Vol. 3, no 38, Monday, December 8, 2003
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) : «Freedom of Expression Crucial for Information Society»
The first-ever World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) opens in Geneva on December 10 and will be followed by a second edition in Tunis from November 16 to 18, 2005. The goal of the summit is «to build a people-centred, inclusive and development oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life». Some organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) view WSIS as an “information technology summit.” Others, taking the UNESCO perspective, prefer to priorize content over plumbing with more suitable concepts like “knowledge society.” Another current notion is “cultural cohabitation,” seen as the antithesis of the “technocratic myth of the information society.” The principles of cultural diversity, universal access to information, and freedom of expression are at the core of this international summit on the creation of an equitable information society. During the event, Geneva will also play host to a World Electronic Media Forum on the new world media environment from December 9 to 11.
This edition of Cultural Diversity News is mainly devoted to WSIS and testifies to our ongoing efforts to bring you relevant and up-to-date information on the latest cultural diversity issues. We archive most of the documents referenced in our newsletter articles. Please feel free to consult them as needed. All sections of the newsletter can be accessed in the archives. If you have trouble with links referenced in Cultural Diversity News articles, please visit the “Current Events”.
IN THIS ISSUE :
Mme LINE BEAUCHAMP, ministre de la Culture et des Communications du Québec
Guadalajara, le 1er décembre 2003 - 2003/12/01
Speaking to media at the press conference closing the Cultural Diversity Rendezvous held at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Québec was the guest of honor, Ms Beauchamp said that the event had provided an opportunity for international figures to discuss their expectations for the pending UNESCO convention on the protection of cultural content and artistic expression. She declared that “every chance we get, we stress the importance of remaining vigilant. We call upon countries involved in trade negotiations to exercise caution, and to defend their ability to act in support of culture until a new convention is adopted by UNESCO in 2005.” Ms Beauchamp thanked organizers of the event and said she looked forward to counting them among Québec’s “new allies” in promoting cultural diversity. (Available in French and Spanish only)
M. KOFI ANNAN, Secrétaire général de l’Organisation des Nations Unies (ONU) - ONU, le 18 novembre 2003 - 2003/11/18
On the occasion of World Television Day, Mr. Annan declared that the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Geneva is an “opportunity we must seize upon” to debate a wide variety of issues. The event will pay special attention to ways of harnessing information technology (including television) for development. It will also discuss press freedom and cultural diversity. In this respect, Mr. Annan noted that “freedom of the press is essential to our efforts to build an open, inclusive information society, and to peace and development in general. But the flow of information ought not be one way only, from North to South; this has led to a burgeoning ‘content divide’ that threatens to overwhelm or marginalize local views and voices. We must find ways to address this situation, and to preserve and promote cultural and linguistic diversity—without infringing on media freedoms. Press freedom and pluralism of content can, and must, develop together in the information society.” (Available also in French)
Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General - UNESCO, Paris, November 21, 2003 - 2003/11/21
Speaking to the permanent delegates of UNESCO member states at the second WSIS briefing session, Mr. Matsuura stressed that “the Summit must also address ethical and intellectual considerations, which embrace such matters as social inclusion, youth, gender, cultural diversity, human rights and intercultural dialog.” This is why UNESCO has stressed that “the Summit needs to address, first and foremost, the social, political, cultural and institutional dimensions of change.” It is also the reason why UNESCO strongly prefers the concept of knowledge societies to that of information society, “as it goes beyond issues of connectivity and technological development to encompass a broader and more empowering vision that is based on the potential of ICT to enhance human development.” Mr. Matsuura noted with satisfaction that many UNESCO principles—namely equal access to education, universal access to information, and the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity—are included in the present drafts of the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action of WSIS. He also stressed the importance of retaining an explicit reference—still under negotiation in the present drafts—to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Declaration and the Plan of Action and urged representatives of member states to obtain from their governments the inclusion of “an explicit reference to freedom of expression.” However, Mr. Matsuura also expressed his concern about “the continuing absence of any reference to the role that media play in the development of knowledge societies,” adding that “explicit references to the role of media, including the role of traditional media, in the information society in general and to their independence, pluralism and freedom, in particular, need to be retained in the Summit texts.”
Rabat (Maroc), 4-5 septembre 2003 - 2003/10/4-5
Further to its decision to actively contribute to the success of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva this December 10 to 12, and in Tunis, Tunisia, in 2005, the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) brought together the ministers for information technology and communications from its 56 member states and governments in Rabat, Morocco, from September 4 to 5 for a ministerial conference on the information society. The ministerial conference approved OIF’s contribution to the WSIS debates and mandated the secretary general of the organization to present and interpret the contribution at WSIS. OIF’s contribution revolves around priority themes for the international francophone community. The first priority is making cultural and linguistic diversity a cornerstone of the information society. This means using information and communications technology “to affirm and promote cultural and linguistic diversity and promote intercultural dialog that takes identities into account.” The second priority is strengthening the independence and pluralism of private and public media “in order to allow full freedom of expression and encourage the diversity of the content that is produced and broadcast.” A press release to this effect was issued. (Available in French only)
M. ASKO NUMMINEM, Ambassadeur de Finlande, Président du Sous-Comité du PrepCom - Union internationale des télécommunications (IUT), Genève, le 17 novembre 2003 - 2003/11/17
Mr. Asko Numminem, Finnish ambassador and chair of the negotiations subcommittee responsible for ironing out differences of opinion on the WSIS Declaration of Principles and Action Plan, announced progress in a number of areas, and said that a more balanced declaration would result. Agreement has notably been reached on the issue of “identity and cultural diversity.” On this point, Mr. Numminem stressed that the relevant articles acknowledged the need to create, broadcast, and preserve content in a variety of languages and formats. They also acknowledged the importance of recognizing copyright, as well as promoting the production and accessibility of content, including local content. (Available also in French)
Union Européenne de Radio-Télévision (UER)
Suisse, 21 mars 2003 - 2003/03/21
EBU noted with satisfaction that the vital role of the electronic media in the development of the information society is beginning to be recognized in the WSIS Declaration and Action Plan. EBU is also pleased to see the inclusion of a number of points, including “freedom of expression” and the role of “independent, pluralist, and free media” as important means of fostering public information, societal development, and social cohesion; “cultural diversity” as a fundamental value; the creation of “local content” as a priority; and the continuing role of broadcasting in disseminating content in the information society. EBU believes that these points must be maintained, even strengthened if possible, along with the “central role of the media” and the importance for citizens of having access to “unbiased information and a wide range of content.”
(Available in French and English only).
UNESCO, Conseil exécutif, 166e session
Paris, 3 mars 2003 - 2003/03/03
This document outlines UNESCO’s actions in preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and provides a summary of the elements UNESCO has proposed for inclusion in the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action. UNESCO’s proposals are based on its specific mandate. This mandate leads UNESCO to promote the concept of knowledge societies rather than that of a global information society “since enhancing information flows alone is not sufficient to grasp the opportunities for development that is offered by knowledge. Therefore, a more complex, holistic, and comprehensive vision and a resolutely developmental perspective are needed.” For UNESCO, there are four principles essential to the development of equitable knowledge societies: cultural diversity, equal access to education, universal access to information (in the public domain), and freedom of expression. To realize these principles UNESCO is working towards the attainment of three strategic objectives: fostering digital opportunities and social inclusion by enhancing the use of ICT for capacity-building, empowerment, governance and social participation; strengthening capacities for scientific research, information sharing and cultural creations, performances, and exchanges in knowledge societies; and enhancing learning opportunities through access to diversified contents and delivery systems. The Executive Board has called upon UNESCO member states to fully recognize these principles in preparing both meetings of the Summit. (Available in French and English only)
ALEKSANDRA UZELAC, Institute for International Relations, Zagreb, with GARRY NEIL, INCD Coordinator
Opatija, Croatia, October 12-15, 2003 - 2003/10/12-15
This paper was presented at the Fourth Annual Conference of the International Network for Cultural Diversity (INCD) held in Opatija, Croatia, from October 12 to 15 on the theme “Advancing Cultural Diversity Globally: the Role of Civil Society Movements.” The paper’s authors postulate that the concept of an information society “suggests universal and free access to information services (thus knowledge) for all citizens/users/consumers and possibility for an active participation in knowledge sharing.” In their view, the World Summit on the Information Society should try to trace a path toward an “Information Society for All” to ensure that all citizens benefit from the ICT revolution. For example, if the Internet is to benefit the cultural sector, “clear objectives should be set by cultural institutions, networks and NGOs, and a regulatory framework should be put in place by implementing cultural and other policies related to ICT.” They also see the Internet as a potential tool for cultural diversity if certain requirements are met by governments and the “big multinational media conglomerates.” However, first the cultural sector must overcome some key challenges: adapting cultural policies to the new realities of ICT, bridging the digital divide, and implementing organizational adjustments in keeping with new technological developments.( Available in English only)
Projet de Déclaration de principes (Document WSIS/PC-3/DT/6(Rév.1)-F)
ONU/UIT, le 14 novembre 2003 - 2003/11/14
The draft Declaration of Principles places considerable importance on cultural diversity, describing it as “the common heritage of humankind.” It goes on to say that “the information society should be founded on and stimulate respect for cultural identity, cultural and linguistic diversity, traditions and religions, and foster dialog among cultures and civilizations. The promotion, affirmation, and preservation of diverse cultural identities and languages as reflected in relevant documents approved by the United Nations, including UNESCO's Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, will further enrich the Information Society.” To do so, “the creation, dissemination, and preservation of content in diverse languages and formats must be accorded high priority.” The draft Declaration also recognizes that “the preservation of cultural heritage is a crucial component of identity and self-understanding of individuals that links a community to its past.” (Available also in French, English and Spanish)
Projet de Plan d’action (Document WSIS/PC-3/DT/5(Rév.1)-F)
ONU-UIT, le 14 novembre 2003 - 2003/11/14
Recognizing that “cultural and linguistic diversity, while stimulating respect for cultural identity, traditions, and religions, is essential to the development of an information society based on the dialog among cultures and regional and international cooperation” and is also “an important factor for sustainable development,” WSIS will take steps to enable governments to “create policies that support the respect, preservation, promotion, and enhancement of cultural and linguistic diversity and cultural heritage within the information society.” Measures envisaged include encouraging governments “to design cultural policies to promote the production of cultural, educational, and scientific content and the development of local cultural industries suited to the linguistic and cultural context of the users.” (Disponible également en français, anglais, espagnol)
The international organizations representing the French, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking communities (TEL) officially launched a new trilingual Website on cultural diversity at the conclusion of a meeting of their secretaries general in Rome on November 27 and 28. In their final statement, (http://www.francophonie.org/presse/communiques/infos.cfm?num=393), the secretaries general declared that the new site will “help consolidate the new sphere of cooperation between the French, Spanish, and Portuguese linguistic communities,” adding that it “reflects our organizations’ commitment to promoting cultural diversity by allowing Internet users to switch from one language to another at all times.” Along with the Website of Québec’s Ministère de la Culture et des Communication, which is also trilingual and entirely devoted to cultural diversity (http://www.mcc.gouv.qc.ca/international/diversite-culturelle/index.html), decision makers, researchers and other interested parties now have access to even more information tools on cultural diversity issues. Visit the new site at http://www.3el.org/
On December 2, stakeholders from Burkina Faso’s cultural sector met in the capital of Ouagadougou at the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Tourism for a seminar to establish a Burkina National Coalition for Cultural Diversity. The new coalition, which intends to “play a role in reinforcing the capacity of cultural operators to take initiative and action,” was created to “promote cultural diversity as a cornerstone of creative freedom.” Participants declared that “we must oppose all forms of cultural hegemony, which threatens diversity in its intellectual and artistic manifestations. We must also reaffirm the right and duty of every state to conduct its own cultural policy free of outside interference and respectful of human rights and the right to freedom of expression.” Also attending the seminar was Mr. Robert Pilon, executive vice president of the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity, who was invited to discuss cultural diversity issues with participants.
From December 9 to 11, the UN, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and the Swiss government are organizing the World Electronic Media Forum, a special event held as part of the World Summit on the Information Society. The Forum will address the following topics: media freedom, independence, and pluralism as guarantors of democracy and good government; violence in the media; cultural diversity; securing a place on the global agenda. The Summit will also provide leaders from around the globe a unique opportunity to sit down and work out a vision of the information society of tomorrow. In addition, participants will discuss ways of ensuring that their populations have access, through free and independent media, to comprehensive news and culturally diverse content that enables all levels of society to participate in democratic life. (Available in French only)
“Given the trend toward the commodification of culture, what are the public policies and cultural practices we can implement to resist ‘total liberalism’”? “Should we defend the cultural exception and respect for cultural diversity, or demand that culture be exempted from the rules of trade?” These are some of the questions participants will be called upon to answer at this Culture Forum (http://www.pac-g.be/pac.html) organized by Présence et Action Culturelles (PAC), a volunteer adult continuing education organization. The forum will be held on December 13 at Université Libre de Bruxelles and will be divided into workshops on topics like access to culture, cultural policies, and trade strategies. Speakers include Mr. Christian Dupont, Belgium’s minister of culture and continuing education, and Mr. Serge Regourd, author of L’exception culturelle. For information or to register:
Ministers of culture from the 26 member countries of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) met in China on December 4 for an Intercontinental Conference on Cultural Diversity and the challenges of globalization. ASEM is made up of 11 members from Asia (including China, Singapore, and Japan) and 15 from the European Union (including France and Germany).
The 9th Foire internationale du livre et du matériel didactique was held from December 4 to 9 in Dakar, Senegal, under the theme “National Literatures and Cultural Diversity.” Organizers capitalized on the event to contribute “to the struggle to save languages and cultures and to follow in the footsteps of international institutions like UNESCO in safeguarding our invaluable cultural diversity.”
Observatoire des médias
Lundi 24 novembre 2003 - 2003/11/24
The goal of WSIS is twofold: on the one hand, it seeks to be “a new kind of summit that provides a foretaste of 21st century global governance by involving political, private sector, and civil society actors in decision making.” On the other, it seeks to “harness ICT for development purposes and, beyond that, to define the shape of the information society we seek to create.” This article provides a preliminary assessment of WSIS in relation to these objectives, particularly the type of “information society being promised to us.” (Disponible en français seulement)
In this article, the author asserts that Africa will not back down on the principle of digital solidarity, and that nations of the South will make their voices heard at the Geneva summit. He notes that the stakes are high “given the power and importance of the Internet […] Controlling access to this formidable source of information can change global power dynamics. Once the Internet has been tamed—if this is possible—then it will be time to think about content.” With respect to cultural and linguistic diversity, an issue on the summit agenda, the author notes that “we can choose to promote uniformity, the position of the United States. Or we can opt to promote cultural diversity in the media, the approach envisaged by the rest of the world.” In order to harmonize their points of view and develop a joint position at WSIS (http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/printable/200312011418.html), African ministers responsible for communications and new technologies met in Dakar for a ministerial round table (http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/printable/200312010824.html). (Available in French only).