In Japan, it’s mandatory to pay for a TV license if you own a television set or device that can receive a broadcast signal. The money goes to NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting service. It’s much the same deal as in the UK, where your television license funds the BBC.
But what if you don’t even watch any BBC or NHK channels? Should you still have to pay? Actor, director and outspoken comedian Beat Takeshi doesn’t think so – in fact, he’s calling for the option to “opt-out” of accessing Japan’s NHK’s programming for people who don’t want to pay the license fee.
In the UK, where I’m from, the television license is quite strictly enforced, and you could end up in a great deal of trouble if you don’t pay it. It’s classified as a tax, which means avoidance is a criminal offense. Scary ad campaigns in the past have suggested that “monitoring vans” sent by “Aunty Beeb” can pick up television signals from your home, so they can tell if you’re stealing television. The license costs £145 per year ($225) per year, so it’s hardly cheap. Nevertheless, the BBC needs that money as, since they don’t show commercial advertising, it’s its primary means of support.
But in Japan, the situation is kinda different. The license costs 13,600 yen per year ($114) and, as it happens, the Broadcast Law lists no punitive actions for non-payment. In other words, if you don’t want to pay, they can’t make you.
Naughty foreigners who come to live in Japan often tell funny stories of psyching out the “NHK Man” who goes door-to-door asking people if they have a television. In recent years, a simple “nope” isn’t enough to deter them, and they can be a little persistent. Since your average NHK man tends not to be multilingual, simply smiling a lot and speaking English loudly can be enough to make them decide you’re not worth pursing.
So, back to Beat Takeshi. On the program “Shin Joho 7 Days News Caster” which aired on Feb 21 on TBS, he remarked: “Since we have the freedom to not watch NHK if we choose not to, why can’t they sell televisions which come without access to it?” Takeshi was debating the television license fee at the time with Katsuto Momii, NHK’s 21st Director-General, and Takeshi Shina, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan. “Of course, if NHK has the freedom to broadcast, then we should also have the freedom to opt out of watching it“, he continued.
Here’s what Japan’s netizens had to say about Takeshi’s comments:
“Well said.” “I’ve joined the Takeshi faction”. “I agree with him, but is it okay for him to say this on TV? Has anyone else said anything like this before?” “It’s Beat Takeshi, so he can say this sort of thing.” “I don’t like NHK. If they sold TVs without it I would buy one.” “NHK gets money from other places than just the TV license, so just do whatever you want, I say.” “Pay the license fee if you live at home with a family, but if it’s just you, don’t bother.” “It’s pretty messed up to broadcast stuff into someone’s home without even asking if they want it and then telling them they have to pay for it. Messed up, I say!” “NHK: You’re free to watch or not watch as you like. But we’ll still take your money.” What do you think of Beat Takeshi’s proposal? Should we be obligated to pay for channels we don’t even watch? Perhaps NHK out to switch to a subscription-based model?
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