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 SUMMIT NEWSROOM
 
 Summit Highlights: 16 November 2005

 

 

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 roles.

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 long applause.

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 WSIS.

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 child
UN 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 Roundtable

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 knowledge society

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 freedom.

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 system.

 

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 markets.

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 Ericsson.

WSIS High-Level Panel

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.

Lively discussion continued, with questions on convergence and regulation, broadband access for under-served communities, the growing role of NGOs, and the need for innovative funding approaches.

 
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 management.

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 States).

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 increased income.

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," he said.

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 degradation."

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.

Habib Chawki 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.

 

 

 

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