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Culture secretary unveils 'Channel 4 of the Net'

Labour went wrong with the Dome, but it can get it right with Culture Online, says Chris Smith
Written by Rachel Munro, Contributor

Labour's Chris Smith announced a new government Web site, Culture Online, at the party conference in Brighton Thursday.

Culture secretary Smith described the site as being akin to "the Channel 4 of the Internet", according to reports. The site will be aimed primarily at children and will feature examples of the "UK's national museum and gallery collections, films, music and stage performances," according to a statement from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

In theory, a child studying a text at school will be able to download the text of a play, watch a performance of it on the Net, take part in online discussions with other students, or even talk to the director of the play -- and all on a PC.

The project is currently in the development stage, with £5m funding at its disposal. "What makes Culture Online unique and important is that it is not a passive Web site propelling static images into a vacuum. It will be genuinely interactive -- engaging its users in real cultural experiences," said Smith in the release.

"It could be for the new century what Open University was to the sixties and Channel 4 was to the eighties."

The project is part of Labour's e-government strategy, which envisages that all government services will be online by 2005, despite the fact that less than half the MPs in the government have email addresses.

Also in Brighton, prime minister Tony Blair announced a Labour commitment to providing one PC per every five secondary schoolchildren by 2004, in the event of the party's re-election.

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