Throwing the Switch: Challenges in the Conversion to Digital Broadcasting

Digital conversionA new CIMA report, Throwing the Switch: Challenges in the Conversion to Digital Broadcasting, explores the consequences for democracy of the worldwide conversion from analog to digital television broadcasting. The report by John Burgess, a former Washington Post editor, technology writer and foreign correspondent, looks at how digital conversion has the potential to provide new openness and diversity to the airwaves by creating multiple new channels. Alternatively, he asks whether the costly and highly politicized process could pose a significant threat to freedom of information and democracy in developing countries. Broadcasters that are financially weak or critical of their governments could be pushed off the air or otherwise disadvantaged in the relicensing process, while large numbers of viewers might lose TV service due to the high cost of digital receiver equipment.

How can media development organizations, broadcasters, regulators, and civil society groups ensure that decisions about who may broadcast television news and entertainment are made in a fair and open manner and not used as an opportunity to silence government critics? How can these groups help maintain a diversity of voices on the airwaves?



John Burgess
Author, Throwing the Switch: Challenges in the Conversion to Digital Broadcasting

With Comments by

Marjorie Rouse
Internews Network

Troy Etulain
U.S. Agency for International Development*

Moderated by

Don Podesta
Center for International Media Assistance

About the Author

John Burgess is a Washington writer specializing in international affairs and technology. He worked for 28 years at The Washington Post as a reporter and editor. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he covered the early days of television’s transition toward digital broadcasting for the Post. His other jobs at the newspaper included aviation and transit writer, Tokyo bureau chief, technology editor and Europe editor. Burgess has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

About the Panelists

Troy Etulain joined USAID in July 2007 as a senior advisor for media development with a global purview. His regional expertise includes the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia and East Africa. Since joining USAID, Etulain has focused on programming in especially repressive countries. Prior to joining USAID, Etulain was a news reporter for Bloomberg News, covering Georgia and Armenia. He also spent more than two years as Internews Network’s country director in Tajikistan, working on projects including founding community radio stations and training and equipping private television stations. From 1996-1998 Etulain served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a village in the Russian Far East.

Marjorie Rouse is the vice president for program development at Internews Network, and previously spent three years as vice president for Europe and Eurasia programs. Prior to these positions, Rouse headed Global Initiatives for Internews Network and was regional director for the western Newly Independent States, based in Ukraine. Rouse has worked in the Europe and Eurasia region for the past 20 years in both media development and as a journalist. She was based in Moscow from 1988-1995 as a network news producer for NBC News and was awarded an Olive Branch award for her investigative reports on loose nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and an Overseas Press Club Award for her coverage of the 1993 October uprising in Moscow.

*Note: Troy Etulain’s comments will reflect purely his own opinions and experiences. They will not represent the opinions or policies of USAID.