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 Opening Press Conference: 24 June 2004


The PrepCom-1 of the Tunis Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society

Press Conference in “Salle l’Olivier”, Medina Conference Centre

Yasmine Hammamet — Tunisia

A Press conference took place today. The speakers were the President of the PrepCom-1 who had been formally elected in the morning, the ITU Secretary-General and Chairman of the High-level Summit Organizing Committee (HLSOC) as well as the Minister of Communication Technologies and Transport of Tunisia representing the host country of the 2nd phase of WSIS. About 100 journalists from local and international press took part.

ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi declared in his speech, “In order to meet the action lines agreed in Geneva, all stakeholders, governments, civil society, private sector and international organizations should collaborate actively.”

He said that in his view, the output of the Tunis phase was to be focused on: 1) A strong recommitment of the highest political leaders to bridge the digital divide and build an equitable Information Society, and 2) To agree on concrete mechanisms that will enable the implementation of the Geneva Action Plan.

As for the structure of the process, Mr Utsumi stressed the need to secure the participation of all stakeholders. However, “Participation is not enough” he said. Perhaps more importantly, the need is to empower stakeholders in gaining ownership of the Summit. The preparatory process should also be structured in such as away as to enable the brokering of partnerships between stakeholders.

He concluded his remarks by recalling that leadership of the President along with the host country was very important in not only ensuring a smooth process but also in achieving a successful outcome.The host country had the important role of not only logistically organizing the Summit meetings but also in acting as a mediator for advancing the work of the Summit and for helping to bring consensus among the various positions. The process in Geneva showed that this was critical in obtaining positive results.

As for the President of the PrepCom, Ambassador J. Karklins declared that he would fulfil his role in keeping with the logic of the decisions adopted at the Geneva Summit. He also stressed that the unfinished work of the first phase would be one of the key elements of the output of the second phase. To this end, and as requested by the Heads of States and governments to the UN Secretary-General, two groups were created: a Task Force on Financing and a Working Group on Internet Governance. Their respective reports will be useful for the discussions and negotiations during the whole process.

Concerning the question “What decisions are expected from the Hammamet Meeting?” He said, “We need to agree when, in what form and how we will address the substantive issues which will form the focus of the Tunis phase.”

He said that in addition to the work of the two groups there would be at least two regional meetings as well as several sub-regional meetings and thematic meetings, all of which will form part of the process. Their results will be taken into consideration during the PrepCom discussions in negotiating the Tunis final document.

About his role as the President of the PrepCom he said, he would “facilitate interaction between government delegations and between governments and other stakeholders because we cannot imagine an Information Society without equal participation of all stakeholders — governments, industry and private sector. Only then can meaningful results be achieved and can the second phase have a successful outcome”.

H.E Mr Sadok Rabah, representing the host country, recalled that Tunisia, which was the instigator of this Summit back in 1998 at an ITU conference and was pleased to see that this idea had been endorsed by the international community. The proposal to organize the Summit was driven by the fact that despite all initiatives and programmes carried out by the international community, the development gap was still too wide. At the same time, new technologies and ICT had raised new concepts such as that of the Information Society with its political, economic, cultural, and social dimensions which could worsen this gap if not wisely addressed. He stressed the need for the international community to reflect on how to bring more solidarity to ensure that no one remains behind and all can benefit from the emerging Information Society.

He reiterated the pride Tunisia takes in hosting the second phase and reaffirmed its determination to provide all conditions of success for the international event. “We must ensure that all can participate without any exclusion, i.e governments and international organizations. But, above all, we must ensure the participation of civil society and the private sector. These two stakeholders are key players and nothing can be done to build the iInformation Society without their active participation”. He reiterated that Tunisia would do its utmost to offer to all the possibility of participating so that all can feel empowered not only to define the Information Society but also to be committed to implement it.

He put the stress on thedigital divide as a new challenge faced by the international community and which is threatening to further deepen the existing disparities existing between developed and developing countries.

Concerning a question from the Associated Press on the impression of the PrepCom President concerning the mood of delegations in relation to the second phase and how the cleavage of the first phase would be bridged, Mr Karklins said that he had organized informal consultations in Geneva and had found the atmosphere to be good. He had noted a convergence of views concerning the agenda of the Hammamet meeting and said there was no cleavage in this respect. “There is divergence of views on some issues,” he said, and the way to address it was through the creation of two groups to deal with Internet governance and Financing. “I see my role as mediator or facilitator of negotiations to look for points of convergence but it is up to the parties to find the way.”

Concerning a question from the BBC correspondent about the level participation of the U.S. in the PrepCom, the ITU Secretary-General responded that the present PrepCom was not expected to attract high-level participation, it being of an organizational nature, but it had nonetheless seen many participants at a fairly high level. A second question addressed to the Minister on his position concerning the many positions taken in civil society meetings on human rights, including in Tunisia, he responded that “each participant has the right to express his/her opinions, to discuss, analyze and disseminate his/her ideas. Tunisia fosters the participation of all without any exclusion”. He acknowledged that opinions were very diverse, and this brought richness to the debate. “All ideas will be very useful for the Summit and for Information Society”.

The correspondent of La Presse de Tunisie asked about the efforts of the international community to finance the second phase and how difficulties would be overcome. The ITU Secretary-General answered, “The WSIS process relies entirely on voluntary contributions. That’s why we are engaged in a Fundraising campaign”. He announced that several contributions had been provided by governments and other stakeholders reaching approximately 25% of the total target of CHF 5 million and expressed the hope to see the level of the contributions increase. That said, compared with the first phase, it was a very good and encouraging beginning.

Concerning a question by Assabah about the involvement of the civil society in the Summit and the exclusion of some members of civil society from the Summit, Mr.Karklins affirmed that the procedure on how civil society families can participate in meetings was very clear and that those who express a desire to participate were welcome to seek accreditation. He stressed the fact that if the principles of freedom of expression and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were fundamental in today’s society, they remain fundamental in the Information Society. He said that there should be no discrimination against any group. “There is equal - and should be equal - treatment of all representatives of civil society which is one of three major stakeholders and owners of this process”. The ITU Secretary-General recalled that all participants, whether civil society, business or media, were subject to an accreditation procedure used in UN Summits and that all who met the criteria set forth in these procedures were granted accreditation.




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Updated : 2004-06-26