A broadcasting watchdog’s harsh verdict on a seriously biased and factually incorrect news program about protests against a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture should put a stop to all wanton, unchecked airing of misinformation.

The Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization’s (BPO) ruling Dec. 14 on the program should not be seen merely as a warning for one TV broadcaster. It should be treated by the entire industry as an opportunity to take a fresh, hard look at how it performs its job.

In an opinion paper, a BPO committee concluded there were “serious violations of the broadcasting ethics code” with regard to the program broadcast in January by Tokyo Metropolitan Television (MX TV), a local terrestrial TV station, as part of the broadcaster’s weekly news show titled “News Joshi” (News Girls).

The program, produced by a company affiliated with cosmetics maker DHC Corp. without any involvement by MX TV, was sprinkled with comments that could encourage discrimination and prejudice against a specific group of people and offered lopsided coverage on protests against helipads built for the U.S. military in the Takae district of Higashi, a village in Okinawa Prefecture.

The BPO committee pointed out a raft of flaws and problems with the program, including factual errors, a lack of journalistic efforts to back up claims, improper use of video footage and derogatory expressions.

Surprisingly, MX TV aired it without vigorously checking the content.

Broadcasters have a duty to ensure the validity of any report they air, even if in a variety program or an information show, using the same journalistic standards as those applied to news programs.

When air time is taken up by outside production companies or other suppliers, it is even more important for broadcasters to review and assess the content carefully and rigorously. This surely is a minimum obligation to viewers.

The BPO’s opinion only expresses common-sense views that don’t need to be discussed afresh.

MX TV clearly lacked a proper understanding of its responsibility as a broadcaster licensed to use the public airwaves.

Initially, MX TV claimed that the program was in compliance with the Broadcast Law. After it was criticized even by its own program review committee, however, the company set about reforming its system to check program content.

In response to the BPO’s ruling, MX TV issued a new statement saying it is already working to improve its in-house system of checks and balances.

The company would be doing its viewers a greater favor if it mounted its own investigation into why this all happened and aired an explanation of its findings.

Over the past two decades, both Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), the public broadcaster, and commercial broadcasters have made a determined effort to examine and check the content of their programs.

This is a natural response to an increasingly critical public eye on TV broadcasting and growing public consciousness about the importance of complying with rules and ethical standards.

Most broadcasters exercise caution in dealing with program proposals from outside suppliers. They usually start by checking the plans and ideas submitted early on and monitor the shooting of the reports. In many cases, broadcasters hold previews to watch the subtitled final versions with people from other sections within the companies as well as executives of the program sponsors in attendance.

Local TV broadcasters are showered by program proposals from the operators of video-sharing websites and other content suppliers. Viewers may also press them for more exciting programs.

However, the companies would undermine their own value and relevance if they took the easy way out.

The BPO argues that broadcasters’ efforts to verify program content for quality serve as a bulwark against outside interference in broadcasting. Such efforts, the watchdog says, differentiate broadcasting from cyberspace, which is awash with dubious and false information, and serve as a “citadel” for broadcasters to preserve their pride.

Everybody involved in broadcasting should take the BPO’s message to heart.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 16