NHK, Japan’s national public broadcaster, has just launched an ambitious project to hold a worldwide debate on global issues. The first episode of “Project Wisdom” will be aired on April 29 and will incorporate views expressed by both experts and members of the public on the project’s Web site. The topic is “Hope for African Children!” highlighting areas such as child mortality rates, malnutrition, literacy levels and AIDS orphans, and visitors to the Web site are encouraged to both view the opinions of others around the world and pitch into the debate themselves.

The experts for the program have been given the rather clunky moniker “Wisdoms,” and the Web site states they are “leaders with an influence across the world, social entrepreneurs dedicated to addressing serious problems worldwide . . .  ” People such as Vijay Mahajan, professor at University of Texas in Austin and Silvanus A.B. Malaho, a philanthropist and executive director of Kenya Volunteer Development Services.

While all of this seems to be fulfilling NHK’s goal of increasing the sense of global community in Japan while at the same time engaging people in other countries, the fact that there has been as yet (excepting this short article) been no coverage by foreign media of the project throws doubt on whether the corporation can truly fulfill its second goal. While the English version of the Web site appears to solicit opinions from foreigners, I have to wonder how many non-Japanese speakers will stumble across the site.

NHK are keen to raise their global profile, with February marking its first-year anniversary of its global TV channel NHK World TV. But according to the Daily Yomiuri, despite a promising uptake in viewer numbers, the broadcaster  is way off its target of becoming a global brand on a par with names like Al Jazeera TV or BBC World News.

The project’s goal of engaging Japan in global debate is, however, laudable and some of the opinions expressed on the Web site give pause for thought. For example, Juza, a struggling vegetable farmer in Japan who raises money for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) writes: “I myself am struggling to make a living with my mom, who is working with me. But if I think of refugees who are much poorer than people live in Japan, I want to do something for them as much as possible.”

At the time of writing there are scheduled to be two further episodes broadcast this year on July 19 and Sept. 20 respectively. The topic of debate has not been announced yet, but I’m betting that whaling and dolphin slaughter will not be on the menu.

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