Too fast - or too slow?
On Thursday, Chairman Masood Khan presented delegates with a new working document (DT/8) which set out a proposed structure of “issue clusters” for discussion under five main headings: introductory text (definitions, Geneva Principles), roles of stakeholders, public policy issues (management of critical Internet resources, consumer rights, spam, cybercrime), development issues (capacity building, multilingualism etc), and future governance arrangements (four models proposed in WGIG report, possible creation of a governance forum etc).
The US, EU and Russia all expressed the view that the definition of Internet governance contained in the WGIG report and the proposed models for governance are starting points only, and do not represent a finite range of choices. Others, including Honduras, Egypt and the Internet Society, stressed the importance of equitable and affordable access to Internet resources, and of capacity building.
Speaking for the private sector, CCBI voiced the opinion that existing organizations already provide a sufficient framework for governance discussions, rejecting the idea of “increased centralization” of governance mechanisms.
Striving to put pen to paper
There followed a lengthy discussion on the role of stakeholder organizations in such drafting groups, with many delegations expressing support for the participation of stakeholders as observers but not according them the right to draft text. Failing to arrive at a consensus despite a short suspension by Chairman Khan to allow for discussion between dissenting groups, the Chairman circulated a new non-status document (DT/10) that aimed to clarify and structure discussion.
Talks conducted by Singapore and Sri Lanka indicated that most delegations could favour allowing initial interventions by stakeholders, who would then leave the room when the drafting process began. This proposal met with stiff opposition from the US and EU, however, and the matter was finally referred to PrepCom-3 Chairman, Ambassador Janis Karklins, who will conduct negotiations outside the Committee room with a view to building sufficient consensus to move forward.
Although designed as a working framework only, Document DT/10 also provoked controversy, with delegations complaining that the most contested issues, such as future oversight, were still too vaguely spelled out. For some, the document seemed too slanted towards solutions that had yet to garner any consensus in the room. The fact that the document was not presented in all six official languages also prompted complaints that many delegations had not had sufficient time to study and comprehend the text.
The meeting ended on a note of frustration, with Brazil noting that the Sub-Committee had now used up almost 50% its available time, yet had still not managed to move beyond general statements.
ITU Deputy Secretary-General Roberto Blois called for closer association with civil society and the private sector and a strengthening of the synergies between international organizations, to avoid duplication of efforts. He said, “The impetus of the World Summit on the Information Society has opened the way for an innovative implementation mechanism in which all stakeholders have a role to play in a complementary manner.”
Mr Blois noted that ITU Council had recently recognized the need for the Union to take an active role, along with other UN agencies and international organizations, in the implementation and follow-up process of WSIS, while possibly playing a coordinating role for specific action lines. In this respect, he said the ITU-UNESCO joint proposal calls for strong collective work between UN agencies “to keep the issue of ICTs for development at the top of the UN agenda.”
Ambassador Khan of Pakistan called for an open and transparent forum for all stakeholders that would ensure a substantive link between WSIS aims and the Millennium Development Goals. The European Union made it clear that it would not support a new organization to coordinate implementation of the WSIS Plan of Action, preferring to rely on existing institutions.
By the end of Week 1, Sub-Committee B had succeeded completing a first reading of the chapter on Implementation Mechanisms. Having finished their work ahead of time, the Chairman took the opportunity to introduce a new proposal by Spain to commemorate World Internet Day as a means of raising awareness of the forthcoming Information Society.
A proposal from Norway to bring the WSIS document in line with the wording used in the outcome of the recent Summit in New York was unanimously accepted. Disagreement arose, however, concerning the number and nature of new proposals. The US, Canada, and the European Union all called for a brief Political statement, while others proposed a number of changes.
After some deliberation, the Sub-Committee decided to leave most paragraphs as they had been after PrepCom-2. Building on this spirit of common responsibility, Switzerland presented the concept of ICT for peace to identify potential outbreaks [of hostilities] through early warning systems, to facilitate the adoption of preventive measures and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes, to mitigate the consequences of conflicts and support humanitarian action and peacekeeping missions, and to assist post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction towards open, inclusive, and just societies.
Women and Media
This lively debate ranged far beyond the topic of “women and media”, with a vigorous exchange between a host of civil society interest groups. Participants shared experiences from their own countries as they considered women’s place in the Information Society, in the media and, more generally, in the Arab world. There was general agreement on the need for women to take a more active role as creators of content shared through media, instead of being merely passive consumers of information.
Developing a Digital Opportunity Index (DOI)
Tim Kelly, Head of Strategy and Policy at ITU, presented the proposed methodology and its initial results, and sought feedback from WSIS stakeholders. He said development of a DOI should be part of a multi-stakeholder process that involves existing experts and statistical centres around the world. The subsequent panel discussion included representatives from ITU , UNCTAD and the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion.
The session highlighted the strengths of the proposed methodology with respect to existing ICT indices — simplicity, versatility, and inclusion of a mobile telephony component, which allows for comparisons with number of fixed lines. Kelly stressed the fact that the DOI is based on a set of core ICT indicators generally acknowledged to best reflect the current state of development of the information society. These indicators were agreed on by the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, a group of international organizations and statistical centres from around the world, including ITU, UNCTAD, OECD, World Bank, Eurostat, UIS, UN ICT Task Force and the UN regional offices.
W3C, Multilinguism and Accessibility
The use of local languages and progress in accommodating different language requirements, characters and script was also discussed, along with W3C’s web accessibility initiative, which is working to create guidelines for disabilities and needs that will allow people to control how information available on the web is displayed. “Effective disability support”, W3C’s Judy Brewer said, “includes ensuring subtitles for audio-casts, descriptions for videos streamed over the Internet, and strategies to deal with low-bandwidth, especially in developing countries”. Since the needs of people with disabilities are similar worldwide, accessibility would improve remarkably if all countries immediately adopted the same accessibility guidelines.
Internet Governance and Gender
The panel organized drafting groups for different parts of the discussion paper, encouraging participants to collaborate on language on gender issues that could be added to the Internet Governance chapter of the final Tunis documents.
Panellists also emphasized the need to collect gender disaggregated data on ICT access to identify gender inequalities, and stressed the importance of promoting capacity building for women in specialized technical and legal areas, to ensure their active participation in decision making processes and increase their access to ICTs.
Impact of the Millennium+5 Summit on WSIS
To discuss the impact of this clear reference to WSIS, the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) organized a parallel event. While many commentators have branded the New York Summit outcome document a failure, others cited a number of important achievements and emphasized the key role civil society will play in helping link the Millennium Development Goals Declaration and the outcome of WSIS. “You are our eyes and ears on the ground,” said Saburland Khan of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Presentation of the ICT4Peace Report
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