Sakumi SHIMIZU (Waseda University)
Professor Takatoshi Ito's article entitled, "Bidding for Public Broadcasting Service" is quite interesting in view of the fact that NHK is now publicly been criticized and reviewed. In this article he emphasizes the importance of overseas public broadcasting facilities to provide 24-hour news in English and Japanese with intellectual opinions and various information originating from Japan. In this context I agree with Mr. Ito's opinion on producing the "Asian CNN," that can serve as a platform to transmit Japan's latest information and opinions and also help widen the base for potential audience overseas.
While Professor Ito seems to treat NHK as just one of the candidates that would compete for the public broadcast service, I think NHK may be the only TV station that can handle such service effectively at least as far as overseas broadcasting is concerned. In fact, NHK has offered some attractive programs to their overseas audience in the past. For example, a Japanese folk drama entitled "Oshin," which aired in approximately 60 countries, was very successful in helping people understand Japan and Japanese in a great depth far beyond their previous impression of Japan created by the past war experience and modern technology (See John deBoer "Interview: Japan's Soft Power in Middle East," GLOCOM Platform, Colloquium #50, May 24, 2004:). Another successful example is in the area of documentary programs, that is, "Project X," which features those Japanese who challenged themselves in overcoming various obstacles to develop new products in the postwar period, and this program has been gaining popularity from viewers overseas, especially in Asia.
However, it should be pointed out that even NHK would have difficult time in attracting enough sponsors to produce the "Asian CNN," unless they reform their programming and services in a fundamental way. Their overseas programming should be reoriented to satisfy the demand of wider audiences in Asia and elsewhere by providing key information on current Japanese and Asian affairs such as stock prices and weather forecast in Japan and Asia, instead of traditional NHK programs such as "Nihongode Asobou" (Let's play with Japanese). Moreover, interview programs featuring Japanese and Asian leaders and celebrities could be produced more often by following the example of CNN's popular program, "Larry King Live." Needless to say, joint programming involving Korean or Chinese actors might well earn high ratings in Japan and Asia in view of the big success of several melodramas featuring Korean actors since "Winter Sonata."
Once such a business model based on commercial sponsorship for overseas broadcasting is established, NHK could produce various important public programs, which would deserve some government subsidies for their merits from the national viewpoint. Information dissemination from Japan for 24 hours a day would create many opportunities to introduce official information and views of Japan to global audiences for the purpose of clarifying Japan's position in the global community.
By utilizing its experience and expertise in conducting public debates on social issues in Japan, NHK might even try to organize debate programs by Japanese, Korean, Chinese and other Asian participants to discuss such controversial issues as the Yasukuni, textbook, and territorial problems. Of course, lighter topics such as pop-culture could be taken up to illustrate the strengths of Japanese society and culture.
By providing both commercially attractive and publicly important programs based on commercial sponsorship and public subsidies, NHK would be able to produce the "Asian CNN" with public broadcasting service for Asia as well as the global community in order to promote better understandings about Japan in Asia and beyond. Japan's overseas programming, whether it is call the "Asian CNN" or not, should be regarded as an important element of "public diplomacy" to serve Japan's national interest in a broad sense of the word.