The Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization (BPO) was established in 2003 following the merger of its predecessors the Commission for Better Broadcast Programs established in 1969 and the Broadcast and Human Rights Committee (BRO) established in 1997. Its history appears to be a repetitive cycle of being urged to address problems each time a scandal involving broadcasting occurs, reinforcing the organization amid the public authority’s tightening regulations, and striving to protect the freedom and independence and autonomy of broadcasting in the form of self-regulation. This paper examines the activities of each BPO Committee in historical, legal, and institutional contexts to explore issues confronting the Japanese broadcasting industry and discuss the significance and challenges of BPO as a whole.
Unlike the UK, the US, and France, Japan does not have an independent broadcasting regulatory body standing apart from the government, and broadcasters are directly supervised by a government ministry, with broadcast programs being regulated by the program editing standards stipulated in Article 4 of the Broadcasting Act. Therefore BPO has dual functions: while it resists political and authoritative pressure to protect the freedom and autonomy of broadcasting, the organization investigates human rights and broadcasting ethics violations to protect viewers and listeners.
Out of three committees of BPO, the Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics has uncovered fundamental problems of the broadcasting industry, such as the broadcaster-production company relations, by discovering similar types of ethics violations, while it has pointed out problems such as excessive media coverage where news reports are collectively headed in a wrong direction. The Broadcast and Human Rights/Other Related Rights Committee has made numerous decisions on human rights infringement including defamation. Those decisions have become guidelines for program production, just like a case law. Meanwhile the Broadcast Committee for Youth Programming requests broadcasters to pay attention to violent, sexual, and other radical expressions for children.
The Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics and the Broadcast and Human Rights/ Other Related Rights Committee both make decisions on broadcast ethics violation, but they handle “considerable degree of credibility” (a criterion for decisions) and other matters differently. Therefore, to prevent these two Committees from making two different decisions for one same case, it will need to separate and differentiate their responsibilities. Another issue to be discussed is that BPO itself, not each committee, will need to issue a statement when it is necessary to voice opinions against the public authority.
As the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications progresses, the media sphere is filled with a vast amount of information including fake news and misinformation. In order for broadcasting regulated by the Broadcasting Act to keep its presence, it is necessary to take the best advantage of its public nature. In this context, it is highly important for BPO to adequately apply the brakes or press on the accelerator of the broadcasting industry while making full use of its accumulated experience.