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Japan: When public broadcasting meets limited access

On the long list of things I know nothing about are (a) the Japanese language, (b) the state of fair use in Japanese media law, and (c) the legal structure of Japanese public broadcaster NHK. But this article seems to hit on a lot of the same issues we see in the American future-of-journalism world: How far can (and should) a news organization go to protect the products of its journalists? How do the duties of a publicly funded news organization differ from those of a private one? And how does the mission of serving the public match up with the mission to sustain a news organization?

The brief story, in the Japanese business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, is in Japanese, so I asked our Twitter followers if someone was willing to translate.

(Huge thanks to Chris Salzberg, Annamaria Sasagawa, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Tana Oshima, and Ally Millar for volunteering to help. Our readers are awesome.)

Here’s how one of our readers, Takaaki Okada, translated the text:

NHK disallows the transmission of earthquake footage over the web

On the 11th of March, NHK disallowed the online transmission of earthquake footage by other news media outlets. “We are sending our correspondents to the ground so we can broadcast the footage ourselves, so it makes sense that the public watches it on NHK’s TV channel or website,” said NHK’s Public Relations Department.

NHK is allowing newspapers to publish images of their footage as long as they are credited, but they are not allowing other media outlets to transmit their footage online. Because of this unprecedented emergency, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei Newspaper) has requested the NHK — a public broadcasting organization — to offer their important video footage, so it can reach a wide audience, but NHK has declined this request.

Again, I have no idea what Japanese law around fair use is, or how NHK as a public broadcaster views (or should view) its role in a moment of national crisis. And NHK is no doubt spending a ton of money covering the earthquake and tsunami, and it makes sense that it should reap the rewards of that work in terms of audience. But it’s an interesting place to draw the line to say that no NHK footage should be allowed on the website of a leading national newspaper. It’s particularly interesting given that, as I type this, there are over 1,000 videos uploaded to YouTube in the past 24 hours with “NHK” in the description or title — and from scanning them over, most seem to be straight copies of NHK disaster footage.

In any event, NHK World is streaming free on its website for anyone looking for it. Our best to all our readers in Japan and everyone else affected by today’s disaster.

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  • Ikuei Kakiuchi

    NHK allowed Ustream and niconico douga, Japanese popular online broadcaster, to stream NHK’s news program about an earth quake over the web.

    At first, a junior high school student was streaming NHK’s news program about an earth quake on Ustream without NHK’s permission. Then NHK’s twitter account allowed the student to stream their program over the web, on the tweet. Here’s the tweet in Japanese.

    This tweet said, there are some areas where people cannot watch TV because of a blackout. Saving your life, Please try it to access information. This decision is on my own authority. If there is a trouble, I will accept the blame.


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  • KJ

    Japan currently does not have fair use (they have been talking about introducing such law for some years now, though).

    Not only NHK but also other TV networks in Japan, namely, Asahi (ANN), TBS, Fuji (FNN), all have been streaming their broadcast live on the net.

    Cross ownership of media companies is legal in Japan and major newspapers are normally affiliated with TV/Radio stations.

    Nikkei newspaper practically owns TV Tokyo — which is a smaller TV station with less resources compared with the others mentioned above. One of the reasons why they needed NHK footage, perhaps.

    In my view, I think this Nikkei’s article has nothing to do with reaching wider audience. As you rightly mentioned in the article, the video footage was everywhere on the net.

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  • Kimberly Huggins Staudt

    This is NOT the time to be fighting over “broadcasting rights.” It is like watching a school of hungry piranhas trying to devour a helpless animal! The ONLY THING that matters, RIGHT NOW, is getting help to these poor people. Some of these victims are without shelter, clothing, or enough water or food. There are not enough BODY BAGS to handle the hourly growing numbers of dead washing up on the shores of Japan! People are still unaccounted for, either missing or dead.
    As a journalist myself, I understand the importance of securing broadcasting and reprint rights. It is a big part of what drives our industry. BUT this is NOT the time to complain or even focus on that issue. This is not about someone “not playing nice in the sandbox.” “The sandbox” has been utterly DESTROYED! Do something to help rebuild it, THEN you can debate what the rules are for playing in it! Be part of the solution!

  • Peter Sjöholm

    A PSB produces a excellent product without ads, and people are outraged that commercial entities can’t repackage the video and slap on some ads? What gives?

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  • Michael V. Marcotte

    I have to say this highly restrictive approach is unlikely to be the case in the United States. I can’t speak for NPR or PBS, but they are both partners on the Public Media Platform which is an effort to develop a shard API that would allow wide digital sharing of all public media, albeit with certain terms of service.

    Let me add my personal/professional view, having served as a news manager in public broadcasting some 20 years: at times of crisis, we serve a lifeline function and competitive instincts should give way to common concern for life and safety.

    I think commercial and non-commercial news media should share that view.

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