadcast Law says the law’s purpose is to “ensure that broadcasting will contribute to the sound development of democracy by clarifying the professional responsibilities of those who are involved in broadcasting.”

TV broadcasters have a duty to clearly show how they are trying to fulfill these responsibilities.

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