prix europa 2011 speech : make a difference

As promised an online version of my speech at the 2011 Prix Europa Awards Ceremony.


We gather here together today because we all have a job in media. In Brussels, at the office, I am what they call ‘the boss’. I commission and schedule programs to be broadcast on the channel that I am running. But I used to be a program maker myself. Like most of  you are today. And that is where my heart is. It is as a fellow program maker that I want to address you.

I don’t know if this is a dream come true for you : working in media. But you can be sure of it : this is an interesting industry. Media is one of the sectors, most talked and most written about. It is what they call a sexy industry.

So, congratulations ! You have a media job !!

But, tell me, WHY are you in media ? WHY are you here at the Prix Europa ?

Is it because you want to become famous ? Do you want to become a big TV star ? Make that one documentary that all channels want to run ? Win prizes that stroke your ego ?

Is it because you dream of working for one of the big news channels like CNN or Al Jazeera ?

Or are you in it, just because of the money ? Do you dream of selling your format world wide. The format, that buys you a house with staff and a swimming pool ?

Or maybe you just feel inspired by Rupert Murdoch and do you want to become a very powerfull Little Rupert Murdoch yourself ?

Whatever your motivation may be … Know that you are powerful, just because you are working in a powerful industry.

Whether you like it or not you DO have power. You ARE Little Rupert Murdoch !

Does that make you feel uncomfortable ?

In fact, I am not telling you anything new at all : media is and has always been the fourth power.

Democracy is a recently new concept : it meant the separation of power into a legislative, executive and judicial power, with a separation of state and church. The power of the state governors is given to those elected by the people.

Democracy is a recently new concept and yet in many countries it is not guaranteed.

Democracy also means freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is an individual right but also the right of institutions such as media. Freedom of speech is Martin Luther King saying ‘I have a dream’. Freedom of speech is Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post, making public the Watergate Scandal.

I don’t know why YOU are in this industry, but it is the fourth power and it explains why each one of you here in this room is powerful.

In fact, today you are more powerful than ever. You are very powerful.

Martin Luther King and the Watergate Scandal, that were the sixties and the seventies. Now some 50 years later, the power of media has grown enormously and is still growing.

Like democracy, like freedom of speech, media have also become an individual right and the right of institutions. Broadcasting yourself is the individual right of everybody having access to a computer, a tablet pc or any sort of mobile device and the internet. Broadcasting selected stories is the right of media institutions such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

And they are powerful. So are you.

Think of what the role of media was during the recent Arab spring.

Think of Oprah : if she reads a book, millions of Americans read that same book.

Think of Jamie Oliver who is changing food habits all over the Western nations.

And think of rapper 50 cent, who – if he tweets stock tips – earns himself 8.7 million dollar.

This is the industry you are working for.

So, sure, we media people are powerful. We got that right by now. But what do we use that power for ? As a service broadcaster, not for the money … Isn’t it ?

Most public service broadcasters focus on impartial news, national drama series and national cultural programs in the own language. And that is good. But is it enough ?

What if media is about having an impact ? About you having an impact. What if media is about changing society ? About you changing society.

But do you have impact ?

Let me give you three examples :

The Big Donor show is a Dutch TV project that was broadcast at BNN. A terminally ill woman wanted to donate a kidney during a crazy TV show. The audience had to decide, whom was going to ‘win’ that kidney. Risky business and lots of angry people before the show was aired. Once it was know the show was a hoax, it actually made people think about organ donation and it had an enormous positive impact on Dutch society.

Another example. Serious Request or Music for Life is a European radio project that was individually launched in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland. It is a marathon radio show with popular DJ’s in large cities, often also being broadcast on television or streamed on the internet. It informs people on difficult subjects such as orphans in Africa. In the mean time, raising money for the good cause. More people than ever tuned in to the radio in The Netherlands and Flemish Belgium.

And finally on my own channel Eén there is HIV positive. Two years ago, new year’s eve, 4 o’clock in the morning, two of my dearest friends told me they are diagnosed HIV+. They had the disease for several years and no, they won’t die of it, but they suffer from the taboo it surrounds. It took them years before they could confess this to the best friend that I am. With the program that we are running now, we open up the debate.

These are just three examples that show you how media can make a difference. Three examples that show how you as a programmaker can make a difference.

So. Ask yourself, do you want to make a difference ?

Wanting to have impact and having impact, also implies responsibility. Big responsibility.

If you have impact on people and on society, then you can not run away from what you to do to people and to society.

We tend to think that the responsibility of media stops with broadcasting. But that is where the story really begins, because you can not ignite a fire and leave it unattended.

Think about all the programs you made : did they make a difference ? Could they have made a difference ?

Could you have changed the world ?

For sure, I don’t want to put the burden of the entire world on your shoulder. But as a program maker with impact I want you to be fully aware of your responsibilty.

When we tell stories that make a difference then we also have to monitor the difference. You can do so in really listening to your audience. What do they say about your stories ? How do they feel about your stories ? Does it make them laugh or does it make them cry ? Be aware of that. Be aware of the debate and maybe even participate in the debate.

It is not about broadcasting a program on people being diagnosed HIV+ but about opening a debate on how society deals with these people.

A lot is said about social media. Opening blogs, Facebook- and Twitterpages and especially designed interactive platforms. But it is not about social media, but about media being social.

Media being social does not monitor the conversations but opens up a dialogue between the programmakers and their audience.

When was the last time you really talked to your viewers ?

Public service media  is not about return on investment but about return on society.

Public service media – and that is what is bringing us together today – don’t have the right but the obligation to have impact. To have impact on its audience, on society and on the world in general.

Check the mission of the company you work for and check whether it is in its statutes to have impact. If that is the case : good ! Then check again to see why it wants to have impact.

Public service media are struggling to define what they are doing … What if we just tried to make the world a little better ?

According to some governments, commercial channels can easily replace public broadcasters. Don’t let that happen. Make programs that make a difference.

Rupert Murdoch is about return on investment; public service media is about return on society.

Return on investment is about earning more money.

Return on society is about creating a better world.

We have the privilege – and I would like to stress to word privilege – to make a better world.

You have the privilege to change the world

Don’t wait and change the world.

Good luck and thanks.

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