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-Looking at Asian Television Media-

JAMCO Online International Symposium

24th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January 2016 - August 2016

The Current State and Challenges of Television Broadcasters in Asia.

Keynote Address
-Looking at Asian Television Media-

Akira Murakami

Television is the product of its times. While transmitting and recording its times, television itself is simultaneously greatly influenced by its conditions, in terms of both hardware and software. Television—and this is not an exaggeration—is the aggregation of the most advanced technologies of our times. Comparing the latest programs to earlier programs in the archives of television, we can see clearly how people’s awareness of their times influenced programming of all kinds, from serial dramas to daily news programs.
How are such changes in television progressing in other countries, especially in Asia? Learning the answers to this question is an important point as we consider Japan’s relationship with Asia and the role of Japan’s voice in Asia.

The pace of economic growth differs greatly among the countries and territories of Asia; their situations also range widely over the political spectrum. What about their conditions in terms of the dissemination of television sets and technological advancements like digitalization, priority to multi-channelization or high-definition broadcasting, and links to Internet streaming? In this region, where there is so much diversity as far as political systems and social structures are concerned, what kinds of legal structures govern broadcasting, what are the standards for programming, and how is the domestic broadcasting of programs produced overseas handled?

Three major topics are at the forefront in Japan’s television media today:
The first is responding to the potential of the Internet. In 2015, in order to improve its Internet streaming services, NHK began simultaneous Web broadcasting of some sports events on an experimental basis. It also provided up to 10,000 subscribers with simultaneous test transmission of some programs of NHK General for a certain period.
The second revolves around moves toward utilization of 4K and 8K high-definition broadcasting. According to Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) report “Roadmap for Promotion of 8K/4K Broadcasting” (published July 2015), 4K and 8K [high-definition] broadcasting will be begun on an experimental basis in 2016 and as regular broadcasting by 2018, via satellite.
The third topic is the issue of legal regulations concerning freedom of expression in broadcasting. In autumn 2015, Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) criticized the MIC “administrative guidance” issued to public broadcaster NHK regarding its “Close-Up Gendai” news program, and the government and the BPO clashed over the issue.

The three topics might seem quite distinct, and yet in fact they are very closely intertwined. The simultaneous broadcasting of television via the Internet is a worldwide trend, and for society it is sure to be a great convenience. When it becomes widespread, however, the world of television, the very basis of which was built upon the premise of scarcity of airwaves, will be forced to change dramatically. Insofar as the Internet is a media that allows people everywhere to broadcast information, people as individuals can function much as does the traditional television broadcaster. With the promotion of “high-vision” or high-definition broadcasting, however, once 4K and 8K broadcasting becomes the norm, the major television media will continue to have the advantage of scarcity of access. Filming, editing, maintaining studios, and transmitting high-definition images will require a huge investment in equipment and support of a large number of highly skilled and trained technicians. Even if great advances are made in digital compression technology, securing of sufficient bandwidth to ensure broadcasting is indispensable. Considering that and looking ahead even to the not-so-distant future, it would seem that television will have to continue to be a “minority giant” that can appeal directly to the sensibilities of viewers.
High-definition television involves not only the dimension of electronics industry-related industrial policy but also television broadcasting industry-related industrial policy. That means that the third point—freedom of expression in broadcasting—will continue to be a very important issue for society as well. How to respond to the “people’s right to know”-especially the “freedom of expression” for a public broadcaster like NHK that is supported by receiving fees—is likely to be the issue that holds the keys to stability of the entire broadcasting system.

While we sense a certain stability in the prospects of the world of television, there are a number of uncertainties. Surveys report that young people don’t watch as much television as in the past, but what are the actual figures and trends from now on? In the field of news, which does not lend itself to the high-definition model, and with newspaper companies increasingly putting their publications on the Web, what will happen to television news? How will business schemes in the world of television change—especially as NHK is called on to revise its receiving fee system in tandem with changing its relationship with the Web? The eventual outcome of these developments holds the potential to completely overturn the current stable outlook of the industry.

Now, while keeping in mind these current topics relating to Japanese television, the purpose of this symposium is to explore the current situation and issues of television broadcasting in Asia. For this symposium, we would like to consider this subject from two perspectives.
One of these perspectives will be presented by participants from four countries: South Asian countries of Sri Lanka and Afghanistan,* the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, and the North Asian country of Mongolia. While we may not hear very much about these countries on a daily basis now, they are key players in international relations today or are likely to be so in the future. For these countries, we are pleased to be able to hear reports on the situation in television from the heads of the international divisions of the national or public broadcaster—the people who directly involve in broadcasting. Based on information provided by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and other sources, let me briefly describe these four countries:

After more than 20 years of internal strife, Afghanistan is currently in the process of reconstruction. Its official languages are Dari and Pashto. Following an extended period of British involvement in Afghan affairs, at the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan established its independence and remained so until intervention from the Soviet Union in 1979. After the Geneva Accords of 1988 and the Soviet Union withdrawal, the country was embroiled in civil war. Areas controlled by the Taliban movement expanded to cover most of the country. In October 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the United States, the United States and Britain initiated a military campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. A peace process was begun and in 2014 a presidential election was held and a change of regimes through democratic process took place for the first time. Decades of civil war have destroyed the infrastructure of Afghan economy and society. Reconstruction continues but basic infrastructure is lacking in many areas.

Kyrgyzstan is located west of China across the large Tian Shan system of mountain ranges. Since gaining independence from Russia in 1991, it has been undergoing a process of democratization and transition to a market economy. The national language is Kyrgyz and the official language is Russian. Interest in Kyrgyzstan is high because of its geopolitical importance in China’s One Belt, One Road economic development framework—the Silk Road Economic Belt—for integrating trade and investment in Eurasia.

The official language of Mongolia is Mongolian and the major industries are mining and livestock farming. Sandwiched by Russia and China, it holds a geopolitically important location and has a wealth of underground resources; it is also important to Japan from the point of view of stable supplies of resources and fuel.

Sri Lanka’s official languages are Sinhalese and Tamil and English is used as the language that links the two ethnic groups. Since 1983, a separatist movement backed by armed anti-government forces of the Tamil minority was active but in 2009 the government put an end to the civil war, and suppressed the movement. The major industries are agricultural crops including tea and rubber and textiles. In 2004, more than 30,000 died and 1,000,000 were evacuated in Sri Lanka due to the massive earthquake and tidal wave in the Indian Ocean, and Japan provided reconstruction assistance.

Our second perspective concerns China. No discussion of Asia can proceed without an understanding of the political, economic, as well as military presence of China, and China exerts various kinds of influences on the four countries I have just outlined. We will also look at the television media of People’s Republic of China as well as its relationship to the television media of Hong Kong, which retains its “one-country/two-systems” arrangement with the PRC, and with that of Taiwan, which has held the first summit meeting with China since the 1949 split but maintains its stance that it is an independent state.
On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong became a special administrative district of the People’s Republic of China. The one-country/two-systems arrangement continues, although a popular movement called the “Umbrella Revolution” took place in 2014 protesting the actions of the Chinese government.
Regarding the relationship between China and Taiwan, the historic summit meeting was held in Singapore between the PRC’s president Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou in November 2015. The meeting confirmed the “one China” principle that Taiwan and continental China belong together. However, in the recent presidential election of January 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate who advocates policies in favor of the “status quo” vis-à-vis China defeated the Kuomintang-backed Chu Li-lian (Eric), who aspired to succeed Ma Ying-jeou, proponent of closer ties with China.
With China-Hong Kong and China-Taiwan political relations thus in flux, what are the relationships in the area of television media between China and Hong Kong and between China and Taiwan? To look into this question, we have invited a report by a Japanese specialist.

In considering what content Japan will project in the world, it is essential to learn about the television media of Asia, which receives that content. That is where the meaning of this symposium lies. One important means of transmitting from Japan is English-language international broadcasting via satellite. At the same time, the translation and reediting of programs and content for broadcasting in local languages and their presentation to audiences through major broadcasters in each country or territory is also a very effective means of communication, and in that case, knowledge of local broadcasting conditions is essential.
Through this symposium, we also hope to expand interest in the television media of other parts of Asia and deepen our geopolitical understanding, thereby contributing to activities that will pave the way for stability in international society.

Notes: * Afghanistan is part of the “Middle East” according to the geographical division used by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and others, but in this symposium the country will be considered part of Asia following the example of the Afghan author’s manuscript.

Akira Murakami


He is a graduate of the University of Tokyo. His previous posts include chief editor of the News Department of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), deputy head of the Programming Department, Director-General of the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, and Executive Managing Director, Japan Media Communication Center (JAMCO).

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