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Fake data puts Japan networks in hot water.

Japanese TV has long treated truth as a flexible concept. Fierce competition for ratings and sponsors, as well as brutal production schedules and skimpy budgets, have tempted many a producer to shade the facts. Such fakery is so common there is even a special word for it: yarase.

It's one thing, however, to stage a "candid camera" stunt for laughs (as on one recent show when the supposedly unsuspecting user of a massage chair at a ski resort suddenly found himself hurtling down a slope) and quite another to launch a health craze with faked data.

The producers of the popular infotainment show "Aru aru daijiten II" (Encyclopedia of Living II) learned this to their regret when health claims about a natto (fermented soybean) diet made on a Jan. 7 broadcast proved to be phony. Meanwhile sales of the sticky, smelly stuff soared.

After the media exposed the chicanery, Kansai Telecasting (KTV), the Osaka-based station that produced the show, axed three producers and punished seven execs, including KTV prey Soichiro Chigusa. KTV also canceled the program and returned its nationwide prime slot to the Fuji web, of which it is an affiliate. The decision cost the broadcaster an estimated $25 million in annual revenue.

Additionally, the prexy of Japan Television Workshop, the company contracted by KTV to make the suspect show, resigned.

Smelling a good story, the media dug up more instances of program fakery, including on "Encyclopedia of Living."

Then the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which regulates the broadcasting industry, got into the act, conducting an investigation into TV program production practices at 15 commercial stations and pubcaster NHK. On Feb. 20, the ministry released its report, disclosing that 219 of the 317 shows that provide health and other lifestyle info are made by subcontracted production companies, not the stations themselves.

Also, only six of the stations surveyed checked the reporting of these production companies for factual accuracy. And only six stations had a policy of dropping companies found to be falsifying the info in their shows.

With bureaucratic surveillance tightening and public confidence plummeting, the National Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan (NAB), together with NHK and the Broadcasting & Ethics Program Improvement Organization (BPO) quickly drafted a policy paper calling for the establishment of an independent committee by May to draw up ethical guidelines for broadcasters and deal with violations.

The members will be scholars, critics and others from outside the broadcasting industry. At a press conference announcing the policy on March 7, NHK prexy Genichi Hashimoto said, "To secure the trust of viewers, it's important for us to deal strongly with these (ethical violations) ourselves."

Then, on March 9, the Assn. of All Japan TV Program Production Cos. (ATP) released the results of a member survey indicating budgets for subcontracted shows had fallen by half over the past decade.

The company subcontracted by Japan Television Workshop to make the "Encyclopedia of Living Show" had started with a budget of $136,000 per episode in 1996. Four cuts and a decade later, that amount had been reduced to $73,000.

Meanwhile, the fee KTV paid to Japan Television Workshop changed hardly at all, indicating the subcontractor had squeezed its helpless sub-subcontractor for ever bigger profits. Of the 66 companies responding to the ATP survey, 40% said the KTV case was "not unusual."

Also, 27 companies said they had received demands for kickbacks and other special requests from producers.

If the ATP survey is any evidence, the Japanese TV biz may want to clean up its act--but its problems appear to go deeper than another over-hyped diet plan.
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Author:Schilling, Mark
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 19, 2007
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