Ted Turner might be too down-to-earth to be a diplomat, but a speech today in Atlanta showed that the 75-year-old billionaire is still an active ambassador for political reconciliation and environmental restoration.
Addressing a record crowd of 1,300-plus at the Technology Association of Georgia’s annual summit, the founder of Turner Broadcasting System and CNN eschewed the high-brow language of international negotiators in favor of a plainer prescription for fixing the world’s problems: Less talk, more action.
Stil, Mr. Turner, who has given $1 billion to the United Nations, said he’d like to see more dialogue at the multilateral body, which he said is the only place where world leaders of all stripes can come together to hash out their differences peacefully.
He “hated to see us come to loggerheads with Russia over Ukraine” and lamented the loss of the Goodwill Games, an international competition similar to the Olympics that aimed to put political bickering aside for the sake of friendly competition.
Mr. Turner conceived of the games, which were first held in 1986 in Moscow, six years after the U.S. and other countries boycotted the Summer Olympic Games there. They were held every four years until 2001, when they were cancelled by AOL/Time Warner, which had bought Turner Broadcasting in 1996. Mr. Turner said he never would’ve nixed the games.
Whether discussing nuclear disarmament or trading fossil fuels for renewable sources of energy, he kept returning to the refrain, “It’s good for business,” highlighting the power of commercial interaction to prevent feuds between nations.
“It’s really kind of dumb to bomb your customers, or even threaten to bomb them,” he said matter-of-factly during the speech after his induction into TAG’s Technology Hall of Fame of Georgia.
He also noted that as younger man emerging from military service, he kept busts on his desk of Greek emperor Alexander the Great and Great Britain’s Horatio Nelson, whom he considered to be the best general and admiral in history, respectively. Later he traded them for likenesses of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
“Military is not the answer to our problems now,” he said, warning against the continued buildup of the U.S. military-industrial complex. He added that world citizens and leaders should act like “civilized, educated human beings” to prevent destruction incurred when the atomic bomb was used during World War II.
“Savage with nuclear weapons – that’s the worst combination,” he said.
In a video played before his on-stage interview with Technology Association of Georgia President Tino Mantella, Mr. Turner laid out how he set about connecting the world during a “satellite revolution” out of which the first 24-hour news network was born.
“We were the Google of our time – one step ahead of the Internet revolution,” he said.
The early days of CNN were all about connecting the world, even hard-to-reach places. Initially CNN was available at one hotel in London, then one in Tokyo. It snowballed from there as the network became an indispensable source of real-time information in the pre-Internet age.
Some saw Mr. Turner’s outreach to Africa as foolhardy, given that few Africans had TVs in the 1970s, but he was undeterred.
“I said, ‘The leaders of the countries will have to have TVs. They’ll have to be able to watch CNN,’” he said. “In the capital cities they would put up a satellite dish on the seat of government so the people in government would see it. I said, ‘I’ll start with that and build our coverage,’ and it worked exactly that way. Every leader in the world had CNN.”
He laughed heartily after explaining one example: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro told him once that he’d watched all-night coverage on CNN when Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
“(CNN) succeeded beyond my expectations, but not much, because I had very high expectations,” Mr. Turner said.
He urged TAG members to give of their time and energy to make the world a better place. Mr. Turner owns more than 2 million acres of land in Montana and is credited with bringing the American bison back from the brink of extinction, ironically through selling loads of bison burgers through his restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill.
As for how the world is doing on environmental protection, he said more could be done but that he’s optimistic about the potential of new renewable-energy technologies.
He had a similar opinion on poverty reduction. Technological advances have helped lift billions out of poverty, especially in China, but he said the world should voluntarily curb growth in the global population, which has more than tripled to 7 billion-plus just during his lifetime.
On a lighter sidenote, the former Atlanta Braves owner said he would never have agreed to move the team to Cobb County, no matter how much he loved the area. The summit was held at the Cobb Galleria Centre.
For more information, visit www.tagonline.org.
See a list of TAG Hall of Fame inductees here.