Cultural diversity

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“Shaping the Future through Knowledge”: UNESCO welcomes endorsement of freedom of expression, cultural diversity, and access to information at WSIS

Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General, November 21, 2005 – 2005/11/21

On November 18, UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura welcomed the endorsement by 176 states attending the World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis, November 16–18) of UNESCO’s vision of “knowledge societies” based on the four principles of freedom of expression, quality education for all, universal access to information and knowledge, and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.

These principles are included in the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society adopted at WSIS on November 21. The Tunis Commitment recognizes that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge are essential for the information society and development. The Commitment also recognizes the capital importance of access to information, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, and the role of the media to “ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunities that ICTs can offer” and highlights “the enormous potential ICTs have to expand access to quality education, and to boost literacy and universal primary education.”

In addition, The Tunis Agenda recommends that UNESCO continue playing a leading role in implementing the Plan of Action adopted during the first phase of the Summit in Geneva in December 2003. The Agenda invites UNESCO’s contribution in the following eight areas: access to information and knowledge; capacity building; e-learning; e-science; cultural and linguistic diversity and open content; media; ethical dimensions of the information society; and international and regional cooperation.

Speaking at the plenary session of WSIS, the UNESCO director-general pleaded in favor of “equitable and inclusive knowledge societies [that] harness the potential of knowledge and put it at the service of sustainable development. For UNESCO, building knowledge societies is about building a better future for all nations and peoples.” In his address, Mr. Matsuura also highlighted the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach that includes civil society and the private sector in implementing the WSIS Plan of Action.

In addition, building on the results of the High Level Round Table held during WSIS I in Geneva in December 2003, a High Level Round Table took place in Tunis on November 17, within the framework of the WSIS-II. It was chaired by the director-general of UNESCO, Mr. Matsuura, and brought together heads of government and state, eminent scientists, visionaries, and leaders from civil society and the private sector to share their experience and visions on how knowledge can influence, if not drive, human and societal development towards a fair, equitable, and inclusive future. Leadership at all levels and in all walks of life is critical.

This Round Table on "Shaping the Future through Knowledge" has provided a platform for discussing how to build equitable and inclusive knowledge societies, and in particular how the potential of knowledge can be harnessed and released for sustainable development of all the world’s peoples. This Tunis Round Table invited participants to address the conditions of and approaches for enhanced access to information and knowledge, the role of an enabling environment, the importance of technical and societal innovation, and the need for related investment in human and institutional resources as well as infrastructure; identification of processes, frameworks and approaches to facilitate knowledge creation and knowledge application for developmental purposes and economic advances by all countries, drawing on ICTs, in a socially and gender-inclusive manner; and the power of local and indigenous knowledge and knowledge systems and their preservation and integration into the contemporary global exchange and networks.

In preparation for the second WSIS Summit, in Tunis from November 16 to 18, 2005, UNESCO organized a thematic meeting on Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace; ICT for Capacity-Building: Critical Success Factors; Multilingualism for Cultural Diversity and Participation of All in Cyberspace; and Cultural diversity.


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