The common verdict is that the official WSIS outcomes are very limited, considering the time and expense but from the perspective of several civil society organisations that participated actively, the WSIS has been an extremely important process, creating a new platform of solidarity across ideological, sectoral and geographical divides.
The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003. During the preparatory process, as time passed and no agreement was reached on the documents, the possibility of the summit being a failure began to loom large as yet more meetings had to be squeezed on to the agenda. At the last minute the feared "Cancunization" of the Geneva conference was narrowly avoided by the active intervention of the Swiss government. As a result, the government delegations arrived at the meeting with the main points of the documents agreed on, and these were subsequently unanimously approved in the plenary session on 12 December.
The two questions that had caused the most friction between governments during the preparatory process -Internet governance and the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund for Africa- were resolved in Solomonic fashion with the creation of two working groups within the orbit of the United Nations to examine these issues. As no clear response to these problems could be reached in Geneva, they will be reexamined in the second phase of the summit, in Tunis in November 2005.
The civil society organizations participating in the process launched their own Declaration at Geneva, which marked clear conceptual differences from the governments’ notion of what kind of information society should be promoted. Although part of the content promoted by civil society was included in the official documents -for example, references to the defence of human rights- a detailed analysis of the text reveals a vision of technology promoted by commercial interests, in contrast to the conception held by the majority of civil society actors of technology as a tool for egalitarian development. Powerful pressure groups, such as the corporate media, left their mark on the documents, which locate other more democratizing forms of communication, such as community-based media, on the margins of the information society.
Nor have the documents approved in Geneva resolved the conflictive issues pertaining to "intellectual property rights". The civil society Declaration maintains that existing international regulatory instruments, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and instruments of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), should be revised to ensure that they promote cultural, linguistic and media diversity, and contribute to the development of human knowledge. Some governments, in particular the United States, have strongly opposed the inclusion in the WSIS process of consideration of aspects relating to trade in goods and services, alleging that the natural forum for discussing these issues is the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the WIPO.
"Shaping information societies for human needs" is a document prepared by civil society organizations participating in the WSIS process that promotes a human-centered vision of the information society.
This is the report from the Global Forum, held in Geneva from 8 to 11 December, which was one of the largest official parallel events of the WSIS. It addressed how indigenous peoples can benefit from ICT to meet needs in areas such as culture, the environment, health, education, human rights, women’s issues and capacity building. The Forum agreed that indigenous peoples should play a part in the preparatory process for the second phase of the Summit in 2005 in Tunis, and win concrete results at that conference, after having been given short notice to prepare for, and participate in, the Geneva phase (pdf format).
The WEMF is organized in partnership with the UN Department of Public Information (UNDPI), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Switzerland, host country to the Summit. Five major sessions over two days will explore the present and future opportunities of media in the Information Society, with particular reference to the key role of media and television, universal access to information, freedom of expression, cultural diversity, economic development, social cohesion and education.
The "Information and Communication Technologies for Development Platform" (ICT4D Platform) is a combination of an exhibition, workshops and presentations about the effective and global use of Information and Communication Technologies, particularly in developing countries.
The WFCR is an independent civil-society led initiative, open to all seeking democratic, just and participative media and communication. The Forum is a one day event (11th December) held alongside the WSIS. Initiated by the Communication Rights in the Information Society campaign (CRIS), it is led by a coalition of international NGOs.
The depth of disappointment with the formal outcome of the World Summit on the Information Society cannot be fully explained by reference to the usual process of Summit attrition, governments horse-trading down to the lowest common denominator.
This article analyzes the outcomes of the first phase of the WSIS in Geneva. It explains how the most controversial issues in discussion (Internet governance, the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund) have been posponed until the Tunis summit in 2005 and other key topics (intellectual property) were hardly addressed.
The International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) was born in 1992 when many of the world's leading freedom of expression organizations came together in Montreal to discuss how best to further their collective goals. IFEX has commissioned a series of articles exploring free-expression issues as they relate to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). They are written by some of the most active groups that are participating in the WSIS proceedings.
The common verdict is that the official WSIS outcomes are very limited, considering the time and expense. In their quest for consensus, governments opted for generalities: broad principles regarding the potential of ICTs for development characterise the Declaration, while the Action Plan focuses on connectivity and infrastructure.
According to the authors, the WSIS process has identified the problematic issues in global communication, indicated the range of views on how to deal with them, provided various blueprints of what should and could be possible in the way of solutions, and gingerly explored ways of dealing with these questions in the future. To that extent, WSIS has crystallized a new paradigm in communication governance that has been emerging for some time now. Marc Raboy and Norman Landry have just finished a comprehensive report on WSIS phase one, on civil society actitivites and on issues raised. English summary in PDF format. The full text is available in french.
The preparatory process of the first phase of the WSIS included three meetings of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) in Geneva (the last one was divided in four parts) and one Intersessional meeting between PrepCom-2 and PrepCom-3 in Paris. There were also several regional conferences, related events and informal meetings.
NGOs attending the ICT policy and civil society workshop held in Addis Ababa have said that the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) should be people-centred, and eradicating poverty should be key in this international drive.
Representatives from Central American countries have met from 29 to 31 October 2002 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on invitation of UNESCO and ITU, to discuss the political, social and educational challenges of the Information Society and to contribute to the preparation of the region for the World Summit on the Information Society.
"As must now be clear, behind the WSIS’ ‘broad and general view’ of ‘knowledge dissemination, social interaction, economic and business practices, political engagement, media, education, health, leisure and entertainment’ lies a very specific and ongoing set of strategies designed to use control of information, and information property, to advance Northern interests on the global scene", claims the author.