Press Briefing


The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) would focus on how to close the “digital divide” in key areas of connectivity, computerization and capacity for content development between developed and developing countries, Nitin Desai, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Summit, told correspondents this morning at a Headquarters press briefing.

Daniel Stauffacher, delegate of the Swiss Federal Council for the Summit, also participated in the briefing, which was moderated by Therese Gastaut, Director of the Strategic Communications Division, Department of Public Information (DPI).  Part one of the Summit would take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 10 to 12 December, and part two would take place in Tunis, Tunisia, in November 2005.

Mr. Desai said the Summit was an unusual one, as it focused more on opportunities than on problems.  A declaration and a plan of action had been agreed and would be finalized in a preparatory committee meeting from 10 to 14 November in Geneva.  In the context of connectivity, computerization and capacity for content development, issues such as “e–education”, “e-health” and “e-governance” would be addressed.  He hoped to see clear goals in the outcome, set for the year 2015, and concrete projects to realize those goals.  The Summit would also provide a clear recognition that information and communication technology (ICT) could make a huge contribution to democratization, transparency and accountability.

Much of the development in ICT had been in the private sector, he said, but there were issues that required people to organize across national boundaries, such as “spam”, viruses, cyber crime and concerns about content, including pornography.  There was a need for a policy framework addressing those issues under the heading “internet-governance”, as the social and political impact of the technology could not be left to technicians.  The Summit would also address matters of diversity in languages and cultures, in order to prevent one big “info-tech” culture and to allow languages and cultures to become more viable.

Mr. Stauffacher said his country was honoured to host the Summit, and recognized that the topic could not be dealt with by governments alone.  The business sector and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, universities, archives and libraries, also had an important role to play in developing applications to use the new technologies as a tool for development.  New inroads had been made in including all partners in the negotiating process during the preparatory committee meetings.

He said the Summit’s second pillar, equally important to the formal Summit itself, consisted of side events where governments, business and civil society could, in informal settings, debate issues, share experiences, propose solutions and forge partnerships to implement projects and programmes.  The events included the World Electronic Media Forum, exhibitions, and a symposium organized by the World Bank and the Swiss Government on new technologies and development.  He expected 5,000 to 6,000 people to attend the conference.  Fifty-six heads of State or government had confirmed their attendance.

Asked about progress made in closing the digital gap, Mr. Desai said there was progress in terms of connectivity, especially in the area of mobile phones in the developing world.  However, in terms of computerization, the gap had not narrowed.  One of the key tasks of the Summit was to see that that gap could be narrowed.  The most important area was content development.  There was a need for strong capacity in education and health departments to be able to communicate, not just to provide access to information.  A report launched today -– “UN World Public Sector Report 2003:  E-government at the Crossroads” –- had ranked countries in relation to e-government.

How widely Internet use spread depended on how fast bandwidth developed within a country.  In developing countries where bandwidth issues were addressed, Internet usage was rising, but nowhere near the 60 to 70 per cent in industrialized countries.  In the least developed countries, the digital gap was wider because of a lack of bandwidth development.

Addressing a correspondent’s question about the chances of the Summit achieving concrete results and actions, Mr. Desai said the Summit took place in two parts -- one in Geneva in December, and a second one in Tunis, Tunisia, in November 2005 –- which were to be treated as one package.  The Geneva Summit would hopefully finalize the declaration and the plan of action.  The challenge would be to flesh out actions during the period between Geneva and Tunis, to develop partnerships and organize funding, and to do work at the regional level.  For Geneva, the goals had been agreed upon.

Mr. Stauffacher added that there would certainly be issues of a political nature, which would not be solved until Tunis.  It was, however, important to have a clear vision on what the information society should be and what requirements were necessary to build it.  Consensus existed on many issues.  It was important, however, that issues were on the table and that heads of State and government would be aware of them.  The plan of action was very concrete, but implementation of the plan, particularly regarding partnership, was very important.

Asked about plans for special funds for developing countries to address information technology issues, Mr. Desai said Senegal had submitted a “Global Solidarity Plan”.  There were also specific partnership projects.  However, issues of information technology should not be addressed apart from other issues in health, education and governance.

Mr. Stauffacher said, in that regard, that existing funds for development, both on the donor and the recipient side, could be used more effectively in order to use information technology for development.

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