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Thursday, January 22, 1998 Published at 11:23 GMT


BBC digital plans will guard against 'two-class society'
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"Those left behind in the digital age risk being doomed to irrelevance"

The Director General of the BBC, John Birt, has warned of the dangers of people being "left behind" in the digital age.

John Birt detects history repeating itself (21")
In a speech to mark the BBC's 75th anniversary, Mr Birt talked of plans to use licence payers' money to develop online and digital services.

"Those left behind in the digital age risk being doomed to irrelevance," he told the Institute of Electrical Engineers in London.

[ image: John Birt: guarding against a
John Birt: guarding against a "two-class society"
He was speaking at the site where wireless manufacturers gathered in 1922 to set up the corporation.

Mr Birt said the BBC's new online services would help guard against a "two-class society". New technology could create a split between "the information rich, ready and able to pay for their increasingly expensive media, and the information poor who cannot".

The BBC has launched online news, an education Web site and natural history site, as well as pages for well-loved programmes.

"If there is a better Web site than the BBC's on the Internet, I have yet to find it. It is informative, imaginative and beautifully designed - and already Europe's largest," said Mr Birt.

The BBC had, by a wide margin, the most powerful newsgathering capability in world broadcasting and the BBC News online site, said the Director General, was a rich research resource allowing people to track back through previous reports and plot the development of a story over time.

"We plan, in due course, to make available and regularly to update all our specialist briefing material, "said Mr. Birt.

He intends the BBC to act as a "trusted guide" on the Internet and has ambitions for it to become the nation's leading "Web educator", taking forward the public service values of its principal architect, John Reith, into a new era.

Mr Birt said: "We shall aim to excite, to enrich, to move, to bring joy, to make people laugh; to expose them to new ideas, to great art, to the spiritual and to the uplifting; to work with the most adventurous, engaging and inspiring talents; to use new technologies to involve our licence payers as never before; to help ensure that in the age of globalisation and plenty our national culture remains distinct and vibrant; that we continue to stretch minds and horizons, that our national debate remains lively and intelligent."

Jewels in store

He said BBC engineers and equipment manufacturers were working hard at "an exciting pilot scheme" to realise the potential of online services.

Using the new scheme, Mr Birt had been able to see his viewing choice of Graeme Souness's first ever goal for Liverpool within two or three seconds.

"At some point - it is not clear when - you will be able to access the Aladdin's Cave of the BBC's archive, with all its jewels, some well known but many half forgotten and rarely seen," he said.

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