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"Change and Challenge for World Media"
Remarks to WinConference 2001/Thought Leaders
Thursday, July 5, 2001
A conference sponsored by one of the world‚s leading financial groups may seem
like an unusual forum for the President and CEO of the only noncommercial,
not-for-profit television service in the United States. But we share more in common than you might
think around the theme of this year‚s conference, Change and Challenge.
Representing public service
media as I do here this morning, I believe we can and should explain, explore,
and add global perspective to the changes happening at cyberspeed all around us
as well as defining the challenges these changes represent for all.
You, representing the global business community, as well as military and political
leadership, are responding to change and challenge by being here to participate
in the Thought Leaders Programme, and contribute to an exchange
of ideas and new strategic thinking.
Many of the participants here and, in particular, the WinConference sponsors, the
Winterthur Group and Credit Suisse, are already engaged in innovative solutions
to global change and challenge.
If together∑ global media and international business∑ forge a new commitment to build
social capital, along with financial capital, we
will most certainly contribute to safer, healthier, more secure and sustainable
communities, countries, and world.
How to do our part in a shifting and ever-changing and more competitive media
landscape is the challenge I wish to discuss with you this morning.
It‚s somewhat intimidating, however, to do so from the same podium where such great leaders and thinkers as
Mikhail Gorbachev and Kofi Annan have spoken and where Senator George Mitchell,
one of the most respected political leaders in the United States, spoke earlier
In fact, I am reminded of the story about
the man who survived the famous Johnstown flood that devastated the small
Pennsylvania town. All his life, he
would tell everybody he met about his experiences with the flood. When he died, he went to heaven, and asked
St. Peter to round up an audience so he could talk about the flood. St. Peter said, „I‚d be happy to. But you have to remember one thing Ų Noah
will be in the audience.š
So to all the őNoahs‚ in the
room, I begin by recognizing that you come to this conference with significant
experience and serious thinking about the issues of our time.
I come to this conference thinking a lot
about a world that is now quite literally connected by an electronic nervous
system that can instantly send and receive print, audio and video. Will this make our world a more humane, more
harmonious place to live or will this contribute to a greater gap between those
who have what they need for connectivity and sustainability and those who do
Answering that question, along with the
others that arise in a digitally wired world, is one of the most significant
challenges for those of us in positions of media leadership in every country.
A brief historical review of previous
communications revolutions offers some perspective. Most of us are old enough to remember when radio created the
first electronic family circle with its reports of a world beyond our own
borders; in my case, a very small town in the state of Georgia.
Then came television with both sound and
image and the experience was instantly and totally transforming for everyone
who sat in front of its mesmerizing light.
It didn‚t take long for a debate about the nature of that transformation
and influence to begin and it continues even now.
What happened in between the Golden Age of
television, as we now fondly and perhaps with more nostalgia than actual memory
refer to those early days and the multi-channel universe often described as a
ővast wasteland‚, can be answered, in part, by the evolution of mass
communications into the most powerful mass advertising medium ever
When it became possible to measure the
number of eyeballs aggregated for the sale of products∑ ratings∑ the bottom
line measurement for a successful program was established for good or not so
good, depending on where one was in the chain of impact. As companies moved to more short-term
earnings reports to stockholders and the financial markets, more short-term
thinking began to drive decisions in all aspects of the media business, from
content to distribution.
What also happened was that many of the
early media barons, who were also visionaries attracted to the possibilities of
a world connected by common knowledge, common concerns, common pleasures of art
and culture, were replaced in the rash of consolidations and mergers with
executives focused more on optimizing profits than maximizing positive impact
I was fortunate enough to work for a man who
is known throughout the world as a media visionary, Ted Turner. Ted believed in the power of television to
change the world and with the establishment of the first 24-hour global news
network, CNN, he did just that. While
Ted no longer leads the company he created with vision and passion, he remains
a force for good in the world through his personal philanthropy. But sadly, there is only one Ted
Turner. Had there been more executives
in the commercial media business as courageous and committed to positive impact
as Ted, I might have continued my career there.
I had been drawn to television, as a former
teacher would be, by the opportunities to communicate to an even larger
őclassroom‚, and had focused my work in news and documentaries designed to
inform and, dare I say, őeducate‚. I
have experienced the power and influence potential of television at its
best. But far too often during those 25
years with the commercial networks and cable companies, I witnessed a powerful
tool for positive impact shifting focus to profits above social responsibility.
Of course, the media business is a business,
granted commercial licenses for use of the broadcast spectrum. But in the late sixties, the U.S. Congress,
urged by a few media visionaries, took steps to ensure that at least one part
of the spectrum would be set aside for public radio and public television. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the
Public Broadcasting law which set up the system to grow Educational TV, as it
was known then, into a nationwide public service media enterprise. President Johnson said, „There are plenty of
miracles of communications, but now it‚s time to manage those miracles for
public good.š He went on to challenge
public radio and public television to use their communication powers to inform,
to educate as well as entertain and to provide a diverse and uplifting voice
for all citizens.
And it‚s that mission, that birthright if
you will, that is the foundation of support for the 347 PBS member stations and
the more than 500 public radio licensees.
Even in the face of more and more competition for hearts and mind and
time, we will sustain our support in the States and strengthen our partnerships
worldwide with other broadcasters if we stay committed to our mission, rooted
in the values of our birthright and resist the temptations to become
commercialized or compromised. If we
continue to provide distinct and differentiated content intended to serve, not
sell, and to use media to educate and enlighten and engage, I believe the value
of public service media in the United States and around the world will be seen
as an essential component in every free and open society.
One hundred million people in the U.S. watch
public television at some time during every month, and we attract more than 12
million unique visitors every week to the PBS.org web site. When all the public television and public
radio stations are connected together, broadcasting together, it represents the
largest broadcast network in the world.
What reach. What an opportunity
to be an agent for change. What
responsibility to rise to the challenges in front of us.
One of the most formidable challenges for
PBS is finding the resources we need to stay strong and vital. Only about 17% of the annual one billion
dollar budget for PBS and its member stations comes from the federal
government. Yearly appropriations must
be solicited from Congress and state governments whose contributions vary
greatly, and for most public television stations, the challenge is raising
nearly 80% of their operating costs every year. Surprising to some, the largest amount of it comes from
individuals who value the content and services and the rest comes from
businesses and foundations.
There are exceptional examples of corporate
support in the 30-year partnership of ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre
and General Motors‚ support for Ken Burns‚s series like Jazz
(which is being broadcast now by many public broadcasters around the world),
but we need a stronger alliance with global businesses in order to produce and
distribute content that has worldwide impact and lasting value.
You can imagine how much we envy the fully
state supported public broadcasters like the BBC and NHK; especially now that
we, along with other broadcasters around the world, are going through a
mandated conversion from an analog delivery of signal to digital
transmission. For PBS, the price tag on
this conversion is 1.8 billion dollars and the deadline for completion of the
conversion is less than two years away.
Unlike our commercial colleagues who are
playing a waiting game, waiting for more customers to be able to receive a
digital signal and waiting for some technical format issues to be resolved,
public television stations have been moving forward, embracing the new
technology as new means to deliver on our mission, and being an innovative
leader as we have often been with other technological advances. We see the new channels that digital
transmission will create as new platforms for delivering distinctive, high
definition and interactive content, which we are already doing on a limited
basis, as well as educational services that will in turn generate new social
capital in the communities we serve.
Digital technology, besides creating a new
connection system for the entire planet, also offers the potential to turn
every computer and every television that can log on into a new programming
source, a library, a theatre, a classroom, or whatever we want to make it and
it means that watching television will be truly interactive, with the capacity
to receive and use data simultaneously.
There are other technological changes that
are creating challenges for all broadcasters: these devices called TIVO and
REPLY which can turn a 500-channel universe into a one-channel universe. They allow viewers to make their own
schedules by searching all available content and selecting what you want to see
and weeding out what you don‚t want to see.
When you choose to watch the programs you have chosen to record, the
device also allows you to zap right past the commercials.
It‚s clear what the threat is here for
everyone, media and business, and there‚s a scramble to find a new model for
advertising. I‚m confident one will be
found and for public broadcasters, the challenge is to find a way to solicit
the funding now gained through what we call pledge drives. I can tell from the smiles in the audience
that some of you have seen these drives and perhaps, even some of you have
responded to the call of support from őviewers like you‚.
There‚s still another challenge impacting
the way global media delivers news and information as well as
entertainment. The rash of
consolidations, mergers, and acquisitions of the past few years have virtually
transformed a diverse set of media owners in each country into a few mega
companies with global reach.
The recent AOL/Time Warner merger results in
what advertisers call a ővirtuous circle‚ of consumers captured at every
content intersection with an opportunity for a transaction; that means that
AOL/Time Warner‚s brands touch consumers more than 2.5 billion times each
Nothing wrong with that and, in fact, it‚s
good news for stockholders.
But will it be good news for citizens as
well as consumers?
There is also the growing concern that with
fewer owners of media companies, in particular news and information driven
enterprises, that the editorial voice becomes compromised as well as
consolidated. Recent studies of front
page news and top-line stories on television broadcasts, as well as interviews
with prominent print and TV journalists, reveal a disturbing trend to avoid the
stories that might negatively impact on the owners of their papers or magazines
television networks. It‚s hard not to
run into the possibility of impact when the company owns papers, magazines,
television, web services, as well as distribution systems.
There are many challenges around this issue
of distribution and more to come during the transition period from analog to
digital. But one thing is clear: more channels, wider distribution of
content, more means of delivery will only mean more positive impact if we stay
vigilant about keeping the access to all citizens open to those who serve as
well as those who sell.
Such consolidation of media empires makes
for powerful distribution gatekeepers.
PBS and its stations are engaged in seeking governmental and regulatory
support for a őmust carry‚ agreement that guarantees carriage of
public television signals via cable and/or direct satellite delivery, but
rather than waiting for the strong arm of legislation, we are also actively
negotiating for voluntary carriage on the basis that public service media is
just that: a unique public service that
the public deserves and values.
Another challenge to anyone committed to
using media to enrich the lives of individuals and build social capital is the
race to reach the largest possible audience by aiming at the lowest common
denominator. With the greatest technology
any generation has ever seen, we are increasingly using it to create the most
degrading and disengaging programming the world has ever seen. The new reality shows, like Survivor,
Temptation Island, and The Weakest Link, are making
media the weakest link in the chain of responsible behavior.
Not only do I think we can do better Ų we have the responsibility to do
better. In this interconnected world,
nobody is better poised than global media companies to help us see the world in
all its complexities. Nobody is better
positioned to help us understand each other, appreciate our differences, and
put them aside for the sake of our common survival than the global media.
Here are a few stories we need to be telling and telling in such a way that the
world community sees and understands and, hopefully, becomes engaged in
As we begin a new century, half the world‚s people struggle to survive on less
than $2 a day, and nearly one billion live in chronic hunger.
Almost a billion of the world‚s adults cannot read and in the age of endemic cell
phones, pagers, palm pilots, half the people on the planet have never made a
Half the children in the poorest countries are not in school. Millions of women are victims of violence
and suppressions of individual freedoms every day. Over the next half century, the population of the world is
expected to grow from six billion to nine billion Ų with the greatest increase
coming in those countries that can least afford it.
The irony is, with 24-hour news cycles and international news networks like CNN, we
know these issues. Even if we try, we
cannot avoid all the images in print, on radio or television of the struggles
of those who don‚t have enough to eat or medicine to heal or a future to
We no longer have the excuse of ignorance.
We can choose not to act; but we can no longer choose not to know.
So what is happening between the knowing and the responding?
Not enough and here, again, I believe we, the world‚s storytellers, must shoulder
our share of the blame. We have not
With new technologies, we are better able to connect the world, educate the world‚s
citizens and engage them in positive responses than ever before and,
tragically, we seem to be have less will for doing so than ever before. The reach is almost universal but the impact
is far from what we might desire.
Consider this recent story in The New York Times about the introduction of
television and the internet for the first time into the isolated Buddhist
kingdom of Bhutan.
In 2000, the King of Bhutan had finally agreed to allow television and the internet into his small,
totally peaceful, pristine country. In
welcoming the arrival of modern communications technology to his remote kingdom
he urged his citizens to use good sense and judgment, saying that „television
and the internet can be both beneficial and harmful to the individual and to
society.š Now one year later, the king
and many others in the country worry that the impact has been far from
Bhutanese children are
imitating World Federation Wrestlers, teenagers are dressing like MTv and
begging for brand name cosmetics and everything from language to music is
changing dramatically. The king had
hoped that with television and the internet, his citizens would gain a greater
understanding of the outside world but, so far, the news of earthquakes or
political elections is having far less impact than the advertising that
accompanies the programming on nearly every channel beamed into the country.
Bhutan is experiencing a
new wave of antisocial behavior and its first generational gap. There‚s been a profound shift in values that
threatens, with little more than a year of exposure to television, the fabric
of a society. As one elder put it,
„stories are our way of transmitting social values and as sitcoms and action
films replace our stories, our society becomes more fragile.š
I submit that in
far too many other countries media is contributing to an ever-increasing
fragility of values because we are no longer telling the stories that keep a
society strong and connected and sustainable.
We have replaced those stories with reality programs like Fear
Factor and Big Brother, and replaced news that puts
events in perspective and issues in context with quick sound bites and eye
candy, intended to tune us OUT not tune us IN.
For example, recent research by the Annenberg Policy Center indicates that last year in America,
there were 24,528 stories written about the TV show, Who Wants To Be A
Millionaire Ų but just 8,335 stories on the millions of dollars being
saved through global debt relief. There
were 12,476 stories written about the TV show Survivor, but less
than a quarter of that amount about the millions of people who aren‚t surviving
the spread of HIV and AIDS.
As we go forward, we in the media will constantly face a choice between profits
and public service; between focusing on what is entertaining or what is
newsworthy; between what matters and what amuses. But if we are going to achieve our full potential as a global
village in the 21st Century, there needs to be more of a balance
than there is today.
Here are a few new reality shows I‚d like to see.
How about a series of programs on the recent debt relief deal signed by 23 of the
greatest debt ridden countries? I can
assure you that if I suggested such a topic, there would be a stare of
disbelief and a reminder that nothing is harder to make compelling than
economics on television. But let‚s just
imagine that we followed the money from the developing countries that had been
servicing the debt to the poor countries that struck a new bargain.
What did they do with the money? In Uganda,
twice as many kids are now going to school.
In Mozambique, debt payments are down by 42 percent, allowing health spending
to increase by $14 million this year.
In Cameroon, a 28 percent reduction in debt payments is freeing up $114
million, much of which is going to fight AIDS.
Compelling stories, don‚t you agree? Positive
problem solving that could be replicated elsewhere.
What about more stories on AIDS?
Today, 36 million people are infected with the AIDS virus worldwide. Of that, 24 million live in Africa. AIDS is already the leading cause of death,
killing ten times more people than all the armed conflicts on the African
continent last year. Already in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, half of
all the 15-year-olds are expected to die of AIDS. Over the next ten years in Africa, AIDS is predicted to cut the
GDP in some countries by as much as 20%.
This is not simply an African problem. The
fastest-growing rate of AIDS in the world is not in Africa, but in the
Caribbean and in Russia. Number three
is in India. And in China, while the
incidence is still low, only four percent of the adult population in China
knows how AIDS is spread. If we don‚t
do anything, by 2005, instead of 36 million AIDS cases, there will be 100
million. And in a world where a person
can step on a plane in Russia and land in New York, this disease knows no
Last week in New York, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan,
repeated his call for a trust fund Ų funded by the developed nations Ų to close
the gap between what is spent and what is needed for treatment of AIDS; to help
pay for life-saving medicines that prevent the spread of viruses between mother
and children. And let me be the first
to commend the Credit Suisse group for pledging more than $1 million to help
meet this effort.
Media should follow this story every day for
progress reports and give plenty of print and TV time to those who are stepping
up with financial and social capital to help bring an end to the divide between
the infected and the fearful, those who can afford treatment and know about
prevention and those still in the dark and still suffering.
There is another
story that should be capturing the global media spotlight on a regular
basis: the threats to sustainable life
on Planet Earth.
Global warming is
a reality and there are no borders to the impact of climate change. It may be more incremental in its impact in
some places, but the fact is that unless all nations do their part to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, little else is going to matter at the turn of the
The six warmest years since the 15th Century have all been in the
1990s. Unless we change course,
scientists predict that seas will rise so high they will swallow islands and
coastal areas. Storms and droughts will
intensify. Those hit hardest will be
the poorest among us. And diseases like
malaria will be borne by mosquitoes to higher and higher altitudes and across
borders threatening more lives.
Today the United States is the world‚s
biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, and I am hoping that we will assume
our rightful place as a leader in finding solutions to what has to be seen as
the biggest potential disaster facing all of us.
There is a $1
trillion market today in the world, mostly untapped, for available new
technologies that promote alternative energy and energy conservation; we have
just scratched the surface of telling the world‚s citizens about these
technologies and the difference they will make.
At PBS, we do tell
these stories and they make a difference.
Recently, Bill Moyers, a respected
and renowned journalist in the States whose work is exactly what differentiates
public service media, produced the first global report card on environmental
degradation and what is being done to reverse the damage in five ecological
zones. Our FRONTLINE documentary
series and the independent film series called P.O.V. also tackle the
tough issues regularly and, regularly, the impact is measurable. And we measure impact, not ratings, for all
the documentaries, specials, historical and science series, the daily NewsHour
and the analysis programs on PBS.
You should expect and
demand the same of the media in your countries and when possible, support the
efforts of public service media to produce and distribute content that builds
trust, connects people to each other and offers them opportunities to be
proactively engaged in addressing the changes and challenges in all
communities, all countries. That will
close the gap between knowing and responding.
That will help stem the decline of social capital and begin to build its
As crucial as our laws and institutions are, democracy and freedom are only truly sustained when citizens
are engaged and involved, showing through their actions that they believe
everyone is entitled to a fair chance at the pursuit of health and happiness and
a secure, sustainable community in which to live. That is the essence of building social capital. That is the essence of a world we want to
live in and leave to our children.
More than five centuries ago, this concept of social capital was alive in Europe Ų
but it didn‚t become widespread and truly functional until the printing press
helped to spread a large body of shared civic knowledge to an informed and
engaged public. In a world that is
increasingly connected by one touch of a computer key the only limit to the
number of people we can reach with information that empowers, engages and
positively impacts are the limits of own imaginations and aspirations.
No generation has ever had the chance we do to build a global economy that leaves
no one behind and, in the process, to create a new century of peace and
prosperity. It‚s been said that the
media writes the first draft of history.
Today, more than ever before, we, you and I, media and business
together, have a chance to write the first draft of the future that will be
better for our generation and all those to come.
I hope we make the most of it. Thank you.