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 SUMMIT NEWSROOM
 
 Summit Highlights: 18 November 2005

 

 

All’s Well That Ends Well!

The "Tunis Agenda for the Information Society" and the "Tunis Commitment"

The Summit ended this evening with the adoption of the "Tunis Agenda for the Information Society" and the "Tunis Commitment." ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi commented that these two documents will lead future work in building an Information Society for all. And so the road does not end in Tunis. "We face the critical challenge of continuing our actions and leadership to work towards achieving the goals we committed to in Geneva and Tunis. Let’s work to make them a reality," he urged.

For his part, Tunisian President Ben Ali thanked Summit participants on behalf of the government and its people for their unflagging commitment to achieving tangible results. He added that "constructive efforts of all parties [will be needed] to create a world that will allow for a more integrated Information Society."

The last session of plenary also included the contributions of Micronesia, Saudi Arabia, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger, Laos, Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and PrepCom of the Geneva Phase. All speakers pointed out that implementing WSIS outcomes will require the establishment of financial mechanisms and the active collaboration of all stakeholders. In particular, they acclaimed the creation of the Digital Solidarity Fund as a means to support infrastructure projects that will contribute to closing the digital divide. "Noble goals can only be achieved if richer countries make the commitment to share resources with poorer countries," said Nenneh Macdoual-Gaye, Secretary of State for Communication, Information and Technology of Gambia.

Representatives of international organizations, local authorities, civil society, scientific organizations, the business community, youth, indigenous peoples and gender organizations also presented reports on their activities during the WSIS preparatory period and at the Tunis Summit itself. Participants at the last plenary and the closing ceremony supported the idea that the Tunis Summit marks the beginning of a new era in which the principles and goals agreed upon during the Geneva and Tunis meetings now need to be put into action.

Earlier on this morning, the WSIS plenary opened with a statement from the Kingdom of Swaziland calling for closer cooperation to bridge the digital divide to ensure that all peoples can take advantage of the opportunities that the Internet brings.

For Lynette Eastmond, Minister of Commerce and Business Development of Barbados, in order "to fight the ills of the world, poverty, disease, the effects of natural disasters, we should seek to exploit the power of ICTs."

While many emphasized the benefits and positive aspects of the Internet, along with countries’ efforts to date to embrace the many opportunities it brings, some speakers also mentioned some more negative aspects, where caution and carefully focused efforts are required. Malaysia’s Minister of Energy Water and Communications, among many others, drew attention to the criminal use of the Internet. Spam, phishing, and online fraud must be addressed, speakers noted, and governments have a crucial role to play in dealing with cybersecurity issues.

The much-awaited statement from the United States was delivered by John Marburger, Special Representative of President and the President's Science and Technology Adviser. He emphasized the need to take further steps towards realizing access for all. The dependence on, and increasing importance of, the Internet had grown tremendously over the last few years. This growth, he noted, was evidence that the machinery of the Internet is working and that many countries can thank the Internet for the creation of new jobs. The United States reiterated its commitment to spurring the development of the Internet and stands willing to work together with all parties on issues that prohibit its further evolution, Mr Marburger told participants. He went on to stress that the existing structure of the Internet had worked well, and has made the Net what it is today. The United States, therefore, stands behind the open governance structure that has brought the Internet its success. Mr Marburger also emphasized that the United States stands firm in its statement to do no harm to "a system that is working so well".

Other countries and entities that delivered statements in this morning’s plenary included: The Holy See, Bangladesh, Yemen, the Maldives, Samoa, Azerbaijan, Brunei Darussalam, Timor Leste, Malawi, Afghanistan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Guinea, Benin, Kenya, Ecuador, Cyprus, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Uganda, Albania, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), IP Justice, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

ITU and KADO release "Building Digital Bridges" report

Friday morning also saw ITU, together with the Ministry of Information and Communication of the Republic of Korea (MIC) and the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion (KADO), release the report Building Digital Bridges. The report compiles background papers and case studies on best practices for measuring the Digital Divide and collecting ICT data, as well as on the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships and technical solutions for closing the gap.

On hand to present the report were ITU’s Tim Kelly, Head of the Strategy and Policy Unit, and Lilia Perez-Chavolla, along with Cheung Moon Cho of KADO. National efforts to measure internal divides have focused on determining differences in the level of ICT penetration across income groups and among specific groups across time, requiring very detailed data collection to provide useful policy guidelines. The case of the Korean Personal Informatization Index (PII), discussed in the report, is an example of this type of national evaluation. PII was developed by KADO to evaluate the level of digital opportunity for the Republic of Korea’s citizens.

Case studies on Australia and Hong Kong (China) illustrate practices which have been successful in overcoming some of the problems of the statistical divide regarding the collection, dissemination and policy application of ICT statistics. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, for instance, is ranked among the top statistical offices in the world because of its high standards in collecting data, according to the report. Likewise, Hong Kong is a leader in the adoption of ICT and in the regular collection and diffusion of ICT data, including household and business use of ICT. Even given the significant differences between Australia and Hong Kong in terms of geography and demographics, similarities in their strategies in terms of ICT statistics gathering suggest successful practices that could be replicated elsewhere, according to the report.

Cultural memory and diversity

The World Culture Forum Alliance held a workshop this morning on "cultural memory and diversity" in the transition from information-based to knowedge-based societies. The panel included a wide range of viewpoints, from the founder of Wikipedia to the director of the Library of Alexandria. The discussion began by acknowledging the dual nature of culture, which can be either a tangible product (for example, the subject of trade) or intangible notions such as values or social norms. It is clear that no single institution can hold all the world’s cultural knowledge. The new model that has emerged, based on sharing and distributing knowledge through networks to a large number of computers and memory devices, was seen as a key mechanism for preserving our collective memory.

Nonetheless, the panel expressed concern that, with the explosion in connectivity and information, cultural outputs may be de-contextualized. When appearing in isolation, they can be seen as mere "objects", devoid of their important social and cultural context. The notion of the encyclopaedia was discussed because it is closely related to preserving cultural memory. On the one hand, the objective of an encyclopaedia is to include all of human knowledge, which is a near-impossible task. But the model of Wikipedia, which allows thousands of people to contribute to the total base of human knowledge, was considered to be more scaleable.

As an open system based on community participation and free licensing, the knowledge stored within Wikipedia can be copied and distributed at will. Although this has many positive repercussions, the panel noted that copyrights are important to safeguard the interests of the creators of cultural objects and art, particularly those stemming from indigenous communities.

Cultural diversity may be threatened by new technologies, but it is also a valuable approach to think about the rich remixing of cultures at the international level. In a global context, we must rethink the cognitive relationship we have with our world. In this respect, the "we" is not only the family, but also the community, the planet, the collective memory.

No modernity is possible without being rooted in tradition. Still, in our endeavour to preserve culture, we must not neglect our need to create new cultural diversity, as our cultural identity takes on new dimensions in cyberspace.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (www.bibalex.org) iss the only library that was "born digital", said director Ismail Serageldin at an event on the library’s contribution to the Information Society. In addition to being a major library, it carries out free education programmes, is a meeting place for dialogue and understanding,and serves as a forum promoting political reform, as demonstrated by the 2004 Alexandria Declaration adopted at the Conference on Arab Reform. At WSIS Tunis, the Library launched the Arab Information Mall (www.arabinfomall.org/En/index.aspx?orgid=-1), a forum for Arab civil society.

Google was bringing content online by digitizing books, said Google’s Ethan Beard. Contrary to recent media coverage, Google aimed to preserve copyright and the rights of authors and has a partnership with publishers to help them reach readers. Another partnership with libraries was focused on digitizing books, including the 20 per cent of books published before 1923 that are now in the public domain. Speakers noted that today, some 80 per cent of books are out of print, 20 per cent are copyrighted and available, and 60 per cent had unclear copyright status. Google has created an ideal library catalogue card on-line, with the goal of creating a searchable, comprehensive catalogue that would one day allow users to search all the world’s books.

Creating digital archives and making books available on-line 100 years from now was one of Microsoft’s projects, said the Seattle-based compaby’s Michael Thatcher. The company was using ICT to preserve local languages, get technology to children, and make Arabic more available on line by providing content. At WSIS, Microsoft introduced its first-ever Arabic version of Windows.

"Nicholas Negroponte and I got very impatient with vendors who didn’t know there are children in the world, and who work solely for business," said MIT Professor Alan Kay, one of the creators of the $100 laptop (http://laptop.media.mit.edu/) unveiled in Tunis on 16 November 2005. Low-cost- open sourced based machines such as the $100 laptop could in the future allow disadvantaged children to read, write, learn and think.

Software for development

The United Nations Development Programme/Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP) hosted a morning workshop on the subject of "software for development". The panel featured, among others, Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement.

Participants confirmed their belief that communication is a basic human right, and that software plays a key role in enabling that communication. Panelists reminded the audience that the essential values of freedom, equality and solidarity were enshrined in the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration. The principles behind free and open source software (FOSS) are very much the same: they recognize human freedom, and in particular the freedom to use software when you wish, change it when you want, copy it as needed and distribute it to others who might need it.

The importance of FOSS in the context of fundamental freedoms must be emphasized, rather than the need to merely provide cheap and powerful software, said speakers. FOSS represents another opportunity for developing countries, and can encourage innovation and adoption of ICT. It helps people to break free from imposed and costly software solutions, and to freely access global communication and information networks.

Patent laws should be reformed to support and not discourage innovation, participants said. They called on the United Nations to take a leading role in fostering productive open source partnerships, to liberate the poor and empower them to use technology for social and economic development. Governments, they urged, must be cognizant of the benefits offered by FOSS, and reflect these principles in their procurement policies.

The "Sharing the Future" initiative

"Sharing the Future" is an initiative (www.unido.org/wsis) of UNDP and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). It aims to assist small-and medium-size enterprises (SME) as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), according to UNIDO’s Hans Pruim. At a round-table session, UNIDO’s Sayaphol Sackda demonstrated the "COMFAR III" software, which helps SMEs and NGOs in their short- and long-term investment projects. COMFAR was a success story in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said S. Yazdani of Tehran’s NPSN Investment Company, having generated investments worth USD 65 million. COMFAR allowed Nigerian companies to not only reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, but also to benefit from the carbon emissions trade under the Kyoto Protocol, said Felix Dayo of Nigeria’s Lube Oils. Under that scheme, developing countries could sell carbon credits for emission-reducing projects to wealthy countries, introducing clean technologies and earning revenues at the same time.

On another front, nearly 5,000 people in Pakistan – most notably women — have been trained to use free and open source software, said Fouad Bajwa of Pakistan’s Free and Open Source Foundation (www.fossfp.org), who added that with UNDP and government support, the NGO was promoting "ICT literacy, fluency and education" through software awareness campaigns and measures to combat software piracy.

India’s Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (www.csdms.in) is building partnerships for knowledge-sharing, particularly in the areas of ICT for development, e-governance and e-learning, said the Centre’s Anuradha Dhar. "E-governance means e-government plus e-democracy," commented Steven Segaert of the Estonian E-Learning Academy (www.ega.ee), a non-profit entity that trains ministers and government officials on how to improve their efficiency.

Africa’s female entrepreneurs need ICT to increase productivity and improve procurement and marketing, said Ms Opportune Santos of Togo’s Information Network for Women’s Entrepreneurs. "Even women from the informal sector use ICT and mobile phones to increase revenue," she said. "When they arrive at the LomÚ market, they don’t walk around any more -– they sit down and make phone calls."

Bridging the policy gap between the Information Society and sustainable development

A panel discussion on sustainable development saw five researchers present the results of case studies in a number of countries (Costa Rica, Egypt, India, and South Africa) that revealed the policy gap between sustainable development and the Information Society. There is a clear need for greater dialogue between two historically distinct communities - the ICT world and the sustainable development world, speakers said.

Participants stressed the importance of expanding sustainable development into an integrated and holistic approach – one that draws on the cumulative agreements such as the Millennium Development Goals and Agenda 21, along with the WSIS outcomes. Agenda 21 is the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janerio (Brazil) in 1992.

A speaker from South Africa presented the view that local content must include notions of sustainable development. But defining local content, he said, was a challenging task. He cited the definition by Pierre Ballantyne in 2002, according to which it is the "expression of the locally owned and adapted knowledge of a community - where the community is defined by its location, culture, language, or area of interest". In terms of local content, the current context in South Africa is on "arts, culture, heritage and indigenous knowledge".

A speaker from India suggested exploring the possibility of setting up a single agency or network to provide an overarching framework to bring together all advances towards the Information Society, sustainable development and grassroots participation. A starting point, he said, would be to compile success stories and use them to guide future developments.

A speaker from Egypt focused on the limited amount of land available for cultivation and the associated problems of irrigation. In this context, he underscored the crucial role of ICT, and in particular that of global information systems for supporting local development. She said that it was important for local communities and civil society organizations to be given the tools to participate in information-gathering, analysis, decision-making as well as enforcement.

Gender inequality is an obstacle to sustainable development, a speaker from Costa Rica commented. A mere increase in the numbers of women in educational institutions is not enough. In Costa Rica, for instance, there is a wide discrepancy between the number of women graduating with IT degrees and those that pursue IT careers (for example, only 7 per cent of owners or managers of IT companies are women). To encourage women to enter and remain in science and technology professions, it is important to provide gender-neutral training or education and better working conditions, and to move away from the stereotypical depiction of professional roles (such as images in the media and elsewhere that show IT professionals as predominantly male). Overall, there is insufficient interaction between gender equity and Iformation Society agendas, despite the fact that the latter depends on the former, participants said.

Wikipedia – the world’s free encyclopaedia

Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopaedia that can be read and edited by anyone, anywhere. Developed by the "Wikipedian" community of tens – or even hundreds - of thousands of people, no article has a single author. Instead, contributors work together, sharing what they know to edit and improve the content. CEO Jimmy Wales of parent organization Wikimedia said his main concern was keeping up with demand. Not only is Wikipedia the world’s fastest growing Internet phenomenon, but with 800,000 articles in English alone, it is also three to four times larger than the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encarta combined. Now one of the top 40 websites in the world, it has overtaken the audience numbers of many mainstream media, according to Wales.

Some argue that allowing anyone to edit makes Wikipedia an unreliable resource, as there is no formal peer-review process for fact-checking. Others are unconditionally enthusiastic about the site.

Astonishingly, Wikipedia itself is run by just two employees, since the community is entirely made up of volunteers. Only around two per cent of people comprise the core contributors, while the vast majority simply chat to each other about their pet topics. The site retains its neutrality by remaining a non-profit concern. Wikipedia is available in 116 languages and aims to promote cultural diversity and the freedom of speech. In particular, it aims to give a platform to indigenous peoples. As it expands, it allows for cross-linguistic browsing as Wikipedians enthusiastically direct others to interesting topics.

 

 

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