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 NEWSROOM : FIRST PHASE, GENEVA : PREPCOM-2 : DAILY HIGHLIGHTS
 Friday, 21 February 2003 - Monday, 24 February 2003

WSIS Tunisia 2005 Dates Announced

PrepCom President Adama Samassékou opened the first plenary of the second week with a call for all delegates to remain focused on the common goal of creating a draft declaration of principles and an action plan. He said he hoped that a “spirit of commitment and determination will continue to animate us during the coming days” and that every time the boat “seems to be keeling over, we make every possible effort to right it. But, even with the difficulties we are confronting, we can remain cool headed: we have it in our power to succeed.”

The focus of the participants’ work turned briefly from the first phase of the Summit with the announcement by the Tunisian Ambassador that the second phase of WSIS will take place from 16 to 18 November 2005, in Tunis. “Complementarity, interdependence and synergy” were the words used by Tunisia to describe the future collaboration between the host countries, Switzerland and Tunisia. Delegations from the two countries met in Tunis on 13 and 14 February , he reported, where they formalized their commitment to work in collaboration with the ITU Secretary-General and the President of PrepCom through 2005.

Building on the declaration of principles and action plan developed during the first phase, the second phase will concentrate on the transition to a Knowledge society , developing of the Tunis agenda, and Digital Solidarity..

A Working Group to Move Forward

The chairman of Subcommittee 2 began the meeting with a résumé of the outcome of Friday afternoon’s discussions, and of subsequent meetings of the PrepCom Bureau. Having decided to base its work on the revised compilation document of the WSIS Secretariat, which now includes the agreed structure produced by the small group set up for that purpose.

In order to expedite the work of the Subcommittee, it was decided to set up a working group, open to all governments, with the mandate to draft the text of the draft declaration and action plan based on the new compilation document (WSIS/PC-2/DT/1(Rev.2)). It will also take into account other inputs and contributions, including the president’s non-paper.   Lyndall Shope-Mafole (South Africa) was elected by acclamation to Chair the Working group.

Observers, will meet in parallel with the working group, and will provide feedback to Subcommittee 2 on a daily basis. The Working Group will make a brief progress report to Subcommittee 2 at the beginning of each day, followed by a 30 minute slot for comments by the observer group representatives.

The Working Group will move on to develop the action plan once it has completed its work on the draft declaration. This ‘switchover’ is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday morning. The report of Subcommittee 2 on the declaration of principles and action plan is expected to be made to plenary on Friday afternoon.

Visions and Principles Begin to Take Shape

With a free-flowing series of inputs from delegations, the working group sailed through its first session on the substance of the draft declaration, using the revised compilation document as its basis. A substantial number of comments were heard, with delegations proposing new additions and modifications to the text. In particular, many countries emphasized the human aspect: people should be at the heart of the information society, with ICTs serving human well being. In a similar vein, several delegates called for the Declaration to be an easily accessible document, which uses everyday language understandable to all, including schoolchildren.

Freedom of information appears to be a common concern, although one delegation raised the point that freedom of information needs to be balanced with safeguards against assaults on human dignity – such as child pornography - therefore principles outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be included in the draft declaration.

Poverty was a concern for others, who emphasized the need to include specific mention of the reduction of poverty and creation of wealth. The promotion of an African information society initiative was also called for, as was the promotion of the use of standards and of open access software.

These and other contributions will be fed into a new version of the compilation document, to be prepared by the Secretariat, so that the group can base its work on a concrete text in further discussions.

Information ‘Doers’ in the Information Society

WSIS will be the first United Nations Summit to recognize the integral role the media plays in the development of the information society. Nik Gowing, the internationally respected journalist and newsreader for BBC World, brought the nature of that role to light. He provided a number of instances such as the events of September 11, 2001 of how average citizens, equipped only with basic information gathering tools such as video or audio recorders, had become ‘information doers’, bringing the world some of the most immediate and insightful images in our information society. However, he cautioned that advances in technology have also made it easier to distort the information and that while news is the first ‘take’ at creating a historical record, in the long run assessing the credibility of that information may be the greatest challenge for all of us in the Information Society.

Gowing acknowledged the existence of the ‘CNN effect’ – whereby television pictures directly affect government policy – but noted that it was primarily in areas where governments lacked clear policy where this impact was most pronounced and most valuable. He cited the issue of ‘foot and mouth disease’ in the United Kingdom as one example where the ‘CNN effect’ had a direct and positive impact on the governments handling of both the crisis and the issue.  

An Information Society First

Abdul Wahid, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO acknowledged that WSIS has already made history. It is the first time the global Broadcasting Unions have together acknowledged that the ‘information society should be founded on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in particular Article 19, on the fundamental right to freedom of expression.’ Its contribution put forth the following objectives:

  • Communications technology is not an end in itself; it is a vehicle for the provision of information and content
  • Freedom of expression, freedom and pluralism of the media and cultural diversity should be respected and promoted
  • The electronic media have a vital role to play in the information society
  • Television and radio are crucial for ensuring social cohesion and development in the digital world
  • Information should remain accessible and affordable to everyone

Increasing Civil Society Involvement

A demand for greater participation by civil society in WSIS was heard during the workshop ‘Civil Society and WSIS’. Y.J Park, from the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO), noted that, “If we want to settle real problems (of the information society) we have to ensure that civil society has an equal opportunity to participate with government and the private sector in the work of the Summit”.

The need to be more inclusive has already begun, according to Hans Klein, a member of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), who was impressed by the effort of the WSIS Secretariat to empower the civil society groups in the process. He acknowledged the attempt of the Secretariat to create a Civil Society Bureau to facilitate and organize the diffused voices of the civil society. “This is a unique opportunity for the civil society community to have a more effective voice”.

However, Izumi Aizu of Glocom Tokyo, a Japanese NGO that participated in the Tokyo Declaration, added that NGOs had little participation in the actual drafting of the document. He appealed to the NGO community to improve its legitimacy by expanding its engagement with the other stakeholders. “At the Asia Pacific Preparatory Committee, NGOs were just talking amongst each other, neither sharing their inputs with government nor with the business sector”.

Building e-community Participation

Local communities need to play a greater role in the development of the information society, according to the participants in a workshop on building e-communities.  While defining an e-community is not a simple matter, as it includes regional and local authorities and non-governmental organizations, participants agreed that these networks of e-communities are increasingly important as ICT planners. They are ideally placed to work closely with all of the stakeholders in the information society – government or non-government, public or private – to extend the benefits of ICTs to all.

One example of the growing importance of local authorities was cities that have become testing grounds for innovative uses of electronic networks that promote new forms of sustainable development and democratic participation.  A number of participants noted that cities are essential in enhancing human development and revitalizing democracy in the information society.  For example, the city of Lyon, France will host the First World Summit on Cities and Local Authorities on the Information Society just prior to WSIS. It’s meeting on 4-5 December is entitled ‘Democratizing the information society: innovations and strategies for action’. The event, jointly organized by the cities of Lyon and Geneva, will elaborate on this theme by cities and local authorities, which will then be presented to WSIS.

Roundtable Wrap-Up

Reports from the various moderators of the eight roundtables held during the first week of the conference. These reports will be published on the WSIS website (www.itu.int/wsis) and included in the final report of PrepCom-2.


For media information concerning the second phase of the Summit, click here

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