UN Resolution 51/205, 17 December 1996

I know that when you all think of the 17 December 1996, you inevitably think of the 14 Peruvian guerrillas from the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement who on that day took hundreds of people hostage at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima.

However something else happened that day: the United Nations passed Resolution 51/205 and proclaimed today (21 November) World Television Day.

I’m embarrassed to say that this fact has only recently come to our attention, so I’m guessing it must be news to you too.  Why did the UN decide the world needed a Television Day? Well, in its own words:

‘In recognition of the increasing impact television has on decision-making by bringing world attention to conflicts and threats to peace and security and its potential role in sharpening the focus on other major issues, including economic and social issues, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 November as World Television Day…World Television Day is not so much a celebration of the tool, but rather the philosophy which it represents. Television represents a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world.’

Thinkbox often talks about ‘the increasing impact television has on decision-making’, but more in terms of how effective TV advertising is rather than how it brings global attention to major issues and thus brings the world closer together. But as we watch the events in Gaza unfold – or witness the regime change in China and the regime non-change in America – it is timely to remember the wider social benefits of TV for keeping us in the know.

But TV’s ability to do social good as well as commercial good is not restricted solely to bringing issues to everyone’s attention. Earlier this year, Thinkbox sponsored a Debating Group debate where the motion was ‘Government advertising saves the country money’. The motion was conclusively carried  – but then the audience was people in advertising, so hardly surprising. The main thrust of the argument was that the government investing in, say, stopping people smoking saves  lives, which is a good in itself,  but it also saves the NHS a substantial amount of money in the long run because they have to treat fewer smoking related illnesses. There are endless examples like this.

Nor are TV’s social influence and commercial influence mutually exclusive. For instance, put crudely, investment in TV advertising leads to the most increased profit, which leads to more jobs, which leads to economic growth.  The taxes on the extra profit (a few international companies notwithstanding) and on the extra jobs help pay for schools, roads and hospitals.   And, of course, investment in TV advertising also helps pay for those TV programmes that bring issues to our attention to be made. Advertising is where commercial interests can happily sit with enlightened philanthropy. These themes were touched on at our ‘TV: doing good’ event, which looked at the host of ways TV can make our lives better, including how commercial brands can enhance their profits while also making a positive social impact.

So happy World Television Day.  I’m sorry we’ve done little to celebrate it other than this blog but they are a bit more organized about it in Europe; here is their special website with greetings from people such as Usain Bolt, Kofi Annan and Sir Martin Sorrell where they articulate what is so special about TV.  Lets  all take the opportunity to reflect on what an incredible cultural contribution TV in all its forms makes,  informing and entertaining everyone – even Peruvian guerillas.

  • Tess Alps
    Tess Alps
    Chair, Thinkbox
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