22 November 1996
FIRST UN WORLD TV FORUM CONCLUDES WITH PROPOSAL FOR PROCLAMATION OF WORLD TELEVISION DAY, 21 NOVEMBER 19961122
Welcoming the commitment of the United Nations to enhancing its links with the media, broadcasters would support the proclamation of World Television Day, to be observed on 21 November, by the terms of a draft declaration introduced at the conclusion of the first United Nations World Television Forum at Headquarters this afternoon.
According to the draft, the proposed World Television Day would be marked by global exchanges of television programmes focusing on such issues as peace and security, economic and social development, and the enhancement of cultural exchange. The declaration would call for the United Nations World Television Forum to become an annual event.
The United Nations, through its Department of Public Information (DPI), would be called upon by the declaration to act as a catalyst among communicators, strengthening its partnerships with key media groups -- from public service broadcasters to private television operators -- to ensure an outreach by the United Nations family and reinforcing its links to civil society.
Reviewing the two-day Forum, the draft -- which was introduced by Carlo Sartori, Director, External and International Relations, RAI- Radiotelevisione Italiana -- would stress the historic importance of the event, noting that it had discussed the increasing impact of television on decision-making by alerting world attention to international conflicts and by sharpening the focus on other major issues. Participants agreed, the text would add, that television should play a major role in providing unbiased information, in preserving cultural identity as well as diversity, and in promoting understanding among peoples.
In closing remarks, the Assistant Secretary-General for Public Information and Chairman of the Forum, Samir Sanbar, stressing the importance of the Forum as the world entered the twenty-first century, he expressed the hope that regular meetings of television broadcasters would be held and that future Forums would include the participation of broadcasting unions.
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The Permanent Representative of Italy, Paolo Fulci, said no better forum could be held than one to discuss communication and information in a rapidly changing world in which diplomats search everyday for the points of intersection, interaction and common denominators.
The Director, McLuhan Programme, University of Toronto, Dereck De Kerkhove, reviewing the two-day event, recalled a proposal by Under- Secretary-General Kofi Annan for what he termed "preventive journalism", while Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali had said that television was the sixteenth member of the Security Council.
The Director, Centre for Mass Media Research of the University of Colorado, United States, Michael Tracy, called for debate to focus on the fact that two systems of television would emerge as models for the future. They were the "circus model", for entertainment, and the "civic model", with the position that communication was not just for entertainment but also for more profound purposes.
The two-day World Television Forum, which was opened by Secretary- General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was jointly organized by the DPI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy and RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana. Among the topics discussed were: television and globalization; television and diversity in the global village; and television and international affairs, with separate segments on "Global News: A Two-Way Street?" and "Conflict and Diplomacy". The final session, "Television and the Future", focused on the role of public broadcasters and television's power to build world understanding based on the principles of the United Nations Charter.
Participants in the Forum included broadcasters from public and private companies from all over the world.
Draft Final Declaration
Under the provisions of the draft declaration, it would be recognized that the World Television Forum was a historic event, as for the first time, leading media figures from around the globe had met under the auspices of the United Nations to discuss the growing significance of television in today's changing world, and to consider how they might enhance their future cooperation.
Reviewing the two-day event, the draft would note that Forum participants discussed the increasing impact television has on decision-making by alerting world attention to international conflicts and by sharpening the focus on other major issues. Also, they agreed that television should play a major role in providing unbiased information, in preserving cultural identity as well as diversity, and in promoting understanding among peoples.
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"As the third millennium approaches, the United Nations faces ever- increasing demands to address the major issues facing humankind", the draft declaration states. "Television, as today's most powerful medium of communication, can and must play a role in presenting these issues to the world", it adds.
The risks as well as opportunities of the current revolution in communication would be recognized by the draft, which would also stress the vastly increased possibilities of cultural exchange but also the danger of minority cultures being overwhelmed, that such revolution entails. The need for television to continue to represent a multiplicity of cultures and viewpoints, in order to promote global exchange, cooperation and mutual respect was stressed by Forum participants, stated the draft text.
Also recognized by participants were the achievements of private television in extending the range of programmes available to viewers, the draft goes on. The vital role of public service television, and of national and international institutions, in guaranteeing access for all people to unbiased information on their own cultures and on global events was stressed. "Adequately-funded public service broadcasters were seen to be indispensable to the proper functioning of genuine democracies", the draft states.
Recognizing the financial difficulties of public service broadcasters in some developing countries, some participants proposed the reinforcement of regional cooperation, including extra support to news exchanges, the draft continues. The great opportunities of globalization must not be confined to the developed world, it was stated. Some participants saw the need for additional measures to guarantee freedom of information -- for journalists as well as viewers -- so that television can truly fulfil its potential as a force for democratic exchange and social development. The importance of ensuring open access to digital satellite transmission systems was raised, says the text.
By the draft declaration, the United Nations, through its Department of Public Information (DPI), would be called upon to act as a catalyst among communicators, strengthening its partnerships with key media groups -- from public service broadcasters to private television operators -- and thereby ensuring an outreach by the entire family of United Nations organizations and reinforcing their links to civil society.
Welcoming the commitment of the United Nations to enhancing its links with the media, broadcasters supported the establishment of an annual World Television Day, to be celebrated each 21 November, the draft declaration states. The Day would be marked by global exchanges of television programmes focusing particularly on such issues as peace and security, economic and social development, and the enhancement of cultural exchange. "Further analysis of developments in television, and of its changing role, should be
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treated in new sessions of the United Nations World Television Forum to be held on a regular basis", the text states.
Participants expressed the hope that the 1996 Forum would be recognized as the first step towards permanent dialogue and collaborative action involving the United Nations and the world of television, the draft concludes.
DERECK DE KERKHOVE, Director, McLuhan Programme, University of Toronto, provided a summary of some of the views that had been expressed in the two-day Forum. The views included those on the influence of television on decision- making. The Under-Secretary-General for Peace-keeping Operations, Kofi Annan, he said, had broached the idea of promoting what he had termed "preventive journalism". There were questions as to what that meant, how it would be developed conceptually and how it would carried out. The role and involvement of the United Nations in the process of information distribution had also been discussed.
Since the United Nations occupied a central position in discussions of issues that affected the world, some participants had called for the creation of a United Nations television channel, he continued. It seemed that a global discussion of cultural issues would take precedence over military questions. There had also been proposals for the United Nations to declare a World Television Day that would be marked by the rest of the world. But, what was the point of having a Television Day, when the people of the world spent a lot of their time in front of the television screen? he asked.
The role of television in fostering diversity had also been emphasized during the two-day Forum, he said. One of the most interesting points expressed was the proposal that a louder voice be given to the African continent. Some participants had called for such an outlet because of their view that the region's relevance was not fully understood by the rest of the world. Therefore, special efforts should be made to explain that continent to all corners of the globe.
Globalization, he went on, was another issue that was discussed at length. It was being propelled and affected by technologies such as television, which had gone beyond converting into reality Marshall McLuhan's idea of a global village. However, with current trends, the media of the future would not just foster one global village but give rise to several global neighbourhoods. Satellites for global communications also contributed to the process of globalization. Another technology that pushed forward the bounds of globalization was interactive communication. The role of television in globalization should be examined in the context of the other technologies. Television, whether in public or private hands, should be regarded as being in
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the public domain because it gave rise to a public audience for the messages they transmitted and facilitated communication with various people at once.
Privatization of television could lead to the atomization of audience and the invasion of the medium by interactive services, such as the Internet, he said. The hijacking of television by services provided by such corporations as Microsoft was another development that deserved further consideration. Efforts should be made to ensure television had a future role that would ensure the reconnection of individuals with the public mind. The role of the United Nations in such an endeavour would be very important. Perhaps that was why some participants had proposed the establishment of a United Nations channel, something that he supported.
Mr. DE KERKHOVE then reviewed some of the ideas that had been expressed in the Forum. He said that one of the most memorable of them was the remark by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that television was the sixteenth member of the Security Council. Another speaker, Danny Schecter, Executive Producer of Global Vision, Inc., had said that, with media concentration, the public got more choices but fewer voices. Views had also been expressed that if the rest of the world followed the example of the United States television system, "world culture will go to hell". Others had stated that the job of the journalist was to help create anxiety and "it takes a lot of bad news to create good news".
MICHAEL TRACY, Director, Center for Mass Media Research, University of Colorado, United States, said that one of the most powerful ongoing debates was on the duality of the private versus the public systems of television. The Forum had drawn a large presence of the representatives of the pubic media, with a notable absence of practitioners from the commercial media. One of the major features of the United States media landscape was the absence of a debate on the social, cultural and even moral purposes of the media in the country. In that regard, the absence of representatives of the private media was worrying, since their presence was essential for any dialogue on the question of the higher purposes of television.
Another aspect of the discussion in the Forum, he said, was the duality of the global versus the local programming and content. What, for example, he asked, would be the result of the move towards globalization on such a duality? With only 50 of 100 largest economies in the world being States and the others being corporations, deliberations of the global-local dichotomy would be very important. Another significant issue was that of exclusion versus access to communication output.
He asked whether the private sector's development of some means of communication requiring, for instance, special gadgets would not exclude significant potential audiences. The issue of quality versus quantity was a major theme that had run through the course of the two-day Forum. Some views
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had been expressed that the multiplicity of channels in the United States, for instance, had led to more choices. However, that immediately raised the question of whether those choices were worthwhile.
The question of reality versus principles had also raised its head during the discussions, he said. What, it had been asked, would be the human, moral and cultural principles that would underpin the construction of communications infrastructures for the twenty-first century? Arrayed against such questions was the repeated argument that idealists should face the reality of the triumph of the market and its demands. While that reality had to be noted, it was important to see whether some guiding principles could be pursued in the media business. Further, questions would have to be asked on whether a bad programme made locally was better than a good programme made globally. The right of audiences to see familiar people and things should be protected in the media systems of the future. No matter how programmes were distributed, their integrity and character must be considered. The content of programmes must be addressed, therefore.
About Ted Turner, Vice-Chairman of Time Warner, he said that his presence at the Forum and assault on Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corporation, had been potent. "Here were two masters of the universe. Two gentlemen in a struggle to control the universe as masters of the universe." It seemed to be in the interest of Mr. Turner to form an alliance with public media at the Forum. Whatever happened to their struggle, two systems would emerge as models for the future. They are the "circus model", for entertainment, and a "civic model", which would propound the view that communication was not just for entertainment but was also for more profound purposes. Therefore, the continuation of the efforts of RAI, the United Nations and other public television media should be to help nurture a discourse in the next century that would be different from that of the last 20 years. The United Nations was the only organization that could facilitate that.
PAOLO FULCI, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, said what better forum could be held than one to discuss communication and information in a rapidly changing world in which diplomats search everyday for the points of intersection, interaction and common denominators. The idea of the Forum was brought to fruition by the untiring efforts of a handful of people.
It began with the visit of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana earlier this year which sparked a productive relationship with personnel there, he said.
Subsequently, he continued, at a conference on television in Europe in which more that 500 diplomats and media personnel attended, a Permanent Representative of an African country raised the issue of the growing gap in
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communication and information between Africa and the rest of the world. At the time, that diplomat had suggested that the United Nations should hold a conference of television broadcasters from throughout the world, but particularly from the developing world. That suggestion was the germ of the World Television Forum. Follow-up planning was done by the former and current Presidents of RAI, whose personnel was mobilized to work on the Forum.
Further, he said, the event was made possible by the hard work and determination of the Forum's Chairman, Assistant Secretary-General for Public Information Samir Sanbar, and his staff. They worked in close cooperation with the Director of External and International Relations of RAI, Carlo Sartori, to shape the Forum. The press officer of the Italian Permanent Mission, who worked on every stage of the project since January, also contributed to the Forum's success. He had no doubt that the ideas expressed during the two-day Forum had given each participant much food for thought and for future action.
SAMIR SANBAR, Assistant Secretary-General for Public Information, said his staff worked as a team with RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana. Together they were able to surmount all the difficulties they encountered. The Forum was a very encouraging event. The United Nations, and particularly the Department of Public Information (DPI), could not work without the media as its professional partners. The Forum was just the beginning.
He welcomed the idea of the participation of broadcasting unions in the World Television Forum, drawing attention to the importance of the Forum as the world entered the twenty-first century. He expressed the hope that regular meetings of television broadcasters would be held. The declaration read out by Mr. Sartori was a draft for participants to comment on. It reflected what had been discussed during the Forum.
He expressed appreciation to the Italian Government and particularly to the Italian Permanent Representative, Ambassador Fulci, and to RAI, particularly Mr. Sartori, who was very positive in his approach. The Forum was a historic meeting. He looked forward to working with all the participants in the future.
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