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JAMCO Online International Symposium

17th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 1 to February 29, 2008

Trans-border TV Broadcastings of Non-English-speaking Countries

Discussant 3: A Study into International Broadcasting

Yoshihiro Oto
Professor, Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University, Tokyo.


International broadcasting is presently on the threshold of global change.

In Japan, action has been taken in this direction with amendment of the Broadcasting Law in late 2007, aimed at stimulation of international video broadcasting. Why is the media drawing such attention? The study herein attempts to address the issues in international broadcasting projected in the future, while examining into arguments over the media in Japan.

Transnational television broadcasting began to draw attention in the early 1980s. This was triggered by rapid advances in telecommunications technologies, including satellite technologies. Due to the low cost of transmission, satellite broadcasting service was regarded at that time the broadcasting medium of the future. The organization that pioneered satellite broadcasting and direct transmission to viewers was NHK. It began broadcasting (called BS broadcasting) on trial basis in 1984 and launched full service in 1989. Introduced as a measure to resolve poor broadcast reception in some parts of Japan, satellite broadcasting presented to the world the possibility of a new broadcasting service, notwithstanding opposition over broadcast spillover in South Korea, Taiwan and other neighboring countries.

In Europe, however, schemes were being developed for transnational television broadcasting, keeping in step with integration of the European Union. Especially because of the intricate national boundaries separating the nations of Europe, it was common that TV broadcasts in a country were received by neighboring countries. Commencement of satellite-based broadcast meant that service can be designed to link with terrestrial-wave broadcasting.

It was amid such developments that socialist regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse in succession in the late 1980s. It is being said that the revolutions in Eastern Europe had been triggered in part to the exposure of East European citizens to Western European broadcasts that could be received across political boundaries. The changes in international political order at this period of time had in no small way influenced international broadcasting and its future developments. Change in the political balance brought on by end of Cold War order led to democratization of political systems in former socialist nations and development countries and at the same time spurred deregulation of the mass media. In this environment, regulations on overseas TV broadcast reception and program content distribution were eased, paving the way for introduction of international TV broadcasting not only in industrialized nations but also in emerging economies as well.

A leading example of pioneering services in East Asia is Star TV, the pan-Asian satellite broadcasting service put into operation in 1991 by Cheung Kong (Holdings), a leading Hong Kong corporate group led by Li Ka-shing. (It was purchased and management rights taken over by News Corp. in 1993.) Another is Arirang TV, an international satellite broadcasting service launched in 1999 by the South Korean government. In Japan, NHK commenced similar service in 1995 chiefly for Japanese citizens abroad. In 1998, NHK expanded its service with international broadcast of NHK World TV and program distribution via NHK World Premiere channel.

By the 1990s, international TV broadcasting grew in diversity in step with changes in the broadcasting environment. On the global perspective, however, the two English-language services BBC and CNN gained recognition as the foremost international news channels, expanding their markets as media and channel diversification advanced on the worldwide scale since the 1990s. CNN established its position as a global new service when it became the only Western media allowed to cover Baghdad in the Gulf War of 1991. In the case of BBC, the media organization has made the most of its longstanding brand power and reputation of trustworthiness and has marketed its overseas media service BBC World aggressively.

By broadcasting in English, the language that is becoming the de facto global language, and promoting the quality of news coverage as media organizations with extensive international networks, BBC and CNN successfully gained solid status as international broadcasting services during the past ten years.

In response to these developments, governments of non-English-speaking countries have recently begun to boost effort at international broadcasting in the English language. The movement reflects the growing awareness among nations of the vital importance of having the nation’s presence being felt in international public opinion by publicizing the nation’s views and policies to the world.

In the case of France, for instance, the government introduced France 23, a news channel in English, in December 2006. The action was reportedly prompted by President Jacques Chirac, who realized acutely the lack of presence of France’s arguments delivered at UN and other venues regarding start of the 2003 war against Iraq, due to the absence of an international media to present its voice.

Unlike the 1990s when many international TV broadcasting services emerged, video transmission technology has improved drastically both in the area of satellite broadcasting and with dissemination and sophistication of the Internet. These changes in the media environment have naturally affected the direction in international broadcasting. More specifically, the range of language options in international broadcasting has been reduced, redirecting such needs to the Internet as the alternative media, while boosting English-language broadcast at the same time. A case in point is NHK’s international broadcasting service in Japan.

<Discussion on International Broadcasting in Japan>

In response to the aforementioned developments, the debate over international broadcasting grew in vigor and enthusiasm in Japan. The first opportunity came with formation of a private study panel on communications and broadcasting in January 2006 by then Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Heizo Takenaka. The panel’s principal area of study was sweeping reform in the communications and broadcasting regime. However, the discussions expanded into the need to strengthen Japan’s information communication capability and its competitiveness in the global video content market. This led to report on “reinforcement of international broadcasting” in its final recommendations submitted in early June of the same year.

In the agreement that outlined policy adjustments between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the ruling coalition, it was decided that “a new international TV broadcasting for foreign nationals is to be started as early as possible, for which a new subsidiary is to be established for operation funded with both government subsidies and open acceptance of private investments.” The Ministry commissioned the Telecommunications Council to deliberate on the issue. A study group on the direction in international TV broadcasting was set up under the Council for study into reinforcement in the area.

For the Ministry, its ulterior motive may have been to boost international TV broadcasting capability for service to foreign nationals based on the government-coalition agreement, without confining action in the existing broadcasting framework provided by NHK. In other words, it had hoped for improvements without major changes in the telecommunication administration scheme.

Looking into the arguments at the Takenaka panel, the objective was clearly to promote greater foreign understanding of Japan. However, the objective cannot be achieved unless a new entity for international broadcasting is formed, communication channels created and foreign nationals come in actual contact with the broadcasts. If the result is mere increase in broadcast volume, the action will only serve the purpose of self-gratification for Japanese administrators.

< Emergence of the "Mandatory Broadcast" Issue >

The issue was complicated further when Yoshihide Suga, who succeeded Heizo Takenaka as Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication, issued an order to place priority on “abduction by North Korea,” an issue that had been designated key political issue by then Abe cabinet, for “mandatory broadcast” by NHK’s international radio service. The minister’s action drew criticism from civic groups and media-related organizations such as the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association for the thread of political intervention into mass media organizations.

Minister Suga expressed his respect for NHK’s editorial rights, he did not change the policy, explicitly stating that the North Korean abduction issue to be treated in the order issued to NHK’s international radio service. Rather, he commissioned deliberation by the Radio Regulatory Council of the revised order in international broadcasting. On this change, the Council added in its report that “it is appropriate that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication engage in supervision of the broadcasting regulation scheme with attention to editorial freedom of NHK, as it had done in the past.” Still, it concluded that the change order is appropriate.

In the broadcast orders issued to NHK’s international radio service in the past, the agenda for broadcasting had consisted of (1) current events and news; (2) important national policy issues and (3) government opinion on international issues. At this point, “special attention is to be paid to the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea” had been added as an item in the agenda.

In the course of the discussions and exchanges, there had been many who argued that “NHK should take action as media organization and refute the Ministry’s order” or that “the Radio Regulatory Council should spend more time in deliberation of the issue” and others who cast questions on such fundamental issues as “why is there mandatory broadcasting in the first place” and “should treasury funds be spent on international broadcasting.” With “mandatory broadcasting” by NHK international radio service drawn into the spotlight, the discussions over the future of international TV broadcasting mentioned earlier were visibly affected by the issue as well.

Specifically, the rising concern over the “mandatory broadcast” issue prompted the aforementioned study group on the direction in international TV broadcasting to state in its interim report that in developing the international TV broadcasting administration scheme, “concrete scheme design should be laid with attention to the importance of identifying ownership of editorial rights clearly and guaranteeing suitable freedom in program development and editing.

Through such deliberations, the international broadcasting system was established with amendment of the Broadcasting Law in December 2007. In the amendment, NHK’s international services are to be separated to service for foreign nationals and service for overseas Japanese, with the former relegated to an NHK subsidiary. The subsidiary is to (1) take charge of actual program production, planning, etc., for NHK broadcasts and (2) engage in independent broadcasting. Editorial rights for (1) are to reside with NHK, while those for (2) are to belong to the subsidiary. Financial resources are national treasury subsidies, subscription revenues and advertising earnings in the independent broadcasting segment.

“Mandatory broadcast” that drew popular attention as mentioned earlier was revised into “requested broadcast” agenda. The scope of the request is restricted to “items related to protection of lives and property of Japanese citizens and items related to important national policy issues.” Furthermore, provision to “pay attention to freedom in program editing and production” had been added to the request a government should issue to NHK in international broadcasting. With these changes, new international broadcasting is scheduled to be introduced in 2009.

In the newly introduced broadcasting service for foreign nationals, which is a major item in broadcast improvement, possibility of private sector investment and program content access have become possible. However, it is difficult yet to determine the scope of business opportunities available for private businesses, and its profit potential remains ambiguous at best. For this broadcasting service to succeed, it needs not only to upgrade its communication capability, with development of reception environment in other countries, but also to offer more attractive information and content from Japan that draw viewers to choose and seek such information. In this respect, reform of broadcasting for foreign viewers is part and partial to Japan’s program content policy and ultimately to its cultural and industrial policy. All the more because of this, we must engage in fundamental discussions on what Japan’s “program software” power should be in examining to startup of new international TV broadcasting.

Looking at other countries, many have become active in recent years in implementing strategic policy for their cultural industries. Exemplified by the “Korea boom” in Japan over Korean-made TV dramas and global activity of China Central TV (CCTV), Japan’s neighbors are aggressively promoting media strategies. As a country in East Asia that had modernized ahead of its neighbors and upholds “freedom of speech” at least in name, it is necessary that international broadcasting be worthy of its status and be designed as part of the country’s cultural industry policy as a whole.

< International Broadcasting that Japan Should Offer >

What direction should Japan’s international broadcasting service take in view of the conditions mentioned?

The demand for improved international broadcasting that is found within Japan is aimed not only at increasing the nation’s communication capability but setting forth its political objective of building stronger presence in international relations. There are also some who express concern and alarm over the growing information communication capability of China, South Korea and other neighboring countries.

What is needed in broadcasting from Japan is not publicity promoting the policies and wishes of the Japanese government but, first and foremost, the presentation of what is taking place in Japan and the views and opinions of the Japanese people.

As an Asian country that began to modernize relatively early in history, the principles of “modern journalism” have disseminated early in the country’s modernization process. Furthermore, the memory of its aggression in early 20th century into neighboring countries and damages it inflicted to many private citizens still casts a shadow in relations with its neighbors.

In view of these circumstances and if it is a sovereign nation that upholds democratic political regime, doesn’t Japan bear the responsibility of providing democratic media service that serves as precedent for other Asian nations in the process of modernization through its international broadcasts?

By fulfilling the role of media organization by showing both the good and bad in Japan and continuing to report them in its international broadcasts, it will be able to demonstrate the level of maturity of the Japanese media and Japan itself as a democratic nation.

Yoshihiro Oto

Professor, Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University, Tokyo.

Born in 1961 in Sapporo, he earned his doctorate degree from Sophia University. His career includes work at National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan Research institute and assignments as assistant professor at Sophia University and guest researcher at Columbia University. He has been at his current office since 2007. Specializing in media theories, his major works include "Global Media Revolution" (Liberta Shuppan, 1998), "Modern Developments in the Broadcasting Media" (New Media, 2007), "For Students of Broadcasting" (Sekaishiso-sha, 2005) and "Theory in Global Communication" (Sekaishiso-sha, 2007).

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