Japan’s state-owned NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and private broadcasters have formed the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization to deal with complaints from the public about television and radio programming.

The voluntary initiative was hastily actioned after the broadcasters escaped mandatory oversight by whisker, fending-off inclusion in umbrella privacy protection legislation that raised concerns about freedom of expression.

BEPIO opened its doors just nine days ago (July 1) and will oversee three existing agencies. Now a single phone call will enable viewers and listeners to register their concerns about broadcast programs.

Says head of the BEPIO secretariat Harumi Miyoshi: “At a time when broadcasters are facing stronger headwind-like moves for greater regulation of the media, it’s important that [they] take independent action. Unifying the organization is the first step.”

An enhanced BEPIO staff is bracing itself for a seismic increase in the number of complaints, and priority is attached to accelerating the handling process. In the past, a single case could take between four to 20 months to resolve; BEPIO now expects broadcasters to report within three months what has been done to remedy complaints.

The new watchdog aims to serve as a bridge between the public and broadcasting networks.

“As pressure increasingly mounts for controls on the media, we have to listen humbly to the opinions and complaints of citizens and adopt a stance of strict self-regulation,” says Hideo Shimizu, professor emeritus of constitutional law at Aoyama Gakuin University, now BEPIO chief executive. “That is the only way to protect the freedoms of the press and expression.”

Data sourced from: The Asahi Shimbun (Japan); additional content by WARC staff