Rather & Rupe show at U.N.

NEW YORK — Eye web news anchor Dan Rather and News Corp. helmer Rupert Murdoch shared center stage — but little else — at Wednesday’s second annual United Nations World Television Forum.

While last year’s conference became known for giving Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner the opportunity to blast Murdoch’s “evil empire,” Rather and Murdoch aimed only slight barbs at each other, as more than 400 TV industry honchos from around the world looked on.

(Conspicuously absent from the event was Turner, the U.N.’s recent billion-dollar-benefactor.)

Asked to define their views on television’s future, Rather spoke of the medium’s power to teach and move people. The newsman’s comments were considerably better received by the crowd than Murdoch’s. He spoke of technological advancements and the public’s need to let go of concern over “excessive media concentration.”

Rather made an emotional plea for television to try harder to “communicate with the soul” of viewers, suggesting a need for more emphasis on art and things spiritual.

“Soon New York City will have 500 cable channels — and not all of them will be owned by Mr. Murdoch,” Rather said. “Is it too much to ask that one or two might be dedicated to analysis of the arts and culture around the world?”

Murdoch countered that he thought Rather was doing the industry a disservice, pointing to “plenty of quality arts and entertainment programming on television today.”

The event’s organizers are attempting to create an ongoing dialogue between the U.N. and the television industry to better harness TV’s power to promote peace and democracy around the world.

U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan said it is only a half joke that “we call television the 16th member of the Security Council.”

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