NHK TV Educates Japan

Anthony Zimmerman
Published in The Priest Magazine as Viewpoint
January 1998
Reproduced with Permission

0ne reason why life in Japan is so good is NHK's clean television. NHK (Nihon Hoso Kyokai) is a giant network dominating the entire nation, with two TV channels and three radio frequencies. I wish my Catholic nephews and nieces in the United States could enjoy Catholic TV and radio of equal quality and scope. I don't mean just "Catholic" programs, but a complete coverage of life events. NHK has been Japan's prominent educator, informer, entertainer, news dispenser and cultural formatter for nearly five decades. It brings all the news; teaches math and science, cooking, health and baby care; has travelogues of African safaris or boat rides up the Amazon; has Shakespearean drama and the Vienna National Orchestra.

NHK trains cameras on a newly discovered star or on the pulsing comet. It locates an earthquake within minutes it sounds the alarm about possible tidal waves. If one channel must interrupt its televising of the spring high school baseball tournament going into the finals, the other channel continues the game for viewers. Most schools make at least some use of educational-channel productions for classroom work. Many of the science and other educational programs are actually produced in schools and sold to NHK.

Each channel now broadcasts 18 hours daily, and there are plans to increase that. Substations make programming available to every household in the nation. In a few places mountains or hills blocked out the transmissions, but these people can now train a dish on a satellite. Most households pay through automatic-banking withdrawals, $12 per month. Revenues topped $6 billion per year (1998). [Over $6 billion in budget of 2000.]

There are no commercials. The appointed body of trustees consults regularly with parents, educators and citizens to assure that their needs are met.

A prominent Catholic, Pierre Furukaki, helped to shape NHK's policy and administration in the early 1950's. Trustees are appointed by the government, but otherwise the body is independent. NHK collects the fees, sometimes through gentle pressure by a collector at the door.

There is no need for a "key" to block out violence and explicit sex. NHK programs are, by tradition and rigid standards, kept suitable for family viewing. Families themselves are the consulted bodies that measure its Standards.

Besides NHK, there are commercial TV channels in Japan, of course. But NHK stands above them all. It is Japan's communications Olympus. It consistently travels the high road of morals and culture. With a yearly budget of $6 billion, NHK provides excellent programming and service.

Catholics in the United States once built a great chain of parochial schools. Bishops at Baltimore asked for them 120 years ago, and pastors sweet-mouthed their parishioners to do it. If America's more than 300 bishops and some 19,000 pastors would pull together today, could America's 60 million Catholics set up a Catholic TV system, one comparable in influence and scope to Japan's NHK? My guess is that 10 million Catholic households in the United States already pay monthly TV fees of $10, $25, $5O or more, which amass to several billion dollars a year. They pay even more by buying advertised goods. The money is flowing - it needs only to be diverted into this new channel. The envelope system might do it.

If bishops and pastors could persuade - sweetly, of course - even one million families to pay a fee of $12 per month initially, that would amount to $144 million annually. Once started, the potential for growth would be sky high. Expenses would be less than in Japan, with so many Catholic facilities already in place and talents galore waiting in the wings to their thing.

A Pierre Furukaki once helped Japan's NHK to rise on wobbly feet. Today NHK sets the pattern of culture in the nation. Where is Pierre's cousin in the U.S.A.?