IFEX MEMBERS PROMOTE FREE EXPRESSION AT INFORMATION SOCIETY SUMMIT
The first phase of the WSIS took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December. Sponsored by the United Nations, the summit brought together government delegations, business leaders and civil society groups to launch a declaration of principles and action plan ostensibly aimed at lowering barriers to accessing the Internet and bridging the "digital divide" separating rich and poor countries.
To raise awareness of free-expression issues at the WSIS, the IFEX Clearing House (with support from UNESCO) has commissioned five in-depth articles, written by IFEX members, analyzing the potential impact of the WSIS on press freedom, media pluralism and other issues. They include the role of community media in the "Information Society", media concentration, barriers to accessing the Internet and threats to press freedom on the Internet.
A special section of the IFEX website devoted to the WSIS has been created, which contains the five articles, as well as position papers by IFEX members and links.
Click here: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/50685/
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) attended the World Electronic Media Forum and other WSIS events, while Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) attempted to broadcast pirate radio programs during the summit to protest its exclusion from the WSIS and to highlight Internet censorship in many of the countries whose governments attended the summit (http://www.radionongrata.info/).
Meanwhile, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) have called for the second phase of the WSIS in Tunisia in 2005 to be relocated to another country.
"The Tunisian press is censored, journalists are jailed along with hundreds of other political prisoners, and organisation of the Tunis summit has been assigned to a military general alleged to be responsible for the torture of political prisoners," the groups said in a statement signed by a coalition called the Co-ordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations. They called for the 2005 meeting to be either held in a country known for respecting press freedom or cancelled.
The committee welcomed the inclusion of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the draft WSIS Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, saying it reaffirms the right to freedom of expression on the Internet.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also welcomed the draft WSIS documents' references to freedom of expression rights, but said the texts lacked concrete plans to confront the issue of growing media concentration. "Anything that will diminish the gulf between the information-rich societies and poorer regions is most welcome, but this will not happen unless steps are taken to prevent concentration of media ownership at the national and global level and to preserve public service values in media," the group said.
Meanwhile, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) said it would refuse to endorse the WSIS draft declaration and action plan. The text makes no reference to the important role of community media in the "Information Society," which "shows the lack of real commitment to civil society by governments at the WSIS," said AMARC in a statement.
AMARC has joined other civil society groups in launching an alternative WSIS declaration, which recognizes that community media have "a particular role to play in enabling access to
and participation for all in the information society, especially the poorest and most marginalized communities."
Visit these links for more information:
- IFEX: http://www.ifex.org
- Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations: http://www.wan-press.org/article3272.html
- Civil Society's Alternative WSIS declaration:
- worldsummit2003.org: http://www.worldsummit2003.de/en/web/467.htm
- World Electronic Media Forum: http://www.wemf.org
- UNESCO: http://www.unesco.org
- Official WSIS site: http://www.itu.int/wsis/