18th JAMCO Online International Symposium
January 16 to February 28, 2009
Public-Service Broadcasts of Asian Countries
Discussant: Public Broadcasting in Asia
In contrast to public broadcasting in Western and East Asian nations that has frequently been taken up for study and discussion in Japan, the state of public broadcasting, as well as broadcasting in general, in the rest of the world has not been discussed as frequently as it should1. In view of the current state of development, this author believes in the importance of sharing knowledge on the role that public broadcasting will play and what changes it will bring to the nations of Southeast Asia, where societies and values are undergoing drastic changes and public broadcasting has only started to grow, for the purpose of promoting international exchange through broadcasting culture and of examining into communication of information from Japan. Founded on the awareness of this issue, an international symposium was organized on the theme of public broadcasting in Southeast Asian countries.
At the symposium, Professor Mafumi Murase of Rikkyo University reported on the current state and impending issues in public broadcasting in Japan, including published indicators for objectivity. The report was presented to the panelists representing various nations to solicit their thoughts on the report and give their presentations on the state of public broadcasting in their respective nations. The report on Japan came first to be presented as the standard reference model for giving presentations. At the same time, information on Japan’s public broadcasting was given to serve as the basis for contrast with that in the respective countries, vis-à-vis the fact that public broadcasting has taken root in Japan far earlier than in other countries. This was followed by a report on Thailand, presented by Assistant Professor Supanee Nitsmer of Ramkhamhaeng University, also providing a benchmark for contrast for the next two speakers, Mr. Freddy Ndolu, chairman of Indonesiasatu Communication, representing Indonesia, and Assistant Professor Amy Daquilanea-Tanoy of the University of the Philippines, Visayas.
Selection of the Nations to be represented at the Symposium
For the symposium, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines were chosen from among Southeast Asian countries to present their reports. The reason was that public broadcasting is either in service or about to commence service in these countries. The state of progress in Southeast Asian countries other than the three should be mentioned here, by referring to NHK Databook: Broadcasting around the World. In Bhutan, Myanmar and Laos, broadcasting service is provided only by state-run operations. Vietnam has broadcasting by both national and regional broadcasting services. Singapore has a government-funded incorporated body provided monopoly broadcasting with a multiple number of TV channels. These channels are provided as public broadcasting but are under rigid media regulations of the government, Cambodia, Nepal and Malaysia are state-run and commercial broadcasting operations.
On the other hand, public broadcasting has just started in Indonesia and Thailand. In the Philippines, need for public broadcasting had long been discussed, and the bill pushing for start of service had been submitted in 2007 but has yet to pass its congress2. Despite geographical proximity, the three nations differ in culture and religion. For this reason, the three countries provided interesting material for comparison into how these differences affected the foundation of the service, such as mission of public broadcasting. As will be mentioned later, the mission of public broadcasting was found to be universal and without significant difference by conditions in each nations. This is also an achievement realized through the symposium.
The panelists have been selected and invited through consultations between JAMCO secretariat and the author who served as symposium coordinator. All of the panelists who had agreed to participate meet the very rigorous requirements of: (1) Specialized education in broadcasting at an advanced educational institution; (2) practical experience in broadcasting; (3) no current affiliation with public broadcasting or its supervisory organization; (4) research specializing in broadcasting; and (4) ability to participate in a symposium conducted in English. Because of their backgrounds, the reports presented on each country proved to be highly objective and productive. The author believes that the symposium succeeded in gaining a measure of achievement vis-a-vis the initial target, through comparison between Japan and the three Southeast Asian countries. The following chapters present a multifaceted look into the deliberations.
2. Broadcasting and the Socioeconomic Background of Each Country
First, let us begin with review into the state of the economy and broadcasting in Japan and the three nations. Summary data has been compiled in Table 1. A look into the per capita GDP (gross domestic product) as an indicator of the nation’s level of economic development shows Thailand’s figure at 340,000 yen 3 (for 2006; and the same applies hereafter), Indonesia at 160,000 yen and the Philippines at 170,000 yen. Thailand stands relatively higher than the other two countries in economic growth level. Not only that, it has a more advanced currency market for its function as a base for manufacturing and commerce4. Also, the Philippines is characterized by a large percentage of children who have not reached working age5. Japan’s per capita GDP is drastically larger than those of the 3 nations. However, the high level of consumer prices should be taken into account.
In geographical features, Thailand has fertile land with plains located in the north and a long and narrow peninsula in the south. There are relatively few islands. Under government policy, main trunk routes have been built in the north-south direction, and infrastructure such as distribution and power supply is relatively developed. On the other hand, the Philippines and Indonesia are island nations and are disadvantaged not only in the development of a road system and in power supply but also in infrastructure development in general, including a broadcasting system. In Indonesia, measures have been taken to address this disadvantage in broadcasting with commencement of satellite broadcasting with the Palapa satellite in the 1980s. Professor Tanoy of the Philippines reported that broadcasting service is necessary for education of the poor in rural areas and for broadcasting in remote areas but remains inadequate. She reported that broadcasting coverage is 50% for the country’s state-run radio broadcasting service and 85% for the state-run TV service. Underlying the problem is the population structure and differences in geographical conditions in the Philippines.
The State of Broadcasting Dissemination
Let us look into Table 1 once again, to look into the state of broadcasting in the three countries. Public broadcasting stations opened just recently in Indonesia and Thailand. Although public radio broadcasting started earlier in Indonesia, Thailand, on the other hand, saw the start of public TV broadcasting first. All three countries have commercial broadcasters, which hold overwhelmingly high viewership rates, as will be mentioned later (in Table 2). Both public and commercial broadcasting services coexist in Japan. However, public broadcasting holds relatively high viewership share in our country.
The Role of Radio Broadcasting
Although the symposium focused its attention chiefly on TV broadcasting, radio broadcasting holds relatively high level of importance in the three countries. Not only are there are many radio stations, but community radio services play the role of providing important information for local communities.
Because radio is available at low prices and requires little electric power for listening, the radio holds relatively important role in these countries, in face of TV transmission and receivers not reaching the 100% level in dissemination in the population. In the Philippines, for instance, a study of three fishing villages on the east coast of Panay Island showed that 63% of the households in the area had income of less than 5000 pesos (JPY11,000 or 97 US dollars) and that TV receiver ownership was at 56%6. This shows that TV viewing is not yet commonplace in some areas. Furthermore, despite the fact that satellite broadcasting provides 100% coverage in theory, “an antenna costs 8000 to 91,000 yen (158-791 US dollars) on average. With average annual household income of JPY545,000 (US$4749) in Thailand, the number of households able to receive satellite broadcasting is not so large,”7 according to Ms. Nitsmer of Thailand. Conditions are at this level, even for Thailand which has a larger per capita GDP than the other two countries.
Considering the relative ease in availability and dissemination level of the radio as an information source and the absence of public broadcasting, the radio station may have played a role equivalent to that a public broadcasting service in discussion in this paper. However, a study into this area will be reserved for another time. All four countries, including Japan, offer satellite broadcasting and cable TV transmission.
The following is a comparative study into conditions in each country regarding government policy on broadcasting, regulations and operational bodies8. In Japan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) supervises broadcasting under the Broadcasting Act of 1950. Frequency band allocation is executed by the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, based on recommendations of the Radio Regulatory Council, for issue of licenses to broadcasting stations. Regarding broadcast content, the Broadcasting Act defines standards for programming aimed at general programming on terrestrial wave, and each broadcasting station is to comply with the standards. Broadcasting content rating is not conducted, either on voluntary basis or by third parties. Broadcasting license is not a business license and covers broadcasting facilities and equipment. However, because license re-issue is not granted without examination into broadcasting content, questions have been cast by some over whether broadcasting can truly be independent of government regulation9.
In Indonesia, the Broadcasting Law of 2002 and enforcement regulations under the Law of 2006 have given Kominfo, the country’s information and communication ministry, the authority to allocate frequency bands and to issue licenses and permits and an independent broadcasting committee called KPI the power to monitor broadcasting content. According to Mr. Ndolu of Indonesia, there has been considerable intervention and control of broadcasting content by the government organization GOLKAR, prior to commencement of public broadcasting service. After public broadcasting started, it has become difficult for employees at the broadcasting station to function as a normal public broadcasting operation because of their limitations as civil servants.
In Thailand, the law on establishment of a national broadcasting organization was passed in 2007, finalizing the start of public broadcasting service. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) established in September 2004 is responsible for allocation of frequency bands. Broadcasting business is regulated and supervised by the National Broadcasting Committee (NBC). Programming is regulated by the Public Relations Department (PRD) of the Prime Minister’s Office. Broadcasting frequency band allocation had already been done prior to the establishment of the new system, and a variety of TV broadcasting is available. The distinctive characteristic of broadcasting in Thailand is that broadcasting frequencies are managed by the armed forces, MCOT Public Company and PRD, the regulatory authority itself. MCOT runs its own TV broadcasting service with one channel and leases out administrative right for another channel to commercial capital. The armed forces commissioned management of 2 channels to commercial capital. The same is true for radio, with many stations managed by the armed forces, PRD, MCOT and the police agency. Right to use of wireless frequencies has been acquired by a public entity, and earnings are expected froom this organization.
The Philippines does not have a fundamental broadcasting law and has an independent administrative commission named National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in charge of regulating broadcasting. NTC is in charge of supervising services and facilities. In the area of broadcasting content, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) conducts inspections of movie and television content, and the autonomous organization of broadcasters named Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines, or KBP) is responsible for voluntary regulation and supervision in radio and TV broadcasting.
3. Public Broadcasting in the Three Countries: Comparison with Japan
Financial Resources for Public Broadcasting
This section compares the history of public broadcasting and broadcasting content of each of the three countries vis-à-vis Japan. The findings are summarized in Table 2. The countries are listed in ascending order of the starting date of public broadcasting service. In Japan, 55 years have passed since public television broadcasting started. Over the years, broadcasting underwent various changes, including transition to color broadcasting, increase in the number of TV channels, increase in broadcasting media (to include satellite broadcasting), introduction of high-resolution broadcasting, and revision of subscription rates on occasions. However, the form of organization as a special incorporated entity and the viewer subscription system has remained unchanged to this day. On the other hand, the Philippines at the far right is still in the stage of submitting a bill.
The most significant difference between Japan and the three Southeast Asian countries is that most of the revenues in Japan come from subscriptions. This is collected from parties that have set up receiver equipment, and revenues have grown with dissemination of TV sets. Having an independent financial resource has helped the service to maintain independence from the national government and from big business corporations.
On the other hand, Indonesia has government budget appropriations decided in advance. The budget is JPY4.4 billion for TV and JPY6.3 billion for radio — adding up to more than JPY10 billion altogether. The report from Indonesia has pointed out the shortage of funds as an issue. Naturally, there is a very wide gap with NHK’s budget of JPY650 billion. The difference is that labor expenses are paid separately. In the case of Thailand, the total budget has yet to be identified, although part of tax revenues is being granted as subsidy. The ceiling for subsidy is set at JPY6.1 billion, which is slightly higher than Indonesia’s budget for TV broadcasting. (Thailand does not yet have public radio broadcasting service.) Unlike Indonesia, compensation to employees is paid from this budget. However, it has the freedom to gain an additional and independent income from donations and royalties from intellectual properties.
Because NHK stands as the prototype of public broadcasting in Japan, there may be people who find it questionable to classify broadcasting service that obtains income from sources other than subscriptions as public bride casting service. However, there are public broadcasting services around the world that are, in addition to those in Indonesia and Thailand that are subsidized by the national government, those that depend on contributions from business corporations and nongovernmental organizations, those that actually add advertisements in their broadcasting to supplement funding of service operation and others that combine a number of these funding options. The only services that rely on subscriptions are NHK and BBC of the United Kingdom and in fact can be defined as a diehard minority. The reason is that this type of funding is not possible unless there is relative balance in income among the various elements of society and the percentage of the impoverished is small, thus enabling collection of subscription from the population at large.
Autonomy of Public Broadcasting
Although there may be endless debate over whether to define a broadcasting service as public when it has advertisement income or when it receives subsidies from the national government, the definition provided by Shigeru Yokoyama of the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute will be employed12. He defines the requirements of a public broadcasting service as “management with public funds such as subscription income and government subsidies and broadcasting operation that has editing and programming rights independent from the government, which translates into independence from both political and commercial forces.”
The question of how to maintain independence from politics and from the national government is an issue that cannot be separated from financial resources for the service and authority in licensing. Considering that NHK, which has gained financial independence with subscription earnings, is criticized on occasions for its ties with politicians and with the government, the difficulty of the newly established TVRI and Thai PBS in maintaining their independence is easy to imagine10. In fact, the report on Thailand explicit states that “political independence is the issue.” In fact, Thai PBS’s predecessor iTV had started out as a broadcasting station independent from political intervention in 1995. It commenced service by gaining broadcasting license on its own, without depending on channels held by the armed forces or the government. Notwithstanding, it struggled in gaining financial resources in face of regulations regarding programming content, that it was bought out in 2000 by a corporation ran by the Prime Minister at that time and was eventually absorbed by the Prime Minister’s Office in 200711. In the case of the Philippines, both state-run broadcasting operation and commercial broadcasting operations are backed by strong forces and managed with purpose. The state-run service PNTI is under the Office of the President, with its name changed with each change in administration. This fact shows that the broadcasting service fulfills the function of PR media for the incumbent administration. In addition to this, there are two broadcasting stations that had originally been commercial operations but moved into the government’s communication group (IBC and RPN). In contrast to these services demonstrating the presence of government-sponsored broadcasting, the two major commercial broadcasting services (GMA and ABS-CBN) are working to establish themselves as public services. GMA’s slogan “One in Heart” and ABS-CBN’s “In Service of the Filipino” represent their assertion in this area. In fact, these commercial broadcasting stations have established their own voluntary guidelines and our public in the sense that they are exercising self-discipline. Ms. Tanoy of the Philippines stated that they are in intense competition over ratings and are repeatedly copying each other in news show programming and recruitment of showbiz celebrities and do not contribute to public interest. Despite the need for public broadcasting service in the true sense, the government has no intention of letting go their state-run broadcasting operations, and the people have little interest in advocacy for public broadcasting. Under the current conditions, Ms. Tanoy believes that the chances of the bill passing the Congress are low.
Content of Public Broadcasting In the comparative study of the number of programming hours by broadcast content, NHK and Thai PSB resembled each other closely. This may be a natural outcome in view of the fact that Thai PSB aspires to become a public broadcasting service similar to NHK and BBC. On the other hand, TVRI is characterized by little news content, large entertainment volume and the presence of religion programming. According to Mr. Ndolu of Indonesia, commercial broadcasting stations were obliged to retransmit news broadcast by TVRI without editing when TVRI was still a state-run service. If that is so, the broadcasting service must have a measure of expertise in news program production, and it would be natural for it to allocate more time to news. On top of that, it has only 1% share in viewership despite its effort at entertainment program, which appears to show structural problems. Mr. Ndolu attributes the reason to the fact that TVRI is broadcast on UHF channel while others are on VHF channels.
The Mission of Public Broadcasting
In mission of public broadcasting, the three countries share similar missions. The Philippines’ assertion to emphasize education and minorities are also issues that are shared by the other countries as mission in public broadcasting. As the “major” missions and essential requirements of public broadcasting, Mr. Yokoyama13 has listed the following seven items. They are:
(2) Independence in editorial rights
(3) Public opinion formation
(4) Programming of outstanding quality
(5) Service to minorities
(6) Local broadcasting
(7) Comprehensive programming
According to Mr. Yokoyama, “large-scale public broadcasting service” provides programming based on a wide range of genres to the viewers, and a “small public broadcasting service” is roughly equivalent to an educational broadcasting station offering no news programming. Japan, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and South Korea have large-scale public broadcasting services, while PBS of the US is a small public broadcasting service. However, the importance of small public broadcasting service is not small, proven by the fact that the percentage of people who said public broadcasting is necessary was 91% in the US (compared to 83% in Japan)14. This also suggested that the significance of TVRI of Indonesia is not necessarily minimal simply because the viewer rating is low. The decision on whether to aspire to become a small public broadcasting service corresponding to its scale, in view of the small budget available, or whether to take action to attract the attention of a larger viewership and therefore gain a larger budget is something that the Indonesian people must decide for themselves in the future.
In the case of Thailand, the broadcasting service faces the ceiling of 2 billion baht in government subsidies. However, it is able to collect donations and advertising revenues. The service has the option of becoming a large-scale broadcasting service by increasing revenues in addition to subsidies or choosing not to.
4. Issues and Expectations in Public Broadcasting Services in Each Country
Lastly, the issues that the public broadcasting services face, as well as their future images, will be examined.
There is a noticeable difference between Japan and the three countries. It is “the need for viewer and public participation” that was mentioned unanimously by the panelists from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Does Japan need viewer participation? Although this question had not been taken up in the Japan report, there has been very interesting findings in a comparative study of Japan with six other countries, namely, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, the US and South Korea. On the question “whether public broadcasting service is close to/familiar in everyday living,” more than 62% in Japan responded that it is “close/familiar or relatively close/familiar,” exceeding the figures for the other six countries. However, only 40%, or the lowest among the seven countries, “agree/somewhat agree” on the question “whether viewer opinions and wishes are being reflected in programming and viewer services.” These contrasting results were interesting, but the results must take into consideration the fact that the survey was conducted (in February 2006) when NHK saw a succession of scandals breaking out since 2004 and losing public trust, as mentioned in the Japan report.
Independence from the government and pursuit of public broadcasting in the true sense are challenges that must be addressed by public broadcasting services in Indonesia and Thailand. The Philippines also see public demand and government decision-making put to a test over the issue whether public broadcasting service will be born in the country in the near future. Japan also has NHK constantly exploring into what public broadcasting service is in the true sense, in face of continuing criticism regarding its independence from the national government.
Let us also referred to an issue that must be addressed in the near future. Amid changes in the broadcasting environment, such as multi-channel broadcasting, digitalization and multi-media communication, the significance of public broadcasting service is changing as well. Ms. Yoshiko Nakamura states in “Marketization of Television” that the direction in public broadcasting is now called into question15. Ms. Nakamura also argues that it is necessary to elucidate what the people are able to gain from public broadcasting and to evaluate whether it is fulfilling its functions in line with its goals, for such service to exist in the changing environment. She suggests that it must fulfill its responsibility and obligations in this area toward the government and independent administrative organizations and also toward viewers16. The public broadcasting services of these countries will be expected to define the issues they must address and also be held accountable toward their respective governments and administrative authorities and toward their viewers, in their drive to resolve the problems. The objective of public broadcasting, that is true independence from government and viewer participation, may in fact be realized through such activities.
2. The author and others had hoped to see more concrete deliberations grow regarding startup of public broadcasting in the Philippines in the course of planning the symposium. There was a little hope that the symposium might enhance the importance of presenting the latest reports, but it did not produce results, unfortunately.
3. Value based on dollar-dominated value converted into yen with the foreign exchange rates in Table 1.
4. If life is based on self-sufficient farming and barter trade, the quality of life, however affluent in reality, is not reflected in GDP. It must be noted that double the GDP size does not necessarily mean double the level of affluence. GDP is also affected by fluctuations of foreign exchange rates against the dollar and the yen and by differences in domestic consumer prices.
5. When converting the GDP or household income into per capita figures, non-working persons are also included in the calculation. For this reason, the per capita income can become small if there is a large number of children and elderly citizens.
6. Yamao, M (ed.), “Progress Reports of the Survey in Banate Bay Area No.1” (Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research B1-16405027 Report). Since the survey is on household income, per capita income translates to less than JPY3000 per month, for a family of three. Refrigerator ownership is 21%, lower than that for TV sets. The survey did not cover radio ownership. Also, there are a significant number of cases in which electrical appliances owned are out of order, suggesting that the real number of viewing households may be much lower.
7. Values in baht converted into Japanese yen and the US dollar, based on the exchange rates shown in Table 1.
8. All references hereafter are based on the reports from each country and on NHK Databook: Broadcasting around the World 2008, unless specified otherwise.
9. The question of independence of broadcasting regulated through license re-issue was discussed, for example in “Hoso-menkyo wo kangaeru (A Look into Broadcasting Licensing), a roundtable discussion by Makoto Odagiri, Hiroshi Matsuda and Haruo Sudo, published in Broadcasting Report No. 197, Media Research, Inc., pp. 2-12.
10. Yokoyama, Shigeru, “Public Broadcasting in the World from the Viewer Standpoint,” Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, September 2006 issue, ed. NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, pp. 2-3.
11. Criticism against NHK has been stated by Odagiri et al, Broadcasting Report No. 197, Media Research, Inc.
12. ITV history based on NHK Databook 2008.
13. Yokoyama, Shigeru, “Public Broadcasting in the World from the Viewer Standpoint,” Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, September 2006 issue, ed. NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, p 10.
14. Yokoyama, Shigeru, “Public Broadcasting in the World from the Viewer Standpoint,” Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, September 2006 issue, ed. NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, p 10.
15. Nakamura, Yoshiko, “Accountability of Public Broadcasting,” Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, August 2007 issue, pp. 56-57.
16. Nakamura, Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, September 2006 issue, pp. 58-59
Table 1 2006 Socioeconomic Indicators & 2008 Broadcasting by Country
Note*: Percentage of persons living at less than $1 per day. 2002 data for Indonesia & the Philippines; 2003 data for Thailand; none for Japan.
Source: Figures for the impoverished from World Bank’s World Development Report 2008; number of islands from List of Island Countries, Wikipedia; land area and export/import data from JETRO Trade & Investment White Paper, and foreign exchange rates from British Columbia University website; and broadcasting-related data from the country reports and NHK Databook: Broadcasting in the World 2008.
Table 2 Profile of Public Broadcasting by Country
Source: Data from the Symposium marked with ・
* based on country reports in NHK Databook; Broadcasting in the World 2008, NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute. + based on country reports in NHK Databook; Broadcasting in the World 2006, NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute.
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Meikai University
1980: B.A. in Economics, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan
1984: M.A. in Economics, The University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
2006: Ph.D, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan
1985-90: Researcher, Research Institute of Telecommunication and Economics
1990-95: Researcher, Research Institute on the National Economy
1995 to present: Lecturer, Associate Professor and presently Professor, Meikai University. In charge of Industrial Organization at the Department of Economics)
Appointments to councils and study groups on broadcasting policy, such as Information Distribution Council and Postal Services Council (from 2008)