Japan’s public broadcaster apologized on May 29 for airing a fabricated documentary about a company that rents out “family members and friends” to lonely hearts and others who want to appear popular.

“It is extremely deplorable that we have conveyed information that was not true,” Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) said in a statement. “We apologize to our audience.”

The program, which was first broadcast in November 2018 through “NHK World--Japan,” the international service of NHK, featured three customers using the services of the rental company. Their names were given and their faces were revealed.

However, the customers turned out to be employees of the rental company. And two of the names used in the documentary were made up.

“I asked our staff (to pretend to be customers) because we could not find any customers who would agree to be featured with their faces shown,” the president of the rental company said.

NHK did not recognize the fabrication until well after the program was shown eight times in about 160 countries or regions as of January.

The broadcaster investigated the case after a publisher of weekly magazines raised doubts about the documentary’s authenticity.

Under the rental concept, people who want to appear more popular use the service to fill seats at their parties, weddings or even funerals. Some others might rent a friend just to have someone to talk to.

NHK commissioned work for the documentary to NHK Enterprises Inc., a subsidiary.

When production staff, under an outside director, were collecting information and making preparations for filming, employees at the rental company e-mailed them while pretending to be customers.