Saturday, February 04, 2006

UNESCO and the World Summit on the Information Society

Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, gave this talk to the governmental Permanent Representatives and Observers to UNESCO on UNESCO's role in the WSIS and the effect of WSIS on UNESCO.


"We proceeded to elaborate a strategy of engagement with the Summit that reflected a different approach, one that gave proper weight to the social dimension, ethical considerations and the claims of cultural and linguistic diversity. In a nutshell, our strategy focused not on connectivity but on content.

"In order to have an impact and influence on the Summit, we realized that we had to work out a coherent, well-developed position and to apply it consistently in different fora and processes. And this is precisely what we did through our elaboration of the concept of “knowledge societies”, featuring four key principles: freedom of expression; universal access to information and knowledge; respect for cultural and linguistic diversity; and quality education for all. By bringing these principles and concerns regularly into the frame of discussion and debate, UNESCO helped to show that the “digital divide” is not merely technological in character.

"The most tangible outcomes of the WSIS process are the four documents adopted in Geneva and in Tunis, including principles, action areas and instructions on implementation mechanisms. These are the Geneva Declaration of Principles, the Geneva Plan of Action, the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.

"They all reflect, in varying degrees, UNESCO’s contribution to the WSIS process. Before examining that contribution in further detail, I would like to highlight three important outcomes of the Summit of a general nature.

"First, the Summit has helped to generate a high-level dialogue on such matters as Internet governance which simply had not been taking place before. Such dialogue is vital as new phases of the digital revolution unfold and as its impact becomes increasingly global in character.

"Second, the Summit has been a catalyst for partnership between a wide range of stakeholders. It served to bring together different constituencies of interest and provided opportunities for cooperation and exchange. The development of multistakeholder partnerships, I believe, will be one of the lasting benefits of the Summit.

"Third, WSIS has helped to show that ICT is not merely a tool or instrument that belongs to “technology” rather than “society” but is, in fact, deeply embedded in social processes, in knowledge, in culture, in science and in education. The new ICTs have fast become as integral to our lives as the old technologies of print, radio, TV and cinema. By helping us to create new knowledge and to live different kinds of lives, ICT clearly is not separate from us. The growing development of this integrated, holistic understanding is an important outcome of the Summit."
for each of the eleven Actions Lines that were adopted in the Geneva Plan of Action, one or several UN organizations or programmes will act as facilitators or moderators. UNESCO, alone or with other agencies, was assigned the role of a moderator or facilitator for the following seven Action Lines:
• Access to information and knowledge
• E-learning
• E-science
• Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content
• Media
• Ethical dimensions of the Information Society
• International and regional cooperation

The role of facilitators/moderators should include, inter alia, information exchange, creation of knowledge, sharing of best practices, and assistance in developing multi-stakeholder and public/private partnerships.

"UNESCO will also be participating in other parts of the international post-WSIS coordination machinery.

"One of the issues that the international community will continue to address is Internet Governance, which remains a core concern for UNESCO. Therefore, UNESCO will participate as an observer in the work of the Internet Governance Forum and will continue to advocate an open, transparent and inclusive approach to Internet Governance echoing its consistent advocacy of the principle of openness, which encompasses the free flow of information, freedom of expression and technical interoperability. The main areas of relevance to UNESCO are the concern for ethical
dimensions, the realization of multilingualism in the Internet development environment and capacity-building.

"With regard to the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms, led by UNDP, its report was integrated into the Tunis final document, which recognizes the importance of financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide. The Task Force recommended the creation of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund and this was welcomed by the Summit as a complement to existing financing mechanisms which should continue to be fully utilized and improved.

"UNESCO will continue to participate in the work of the Partnership for Measuring ICT for Development ensuring, for example, that the set of core ICT indicators that are presently being developed include those related to the application of ICT and their impact, in particular in the areas of education, science and culture. The role of UIS is clearly important in this regard."
In order for the Organization to maintain the momentum achieved over recent years, I have decided to prolong the mandate of the Task Force on the Information Society (TFIS) under my chairmanship. It will continue monitoring the implementation of the WSIS decisions as well as the recommendations put forward in the World Report "Towards Knowledge Societies".

I have requested the Communication and Information Sector to maintain a leading role in the coordination of WSIS activities within UNESCO, in close cooperation with BSP. The Sectors are asked to cooperate with CI as it carries out the coordination role.

I will see to it that each programme sector assumes the responsibility for Action Lines falling under its respective mandates. Those concerned in the central services, notably BPI and BSP, as well as the Institutes (notably UIS) and Field Offices, will also be involved in the post-WSIS phase.

UNESCO will actively participate in the implementation mechanisms on the international level. The CI Sector will ensure that UNESCO assumes a prominent role in this context, for example, in the work of the UN Group on the Information Society to be established within the CEB.

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