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Monday, April 6, 1998 Published at 03:42 GMT 04:42 UK


BBC boss warns of 'underclass'
image: [ John Birt: digital TV risks creating the
John Birt: digital TV risks creating the "info rich and info poor

Britain could become a nation of the knowledge haves and have-nots if broadcasters are allowed to charge for all programmes, according to the BBC's Director-General John Birt.

Mr Birt says European governments also need to ensure schools are equipped to deal with the digital revolution.

The BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas reports (49")
He is telling a forum of leading European broadcasters that a "knowledge underclass" could develop without such action.

Mr Birt says: "The consumer will be increasingly asked to pay directly for what they see. The cost of watching a screen will rise enormously.

"We will see the emergence of the information rich, and the information poor. We risk a knowledge underclass."

He adds that as multi-channel digital television prepares to change viewing habits, the British Government should ensure public service broadcasting remains available to everyone.

"At the heart of the public broadcasting tradition is universality - reaching out to every household in the land - the poor and the prosperous - offering enriching experience and information which extends understanding.

"Public service broadcasters seek not only to delight, but to give individuals the knowledge they need to live fuller, more satisfying lives."

He also says that European governments should be acting to ensure children at school and people in work had the skills they will need in the digital age.

In his speech to the forum in Birmingham, Mr Birt refers to BBC News online. He says it "offers the opportunity to tap into the rich reservoirs of expertise available from BBC World Service and from other of the BBC's specialised journalists and to brief yourself on a wide range of current matters."


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