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Care for mankind can be good TV

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Here is a vision of a future disaster for the humanitarian world 10 years down the road: The digital age in full swing has revolutionized what used to be known as watching television and has led to an increased segmentation and fragmentation of programming.

The decline in what one leading British radio presenter calls the broadcasters' understanding of their "wider responsibilities" has continued and is, apart from a few last pockets of resistance in underfunded public programming, all but a memory.

Technology and the market have lifted from the average family slumped in front of the glowing screen the unpleasant and awkward obligation of being confronted with images of disasters from far-off countries. The "give them what they want" broadcasters will have dispensed with the "tell them what they should know" side.

Heart-rending pictures of humanitarian disasters will have been corralled off into a small, seldom-visited, easily avoided corner of the screen. No one need feel guilty anymore.

While this scenario is not so far-fetched, from my vantage working for a major humanitarian agency, I don't think we need be too pessimistic. While presenting new challenges, the digital revolution may just help those charged with getting a humanitarian message broadcast to living rooms in the West. Likewise, victims of conflict and disaster in the developing world are likely to reap the benefits of a parallel revolution in radio. (Digital short-wave transmitters - which should bring a new lease of life to short-wave broadcasts - are expected to be tested later this year, giving greater access to vital information.)

But getting a humanitarian message across to the general public in the developed world is going to mean a whole lot more work than it does right now.


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