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Reuters New Media
Annan says TV should help educate developing world
Daniel Bases
November 17, 2000
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told media executives Thursday they should bring not only news and information to the developing world, but educate it as well.

"One of the things you can do is to inform people about the Internet and its possibilities, and so help create the demand for the next stage," said Annan, kicking off the fifth annual two-day U.N. World Television Forum.

"But at the same time, you must help the spread of literacy and other basic skills. Connecting the poor to the Internet will hardly improve their lives if they cannot even read or write," Annan said.

The forum focused on the "digital divide" between rich and poor nations with access to the Web, and the use of television to teach about the Internet.

The United Nations says some 2.5 billion radios and 1.5 billion television sets are estimated to reach three-quarters of humanity, while only 5 percent of the world's population have access to the Internet.

Annan said new information technology had "enormous potential to promote economic growth and to help eradicate poverty."

The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Harri Holkeri, said such communications could be used to publicize the scourge of AIDS and other diseases in developing countries.

"Technology can improve knowledge: in Africa where one in four adults is HIV-positive and 40 percent cannot read or write, technology, including through television, radio and the Internet, could spread knowledge ... and help reduce illness or death," Holkeri said.

Some media executives were uncertain about the best way to make advances.

"This is a real challenge, to keep the universality of the delivery of information so that the unsophisticated can learn and be informed, or position ourselves to be watched by the most affluent who can afford the new technologies," said Robert Kwiatkowski, president of TVP, Poland's public television company.

Others cautioned against modeling all programming on the American formula at the expense of local cultures.

"We are told the world is globalizing. That is only partially true. What is actually happening is it has been Americanizing," said Greg Dyke, director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation.