Cultural diversity

Publications and Studies

Preparing the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS): Reports of UNESCO’s four thematic meetings

UNESCO, Paris, July 8, 2005 – 2005/07/08

On July 27, UNESCO published th e reports of the four conferences that UNESCO organized from February to May 2005 as “thematic meetings” for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which will held its second session in Tunis, Tunisia, from 16 to 18 November 2005. On 8 July 2005, the director-general, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, held an information meeting for Permanent Delegations on the WSIS to brief them on the preparation of this second phase of the WSIS. In his address to the delegates, the director-general highlighted the importance of the WSIS process, which over its two phases in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005 has served as catalyst for the international development agenda. Mr. Matsuura referred to the UNESCO-promoted concept of “knowledge societies” with its four underlying principles—freedom of expression; quality education for all; universal access to knowledge and information; and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity—that had gained due recognition in the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted in Geneva.

Mr. Matsuura outlined UNESCO’s main contributions to the WSIS process—the four thematic meetings organized in 2005 to foster UNESCO’s multi-stakeholder approach to WSIS implementation activities and to formulate proposals for concrete actions in the areas of UNESCO’s competence. The publication of the World Report on “Building Knowledge Societies” before the Summit in Tunis will “strengthen the intellectual, strategic and ethical "watch" capacities of the international community.” Mr. Matsuura assured the delegates of UNESCO’s intention “to play a major role in the implementation process, honoring its growing presence in the international debate on ICT for development and building on its strong multi-stakeholder partnerships.”

All four meetings endorsed UNESCO’s key principles for building knowledge societies and stressed UNESCO’s role as a facilitator of WSIS implementation activities or mechanisms. UNESCO took the opportunity to foster its multi-stakeholder approach to WSIS implementation activities and to formulate proposals for concrete actions in its areas of competence. The reports on the meetings will be introduced into the WSIS process and their conclusions will inform UNESCO’s future strategies and activities, particularly within the framework of its program for 2006–2007. The first meeting on “Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace” was organized on 3 and 4 February 2005 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. It examined the challenges and opportunities that freedom of expression, a fundamental human right, encounters in the global digital network. Participants of the meeting agreed that Internet media should have the same freedoms as print and broadcast media. The conference warned against establishing regulations for the flow of information in cyberspace, stressing that the Internet should be based upon full human rights and it is the responsibility of all states to respect and defend these rights when it comes to their application in cyberspace.

The second thematic meeting on “Multilingualism for Cultural Diversity and Participation for All in Cyberspace ” was organized by UNESCO in cooperation with the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) in Bamako, Mali, on 6 and 7 May 2005. One of the main outcomes of the meeting was the clear recognition that a truly multilingual cyberspace can no longer be dominated by a few “global” languages, but must seriously engage with the presence of lesser-used languages. While national frameworks of policy and program are clearly important, the local level is crucial, as the building of pluralistic and inclusive knowledge societies is basically a grassroots process.

The third thematic meeting on “ICT for Capacity-Building: Critical Success Factors” took place at UNESCO Headquarters from 11 to 13 May 2005. Organized by UNESCO in cooperation with the Club of Rome, it focused on how to make the best use of current resources, energies, and commitments to speed up response and find sustainable solutions to the problems that developing countries face in regard to using ICT for capacity-building, particularly in the field of non-formal education. The meeting clearly recognized that new paradigms of ICT and learning are taking shape, offering a variety of opportunities for large-scale, sustainable, and accelerated action.

The fourth thematic meeting on “Cultural Diversity in Knowledge Societies” was organized from 17 to 19 May 2005 in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, integrated within the framework of the conference “UNESCO between Two Phases of the World Summit on the Information Society,” organized by the authorities of the Russian Federation and the Russian National Committee for the Information for All Program. It explored how ICT may contribute to the promotion of cultural diversity and resulting opportunities for socioeconomic development and empowerment. [05-25]