NHK last week began its new worldwide 24-hour all-English TV service. The expanded broadcasting will now extend into some 70 countries via satellite, cable and the Internet. That means more people in more places will now be seeing Japan much more of the time.

Since its inception in 1995, NHK’s international TV broadcasting has increased its reach to 80 million households worldwide. The plan to increase that to 110 million households worldwide this year is an admirable goal. With the current economic crisis making travel prohibitively expensive for many tourists, the service may serve as one of Japan’s primary interfaces with the world.

This service offers more than colorful brochures or friendly tourist information. With programs that give insight into Japan’s cultural heritage and social issues, NHK’s increased programming will establish an image of Japan that has far-reaching consequences. As a counterpoint to “strange Japan,” news, documentaries and features have the potential to present diverse aspects of Japan with care and critical understanding.

In addition to the noncommercial shows, however, the new service will also include television programs made by commercial TV stations, including commercials. The running of commercial content alongside NHK documentaries and features seems a slight confusion of intentions. In this YouTube age, though, where each clip of video silliness takes on its own cyber-life, any insistently promotional or simplistically superficial programs run the risk of backfiring. Let’s hope the directors create and select programs seriously and thoughtfully.

Those concerns aside, the service seems a sure-footed step in the right direction of letting the world know about Japan. More and more people around the world have become fascinated with Japanese culture, and NHK now has a chance to enhance the international flow of information in a positive and meaningful way. Japan’s engagement with the world is still a work in progress, but progress is being made.

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