WORLD ELECTRONIC MEDIA FORUM OPENS
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 9 December (UN Information Service) -- In the information age, electronic media are among the most important vehicles of peace, progress and solidarity, Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said at the opening session of the World Electronic Media Forum this afternoon.
The Forum, which is being held in Geneva from 9 to 12 December, is a side event of the World Summit on the Information Society, aiming to provide a platform for leaders of the world’s media to address the many issues raised by the new global media environment.
Mr. Annan stressed that media could educate and entertain; inspire and inform; sound the alarm and arouse conscience; bring people and places closer together; as well as shine a light on injustices. Yet, there was a paradox -- electronic media might seem to be everywhere, but there were many millions of people in the world whom they still did not reach. Many did not have electricity, let alone electronic media.
The Secretary-General stressed that the digital divide was not just digital, but reflected wide disparities in freedom, in wealth, in power, and ultimately in hope for a better future. It was time to, here in Geneva, put power and paradox together, and come up with a plan as partners. In this context, he emphasized that the freedom of the press was essential. It was one thing for governments to establish regulatory and policy frameworks, but when they went further, down the slope towards censorship and harassment, everyone -- and potentially everyone’s rights -- were imperilled. Information technologies had, therefore, brought the international community into a new age, but also to a threshold.
Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the Forum was a platform that brought together major decision-makers and leading broadcasters to debate the new trends and challenges in a changing global environment. He explained that the leaders of the World Broadcasting Unions would present the Secretary-General with their common platform for the Summit, highlighting their commitment to such fundamental values as freedom of expression, access to information, media pluralism, cultural diversity, and the promotion of development.
Representatives of the World Broadcasting Unions from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, North America, Asia and the Pacific, and the Arab world presented a Declaration of Principles to the Secretary-General. The Declaration stresses that communications technology is not an end in itself, but a vehicle for the provision of information and content and respect for the freedom of expression; the vital role of the media in the information society; the role of the media in ensuring social cohesion and development; and that information must remain accessible and affordable for everyone.
Moderating the session were Christine Ockrent and Riz Khan, two well-known journalists, who stressed that new information and communications technologies must be made available and accessible to all people across the world in order to combat injustices.
During this opening session, video presentations were given on the role of the media in different countries. Pascal Couchepin, President of the Swiss Confederation, addressed the gathering through a live feed, saying that closing the digital divide meant offering people control of their destiny. He hoped that the Summit would strengthen the information society and guarantee pluralist and independent media. New forms of communications were required in order to increase understanding between people from different cultures, religions and social and cultural backgrounds.
Issues related to the role of the Internet in various countries and in people’s lives, the need to ensure access to communications technologies, as well as the situation in Africa, were addressed in interactive discussions with representatives of the media and civil society, via live-feeds. Particular focus was paid to freedom of expression, governments controlling media, as well as the power of broadcasting in Algeria, the Russian Federation and Iran.
As part of the Forum, panels will be held on violence in the media, media freedom and the information society, and new media challenges. Amongst other issues, workshops will cover issues such as gender and media, cultural diversity, peace journalism, broadcasting and health, as well as a comparison of news coverage of the Iraq war.
SHASHI THAROOR, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, noted that the information society would not exist without television. The World Electronic Media Forum was a platform to make known the views and visions of the media within the information society. The Forum was bringing together major decision makers to debate the important issues and challenges within the information society, as well as the role of the media. In addition, the Forum would enable a dialogue between the media and consumers, highlighting ways in which the world had already been changed by the information society.
Mr. Tharoor stressed that the Forum was the first event that brought together all leading broadcasters. They had agreed on a declaration of fundamental principles on the role of the media. This declaration would be transmitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations so that he, in turn, could forward these concerns and principles for the consideration of the World Summit on the Information Society. In conclusion, he thanked the Secretary-General of the World Summit on the Information Society and the President of the Preparatory Committee for the Summit for the role they had played with regards to the information society.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the presentation had shown, in voices and reports from around the world, the power and paradox facing the international community, as producers and consumers of electronic media in the information age. The power was clear -- to educate and entertain; to inspire and inform; to sound the alarm and arouse the conscience; to bring people and places closer together; and to shine a light on injustice. In the information age, electronic media were among the most important vehicles of peace, progress and solidarity. And yet, there was a paradox. Electronic media might seem to be everywhere, but there were many millions of people in the world whom they still did not reach.
Many did not have electricity, let alone electronic media, the Secretary-General continued. Others were too poor to buy televisions, radios or satellite dishes. The barriers were not only technical -- signals were broadcast in a limited number of languages. In some countries, it was not legal to receive signals from abroad. He added that some programming could make people in rich countries more sensitive to the plight of the less fortunate, but that other shows provoked envy and resentment on the part of the deprived.
Media had also been used, in Nazi Germany, Rwanda and elsewhere, to disseminate hatred, vile stereotyping and propaganda, Mr. Annan said. In some cases, the consolidation of media ownership had sparked concern about lack of pluralism. It was stressed that the digital divide was not just digital, but reflected wide disparities in freedom, in wealth, in power, and ultimately in hope for a better future. It was time to put power and paradox together, and come up with a plan as partners. The goal was not more information in more places, but an information society -- open and inclusive -- in which knowledge empowered all people, and served the cause of improving the human condition. The media were fellow stakeholders in that effort.
Freedom of the press was essential, Mr. Annan said. It was one thing for governments to establish regulatory and policy frameworks, but when they went further, down the slope towards censorship and harassment, everyone -- and potentially everyone’s rights -- were imperilled. The Summit must reaffirm this fundamental freedom. Information technologies had brought the international community into a new age, but also to a threshold. With the explosion in knowledge and capacity, there was the ability to reach development goals sought for many, many years. Like those who had witnessed the dawn of the industrial age, people around the world had been given their first glimpses of exciting new achievements ahead.
All over the developing world, as antennas and satellite dishes sprouted across the landscape -- some of them placed there in defiance of the authorities -- one could see the immense thirst for connection. “Let us show that we are listening”, the Secretary-General concluded.
PASCAL COUCHEPIN, President of the Swiss Confederation, said that closing the digital divide meant offering people the control of their destiny. It was hoped that the Summit would strengthen the information society and guarantee pluralist and independent media. Turning to media in Switzerland, he said it existed from both different countries and in different languages. The Swiss television and radio were completely independent and served to hold political leaders accountable. With the new technological revolution, the broadcasting of information had been multiplied. The challenge was not so much the transmission of information, but ensuring that it was received. New forms of communication were required in order to increase understanding between people from different cultures, religions and social and cultural backgrounds.
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