[Editorial] Learning from NHK

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[Editorial] Learning from NHK

Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) has appointed Nobuo Inaba, a former board member of the Bank of Japan, as its next president. Under the endorsement from the NHK Management Committee, Inaba will replace Terunobu Maeda, former chairman of Mizuho Financial Group, to head the public broadcaster from January.

Shigeo Fukuchi, former chairman of Asahi Breweries, became the first president of NHK from outside in 2008 followed by executives of the Central Japan Railway (JR Tokai), Mitsui & Co., and Mitsubishi.

Entrepreneurs without any experience in broadcasting have been heading NHK to lend their management capacity to public broadcasting. All terrestrial broadcasters share the common challenges from digital and OTT platforms. With waning viewership of terrestrial channels, viewers have been complaining of the tax-like fee collection by public broadcasters.

The movement has led to the cutting of TV fees or their abolition. NHK plans to cut TV fees by 10 percent in October next year. The BBC will freeze its rate until 2024 and scrap the charge from 2028. Sweeping restructuring and cost streamlining are inevitable to make up for losses from fixed revenue.

Korean Broadcasting Corp. (KBS) is under a similar challenge. A bill to raise the monthly fee to 3,800 won ($2.87) from 2,500 won for the first time since 1981 has been pending in the legislature, as the move has earned little sympathy from political parties and viewers. Many are protesting the fee bundled onto electricity bills. As a result, its revenue base of 650 billion won a year is under challenge. Yet more than half or 51.3 percent of KBS staff earned more than 100 million won in annual salary last year.

Outside managerial expertise is essential to spearhead restructuring. But KBS has been unable to push with the change like NHK, as it remains under political power. Of 11 members of the KBS board, seven are recommended by the governing party and four from the opposition. Since the president can be appointed by a vote of approval from a majority of the board, the head falls under political bias. In the 12-member Management Committee of NHK, representatives from the same party are capped at four. The president also must have three fourth approval from the board. The president cannot be selected under a particular political influence. The BBC is mandated by Royal Charter, which is renewed every 10 years, to ensure independence.

The opposition Democratic Party has passed a revision to the Broadcasting Act unilaterally at the standing committee. The move is vehemently contested by the governing People Power Party because the bill is apparently aimed at placing public broadcasters under the liberal forces permanently. The public broadcaster is no longer a public entity if it is swayed by a political party.
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