20 NOVEMBER 2002

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Milton Clipper – on appreciating diversity

President and Chief Executive Officer of Public Broadcasting, Atlanta, Mr Milton Clipper has some very specific views about culture and its reciprocating influence. He shares these with Marika Azzopardi

BERLIN - During a recent press trip to Germany, I had the privilege of being part of a group of people who, although deriving from diverse countries and cultures, managed to form a very homogeneous team. Milton Clipper was one of these people, a very warm and considerate man who formed a focal part in the group. He accepted to be interviewed for this newspaper and to divulge some of his background in the world of American public broadcasting.

Milton Clipper is in his seventh year as President and CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta. PBS Atlanta is composed of three entities – a TV station, a radio station and a cable channel. He is also president of AETC (Atlanta Educational Telecommunication Collaborative), a company managing the facilities licensed to the Atlanta Public School System.

"We focus mainly on three primary areas – education, information and cultural programmes. I can break that down simply by saying that educational programmes focus on lifelong learning from pre-school level to the elderly. Information involves news, quality information and in-depth news reporting. The cultural aspect is not concerned solely with the arts but focuses also on the diversity of the community and the larger world with the intent of better understanding each other as cultural neighbours."

Atlanta has a very diverse community. This metropolitan corner of America has a population of four million people, is at the centre of Georgia and from north to south the metropolis spans 100 miles. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Caucasians all share this stretch of land as the primary groups but the inner city has smaller but more diverse groups.

Milton Clipper has taken to this important task with verve. Initially he worked in Washington DC in the commercial sector of TV and newspapers. He did for 18 years, following which, he moved to Howard University to take care of a public TV station. Eventually he took on the PBS with all its challenges.

"PB Atlanta is trying very hard to be a quality alternative to commercial TV. And this is not easy, seeing that there are 347 PBS TV stations across the US. There are seven TV stations in Atlanta and approximately 20 radio stations. There are 350 channels on our cable system and we presently employ approximately 100 persons. We have a yearly operating budget of 10 million USD for all three entities."

The radio station is part of the national pubic radio station system involving 600 radio stations across the nation making it the largest network in the States. 95% of the programmes aired on PB Atlanta come from PBS or NPR (National Public Radio). However the company does create its own local productions on a yearly basis to the tune of four TV and six radio programmes.

So just how does he manage to raise the necessary funding to keep abreast with things? "As chief fundraiser for the organisation," Milton Clipper said We have several funding opportunities. The company gets a small portion of funding from the Federal Government. Then there is corporate underwriting plus support from foundations and individuals. People aren’t taxed for their TV sets as they are in the European and Asian broadcast system. We do fundraisers and ask the public to support the station as a healthy alternative to commercial stations. This kind of support makes up for 50% of our operating budget." He is mainly responsible for building relationships with the business community and to set and maintain the vision of the organisation.

In fact Mr Clipper had just spent seven days in Mosco, preceded by 12 days in Japan before moving on to an informative press trip to Germany and Brussels. "Japan beckoned to me since in Atlanta we have a very large Asian community and I wanted to get a better understanding of this culture not only from the manner in which it is experienced in the States, but directly from an Asian country. Moscow was a cultural tour." He explained that as a Vice Chairperson of the Atlanta College of Art, he gets invited to see various exhibitions world-wide and the Pushkin Museum had a very special one dealing with French art. "The exhibition is moving on to the US shortly and I wanted to see it ahead of time in order to be able to introduce it properly to our public."

He admitted that his days in Europe helped him get a feel of what this European integration business is all about. Milton Clipper said that the citizens of the US really do not understand the impact of the changes Europe is facing through this most important transformation concerning the EU. "Even though what I have learnt is in reality only surface information, I wanted to be able to transmit this personally, at least to the Atlanteans."

As we spoke, it became clear that for him, the word ‘foreign’ no longer exists, that he feels we are all global neighbours and will just have to do a better job of learning about each other, working better with each other, whilst recognising differences and similarities.

These are strong words coming from a 54 year-old man who was brought up in Seneca, a suburb of Washington in Maryland. He hails from a rural farm area and only moved into the city when he went to college. He remembers segregation well. It existed when he was in his elementary school and he spoke frankly about this experience.

"I could never really understand this segregation thing which separated us blacks from the white folks. Especially since my great great grandmother had been a Dutchwoman from the Netherlands. She had lived somewhere near Amsterdam and married an African there. This woman eventually moved on to British Guinea." He explained how his surname derives from the slave name of Klipper, which was given to one of the many slaves brought in to work on cotton or tobacco plantations in North America. His great grandfather had been a stone cutter in Virginia and it was only his grandfather who enjoyed being finally a free man.

With this extraordinary history as a backdrop for his present work, Milton Clipper describes his city as a place where people have to reinvent themselves constantly. "Atleanteans use all their talents to help this city grow and we fondly call it ‘The City Too Busy to Hate’. The home town of Coca Cola and UPS, this city has a broad repertoire and Milton Clipper is most certainly one of its best ambassadors. In his own words, "If you want to be successful, in Atlanta it can happen. We just tackle big ideas and make them work out."


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