January 11, 2011


Bringing Environmental Information to Viewers via TV and the Internet: NHK Global Media Services Inc.

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.100 (December 2010)
"Towards a Sustainable Japan -- Corporations at Work" (No. 98):

Japan's public broadcaster, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK, abbreviation for Nippon Hoso Kyokai), first started providing television broadcast services in 1953. Since then, along with rapid economic growth, the television has become a common household item in Japan. In less than 60 years, television technology has made amazing progress, evolving from black-and-white to color broadcasts, satellite broadcasting, Hi-Vision (high-definition television) and digital terrestrial broadcasts.

In the context of increasingly diverse information networks, NHK Global Media Services Inc., a subsidiary of NHK, is now engaged in various operations such as program production commissioned by NHK, plus translation and simultaneous interpreting services to respond to globalization.

With the Internet now a popular information medium, video has continued to develop beyond the constraints of television. In April 2010, NHK with NHK Global Media Services and other affiliates launched the NHK Eco Channel, a video portal website offering an archive of environment-related programs that were aired by NHK in the past and are now available for free by Internet.

For this JFS article, we interviewed two professionals from NHK Global Media Services: Ms. Miwako Nishikawa, a chief producer in the Program Production Department involved in producing programs on environmental issues for the last decade; and Ms. Ginger Vaughn, a narrator and writer.

"State of the World" Special Program Series (First Broadcast in 2001)

The term "global warming" has become widely known by the general public in Japan since around 1997, when the country hosted an international meeting that resulted in the Kyoto Protocol. How will environmental issues, often considered as to be the realm of experts, affect ordinary people and how should we view them? Due to their enormous influence in shaping public opinion, media have a crucial role to play in answering these questions.

A special NHK program series titled "State of the World" created quite a stir when it aired from January 2 to 7 in 2001, by asking viewers to reconsider the state of the Earth in the face of continued economic growth. The series was an international co-production with CNN and other broadcasters and based on "State of the World," an annual publication issued since 1984 by the Worldwatch Institute, headed then by Lester Brown, an American expert on environmental issues. The series included titles such as "Farewell to Mass Consumption," "Mega-cities: Options for the Future," "How to Feed 9 Billion People," "Great Blessings from Nature," "New Energy Revolution," "Our Planet: People Power in the 21st Century," and "Epilogue: Decision to Move toward Environment Revolution."

This series drew a great response from viewers by posing big questions like how to feed the future world population of nine billion people in 50 years, with the Earth's limited capacity for regeneration. "When we were producing the series, not many people knew about the issue of global warming. So we had to make the content of the programs more explanatory, starting from the very basics," Nishikawa says, on looking back on the days of production. She was involved in the entire two-year production process, including overseas research activities.

'Save the Future' TV Series Digs Deeper into Environmental Themes

Since then, there has been a gradual increase in media coverage of environmental issues, and the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit, held in Hokkaido (northern Japan) in July 2008 stimulated more in-depth coverage of such issues. Japan played a crucial role at the summit as the host country, and on the topic of climate change G8 countries agreed to adopt a long-term target of at least a 50-percent reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Timed for the Toyako Summit, NHK broadcast its special series "Save the Future" on June 6 through 8 in 2008. This was an innovative environmental program consisting mostly of special segments broadcast over three consecutive days, from morning through night. It started with a prologue on the first night, followed by segments on the themes of "Let's think about global warming (CO2 emission reduction)!" on June 7, and then "Enjoy eco-life! Let's start with what you can do!" on the last day. (Japanese)

"Save the Future" has since been broadcast twice a year with new main themes.

In 2009, the program featured Candle Night, a nationwide citizen movement held every summer solstice to promote the movement's theme of "turning off the light and taking it slow by candle light," through a relay broadcast that connected people in citizen groups, nonprofit organizations, schools, and companies.

In 2010, the program featured biodiversity with its "Biodiversity COP 10 Special," a program of just under seven hours that included on-the-spot live broadcasts from the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in the city of Nagoya, in central Japan.

"Save the Future" was designed to help audiences understand topics such as global warming and biodiversity that were previously unfamiliar to the general public, by incorporating elements of a variety show. Over the past three years, Nishikawa has been engaged in the "Scientist Live" segment of the program, in which prominent scientists answer various questions about global warming, green technologies, and so forth in an easy-to-understand manner.

"At first, public awareness about the program did not increase much, but today, I frequently run into people who have seen it. I think this means that more and more people have become interested in environmental issues, compared to just a few years ago. This may also be a result of our continuation of the program. In June 2010, in connection with COP 10 to be held later that year in Japan, it focused on endangered biodiversity, and garnered an audience rating of about 10 percent -- a high rating for this type of program," says Nishikawa.

Start of NHK Eco Channel, Archives of Environmental Videos

In parallel with the "Save the Future" series, a plan emerged to create a video portal website called the NHK Eco Channel. Besides television specials, many other programs on environmental issues are produced, but they were usually aired only once or twice. This was the reason for a plan to create a video website. (English)

The NHK Eco Channel was launched on the Internet in April 2010. Today it already carries 700 videos in Japanese and 150 in English, all available for viewing at no charge. This approach to use the Internet is rare in the Japanese TV industry. Users can search for various programs by choosing a category of interest or searching by keyword. Providing this type of service on the Internet is helping to move video media to the next level.

Nishikawa and Vaughn are now introducing the Japanese approach to environmental initiatives in a television series called "Green Style Japan," which is broadcast on NHK World, a 24-hour English channel for overseas markets that can also be watched on the NHK Eco Channel.

Vaughn, whose father is American and mother Japanese, says, "I became very interested in all this when I covered an environmental activity to release oriental white storks into the wild in Hyogo Prefecture. And when I reported on the Nagata agricultural method, which uses very little water and fertilizer to grow delicious vegetables, we received a huge response." Activities unique to Japan are also probably interesting and valuable information sources for overseas audiences, so steady coverage and reporting may have contributed to the great response.

Today it is possible to access a variety of information not only from TV programs and other conventional media but also from video websites. Nevertheless, is often a challenge to visualize and to grasp accurate information on global environmental issues, and the need for this kind of information will continue to grow. NHK is a public broadcaster that provides useful information from overseas to Japanese audiences, and from Japan to overseas audiences, and we expect the role and potential of both NHK and NHK Global Media Services will continue to grow in the future.

Written by Taeko Ohno