The "Summit of Solutions" opens on a high note
The World Summit on the Information Society opened this morning with
Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali welcoming participants to
Tunis-Carthage, ancient city of dialogue, for the purpose of building a society
that offers equal opportunities to all to benefit from the advantages of
information and communication technologies. He stressed the need for solidarity
and ethical values, irrespective of race and culture. Cooperation and
complementarity, he said, should be strengthened among all international
players, to reduce disparities between peoples, and ensure a balanced, safe and
equitable information society.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, reminded
participants that their task in Tunis was "to move from diagnosis to deeds," and
that above all, the summit "must generate new momentum towards developing
economies and societies of poor countries, and transforming the lives of poor
people." Mr Annan offered a definition of what the Information Society should
represent. It should be a society "in which human capacity is expanded, built
up, nourished and liberated, giving people access to the tools and technologies
they need, with the education and training to use them effectively." The hurdle
here, he said, is more political than financial. "The costs of connectivity,
computers and mobile telephones can be brought down. These assets — these
bridges to a better life — can be made universally affordable and accessible. We
must summon the will to do it."
Mr Annan also said that in the information society: "It is freedom that
enables citizens everywhere to benefit from knowledge, journalists to do their
essential work, and citizens to hold government accountable. Without
openness, without the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless of frontiers, the information revolution will
stall, and the information society we hope to build will be stillborn."
On the question of the Internet, Mr Annan told participants that if its benefits are to spread around the world, the same cooperative spirit must be fostered
among governments, the private sector, civil society and international
organizations. The United Nations system is ready to
help Member States and all stakeholders to implement whatever decisions are
taken at this summit, including on Internet governance. "But let me be
absolutely clear," he said. "The United Nations does not want to ‘take over’,
police or otherwise control the Internet. The United Nations consists of you,
its Member States. It can want only what you agree on. And as I understand it,
what we are all striving for is to protect and strengthen the Internet,
and to ensure that its benefits are available to all."
The President of the Swiss Confederation, Samuel Schmid, pointed to the need
for infrastructure development, but also called for an adequate mix of training
and relevant content development. He decried the fact that some of the many who
still do not have access to information resources are denied that access for
political reasons. This, he said, was not acceptable. He noted that the United
Nations still counts among its members a number of countries that imprison
citizens solely because they criticize their rules on the Internet or in the
press. Any knowledge society, he said, should respect the independence of its
media as it respects human rights. He closed by expressing his hope that
"freedom of expression and freedom of information will constitute central themes
over the course of the summit."
ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi, who is also serving as
Secretary-General of the summit, noted that flat-rate pricing models for
communication services are helping eliminate the tyranny of distance. In fact,
for those who use the Internet or Internet telephony, distance no longer exists,
he said. And so "We have within our grasp the opportunity to build a more just
and equitable information society, in which the developing world even with
disadvantages such as lack of industrialization or remoteness, for the first
time has a real chance to catch up with the developed world." What is needed, Mr
Utsumi said, was a new pact between "haves" and "have-nots." When discussing
WSIS texts, people often assume that promoting ICT for development means just
another type of traditional assistance. That, he said, is not true: "In the
information society, we become richer by sharing what we have, not by
hoarding it." He explained that this new world paradigm will not follow the
normal rules of negotiation and give-and-take. Rather, it will be based on
mutual self-interest. "While we were still discussing endlessly about financial
mechanisms at PrepComs, some Member States and local governments responded
quickly and created the Digital Solidarity Fund. When ITU invited stakeholders
to join the Connect the World initiative this summer, many companies,
governments, NGOs and international organizations immediately came on board as
partners. And more continue to join," he observed. After all, he concluded,
"Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the
foundation of all social organization. We must fight to defend the ‘right to
communicate’ rather than the "right to govern."
Civil society representative Ms Shirin Ebadi of the International Federation
for Human Rights, and also President of the Defenders of Human Rights Center,
stated that it was incumbent upon industrialized countries to do their part for
humanity by helping developing countries. Ms Ebadi, who is also the 2003 Nobel Peace
Prize Winner, suggested that a special committee be set up under the United Nations, with
representatives from ITU, UNESCO, UN Commission for Human Rights, UNICEF, UNDP
and a range of NGOs to monitor the problem of Internet filtering and freedom of
expression "in order to prevent States from sacrificing the interest of their
people on the altar of their own political convenience."
Representing the business community, Craig Barrett, Chairman of Intel
Corporation, highlighted the impact of technology on economic competitiveness.
He emphasized the need for knowledge-based decision-making which, he said, can
only be made possible through education and skills development. The focus, he
said, should be as much on the quality of teaching as it is on technological
access: "Computers are not magic — teachers are magic".
Ambassador Janis Karklins, President of the Preparatory Committee of the
Tunis Phase of WSIS, noted the distinctive nature of this phase, which he called
a critical milestone in our vision of the future. As such, the summit is not the
response to a problem, he said, but rather to a challenge to
improve the lives of people around the world. In the context of Internet
governance, he noted that the Internet is increasingly considered as a "global
good". The issue, he said, is a multi-faceted one in which different
stakeholders have played, and will continue to play, important and distinct
The official part of the Summit
Plenary session 1 began with a statement from Croatia’s President Stjepan
Mesic, who underlined the potential dangers of the information society regarding
unreliable information and privacy issues. He stated that governments need to
reconcile freedom of information with the temptation to exert full control over
their citizens to protect them against potential dangers, such as terrorism.
Many speeches in the first plenary session emphasized the essential role of
ICT in promoting development and eradicating poverty. "Knowledge is the
most important and most expensive product in the market," said Fernando Dias Dos
Santos, Prime Minister of Angola. Bringing information to the peoples of the
world necessitates bridging the digital divide. International cooperation and
public-private partnerships were seen as crucial in this effort. The Prime
Minister of Mozambique, Ms Luisa Dias Diogo, stated that closing the digital
divide forever requires "political will, strong leadership and a common goal."
For the President of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang Mbasogo, "development objectives
will not be met until the digital divide is bridged."
Internet governance and the implementation of the WSIS Plan of Action were
recurrent themes in many of the statements. President Thabo Mbeki of South
Africa emphasized the need to establish a system for Internet governance that is
legitimate, transparent and accountable.
"We meet here in green Tunisia to find solutions to the common objective of
building an information and knowledge society," Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas
told delegates. Mr Abbas, whose arrival was greeted by warm applause, said the
Palestinian Authority had given great attention to ICTs because of their
fundamental role in development. The Authority had stressed infrastructure and
human resource capacities, created a competitive environment for private-public
partnerships, established a regulatory authority, launched several ICT projects
and created the first technological park in Palestine. His speech was greeted by
Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, spoke next, calling his presence in Tunis
"an emotional moment." Born in Tunis, he said, he had immigrated as a child to
Israel more than 40 years ago, and had now returned to the land of his birth in
the first-ever direct flight from Israel. Israel’s technology could benefit the
entire region, he said, adding that Israel extended her hand to Tunisia and
other neighbouring countries, inviting them to establish full diplomatic
relations in a speech followed by long applause.
The two most important issues the world must address in establishing the
Information Society, said Botswana’s Vice-President Seretse Khama Ian Khama,
were capacity building and infrastructure. Developing countries had a dearth of
expertise, and lacked ICT infrastructure, especially connecting rural areas. Congo’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso,
echoed a similar sentiment saying the digital
divide demonstrated that the traditional mechanisms of development financing had
become obsolete. "Nobody should be left stranded on the global information and
communication highway," he said. Central African Republic’s President François
Bozize Yangouvonda lamented the gap between the commitments governments had
made at the 2000 UN World Summit and the lack of follow-up action.
The consequences of the digital divide were "not conducive to a peaceful and
harmonious world," said Nigeria’s President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who
announced that his country had been selected to host the Africa Regional Office
of the Geneva-based Digital Solidarity Fund, a spin-off of the first phase of
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, United Kingdom’s Industry and
Regions Minister, Alun Michael, mentioned NEPAD’s e-initiative to fight poverty
and other ICT projects as examples of "what can be achieved if governments,
international institutions and the private sector come together". He called for
stable, pragmatic policies that can attract investment and favour ICT
development. India’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology,
Dayanidhi Maran, said that ICT had "more often been used for the privileged than
for those who truly need it." He added that India was willing to share its ICT
knowledge and expertise "with all those who are interested".
Other speakers included Nepal, Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lesotho, Gabon,
Latvia, Lebanon, Senegal, Tonga, Zambia, Serbia and Montenegro,
the International Association for Media and Communication Research, the World
Meteorological Organization, Vivendi Universal and ECPAT International.
One laptop per childUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Professor Nicholas
Negroponte launch the $100 laptop
The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative was unveiled today by UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Professor Nicholas Negroponte of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab.
This ultra low-cost, energy-efficient educational tool is an example of
science and private initiative putting themselves at the service of the poor.
Through these laptops, many millions of children, even those in the most remote
areas, will be given the power to be able to learn. Designed with developing
countries in mind, the project promises to provide rugged and flexible
technology for use anywhere. The machine — a highly compact green e-book-type
device — features innovations such as sunlight readability, and can be adapted
to virtually all the world’s local languages. The OLPC vision would see children become
owners of their own laptops; with a crank to start it up, this cheerful,
friendly-looking laptop is instantly recognizable as a "kid’s machine".
Mr Annan said the laptop could unlock the "magic with
each child, within each scientist, scholar or plain citizen-in-the-making".
"With these tools in hand, children would have the power to become more active
in their own learning, learning by doing, not just through instruction or rote
memorization. Moreover, they would be empowered to open a new front in their
education: peer-to-peer learning," he added lauding the initiative as a "truly
moving expression of global solidarity". He urged governments at WSIS to
incorporate the initiative into their efforts to build an Information Society.
Professor Negroponte explained that the laptops, which use open-source
software, are designed to be provided by governments to schoolchildren, in much
the same way as they might receive textbooks. Although OLPC is not a
profit-making enterprise, five commercial companies are now considering
producing the machine, according to Negroponte. He said he believed
the price list of USD 100 would fall even further in the years to come.
Six developing countries have been chosen for the initial phase of the
project, which would extend to other parts of the world next year. Field tests in
the United States have shown that the school truancy rate diminished markedly
among children using these laptops, and that their grades improved. OLPC is a
partner project in ITU’s Connect the World initiative.
Connect the World
A global pledge to connect the
unconnected gathered partners from ITU’s Connect the World initiative to
exchange experiences at a roundtable discussion on the opening day of the
Summit. This landmark event began with a ceremony of commitment to the shared
goal of expanding the benefits of information and communication technologies to
people all over the world by 2015, followed by the signing of a giant “Pledge to
Connect the World” banner.
The discussions, moderated by Amir
Dossal, Executive Director of the UN Fund for International Partnerships,
included President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and ITU Secretary-General Yoshio
Utsumi. President Wade noted that “It is up to people how to develop the
Information Society,” adding that it is important to connect professionals like
doctors as well as workers like farmers. “This is a chance for Africa and for
all of us,” he said.
European Union Commissioner on the Information Society, Vivianne Reding,
committed to connecting Africa to the
GEANT Network, which
already supplies computing power to an estimated 3 million users from over 3,500
academic institutions in 34 countries across Europe.
François Loos, Minister delegate for Industry of France,
said infrastructure development was essential to ensuring that everyone has a
chance to learn. “With the new NEPAD initiative we will set up new networks,” he
said, adding, that France is a strong supporter of the RASCOM satellite project,
in which Alcatel is a partner, which aims to connect one hundred thousand
villages and 20 million people.
Craig Barrett, Chairman of Intel
Corporation, emphasized the importance of training and education. “Teaching
people the innovative use of ICT will bring tangible effects,” he said. Alan
Kay, pioneer of the laptop computer and one of the driving forces behind the
development of MIT Media Lab’s $100 laptop, spoke of installing a user interface
for children. “We are going to replace the user interface in order to enable the
world to communicate,” he said.
Microsoft International President
Jean-Philippe Courtois committed to provide training and connectivity to
community centres around the world. He explained that Microsoft was already
supporting 20,000 communities with used PCs and software. “We are building and
focusing on sustainability,” he said. “We are looking forward to seeing many
more schools connected.”
WorldSpace CEO Noah Samara spoke of
working with Alcatel to further enhance access in under-served communities. “In
Kenya we have provided digital radio,” he said. “At some stage we will also have
Internet connectivity.” Mr Samara added: “We have worked with schools and
developed a very effective model that seems to be sustainable.”
Jeroo Billimoria of Child Helpline
International emphasized the need to use technology to help children. “Every
child who has access to the Internet should be connected to Child Helpline,” she
said. “The global portal that is going to be launched tomorrow (17 November)
will provide this opportunity.”
The Minister of Communications and
Information Technology of Egypt, Tarek Kamel, said there is a need to find a
new model for partnerships. He emphasized that access is not the only barrier to
the Information Society; affordability is also important.
KDDI CEO Tadashi Onodera advocated
supporting developing countries with the use of wireless access technologies,
including mobile IP-based systems. Y. Son, Chairman of the Korean Agency for
Digital Opportunity and Promotion (KADO) said that the Digital Divide remains
still despite high connectivity levels in many countries, and the priority now
must be to help undeveloped countries to communicate.
Carlos Valente, CEO of Telefónica del Perú, explained that the mountainous
terrain of Peru demanded developing a special network based on people. “We
focused on connecting municipalities. We focused on training and maintaining
computers. And we decided to develop a new business model that would help
connect remote areas,” he said.
ICT and people with disabilities
A workshop on "ICT and Persons with Disabilities" was graced
by the presence of Tunisia’s first lady, Leïla Ben Ali, who shared her
experiences of work centred around helping the disabled being undertaken in her country by civil society and the
government. She talked about how President Ben Ali’s strategy
for Tunisia takes into account the special needs of minorities and people with
disabilities, with the aim of building an Information Society that is fair,
equitable and inclusive. With an estimated 600 million people worldwide
suffering from some kind of disability - 80 per cent of whom live in developing
countries - this challenge is very real.
The workshop was organized by UNESCO in collaboration with a
diverse range of partners. It was opened by UNESCO’s Assistant Director General
for Communication and Information, Abdul Waheed Khan. Ignorance and lack
of awareness in designing technology that meets the needs of people with
disabilities were highlighted as the main obstacles for progress towards ICT
that is accessible to all. While cooperation between country governments as well
as between organizations is important, he said, concrete action lines should be
included in the WSIS outcome in order for initiatives for disabled people
worldwide to be effective.
Creating an inclusive
Speakers at the panel discussion
“Towards a sustainable and inclusive Knowledge Society”,
organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, decried the fact that WSIS was
dealing insufficiently with ICT for development and had defined the Internet as
a government-managed facility instead of a global public good.
Northern governments had defined
the Internet governance debate, they said, but WSIS was about “much more
than ICANN’s functions”. The growth of the Internet had been fuelled by
business, and this had led to a predominantly private sector approach, with a
substantive loss by the South in the lower profile of the Geneva Plan of Action
and its follow-up.
There had been a “tremendous distrust” of Southern
governments, with a pervasive feeling that they were control-minded, and that
“State meant control” while other actors effectively equalled “freedom”. But
corporations, one speaker noted, were “the antithesis of liberty and
Speakers argued that the post-Summit agenda needs to look
at the development agenda “not as a rider and an afterthought”.
There is a “tremendous need for policies in countries of the South”
to be carried out by development-oriented government ministries, and not just
telecommunication ministries, they said.
Thanks to lobbying by governments from the South and by
civil society, the WSIS documents had moved from a market-oriented approach to
one that recognizes the need for public investment policies and social
expenditure. Still, some participants said, WSIS continues to reflect a lack of
political will to include public development aid, with no real notion of
international development cooperation and with aid left to voluntary initiatives
by donor countries.
Key upcoming issues include intellectual
property rights, legislation, community media and digital TV. Speakers said
social movements should now monitor follow-up, pressure governments to keep the
commitments they made, and form alliances to counterbalance the private sector,
which was getting “much stronger access” to the United Nations
Bangladeshi Friends Association shares best practices in
rural ICT development
The Bangladeshi Friends Association shared its experiences in developing ICT
initiatives at the grass-roots level. Current pilot projects range from a
telecentre connecting rural areas to experts based in cities and a youth
programme focusing on content development training. Knowledge transfer had
yielded good results in one province, where morbidity rates were reduced.
Low-cost options, such as GSM terminals using a SIM card to create village
telecommunication services, were also being explored.
Telecentres are increasingly being seen as an effective way of bringing
services to rural areas, where people are largely illiterate, but are being
assisted via a helpdesk. Projects were mainly NGO-driven, but without the
commitment of government and development partners, their survival was
threatened. A major drawback was that in cities, telecentres were commercially
viable, but this was not true of the villages.
Launch of the WSIS Stocktaking Report
Launched at the ITU
Partnership Pavilion, the WSIS Stocktaking Report has been developed to show
progress in implementing work aimed at bridging the digital divide. Conceived as
an online database covering more than 2 500 projects in the field of ICT, the
report puts a special focus on multi-stakeholder partnerships, and is the
world’s biggest inventory of activities related to expanding global
connectivity. WSIS stocktaking is a continuous process, and the database will
remain open for new submissions even after the summit in Tunis. It is designed
to be a lasting legacy of the WSIS process.
Ericsson-UNDP "Communication for All" project
"There are lots of efforts to bring the Internet to rural areas in poor
countries, but voice is the first need there," Ericsson Business Strategies
Director Michael Bjarhov said today at an event on the project "Communication
for All", sponsored by Ericsson and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Global mobile phone subscriptions had surpassed the two billion mark (now
estimated at 2.066 billion), or about 32 per cent of world potential users, Mr
Bjarhov said. But two billion people still lived in areas with no GSM coverage.
Some 85 per cent of subscription growth is expected to come from emerging
A new business model focusing on the characteristics of poor rural areas is
needed to reach those without coverage, said Ericsson Business Development
Director, Bengt Wattenstrom. For this reason, Ericsson had launched its Rural
Business Model, starting in the Lindi Mtwara region in southern Tanzania — an
area with strong demand for mobile communication — where 38 base stations for
signal relay are being built. The model was unique in that the operator does not
own the network but shares it, which could help lower costs. With credit
provided by the World Bank, operators share networks and sites via a neutral
company, with Ericsson taking the operational risks and the operator only taking
the market risks.
Project Manager Birgitta Blankstad Poolsar, said Ericsson would build,
operate and maintain the network and had made the same offer to all operators in
Tanzania. UNDP had organized the launch conference, carried out a study and
opened doors with regulators and other institutions, while the Swedish Agency
for International Development Cooperation would pay for the training of local
engineers. The model can be replicated in other countries, according to
Moderated by leading industry figure and
academic Eli Noam, this session featured the participation of ITU
Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi; Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, Deputy Prime Minister
and Minister of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands; Pape Ndiaye Diouf,
President of Diaspora Africaine pour la Société de l’Information; Phillip
Paulwel, Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology of Jamaica; and Noah
Samara, CEO of WorldSpace.
Mr Utsumi opened discussions by
observing that the aim of WSIS has been to raise awareness of the enormous
potential of ICTs, and to build commitment at the very highest level to
harnessing this potential to boost economic and social development. He noted
that, unlike most global summits, WSIS was not convened to respond to a crisis,
but rather to help governments seize an opportunity.
Eli Noam remarked that it was important
to view the digital divide as a symptom, not a slogan. ICT strategies at
government level must, he said, be linked to the broader framework of the
Millennium Development Goals in order to be effective. WorldSpace chief Noah
Samara noted that the ultimate goal should be to promote access to information:
“Could we, in focusing on gadgets, be focusing on means rather than ends?” he
asked. “Surely our aim must be to deliver information by any means necessary.
Whether the technology used is old or new, digital or analogue doesn’t matter as
much as its ability to deliver information.”
Minister Paulwell of Jamaica described
his country’s ambitious programme to drive ICT access through liberalization of
the telecoms sector, the implementation of policies to raise funding through
mobile licences, and the promotion of infrastructure investment. New
technologies like Wifi and WiMax are now also being deployed across the island
to extend broadband access, he said.
Responding to a question from Eli Noam,
Mr Diouf spoke of the need for greater global participation in the Digital
Solidarity Fund established by Senegal’s President Wade following the first
phase of WSIS in 2003. “Funding is a key issue addressed by this Summit, but as
yet not many countries have pledged their support for the DSF. A great deal of
money will be needed to connect the next billion people, because infrastructure
is very much needed.”
The general Q&A session that followed
broached topics from Internet governance to harnessing the power of mobile
technologies to connect the one billion still unconnected. WorldSpace’s Samara
urged governments to prioritize in order to deliver information to people as
quickly as possible. “What are the priorities?” he asked, “Governing the
Internet or making information available?”
ITU’s Utsumi remarked that connecting
the unconnected is less a matter of money than of mindset. “In the end, what you
need is political will,” he said. Senegal’s Mr Diouf agreed, stressing the
importance of awareness-raising and emphasizing civil society’s role in helping
identifying appropriate technologies and empowering communities to take
advantage of them.
continued, with questions on convergence and regulation, broadband access for
under-served communities, the growing role of NGOs, and the need for innovative
Capacity building to promote effective use of ICT
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the
Association for Progressive Communication (APC) jointly held a meeting to
introduce two international partnerships in capacity building.
One of the initiatives, the Multimedia Training Kit (MMTK)
consists of exercises, case studies, and evaluation tools providing community
media trainers with material to develop technical skills, content production
capabilities, and organizational planning and development abilities. The
Information Management Resource Kit (IMARK) is a partnership-based
e-learning initiative providing tools and methodologies for information
Developed for information specialists, scientists and
academics, technical professionals, managers and decision-makers, the initial
purpose was to share agricultural information more effectively. However, due to
the success of the project opportunities beyond agriculture are also being
explored. While developing IMARK, partnerships on several levels, including
development of the different modules, content, arranging workshops and for
financing, have proven fruitful.
Nebraska University and information
technology for development
As part of its Forum on Information Technology for
Development, Nebraska University held a panel on e-Government, with Richard Heeks of the University of Manchester, Devindra Ramnarine, Commonwealth
Secretariat (United Kingdom), and Paul Uhlir of the National Academies (United
Mr Heeks pointed out that governments need to focus on the
broader outputs and social outcomes of e-government projects, such as job
creation benefits. Some countries have begun outsourcing their e-government
operations to social enterprises, such as micro-enterprises handled by women,
creating additional benefits to their communities, including empowerment and
Devindra Ramnarine stated that the alignment of e-government
projects to national ICT strategies and public sector reform plans contributes
to the long-term sustainability and success of e-government initiatives.
Finally, Mr Uhlir presented the UNESCO "Policy Guidelines for the Development
and Promotion of Governmental Public Domain Information". These guidelines
promote principles of open availability and reuse of public information to
maximize the value of public information.
A second panel on the use of ICT in health care brought home
the challenges of using ICT in the health care systems of developing countries.
Mikko Korpela of the University of Kupio, and Jørn Braa and Knut Starring of the
University of Oslo, emphasized the potential of ICT to improve efficiency and
equity in the provision and management of health care.
However, they said, there is a need for developing countries
to create software appropriate to their particular needs and to their national
health care structure. Projects such as BEANISH (Building Europe African Network
for IST in Health Care), an EU project applied in Africa, Europe and Asia, have
promoted South-South-North collaboration to develop health care open source
software, as well as to share best practices.
Youth delegates discuss ICT
Graduates of ITU’s Youth Forum expressed their views on making the WSIS Plan
of Action a reality in their countries at a meeting opened by the Director of
the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, Hamadoun Touré. Alumni
representing Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Pacific thanked ITU for its
assistance. They emphasized the fact that young people were not "thematic
issues" but active partners in society, and strongly felt that the main goal of
ICT should be to advance human development and peace building. They then went on
to explain how they had used their training to do just that in their respective
regions. The main obstacle was to reduce ICT service costs in Africa, said the
delegate from Cameroon.
The Pakistani delegate focused on sharing knowledge to train others, and said
she had created a regional forum of seven countries. The Ukrainian delegate had
helped set up a media centre that produced radio programmes and websites to
raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and crime. A representative of the Navajo
indigenous people said that, thanks to satellite technology, wireless Internet
had revolutionized education for young people in her community.
World Electronic Media Forum calls for urgent international
action to protect journalists
The final day of the World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF) saw participants ask UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to convey to the international community one key message: the need to
improve the security and physical integrity of journalists, media staff and
associates in situations of armed conflict. The Forum invited the Security
Council to adopt a resolution ensuring that killings of reporters will be
punished as a grave form of war crime.
In the WEMF panel on "Safety of journalists in zones of conflict", panellist
after panellist presented horror stories about killings and intimidation of
journalists in various parts of the world.
Speakers referred to the feeling of "defeat" experienced by several journalists after
the killing of a
number of their colleagues in Iraq and subsequent lack of proper investigation,
as well as the imprisonment of one reporter without explanation. Others emphasized the need to
publicize threats against journalists.
Melinda Quintos de Jesus of the Philippines’ Centre for Media Freedom and
Responsibility noted that most journalists killed in her country were working
for radio and television.
Roberto Morrione of Italy’s RAI News 24 network said that deaths of
journalists were transforming the war in Iraq into an "information desert", with
many journalists taken out of the country or relying on indirect sources because
of the risk of being abducted or killed.
Professor Ridha Najar of the Tunis-based African Centre for Journalism
Development encouraged the international community to adopt a convention that
would recognize killings of journalists as war crimes.
Aidan White, Secretary-General of the International Federation of
Journalists, presented a draft resolution that his organization, along with
others, hoped the UN Security Council would adopt. This resolution would refer
cases of systematic killings to the International Criminal Court. "This issue
has been debated for much too long," he said, urging the UN to adopt a coherent
plan of action "to investigate those countries that refuse to investigate"
the murders of journalists.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor, who chaired the
session, noted that 2004 was the worst year
on record, with 129 deaths recorded in 34 countries. "Indeed, in many of these
cases, it seems journalists were deliberately targeted,"
Receiving WEMF’s Message for transmission to WSIS, UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan said the United Nations defended as a matter of principle freedom of
expression and of the media. "It is my hope that such freedoms will receive a
boost from holding a Summit here in the Arab world, where the number of websites
and satellite television networks is multiplying and where many people are
yearning for greater freedom and more accountable governments."
The UN also defended the rights of journalists to be free from intimidation
and harm, Mr Annan said, adding, "I will continue to press governments to uphold
their responsibility both to create conditions in which journalists can do their
jobs safely and to bring to justice those who commit crimes against them."
The world needed electronic media even more to help achieve the Millennium
Development Goals, he said. Broadcasters had been instrumental in galvanizing
international support in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the
earthquake in Pakistan. "I urge you to find the words and images that will draw
attention to the daily tsunami of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental
In an earlier
session, WEMF discussed the
media’s function in preserving cultural diversity and fostering a dialogue among
civilizations. Discussion hinged on corporate versus independent media, and the
North-South content imbalance.
Hamraoui of the Arab States Broadcasting Union lamented the distortion in the
media’s presentation of information. Since ten countries monopolized
information, they could “bombard the world with confrontational values,” he
said. He decried the fact that Western programmes were devoid of ethical or
educational content. Dominique Wolton of the French research institute CNRS
agreed that the media should act as a tool of political conscience; today
extremists killed others in the name of culture.
Shirazuddin Siddique of BBC Afghanistan, on the other hand, was a living
testament to the positive effects of the media. The BBC World Trust had helped
create the soap opera “New home, new life” on the everyday concerns of Afghans,
such as landmine awareness or taking part in national elections. He said the
programme had helped preserve Afghan culture, despite the fragmentation of war
and repressive Taliban rule. Today, Afghanistan could boast 300 newspapers, four
media outlets and a competitive news market: the country “would no longer accept
government propaganda,” he asserted.