Enemy of NHK is elected to parliament

Almost a million people have given their support to a maverick politician who says he wants to “crush” the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

Takashi Tachibana won a seat in this week’s upper house elections after running an angry campaign which generated a lot of debate about the role of the media.

Mr Tachibana is the leader of the Protect the People from NHK Party, which fielded more than forty candidates. Fringe parties can win places in the Upper House of the Japanese parliament because the system is based on a proportional representation.

Allegations of affairs

According to a reporter called Gavin Blair writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Mr Tachibana alleges an affair between one of NHK’s presenters and another staff member and also says he was fired from NHK after blowing the whistle on improper accounting.

In an election broadcast that was carried on NHK he said:

“‘Crush NHK’ means to stop NHK’s broadcasting signal or, to put it in technical terms; implement a scrambling of the NHK signal.

Why should we crush NHK? It’s because NHK is hiding the fact that its male and female announcers have had car-sex adultery on the street.

Everyone – it’s car-sex adultery on the street!”

There is a gossipy element to this of course, but allegations of financial impropriety and sexual misconduct are serious matters.

And it’s not the first time that NHK has been the focus of criticism. A few years ago, many people said they would refuse to pay the licence fee, claiming it doesn’t offer value for money.

TV tax

In the UK, the BBC, for which I used to work, is also funded by an annual licence fee – in effect a tax on everyone who owns a TV set, computer or smartphone. The BBC’s licence fee costs £154 ($191, 20,600 yen) whereas NHK’s costs $130 (13,990 yen).

In Britain, some people get discounts on the fee but free licences to everyone over 75 will be scrapped next year.

Many right wing newspapers have expressed outrage at this.

The Express, for example, has called for the whole licence system to be abolished and claims that “angry campaigners have lambasted the BBC for continuing to pay huge paychecks for its stars.”

It claims that young people are giving up on the broadcaster. “In terms of 16-34-year-old audience, those watching the BBC weekly fell from 60 percent to 56 percent” last year, according to the Express.

Call for change

This leaves Japan and the UK with a similar debate: does a state broadcaster, funded by licence fee money, make sense in the modern media environment?

Japanese campaigners have sent Mr Tachibana to the parliament building in Tokyo to fight their cause. It won’t be easy for him to overturn a long-established system or “crush” NHK.

But he will no doubt try to keep the issue in the news and the representatives of other media outlets will offer him much airtime to vent his anger at their leading rival.