Developing the themes
three days of general statements, rules and procedures meeting,
and presentations about ICT development initiatives around the world,
the assembly began addressing issues of content and themes on Thursday.
Given the important role that ICTs play in virtually every sector
of the global economy, the first preparatory committee for the World
Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) faces a daunting task of
creating content and themes that will address the various segments
and of the information society.
With little more than four and a half hours to develop a report relating
to themes and content for WSIS, the delegates were pressed for time.
However, the assembly had a framework to work from, thus helping
to ensure the success of the deliberations. UN General Assembly
Resolution 56/183 established three key concerns regarding themes:
vision, access and applications. During day four of the preparatory
committee meetings the international community focused on these
Despite a general agreement on the proposed themes for WSIS, virtually every
delegation offered ways in which the structure and themes could
be improved. From adding new themes to expanding and rewording exiting
themes, the member states emphasized the need to remain focused
on how ICTs can be used for economic and social development and
avoid getting into the politics surrounding modernization. While
there were a variety of new proposals introduced throughout the
day, some key themes emerged.
Casting a broader net
Sudan opened the proceedings by suggesting more emphasis be placed on
better definitions of some of the core concepts outlined in the
theme document prepared by the Executive Secretariat. That delegation's
sentiments set the tone for the morning session. From Latvia's request
to provide a clearer definition of 'e-government' to Costa Rica's
plea to allocate more time and resources toward addressing the quality
of information accompanying ICT diffusion and Columbia's appeal
to outline some of the obstacles impeding ICT development in less
developed countries, it was clear that there was still much work
Some member states even suggested totally revamping the proposed themes.
For instance, China suggested six broad themes that it felt would
provide a greater understanding of the objectives of WSIS. Of particular
mention was that delegation's request for language concerning ICT
security issues and a clearer definition of international corporations
in ICT-focused development. Pakistan's spokesperson, Ms. Zahra Mumtaz
Baloch, summed it up, saying, "We believe there are substantive
issues in the documents prepared by the Executive Secretariat, but
they need to be further discussed by and with developing countries."
India also argued for broadening the themes for WSIS, suggesting that
themes, in their current form, do not necessarily reflect the objectives
the summit is striving to achieve. Instead of "opening the
gates" and "the needs of users," the Indian delegation
proposed using "ICT and poverty alleviation and development
or ICT and governance", arguing that these themes better represent
the task at hand. Brazil concurred, indicating that the themes as
the stand do not capture the essence of a development approach.
Brazil's spokesperson went on to note that the lack of language
relating to the social and cultural issues detracts from the Summit's
Preserving cultural diversity
Of the many issues that were brought up during the morning session,
the notion of protecting the cultural heritage throughout the developing
world was one of the key topics stressed by many of the member states.
The widespread diffusion of ICTs and the accompanying access to
the global information pool, coupled with the forces of globalization,
pose a threat to preserving their cultures. This was a concern shared
and expressed by many member states. Stating that "knowledge-based
societies thrive when there are not impediments to access to content
and digital information," the Australian representative stressed
the importance of local content development for preserving the cultural
heritage in the developing world. The representative from Iran also
mentioned the need to digitize local content to ensure that the
unique features of developing world cultures are around for future
The Brazilian delegation, which offered one of the most insightful dialogues
of the morning session, also advocated the need to protect against
cultural imperialism as the global information society evolves.
Noting that the proposed themes don't directly address the cultural
implications of ICT development initiatives, the Tunisia representative
said, "These [ICTs] are extraordinary instruments/tools, and
we need to find a balance" between cultural preservation and
modernization. The Tanzanian representative noted that the assembly
should focus on ways that ICTs can be used to facilitate a multicultural
dialogue between all stakeholders. Furthermore, India also urged
the assembly incorporate language to protect the cultural heritage
of developing countries. The Indian representative noted, that human
beings must be the center focus, and cultures and contexts need
to be respected.
Focus on development
Although most member states lauded the Executive Secretariat's efforts to
provide the delegations with a good working document to develop
themes, some countries feared that it did not focus enough on development.
Brazil's representative, urging the assembly to move forward on
substantive matters, said, "We would not like to see a summit
dedicated to technical aspects, or one that deals with ICTs in a
we believe the issue at hand is how to
use ICTs for development." The Brazilian representative also
urged the assembly to avoid the political banter and stay focused
on how to use ICTs for closing the digital divide.
South Africa and the Group of 77-China concurred with Brazil, and stressed
the need to remain focused on the development objectives rather
than trying to define the many politically charged concepts associated
with the digital divide (i.e. good governance). The South African
representative said, "We think there should be a strong development
bias that should accompany the Summit." Ms. Baloch of Pakistan
also stated that WSIS should stay away from getting into political
issues, urging the assembly to remain objective and focused on building
a global information society.
ICTs as an enabler
Beginning with the Australian delegation, many member states rallied around
the idea that ICTs should be seen as an enabler rather than an end.
The Australian representative stated that there is a need to find
a balanced focus between equipment and skill development, stressing
that skills and knowledge transfers are a critical component to
narrowing the digital divide. Concurring with its Australian counterpart,
the Egyptian representative said, "ICT as an enabler should
appear in the text of the revised themes. Switzerland and Peru also
expressed support for ensuring that ICTs are viewed as an enabler
for social and economic development rather than an end. During its
afternoon comments, the international consulting firm, Accenture,
shared the view that ICTs are a means for development and not an
Building human capacities
Although e-learning and e-training have already been incorporated into the
objectives of WSIS, many member states today stressed the need to
pay greater attention to cultivating the human capacities throughout
the developing world. From Denmark to China and Egypt, it was apparent
that the majority of member states could agree that tapping into
existing human resources in marginalized societies is an important
component for creating a global information society. By creating
public access points in rural communities and transferring new technologies
and skills to developing countries, ICTs an be used to develop and
strengthen local capacities.
The Chilean representative said, "We must emphasize technological
means, and the human resources for using those means." This
comment underscores the balance that the Australian delegation referenced
earlier in the proceedings. Chile went on to point out that countries'
ability to cultivate human capacities is largely dependent upon
institutional and social reform, specifically democracy and freedom
in the information society. The International Chamber of Commerce
reinforced Chile's contention that institutional and social reform
must precede ICT deployments, noting that bureaucratic "boulders"
have stifled business growth in many developing countries. The youth,
as the United States pointed out, should be a key focus for capacity
building in the developing world. The United States representative
said, "We are all united to bring ICTs to all the world's citizens,
specifically our youth."
Bringing it all together
Hitting at the heart of the digital divide issue, the Benin delegation used
the example of some Kenyans who just recently found out about the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Immediately following Benin's
statement, the German representative said, "access is a fundamental
component of the information society." Denmark, speaking on
behalf of the EU, said, "The success or failure of the Summit
will be judged by the tangible benefits it delivers, and that depends
on the actions of all stakeholders." A point Russia reinforced
during the afternoon session. In its statement, Niger's delegation
best wrapped up the day's proceedings, saying, "WSIS is an
occasion to show international solidarity."
For media information concerning the second phase of the Summit, click
Telephone: +41 22 730 6039
Fax: +41 22 730 5201