NHK uncovers new producer fraud

Pubcaster to make viewers pay for its mismanagement

TOKYO – Japanese pubcaster NHK has been plunged into a fresh round of controversy. It was hit with yet another embezzlement scandal and fierce opposition to suggestions of compulsory license fee collections. Net’s switchboards were lit up with hundreds of calls from outraged viewers.

The pubcaster’s latest woes began when it revealed Tuesday that it was firing Tetsushi Oshita, head of sports news at its Sapporo station, for writing up $145,000 in phony expenses between 2001 and April this year. NHK also suspended and slashed the pay of 12 of Oshita’s past and present bosses.

This week an advisory panel to Communications Ministry published an interim report calling on the pubcaster to streamline its unwieldy license fee collection system before the ministry submits legislation next year that would impose mandatory NHK fees on all TV households.

NHK is supposed to raise its revenues from viewer subscription fees which every TV household is obliged to pay. However there are currently no legal penalties for non payment. And fed up with the growing tide of employee scandals at the pubcaster, some 1.28 million TV households now refuse to pay. Company is consequently awash with red ink.

In January NHK announced that it was cutting its budget for the second successive fiscal year, this time by $427 million, and would shed 1,200 jobs or 10% of its workforce.

NHK currently sends a small army of door-to-door collectors to badger viewers in signing what its ‘receiving contracts.” Cumbersome fee collection operation costs nearly $600 million a year to run.

The panel, which advises communications minister Heizo Tanaka, also called on NHK to study joint ventures with commercial webs modeled on similar tie-ups abroad. It pointed to the French International News Network, a 24-satellite news service jointly owned by a French pubcaster and commercial web.

Most prominent scandal saw an NHK producer defraud the pubcaster of $855,000. It forced the resignation of NHK president Katsuji Ebisawa and two other NHK execs.