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Annan Calls On Broadcasters to Help Create 'Open, Inclusive' Information Society

10-12-2003 ()
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday in Geneva called on global broadcasters to help in the effort to create an open and inclusive information society in which knowledge empowers all people, and serves the cause of improving the human condition.
Kofi Annan was speaking at the Opening of the World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF), at which UNESCO organizes a workshop on Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) concentrating on the current and future challenges to PSB.

The workshop is organized in a context, where editorially independent PSB must prove its relevance as changing technological, commercial, political and cultural factors strongly interplay. Neither commercial nor State-controlled, public service broadcasting’s raison d’être is to offer a public service, a public space where all citizens are welcome and considered equals. In developing countries, PSB has a key mission in promoting access to education and culture, developing knowledge and fostering interaction among citizens.

In remarks to the WEMF opening in Geneva, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted the "power and paradox" facing the producers and consumers of electronic media in the information age.

"The power is clear: to educate and entertain; to inspire and inform; to sound the alarm and arouse the conscience; to bring people and places closer together; to shine a light on injustice," he stressed.

But, Mr. Annan added, while electronic media may seem to be everywhere, the paradox is that "there are many millions of people in the world it still does not reach."

"Many do not have electricity, let alone electronic media. Others are too poor to buy televisions, radios or satellite dishes," he said. Furthermore, the barriers were not only technical, as signals are broadcast in a limited number of languages, while in some countries it is not legal to receive signals from abroad.

"The digital divide is not just digital; it reflects wide disparities in freedom, wealth, and in power, and ultimately in hope for a better future. We are here together in Geneva to put power and paradox together, and come up with a plan as partners," he said.

Panels, workshops and keynote speeches at the Forum -- which runs through Friday and is organized by the UN in cooperation with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Switzerland -- will explore the enhanced role of the media in the information society, and examine such key topics as universal access to information, freedom of expression, cultural diversity, economic development, social cohesion and education.

The Forum is a parallel event to the high-level World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which begins tomorrow. The Summit aims to address the challenge of using information and communications technologies (ICT) towards fighting global problems such as illiteracy and poverty.

Mr. Annan stressed that the goal "is not more information in more places, but an information society -- open and inclusive -- in which knowledge empowers all people, and serves the cause of improving the human condition."

Noting that the media were fellow stakeholders in that effort, he said: "Freedom of the press is essential if you are to fulfil that vital role. It is one thing for Governments to establish regulatory and policy frameworks. But when they go further, further down the slope towards censorship and harassment, all of us -- and potentially all our rights -- are imperilled. The Summit must reaffirm this fundamental freedom.

"With the explosion in knowledge and capacity, we have, more than ever before, the ability to reach development goals we have never had before and goals we have sought for many, many years. Like those who witnessed the dawn of the industrial age, people around the world have been given their first glimpses of exciting new achievements ahead," he added.

"All over the developing world, as antennas and satellite dishes sprout across the landscape -- some of them placed there in defiance of the authorities -- we can see the immense thirst for connection. Let us show that we are listening and that we are going to help them fulfil their dreams," he concluded.
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