TOKYO — JAPANESE leaders were stunned by Cable News Network's influence in shaping world perceptions of Japan's role - or the lack of it - during the Gulf crisis. That influence was also felt in Japan itself. The number of Japanese watching the American news program shot up. Japanese saw their country portrayed by CNN as a reluctant, dithering ally of the United States.
Suddenly, Japanese leaders realized that any nation that rules the media rules the world to a degree. Officials began to worry that the day was not far off when outsiders could beam unfiltered information directly to the Japanese, aided by inexpensive receiver dishes made in Japan.
With more and more satellites going up, the idea of a "global village" has become uncomfortable for Japan's elite.
CNN, owned by Turner Broadcasting Inc. of Atlanta, "dominated the world in its coverage of the crisis, and [did so] from an American perspective," says Takayasu Yamazaki, planning chief for NHK, Japan's quasi-governmental broadcasting corporation. "Until now, we thought the Japanese audience wanted foreign news with Japanese editing and explanation. But with CNN and other satellite broadcasting, we see that they like watching foreign programs directly."
In December, NHK chairman Keiji Shima offered a challenge to CNN by proposing the creation of a satellite news organization to be called Global News Network, or GNN. The NHK proposal calls for an international partnership of three broadcast companies to present news 24 hours a day, like CNN, but with the added goal of offering what NHK officials term a "local perspective."
For news about Japan and its Asian neighbors, for instance, NHK would handle collection and distribution of video. News about other parts of the world would be handled by a respective broadcasting group in Europe or in the US. The three would share broadcasts.
"If GNN already existed," said Mr. Yamazaki, "Japan's position in the Gulf war would have been better understood."
"There's no question that NHK can provide the best coverage in Asia," he adds. "We already have a solid network here. It just wouldn't make much sense to bring a non-Asian crew to cover Asia." Over the past decade, as Japan has felt misunderstood by other nations, the government has launched public relations efforts overseas, most of them aimed at the US. With GNN, says Yamazaki, "other countries would more naturally accept news from Japan."
Mr. Shima explains that each broadcasting entity would be responsible for editing news from its region. "The European, American, and Asian participants will be equal partners."
One Japanese magazine, Bungei Shunju, hinted recently that one of NHK's goals is to control information available to and about Asia. It reported that NHK is aiming for a mass-media version of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the slogan for Imperial Japan's past occupation of Asia.
NHK has long concentrated its overseas staff in Asia. In fact, one purpose of GNN is to help NHK beef up its coverage of other parts of the world. In 1984 NHK started a venture called Asia Vision that allows any television enterprise in Asia to pick up video news from another Asian enterprise. But NHK officials say the idea has not worked well since most television in Asia is government controlled. "We get a lot of royal ceremonies, and that's it," says NHK official Tomoyuki Kanagawa. NHK recently began
a training course in quality programming for Asia Vision's participants. But NHK itself, like other Japanese broadcasters, has a poor record of producing shows that do well in other countries. Last year, NHK and several dozen Japan firms set up Media International Corp. to send programs about Japan overseas, especially to the US. "Compared to other Japanese exports, Japan is far behind in exporting news media overseas," says Takashi Kobayashi, executive vice-president of Japan Cable Television, Ltd., Japan '
s main CNN distributor.
Mr. Kobayashi questions whether GNN would work across cultures. "There would be too many differences in management procedures between Japan and other countries," he says. But NHK official Yamazaki responds, "We hope there is a universal way to present the news."
So far, NHK has been unable to find an American or European partner. Officials say that they are negotiating with Capital Cities/ABC in the US, and the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva.