NHK going 24/7 with English news

Japanese pubcaster in a bid to be Asian CNN

TOKYO -- Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, is relaunching its NHK World channel Monday as a 24-hour English-language news service in a bid to create an Asian counterpart to Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN.

The advertising-backed channel will carry hourly news bulletins from NHK's 18 Asian news bureaus as well as programming from new subsidiary Japan International Broadcasting to 110 million households in 45 countries via satellite, cable and online services, network executives said Wednesday.

To fill the airtime between news bulletins, JIB -- a 60% NHK-owned joint venture with Fuji Media, TV Asahi, Tokyo Broadcasting System and others -- will supply programs on culture, business and lifestyle in Japan and, to a lesser extent, the rest of Asia.

"There are around 4 billion people in Asia, which creates a third of the world's GDP. Compared with this presence, we don't think there is focused well-balanced reporting on Asia," NHK vp Yoshinori Imai said at a press conference.

Despite its purported ambitions to be an Asian channel, the tone and content thus far appear largely Japan-centric, raising questions about the channel's editorial independence.

JIB CEO Hatsuhisa Takashima assured reporters that opinions opposed to the views of the Japanese government will be permitted, in spite of public subsidies for the channel and past claims of political influence on NHK content.

"There have been times when NHK has been harshly critical of the Japanese government, and this will carry on," Takashima said.

Imai told The Hollywood Reporter that NHK's total budget for international broadcasting is about 15 billion yen ($168 million) and "a very small percentage of NHK's overall budget."

NHK World could face stiff competition from China, which is reportedly planning to spend $6.6 billion to expand the international influence of Central China Television in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.