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Divided Over the "Digital Divide" at the U.N. TV Forum.

It looks as if "Digital Divide" can mean two different things. The United Nations is concerned about the digital divide among nations. But, organizers of the fifth annual United Nations World TV Forum are concerned with how digital TV will divide or fragment their audience. Therefore, it could seem topsy-turvy for the main organizers -- RAI, Italy's state broadcaster, and Mediaset, the country's largest commercial TV operator -- to meet at the U.N. to discuss this digital "revolution-in-progress." But if history serves as a guide, the two platforms ultimately will diverge in harmony. Naturally, the U.N. analyzes digital TV in a particularly unique way, since the organization is mostly concerned with the disparity between developed and developing countries. As pointed out by Kofi Annan, the Ghana-born Secretary-General of the U.N., "There are more computers in the United States than in the rest of the world combined. There are as many telephones in Tokyo as in all of Africa." Annan articulated: "My fear is th at we are adding a new divide to the already well-entrenched one between rich and poor: a digital divide between the information-rich and the information-poor."

In addition, the Forum wants to expose the fact that "while 80 percent o the human family has access to television or radio, only five percent has access to the Internet." At the same time, according to the latest research, 300 million people around the world are online, with 150 million more expected to log on this year. This prospect, of course, doesn't bode well for traditional broadcasters. Alas, in effect, this U.N. World TV Forum could resemble two countries divided by the same language.

Broadcasters have called in the heavy artillery inviting top-level executives to talk about "What can television learn from the digital experiments in radio?" and "A unique role for television." At press time, participating executives from the commercial sector included NBC'S Robert Wright, Mediaset's Fedele Confalonieri, Cisneros Television Group's Carlos Cisneros, Vivendi's Jean-Marie Messier, Border Television's James Graham and TV Azteca's Ricardo Salinas. From the public, or state, broadcasting side, scheduled participants will be RAI's Roberto Zaccaria, BBC's Greg Dyke, NHK's Katsuji Ebisawa, France 2's Michele Cotta, YLE's Arne Wessberg and Bavarian TV's Albert Scharf. These executives will be tackling such issues as, "Does public broadcasting have a duty to maintain a sense of social cohesion in the face of digital changes?"

Proponents of the "other" divide are equally powerful with top-gun Annan followed by Jennifer Sibanda of the Federation of African Media Women; Sha'ban Shahidi-M'addab, Iran's deputy minister of culture; Pascal Baba Coulibaly, Mali's minister of culture and Koichiro Matsuura of UNESCO. These leaders will be discussing topics like "How are television and New Media bridging the digital divide?" and "Digital Parity." No area will be left unexamined, with Eutelsat's Giuliano Berretta covering the satellite aspects of the digital divide.

Bridging the gap, intellectuals and media mavens such as The New York Times' Thomas Friedman and New York University's Neil Postman will take the floor. And getting everyone equally concerned will be Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang and the final keynote speaker, RealNetworks' Rob Glaser.

All the aforementioned events are grouped under the umbrella "TV@globe -- Adding values in the digital era" and are scheduled during a particularly busy period for New York-bound TV executives. In addition to the Forum on November 16-17, they have on their calendars the iEMMYs on November 17-18 and the International Emmy Awards on November 20 (see separate story).

The Forum, held at U.N. headquarters in New York City, was attended by 750 participants from 45 countries last year. It is estimated that over 1,000 people will be registered for the two-day event this year, which will kick off with a cocktail reception on November 15.

Other special events include an EBU dinner on November 16 and the opening of the "Evaristo Baschenis and the Silent Music" exhibition (also on the 16th) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sponsored by Edizioni Olivares.

In addition to Italy's RAI and Mediaset, the Forum is organized by the U.N.'s department of public information with the support of the permanent missions of Italy and Japan to the U.N. Plus, a partnership with the World Broadcasting Union and NHK, the sponsorship of Eutelsat and the support of Turkey's TGRT make this Forum possible. There is no charge for qualified people to attend the Forum but, after registering, they must to go through strict security checks.
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Title Annotation:disparity between rich and poor nations highlighted at United Nations forum
Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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