Development of Broadcasting Regulations in the Pre–War and Wartime Japan

– Censorship, Program Guidance, and Organization Control –

Published: January 2020

Broadcasting regulations during the pre-war and wartime period are often reviewed as the Nippon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Corporation, hereinafter referred to as “the Corporation”), were kept under government control in terms of the personnel affairs and the budget, and program content were also strictly regulated by censorship. However, during this period, the relationship between the government and the Corporation were not constant and the actual conditions of censorship also varied from moment to moment. Therefore, this paper divides the period between the commencement of broadcasting in Japan and the end of the Pacific War into three periods, (1) 1925 to 1934, (2) 1934 to 1937, and (3) 1937 through 1945, to study the changes in broadcasting regulations and the factors for them, based on documents issued by supervisory authorities (the Ministry of Communications and the Information Bureau) as well as by the Corporation.

First, until the early 1930s, the Corporation’s local branches across Japan had been highly independent, which did not allow the central government’s control to be easily imposed. The key regulation was censorship on news drafts and scripts by the outposts of the Ministry of Communications (Communications Bureau), but the local bureaus’ controlling system was not solid enough, and they could not fully block broadcasts that went against the government guidance.

To correct this situation, the Ministry of Communications enforced a structural reform of the Corporation in 1934, which included the abolishment of the local branch system, in order to institutionally centralize the Corporation. Furthermore, a system was put in place so that the Ministry of Communications could participate in the decision–making process regarding the selection of nationwide broadcast programs, which allowed program scheduling to be more compliant with state policies. Meanwhile, no drastic changes were made in the censorship on the production and the content of broadcast programs, which was conducted somewhere near the production sites, limited to preventing corruption of public morals, maintaining political neutrality, and so forth.

However, with the Sino-Japanese breaking out in 1937, the all–out war system was strengthened, which prompted the supervisory authorities to advocate that they should proactively give guidance on program making, and the relationship between those authorities and the Corporation shifted from a supervisor–supervisee relationship to cooperative one to provide information that would meet national policies. With this, the focus of regulations shifted from the crackdown on corrupt public morals to the guidance on programs to satisfy the objectives of the war.

The above developments show transition show that broadcasting regulations functioned not by censorship alone but by combining it with the control over the organization, and the change in the relationship between the supervisory authorities and the Corporation had an impact on the actual content of regulations. In considering factors that contributed to broadcasting programs’ being compliant with national policies during the war, it is necessary to take into account not only content regulations as represented by censorship but also indirect regulations as mentioned above.

The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research

Seiichi Murakami

in Japanese