UNESCO advocates freedom of expression at World Summit on the information societyUNESCO is advocating freedom of expression at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, Geneva, December 10-12). It will seek to ensure that this fundamental right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the first Article of UNESCO’s Constitution, is included in the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action to be adopted at the close of the summit on communication and information technologies (ICT).
In an address to representatives of the Organization’s Member States on November 21, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura warned that the Summit could not deliver on its promise unless “an overarching precondition is met, namely, the unambiguous assurance that freedom of expression is recognized as the fundamental principle underlying and informing the development of the information society.”
Freedom of expression underpins three other principles UNESCO is promoting at the Summit to ensure that ICT serves international development goals, notably the fight against poverty. These principles are: equal access to education; universal access to information, including a strong public domain of information; and the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity, including multilingualism.
In UNESCO’s view, the development of the information society must lead to the creation of diverse knowledge societies, a concept that encompasses a broader and more empowering vision of ICT’s potential to enhance human development, as the Director-General said in his November 21 address. The Summit’s purpose, he said, is “to address, first and foremost, the social, political, cultural and institutional dimensions of change. The Summit offers indeed an opportunity to address an enlarged policy agenda that is informed by intellectual and ethical considerations, which embrace such matters as social inclusion, youth, gender, cultural diversity, human rights and inter-cultural dialogue.”
He stressed, however, that, “it does not make any sense to speak about an information society, not to mention knowledge societies, without free and unhindered access to information and knowledge in all forms and in all media.”
UNESCO is organizing a series of events to advocate its vision of the knowledge societies at the Summit. A “High-Level Symposium on Building Knowledge Societies – from Vision to Action”, will bring together internationally renowned intellectuals and political leaders to discuss the principles underpinning the knowledge societies.
UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura will open the Symposium on December 9 (3 p.m.), in the presence of Adama Samassékou, President of the WSIS Preparatory Committee, who described the Symposium as “a call on world leaders to ensure that cultural, ethical and intellectual dimensions are a key part in the summit process.”
Leading experts and intellectuals who will take part in the Symposium are: the economist and sociologist Gary Becker, Economics Nobel Prize Laureate; Monkombu S. Swaminathan, Chairman of M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation of India which seeks to harness science and technology for environmentally sustainable and socially equitable development; Lawrence Lessig, of the Stanford Law School, a leading expert on internet legislation; Valdas Adamkus, Former President of Lithuania and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Construction of Knowledge Societies; John Gage, Chief Researcher and Director of the Science Office of Sun Microsystems, which advocates software diversity and open-source software; and Abdul-Muyeed Chowdhury, Executive Director of BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee).
Three heads of states are scheduled to deliver keynote addresses at the Symposium’s two panels: Olesegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria, Joaquim Alberto Chissano, President of Mozambique and Chairman of the African Union and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia. Government ministers from New Zealand, Thailand and Tunisia are also expected to attend.
The Symposium will address four key questions: How to ensure universal access to information? How to achieve equal access to quality education? How to foster freedom of expression in cyberspace? And finally, how to achieve pluralism in knowledge societies?
After the opening ceremony, the first panel will focus on “Shaping Knowledge Societies” (4 p.m.–6 p.m.). A second panel, on December 10 (10 a.m.–12 noon) will discuss “Diversity in Knowledge Societies”. BBC World journalist and broadcaster Stephen Cole will be the moderator of both panels. (The Symposium will take place at the summit venue of the Geneva-Palexpo Exhibition and Conference Center in Room C. For more information, including participant updates see: http://www.unesco.org/wsis/symposium/).
UNESCO is also organizing the following thematic roundtable debates and presentations during the Summit:
December 10, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, UNESCO will present its Digi-Arts Portal (ICT4D Platform, Hall 4, Room 16) on new e-learning methods for the digital arts and four web-based programmes which invite young people from different cultures, in and out of schools, to reflect and exchange views on global social issues such as HIV/AIDS through a collaborative experience of creating art works with digital sound, images and other multimedia material. (http://portal.unesco.org/digiarts)
Cultural Diversity in Knowledge Societies, (December 10, 1.30 p.m.–4.30 p.m., Conference Centre, Hall 3, Room C), will focus on three standard-setting instruments that have been prepared under the aegis of UNESCO: the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001, the Recommendation on the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace, and the Charter for the Preservation of Digital Heritage, both adopted this year. During the event, legal experts will discuss the principle of diversity, the challenges of digital preservation and the need to reaffirm and promote a fair balance between the legitimate rights of creators and rights-holders and the interest of the public in the digital environment. Practical examples of UNESCO’s work will complement the debate.
A UNESCO-led initiative for the creation of 150 Community Multimedia Centres in three African countries with funding from the Swiss Agency of Development and Cooperation (SDC) will be launched on December 10 (6.15–7.15 p.m., Room 2/3) by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, and Walter Fust, Director-General of SDC, with President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, his Mozambican counterpart Joaquim Alberto Chissano, and Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal.
On December 11, a discussion on Public Service Broadcasting (9 a.m.–12.30 p.m., Conference Centre, Room B) will bring together participants from different regions who will share their experience and address questions about the role of public service broadcasting and its development in the digital age.
Education and Knowledge Societies (December 11, 9.30 a.m.–1 p.m., Conference Centre, Hall 3, Room C) will be the subject of three sessions: Education for knowledge societies: trends, challenges and policies; Education in knowledge societies: strategies, tools, teaching and learning; and UNESCO as a key actor in the development of education for and in knowledge societies. Decision and policy makers in education, representatives of UN agencies and NGOs, educators, scientists and students have been invited to express their priorities and make recommendations, which should help the world community to meet the challenges of knowledge societies.
Sciences in Knowledge Societies (December 11, 2 p.m.–4.30 p.m., Conference Centre, Hall 3, Room C) will examine how sustainable development is dependent on open and equitable access to scientific knowledge and the role of ICT in this context. A major focus will be put on bridging the digital divide. The following themes will be highlighted: universal access to scientific knowledge, improving education and training and some policy issues in scientific information.
Media Development in Knowledge Societies (December 12, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Conference Centre, Hall 3, Room C) will consider the opportunities for freedom of expression that emerge with the new information technologies. This round table will also look at the role of community multimedia centers in extending access to knowledge societies. Participants will include press freedom activists and CMC managers from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Languages, Literacy and New Technologies (December 12, 2 p.m.–6 p.m., ICT4D Platform, Hall 4, Room 2) will consider the challenge of culturally adapted content for development. Three consecutive sessions will be devoted to this debate. The first will feature experiences from developing countries that illustrate efforts to support literacy and development goals with the support of ICT, with a special focus on local language content. The second session will consist of a debate between several panellists drawn from differing sectors (governmental, intergovernmental, private and development agencies, media) who will examine project development and initiatives supporting the WSIS plan of action. During the third session, participants will hold small group discussions around specific projects.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is co-organizing a workshop entitled: Monitoring the Information Society: Data, Measurement and Methods in cooperation with UNECE, UNCTAD, ITU, OECD and Eurostat; (December 8 and 9, at UNECE). The workshop will seek to identify current global gaps in the data concerning ICT. It will examine a variety of themes including: the role of ICT in economic and societal transformations, individual and household use of ICT, business usage of ICT, and measuring social impacts of ICT. The UIS is also organizing a session called “ICT and Society: Measuring Social Impacts of ICT” which will explore a variety of topics such as the use and benefits of ICT in the field of education, as well as issues of access to, and exclusion from, ICT, with particular emphasis on gender.
UNESCO’s exhibition, “Building Knowledge Societies”, featuring some 280 projects shown to illustrate the potential of knowledge societies, will be on show (Hall 4 at Stand 629) throughout the Summit. A virtual version of the exhibition can be accessed on the internet at www.unesco.org/confgen/exhibition2003.
UNESCO is also publishing a series of reports about the status of research on ICT and issues that fall within the Organization’s field of competence: Status of Research on the Information Society; UNESO Basic Texts and the Information Society; Science in the Information Society; Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in the
Information Society; Media Development in the Information Society; Statistical Report on the Information Society; Education in the Information Society; Social Transformation in the Information Society; Memory of the Information Society; Gender in the Information Society: Towards Equity? For more information about the reports see: http://www.unesco.org/wsis/events/publications/
For more information and updates see: http://www.unesco.org/wsis/events/