Japan Ponders Creating Its Own FCC

Representatives from NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) were in Washington this week to do some interviews and check out the FCC as the Japanese government ponders setting up its own version of the regulatory agency.

The Democratic Party of Japan, which last summer ended the Liberal Democratic Party’s nearly 50-year rule, wants to create the new agency, according to senior media analyst Atsushi Shibata, who helped organize the trip.

Currently the Internal Affairs Ministry oversees broadcasting and telecom (NHK is the country’s national broadcasting outlet, supported by a tax on TV sets).

Shibata and a camera crew interviewed some current and former FCC commissioners on Feb. 16 and 17 to get a fix on the “merits and demerits” of having an independent regulatory agency.

It was a return trip for Shibata, who came to Washington last year during the run-up to the DTV transition as Japan prepares for its own transition next year.

Shibata told B&C he thought a Japanese FCC might be able to maintain “to a certain degree” consistent broadcast and telecommunications policy independent of political power struggles.

Among the interviewees were current senior Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, former Republican FCC Chairman Dick Wiley and former Democratic Chairman Reed Hundt.

“It is interesting that Japan is considering its own version of the FCC,” said Wiley (now at the law firm Wiley Rein) after his meeting. “I encouraged them to consider an independent agency like our own.”

One of the things Shibata was asking about was why the FCC was independent, rather than under the Commerce Department, like the FCC’s counterpart for government spectrum users, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

Another interesting question, according to a draft of a list of questions posed by the NHK team: “What is the relationship between [the] FCC and [the] courts? [The] FCC’s rules or orders are not always final and decisive. Broadcasting companies often appeal to courts like CBS’s “wardrobe malfunction” case. Why is that?”

Wiley said the conversation also included public broadcasting. Any chance the U.S. might borrow from Japan and institute a TV tax to help out its public broadcasters?

Wiley told them it wasn’t likely.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.