Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo,Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Economic and Social Affairs to "The World Electronic Media Forum", a WSIS side event organized by UN DPI
Tunis, 15 November 2005

I am delighted to participate in this important Forum—and to discuss what the media can do to promote the achievement by 2015 of the Millennium Development Goals, which have helped to generate considerable momentum in the international policy dialogue.

Let me begin by offering a brief account of where we stand. The most up-to-date assessment of how we are doing on the MDGs is a report issued last June. “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2005” was the product of collaboration among a large number of UN entities, various national statisticians, and outside experts. I encourage you to access the full report on the economic and social development page of the UN website.

The report shows that major progress has been made in several areas, such as: the unprecedented reduction of poverty in East and South Asia; the significant advance in gender equality in the education system in all developing country regions; and the sharp reduction in child mortality in Northern Africa.

Nonetheless, the overall progress has been uneven. Absolute poverty has continued to grow in Sub-Saharan Africa and in many countries in other regions. A lack of adequate clean drinking water and sanitation has left more and more people vulnerable to disease. The persistence of HIV/AIDS has continued to reverse strides made in development, particularly in Africa. And climate change has made the ecosystem of our planet increasingly vulnerable.

If current trends persist, many of the poorest countries will likely not meet most of the MDGs. By and large, we have the financial and technical means to ensure that the MDGs are achieved. It is a matter of building political will and public commitment for deploying these means, in all corners of the world. You can help build that will and commitment, through both traditional and new media.

Meeting the MDGs is about bridging gaps and divides. The Secretary-General has pointed out that the digital divide is really several gaps in one: a technological divide, a content divide, a gender divide, an e-commerce divide, and a socio-economic access divide. The technological divide itself has two different dimensions: the international divide, which threatens to widen the abyss between developed and developing countries; and the domestic divide, which is just as, if not more serious, in terms of the further expansion of the vast social distances that divide different groups of citizens within individual countries. This is particularly concerning in developing countries where large domestic inequalities already exist, between an increasingly connected elite and an increasingly marginalized majority.

We also need to recognize that the digital divide is not simply a matter of how many computers are connected to how many networks. It also has to do with the training needed for individuals and communities to use this technological tool to meet their needs. A learning process must begin now to facilitate the transition from predominantly “soft” uses of the new technologies, such as for general entertainment and information services, to “hard” uses, such as the conduct of economic transactions and the construction of social, political, and cultural networks and institutions.

New and traditional media can help societies overcome these various manifestations of the digital divide, by transforming both content and access.

There are many exciting success stories of ICT and traditional media in promoting the international development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

By way of example, the new technologies permit training teachers through distance education. ICTs save lives by permitting doctors in remote rural areas to access the latest medical information and knowledge available in centres of excellence. In poor urban areas, ICTs help in delivering e-government services as well as education and health information on-line. ICTs and traditional media, such as radio and television, enable poor farmers to gain access to the latest market and price information for their products. And they can create new economic opportunities through on-line promotion and sale of products, access to employment information, and training.

These stories encourage us in our efforts to harness the ICTs and traditional media to promote the international development goals. Equally vital, however, is the need to address the fundamental imbalances in the very way information and knowledge are being created and distributed. These imbalances must be tackled through the international policy framework provided by WSIS and other summits and conferences, as well as through the work of all stakeholders, particularly your work in the media.

Promoting the international development goals, including the MDGs, involves ensuring that the needs and concerns of the majority of the world’s people are properly addressed in the coverage and content of all media.

By current estimates ((See Note 1), there are some 313 billion pages on the World Wide Web, which amounts to some 50 web pages per person worldwide. Now, how much of that content is relevant to the daily reality of most of the world’s people?

A basic indicator of relevance is language. Consider for a moment the six UN official languages, which have been classified by linguists as the top six of the world’s 10 most influential languages (See Note 2). Some 17.3 per cent of the world’s population speaks Chinese as their first language, 5.2 per cent speaks English, 4.8 per cent Spanish, 3.2 per cent Arabic, 2.5 per cent Russian, and 1.2 per cent French. But these six languages are the primary language of 34.1 per cent of the world’s population. However, some 65.9 per cent of the world’s people in fact have thousands of other languages as their mother tongue.

Moreover, of the total number of web pages, less than 20 per cent is in the many languages of the world’s majority. Some 68.4 per cent, on the other hand, are in English. Only 3.9 per cent are in Chinese, 3.0 per cent in French, 2.4 per cent in Spanish, 1.9 per cent in Russian and less than one percent in Arabic.

More alarmingly, however, even if all the available content were translated, it would often not be relevant to the daily reality of the world’s majority. The main challenge across the globe is to take full advantage of available “cultural policy space” to ensure that content of both ICTs and the traditional and new media reflects proportionately the needs and concerns of the world’s people and relates more directly to their reality.

The recently approved UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity recognizes the importance of national “cultural policy space”. The responsibility for filling cultural policy space so as to promote development rests in large measure with those like you, who create, shape, and choose media content.

As media decision-makers, you wield tremendous power in the choice and coverage of content, which you can use directly and indirectly to help achieve the international development goals.

Both ICTs and the traditional broadcast media, particularly radio and television, can help shape the opinions and attitudes of both policy-makers and the general public, in both industrial and developing countries, in a way that mainstreams concern about economic and social development.

More importantly, media power can help shape economic and social policies themselves by influencing voters, parliamentarians and executives in government. These policies can lead to the refocusing of public attention and the reallocation of national and international resources towards achieving the IDGs, particularly the MDGs.

I urge you, therefore, to use every means at your disposal to increase the proportion of original national and local content in your own languages—content that can transmit pro-development knowledge, attitudes, and skills. Even popular entertainment content can be given a pro-development focus. For example, it can illustrate, through dramatic scripts as well as lighter material, successes in poverty alleviation, environmental regeneration, and the prevention of killer diseases.

It is, therefore, vital that you, as the World Electronic Media Forum, continue your networking in some form after Tunis and that you join forces with the multistakeholder follow-up mechanisms that will emerge from the UN ICT Task Force and the WSIS itself.

You are more than observers and reporters of the MDGs. You are protagonists in their achievement.


Note 1
Data for this section was obtained from Internet World Stats( http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm ),

Note 2
George Weber: Top Languages: The World’s 10 Most Influential Languages in Language Today (Vol. 2, Dec 1997): http://www2.ignatius.edu/faculty/turner/languages.htm