NEW YORK — Winning an International Emmy was an exhilarating experience for those foreign producers who did so last week in New York — despite the fact that the annual event makes hardly a ripple in larger U.S. media circles and few winning shows are ever aired Stateside.

Danes, Germans and even Slovaks took home trophies for drama, doc and miniseries, finally outclassing the inevitable favorites, the Brits. With Oscar-like enthusiasm one winner called the moment “the culmination of his life.”

The Intl. Academy, the global arm of the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences, has gone to considerable lengths to encourage a more diverse program competish.

And the quality of the nominated shows is far superior now to what was being entered just five years ago.

The IA deserves credit for its efforts in improving its competition and in making its awards ceremony zippier and shorter.

But in the post-9/11 era, the org’s real challenge lies in another area — encouraging member broadcasters in the developing world to become beacons for freedom of speech rather than just mouthpieces for repressive governments.

A sobering account of the obstacles faced by Nigeria’s main state broadcaster delivered to IA board members Nov. 25 by the station’s topper drove home the point.

He said the broadcaster was “beholden to the nation” and had to be “sensitive” to the 350 diverse language groups and to the two largest religious groups, Christians and Muslims — remarks which many in the audience took to mean the broadcaster could not openly criticize the authorities.

Mindful of the riots in that country that killed 200 last week — sparked, of all things, by a newspaper story suggesting that Mohammed would have given a thumbs up to the Miss World pageant — one had to sympathize with the Nigerian broadcaster.

The only positive note he struck was in saying that his network now enjoyed regular cooperation and personnel exchanges with other broadcasters in Africa.

Although the IA itself is currently bleeding red ink, it shouldn’t really be so difficult or expensive to begin by encouraging similar exchanges between its Euro/U.S. broadcast members and their developing world counterparts.

Exposure to more open forms of media and communications, after all, helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

In the long run, pushing for more progressive media round the world may be more important than whether the IA introduces yet another programming category in its awards ceremony.

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