Japanese pubcaster short on details

TOKYO — Pubcaster NHK announced a draft for its next five-year plan on Friday, while soliciting viewers’ opinions on its website for the final version. Details, however, were in short supply.

NHK said that in the five-year period starting in 2008, it intends to concentrate on news and drama shows, make new investments to digitize its operations and eliminate home license fee collections, while urging viewers to shift to bank transfers and putting more pressure on deadbeats to pay. To balance the crackdown, the pubcaster says it intends to cut receiving fees but mentions no specific amount. It also says it will study changes in its satellite broadcasting operations, including a reduction in the number of channels.

Communications Minister Yoshihide Suga has been adamant that NHK slash fees — Suga’s figure is 20% — before the government will consider making payment of them legally mandatory. Hit by a series of scandals, most involving the embezzlement of funds by NHK producers, the pubcaster has seen its revenues decline sharply in recent years as viewers protest with their pocketbooks. Suga has often said that viewers will not tolerate mandatory fees minus a sharp cut.

Led by NHK president Genichi Hashimoto, the pubcaster has fiercely resisted Suga’s proposal, saying it would require a radical downsizing of NHK’s operations. In its prelim five-year plan, NHK says it will implement a fee cut only if it can keep its bottom line in the black.

The government has also asked NHK to reduce its satellite channels from the current three to two by 2012. NHK says it will consider adopting the proposal but only if it “does not result in a reduction of service to viewers.”

NHK will release a final version of its five-year plan at the end of September.

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