United Nations  International Telecommunication Union  




Monday, 17 February 2003


Access to Information is a Fundamental Right

The second meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva 10-12 December 2003 and Tunisia 2005) opened with an appeal for all of the stakeholders to work ‘quickly and constructively’ to develop the first draft of the declaration of principles and plan of action that will ensure that the benefits and opportunities of the information society are extended to all of humanity.

Freedom to receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers is enshrined as a fundamental right in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, access to information and communication technologies, which are increasingly important to ensure this right, are neither freely nor equitably distributed. Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU, the lead United Nations agency organizing the Summit, said that the meeting was “where the substance of the World Summit must be formed, and it is where we, the representatives of hugely diverse parts of humanity, have the responsibility to craft our inputs into a coherent whole”

The United Nations Millennium Declaration acknowledges that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can make the world a better place, by helping to alleviate poverty, improving the delivery of education and healthcare services, and making government more accessible and accountable to the people. “In the Goals of the UN Millennium Declaration humanity has a united vision of what we wish to achieve in the next decade. ICTs are tools that will help us achieve that vision, and the World Summit on the Information Society will provide the direction,” noted Mr Utsumi.

Mr Utsumi implored delegates to spend the two weeks of the preparatory meeting developing a draft of the declaration and action plan “that will help to attract the attention of the world’s leaders and persuade them to lend their support to the Summit. It must be compelling and provocative, and it must capture our hopes and aspirations and those of the societies of which we are all part — as well as addressing our fears and concerns.”

A World of Information Society Stakeholders

The dawning of the information society is having an impact on every citizen of the world, therefore in order to ensure the widest possible input to the Declaration of Principles and Action Plan for the World Summit on the information society, regional preparatory conferences have been held in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin American and Caribbean and Western Asia, as well as at the sub-region level. More than 100contributions from governments, UN agencies, including ITU, have also been prepared and submitted to the Summit process. (For a complete list of the stakeholder contributions see

The President of the Preparatory Committee, Mr. Adama Samassékou, remarked that, “the work must be done in such a way as to be inclusive and that participations of all stakeholders — government, private sector, civil society and intergovernmental organizations — be taken into account.” “These contributions provide a point of departure for a new era in which the information society becomes a society of shared knowledge, and where its guidelines will result in greater human communication and global solidarity.”

Mr. Moritz Leuenberger, Federal Councillor of Switzerland, stressed that  a further need was to widen as much as possible the palette of the issues at hand, to include “the contents of the information society, that is, its cultural and political dimension.” “Communication” comes from “community”, “and it is the community that is the basis to build peace and permits dialogue among cultures. And this dialogue among cultures is the alternative to war,” Mr. Leutenberg said. “Let us develop communication for peace.”

A Visionary Afternoon

The afternoon began with a reminder by Secretary-General Utsumi that a solid house must rest on a strong foundation and that in order for delegates to make real their hopes for an information society, the Declaration and Action Plan of the Summit must rest on a strong vision of the future.

Five leading opinion makers were then asked to share their vision of the information society, in order to assist the delegates in creating an information society that will benefit all of humanity.

What follows is an introduction to these visionary thinkers and quotes from their inspirational commentaries:

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has been a prominent voice of the African continent on the need to bridge the Digital Divide. He is a leading architect of the NEPAD initiative and the Honorary chairman of the e-Africa Commission.

The speed of light is the same for everyone, whether they live in the north or the south. Knowledge moves in two directions, and the wisdom, colour, joy and warmth of the south can also be beamed at the speed of light to the rest of the world.”

“We need digital solidarity, perhaps founded on a digital charter, by which economies higher up on the ICT development scale would be bound to help those at the lower end. This would be based on a digital snake, with a gradually narrowing gap between the extremes.”

President Ion Iliescu of Romania was a leader of the movement for freedom in his country. He has shown his personal commitment to the information society by hosting the European regional preparatory conference in Bucharest.

“The information society increases our dependency on technology: that is why establishing a suitable framework will be of key importance.”

“John P Barlow, a commentator on the Internet, made the visionary statement that Internet would create a civilization of the mind. The Internet should play a humanizing role, creating a more democratic and equitable society on a worldwide scale.”

Professor Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School is one of the leading global commentators on the legal and policy aspects of communication technologies and cyberspace. His books, such as ‘Code and the laws of Cyberspace’ and the ‘Future of Ideas’, have greatly influenced the debate on the framework of the information society.

“With my eyes shut, I see the ideal of the great potential of the Internet to generate freedom of information and the opportunity to disseminate the great stores of human cultural and intellectual heritage. With my eyes open, I see the reality of recent years, when curbs to the intellectual freedom of the Internet are restricting access to that heritage.”

“The potential of the information society will only be preserved in a free culture,
not a feudal one.”

Jacques Attali has written extensively on the Internet and its influence and is a noted thinker on a broad range of societal issues.  He has served as special advisor to the President of the French Republic in the 1980s and is presently the head of PlaNet Finance.

“There are four main challenges in the creation of the information society. First, an adequate legal framework needs to be put in place, and the border between public and private goods defined. Second, a financial system is needed to ensure that the poorest countries benefit by receiving and by producing information. Third, classification of information is needed by a responsible group, to create a hierarchy that will avoid the Internet becoming a waste paper bin. Four, ICTs need to be used effectively to reduce poverty.”

Maria Livanos Cattaui is the Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. In that capacity, she has taken an active role in coordinating the viewpoint of the business community in the preparation of the Summit.

“These inspiring visions will help guide us as we address the many issues raised today in such an eloquent and insightful manner. However, we must not forget that the crux of these concerns is the need to create opportunities for all in the information society.”

Administrative Matters

Andrey V. Pirogon (Russian Federation) was elected Rapporteur of the second meeting. The Asian Group announced that a meeting of the Group would be held to consult on the Chairman of Subcommittee 2 – the Subcommittee charged with drafting the Summit Declaration and Plan of Action.

The plenary also approved the accreditation of the representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and the business sector, on the basis of the recommendation of the Executive Secretariat (see list in document WSIS/PC-2/9, Annexes 1-3, which also includes those organizations in consultative status with EECOSOC who have indicated an interest in participating to the meeting.)

Participants List

1051 participants have arrived to participate in the second Preparatory Committee meeting of which:

  • 735 are from Member States

  • 40 are from Business and the Private Sector

  • 276 are from NGOs and Civil Society

For media information concerning the second phase of the Summit, click here

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