50 Years of NHK Television

Critical Infomation Hotline

Japan is menaced by such life-threatening natural disasters as typhoons and earthquakes. NHK's mission is to use broadcasting as a tool to protect life and property. News coverage of the elections on which democratic society is founded provides unparalleled opportunities to inform the audience about the state of parliamentary democracy and public opinion.

Count on NHK for timely, accurate reporting

Previous page
Right pageNext page

From reactive to proactive
NHK is the only official news organ responsible for providing disaster information under the Disaster Measures Basic Law. In particular, NHK must always be ready to respond without delay in the case of a major earthquake.
When the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck on January 17, 1995, NHK's Kobe Station was equipped with a "skip-back recorder," a device that automatically records video footage from the moment the earth begins shaking. The quake was the most intense ever captured on film or video anywhere. Even though power was cut only moments after the quake began, the skip-back recorder was able to keep rolling from beginning to end because it was equipped with a special battery.
After the earthquake, NHK was deluged with calls from people trying to find out if relatives and friends were safe, and the Osaka Station used the NHK Educational TV and FM Radio channels to broadcast this information for nearly 160 hours.
It is standard procedure for NHK to interrupt other programming to provide special reports when a disaster occurs. Disaster information was once "reactive," just a report of the consequences after the damage had been done, but recently the focus has changed to "proactive" advance warnings that help viewers to be prepared. Typhoon information is a good example of this change. The TV screen displays cloud and radar images from weather satellites, followed by graphics showing predictions of rainfall at numerous locations. On top of this, NHK robot cameras set up all around Japan can now provide real-time pictures of strong winds and torrential rain. Pictures from another set of robot cameras maintained by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation along major rivers can also be fed into broadcasts.
Experts have noted that the number of typhoon casualties has declined in recent years. The next challenge is to improve earthquake-related coverage. Compared to typhoons, which can be predicted somewhat beforehand, the terror of earthquakes is that they strike without warning.
NHK will continue to provide disaster information even more effectively using the superlative high-resolution images of Hi-Vision (HDTV).


Election reporting

Election reporting: a change in the 90's
In Japan, exit polls for use in election reporting began in the 1990's. Starting with the elections for the Lower House of the Japanese Diet in the summer of 1993, NHK introduced exit polls based on statistical methods used in the U.S. and Europe. These transformed the nature of election reporting in Japan. In the Upper House election of 1998, then-Prime Minister Hashimoto's declaration that he would resign—when ballot-counting had only just begun—was strongly influenced by the exit poll results released on all TV channels immediately after the close of voting. He already knew from the TV coverage that his party had suffered a crushing defeat. In recent elections it has become difficult, even using public opinion surveys, to evaluate election prospects in advance, so the responses of voters at exit polls are often the first time that the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and momentum of the popular vote become clear. It is now an accepted fact that exit poll results announced right after voting ends set the political world back in motion.
The next change in election reporting may come from electronic voting. In June 2002, Niimi City in Okayama Prefecture used electronic voting for its mayoral and city council elections. There are many matters still to be resolved, and e-voting isn't poised to sweep the nation just yet. But assuming that cost and reliability issues can be overcome, it will offer a quick and reliable way to count ballots automatically.

Skip-back recorderSkip-back recorder
Engineers at the Kobe Station had anticipated a scenario in which the power company would be unable to supply electricity and the station's own auxiliary generators would also fail. They equipped their skip-back recorder with a small uninterruptible power supply. That was why the moment of the earthquake was caught on video.

230 employees on standby / Digital disaster reporting

Previous page
Right pageNext page