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Updated March 15, 1999

Issue:  Free Flow of Information
Discussion area
Hot Issue:   "Y2K" - Year 2000 Conversion

USIA chairs a working group in the international sector of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. The Council coordinates the U.S. government response to the Y2K problem, and American efforts to reach out to those around the world, to increase the awareness about the problem as well as provide assistance to companies and countries as they try to deal with the problem.

USIA has been charged with the responsibility of raising international awareness of the global Y2K challenge. Jonathan Spalter, Chief Information Officer and Associate Director for Information at USIA, chairs the Working Group for International Public Diplomacy. Activity included participation in the National Y2K Coordinators' Meeting at the U.N. in New York, along with Y2K experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Telecommunications Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Joint Year 2000 Council, and the International Technology Association of America, as well as permanent representatives of the missions to the UN.

Recent programs          Comment on these issues

Ongoing Issue:   Universal Internet Access

The information highway is not limited to one country. Electronic information may be researched, transmitted, and discussed virtually anywhere in the world with an internet or e-mail connection. While the U.S. is a leading nation in providing its citizens and students with information highway access, other countries are advancing on their own and studying the U.S. experience.

How can use of the 'global information highway' contribute to increased international understanding?

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Ongoing Issue:   Freedom of Speech

USIA Professional In Residence Jerome Aumente of New Jersey's Rutgers University organized broadcasting workshops in five regions of Serbia last fall. Read his experiences in Serbia, published recently in "American Journalism Review."

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Rostrum Discussion Area

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Article on experience in Serbia Published in "American Journalism Review"

The Jan/Feb '99 issue of American Journalism Review includes an article, "Cracking Down," by USIA Professional In Residence Jerome Aumente, who organized broadcasting workshops in five regions of Serbia this fall. The article details Aumente's exposure during his USIA program to the "guerrilla tactics" used by Milosevic in his crackdown on independent broadcast media and discusses how Serbian broadcasters began to "pry information from government sources, conduct more probing interviews, launch investigative projects, and produce sharp broadcasts with limited resources." The article highlights support of Serbia's independent media by USIA and other American organizations such as Soros, Freedom Forum, IREX and Committee to Protect Journalists. Dr. Aumente is professor of journalism and director of Rutgers' Journalism Resources Institute.

Recent USIA Programs on Y2K Issues

    John Koskinen, the chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, together with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts, briefed the foreign press February 24 at USIA's Foreign Press Center on the results of their just-concluded two-day meeting in Washington, D.C. While the trio did not minimize the complexity of the Y2K problem, they stressed that all three nations are well on the road to critical infrastructure protection. (February 1999)
    Emphasizing the high priority which the U.S. government and American businesses place on Year 2000 Computer Conversion efforts, USIA's New York Foreign Press Center organized a series of briefings December 9-10 timed to coincide with reporters' coverage of the December 11 United Nations Conference on Y2K. Briefings December 9 and 10 at the Securities Industry Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York informed 11 journalists from Japan, Korea, Finland, Spain, Canada, and Malaysia of the preparations being taken by the American securities and banking industries to handle the century date change problems. The New York Foreign Press Center also sponsored a December 10 Press Conference, attended by over 20 foreign news organizations, which featured John Koskinen, Assistant to the President and Chair of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, Ambassador Ahmad Kamal (chairman of the U.N. Working Group on Informatics) and the 9 other members of the U.N. Y2K Conference's "Friends of the Chair" organizing group.
    When the Chief Information Officer of the Israeli Knesset returned in mid-December 1998 from a two-week USIA International Visitor Program on the Y2K problem, he initiated an electronic mail network on Y2K with other participants in the program. The grantee, whose trip was sponsored by USIA's branch office in Tel Aviv, has already exchanged information with colleagues from the Palestinian Authority, Oman and India. In setting up his network, he fulfilled one of the main goals of the workshop in the U.S. -- to keep the group electronically linked and updated on Y2K issues.
    Two regional Indian newspapers have turned materials provided by USIA's branch office in Calcutta into articles urging emulation of U.S. approaches to the "millennium bug." On November 26, 1998, Assam State's English daily "The Sentinel" ran an editorial praising U.S. initiatives and calling on Indian scientists and politicians to take similarly serious cooperative steps to solve the problem. The following month, the science editor of West Bengal State's vernacular daily "Bartaman" commissioned and published a four-column feature entitled "Crisis of the Century -- Y2K" in that paper's December 29 issue. The science editor, who commended the U.S. Government's strategies to deal with the Y2K challenge, also printed a translation provided by USIA of remarks by President Clinton and White House Y2K chairman John Koskinen from a Y2K legislation signing ceremony.

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Universal Internet Access

"(I am commenting on the question "How can use of the 'global information highway' contribute to increased international understanding?")
     In an idealistic sense, a "global information highway" would unite the nations of the world under the guidance of a high-speed communications network and allow for the quick and efficient flow of ideas between individuals and groups, regardless of geographic borders.
     Unfortunately, this idea is far from being a reality. Many third world nations have never used a telephone - something we here in America seem to have taken for granted - much less have any understanding of what the "internet" is. Until the economic and political problems of these nations are addressed, these peoples will not be able to participate in the mythical "global village."
     The problem is not restricted to third world nations, either. The same problems exist within the social strata of our own country. It is easy for college students and computer owners to access and participate in world-wide informational exchanges. The cost of accessing and publishing on the internet is comparatively inexpensive, but the cost of owning the necessary hardware is obscene. Only after shelling out two-thousand dollars for a top-of-the-line computer system can a user spend his or her $9.95 per month and share information with people from all over the world. Many Americans cannot afford to open this gateway in their homes, and the reliance shifts to the educational system to provide access to the younger generation. Furthermore, schools at the elementary through high school levels don't often see the funding that is necessary to give them a presence in the global information exchange."           ( )

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