15 September 2006
Secretary-General Hails Strong, Developing Partnership Between UN/NGOs, as Three-Day Conference Closes at Headquarters
NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- Hailing the strong and developing partnership between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said that together, civil society and the United Nations could make even greater strides towards a more democratic and peaceful future for all.
"We must share our knowledge and reinforce our actions", he said. "I see a United Nations that celebrates the non-governmental revolution -- the power of the global citizen -- as the best thing that has happened to our Organization in a long time". In closing remarks to the fifty-ninth annual DPI/NGO Conference, if the international community confirm said agenda -- can human security, in sustainable development and beyond was to be realized. He added, "You have the capacity to push the envelope and say things that we cannot say, and things that I cannot say. In some areas, you lead and we catch up."
This year's Conference, organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI) in cooperation with associated non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and taking place just ahead of the sixty-first General Assembly, dealt with the "Unfinished Business: Effective Partnerships for Human Security and Sustainable Development". It aimed to build on what had already been accomplished by greater NGO, private sector and civil society participation in many of the debates taking place at the United Nations, including the groundbreaking informal interactive hearings convened by the General Assembly President during the past two years.
Mr. Annan said that, at the national level, United Nations resident coordinators worked with local civil society representatives, and that those ties reflected a conscious effort by the United Nations to expand its outreach to NGOs and the private sector. "But they also stem for a remarkable expansion of civil society's role in the stewardship of a changing world, and your growing leadership in areas where Governments have sometimes been unwilling or unable to act."
Envisioning "a world of opportunities" for stronger ties between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, Mr. Annan said that, looking ahead, he saw a civil society with virtually no limits, "but one which gives you solemn obligations to you constituents". He said that civil society had growing influence, and that it must wield that influence responsibly. "You must work to strengthen alliances -- with the United Nations, the private sector, the public sector and among yourselves -- that minimizes duplication and maximizes impact."
Following the Secretary-General's address, Joan Kirby, Chair of the Executive Committee paid tribute to him on behalf of the NGO community affiliated with the United Nations, reading out a scroll which she presented to Mr. Annan and his wife, Nane.
Thanking the gathering for their tribute, Mr. Annan said he had, over the years, taken much strength from the NGO community, not only in New York, but around the world, noting what they went through to fight for human security and challenging Governments to do more for their people. It was important to have a dream, to "build a castle in the air" and then to build a foundation. Representatives of non-governmental organizations were foot-soldiers, protecting the standards set by the international community and the weak.
Mrs. Annan also saluted the NGO community, especially the youth participants for their energy and enthusiasm. She also saluted all who were "young at heart" for keeping the flame alive and making the world safe for all. There was only one world and it was necessary to keep it in trust for future generations, she said.
Also making closing remarks were Conference Chair, Michaela Walsh, who gave personal highlights of the past three days and drew particular attention to the diversity of the participants, and Raymond Sommereyns, Director of the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who said the Conference's lively discussions had been highlighted by real-life examples of the work at the grass roots level, and at the United Nations, towards achieving the Millennium Goals.
Prior to the closing session, the Conference held a discussion in which participants had an opportunity to discuss the role of media and communications technology in achieving the Millennium Goals. During that talk, a young Liberian Vice-Minister on the panel called on Governments to engage poor and war-ravaged countries to help bridge the "digital divide", and for civil society to do its part by sensitizing politicians to how critical new technologies -- and equal access to them -- were to sustainable development.
Also, an Internet expert hailed the "new media ecosystem" that was emerging in the wake of the current weblog, or "blog" explosion, but warned that as new avenues for freedom of expression and individual rights emerged, it would be crucial for civil society to help monitor Governments and, when necessary, raise the cry against balkanization or censorship.
Other highlights on this final day of the Conference included roundtable discussions on "Civil Society and Global Partnerships for Development", which Zohreh Tabatabai, Director of Communications and Public Information, International Labour Organization (ILO),summed up as civil society and global partnership for development; another on the "Commitment to Reducing Extreme Poverty and Hunger" as a key Millennium Development Goal with His Royal Highness, Prince Mouldy Hexham Ben Abdullah El Aloud of Morocco, summing up the roundtable as extreme poverty and hunger; and a roundtable on "Promoting Respect for Cultural Diversity in Conflict Resolution, with Carol Rittner, R.S.M., Interim Director, M.A. Programme and Distinguished Professor, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Richard Stockton College, summed up as promoting respect for cultural diversity and conflict resolution.
Before the Conference wrapped up, the moderators of the roundtables and discussions that had taken place during the session presented brief summaries of those talks. Richard Berman, President of Manhattanville College presented the summary of a roundtable on science and technology for education; Ambassador Augustine Philip Mahiga of the United republic of Tanzania, who is the Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support for the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, on behalf of panel moderator Sarah Sewall, Director the Carr Centre for Human Rights in Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government summed up the roundtable on human security.
Mr. Sommereyns told the Conference to check the United Nations website for the press release to get more information on the roundtable that had focused on emerging approaches to health care, including gender-based HIV/AIDS.
The fifty-ninth DPI/NGO Conference, entitled "Unfinished Business: Effective Partnerships for Human Security and Sustainable Development" continued today at Headquarters. For more background information, see Press Release NGO/602-PI/1734 .
Morning Roundtable 4
Zohreh Tabatabai, Director of Communications and Public Information, International Labour Organization (ILO) moderated a roundtable session this morning entitled, "Civil Society and Global Partnerships for Development". Also participating in the discussion were: Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President-Elect, sixty-first session of the General Assembly, United Nations; Joe Donnelly, International Representative of the United Nations, Caritas Internationalis; Jan Eliasson, President, Sixtieth Session of the General Assembly, United Nations and Foreign Minister of Sweden; and Shamina de Gonzaga, Special Advisor on NGO relations, Office of the President of the General Assembly, United Nations.
Opening the panel, Mr. ELIASSON, President, sixtieth session of the General Assembly, United Nations and Foreign Minister of Sweden, described his personal commitment to the NGO community, which went back to the days when he served as United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator. The importance of the NGO community had become vividly clear to him in the 1990s in Somalia, where he had witnessed the operational role of NGOs firsthand. NGOs were good at dealing with real situations. They were also good at transmitting early warning signals. The NGO community reminded Governments and parliaments that there was a world outside of their own. NGOs had a global outlook and were advocates. While they were friends of the Organization, they were not "uncritical". NGOs were "advocates for a good cause". All in all, it was a win-win situation. NGOs should live up to their ideals and the Organization should respect their independence and integrity.
Continuing, he noted that he had worked with NGOs intensively as General Assembly President. NGOs had been built into the work of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. One example of NGO presence at the United Nations was the Assembly's high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, where civil society had imparted incredible energy to that meeting. The recent meeting on the Disabilities Convention had also included tremendous NGO participation and the outcome of that meeting had quickly become world news. NGO participation was now accepted by the world body, helping the Organization to remain anchored in needs of people around the world.
SHEIKHA HAYA, President-Elect, sixty-first session of the General Assembly, United Nations, noted that civil society had made a significant contribution to United Nations evolution. The Organization would only achieve its goals with NGO participation and partnership. The world had witnessed civil society's efforts in time of crisis, where NGOs represented a strong voice and remained key partners in delivering humanitarian service in the most remote and difficult places. In the context of the Special Session on HIV/AIDS and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, NGOs determination to improve the lives of people around the world had been indispensable.
To allow the United Nations partnership with NGOs to become more effective, however, more work needed to be done in terms of implementation, she added. That was particularly true in terms of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. At the current time in history, with great discontent around the world, it was important to recognize the diversity and contributions of different sectors. She had long been a believer in civil society and would, therefore, maintain an open dialogue with the NGO community.
Addressing the issue of the participation of young people, SHAMINA DE GONZAGA, Special Advisor on NGO relations, Office of the President of the General Assembly, United Nations, said the world was witnessing a change in consciousness. In the United States, for example, one could receive a master's degree in sustainable development. There were no rules of procedure to govern the work of NGOs in the General Assembly. While some meetings included a large NGO presence, others did not. Governments were sometimes reluctant to involve NGOs. It was a matter of opening the door not only to the well-informed and-endowed, but to those who might not know much about the United Nations. The "blame game" needed to stop. She heard a lot of blame, but she rarely heard solutions. It was necessary to find a way out of the circular dialogue in which many had found a comfort zone. While NGO representatives were humanitarian in their work, they also had to be humanitarian in their daily lives.
JOE DONNELLY, International Representative of the United Nations, Caritas Internationalis, noted that, for partnership to be real, it must be mutual and participatory. True partnership must go beyond mere words. One party could not own the partnership. There were many more NGOs than were represented in the room today. NGOs must be the very partners they sought. Having sought the input of NGOs around the world, he had been able to gather a list of issues of particular concern to NGOs, including HIV/AIDS; families caught in conflict; financing for development; World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) partnerships; improving NGO coordination; the role of women in peacemaking and development; the United States Trust Fund for Human Security; and youth as partners, not guests. NGOs needed to speak openly. The Organization's unfinished business called on each member of civil society to be bold and not apologize.
Opening the floor for discussion, Mr. Eliasson responded to a question on how to reconcile the views of the developed and industrialized countries at the United Nations on the issue of United Nations reform. It was true that there were tensions among member groups. That was a reality. Secretariat and management reform must not become an issue of one country, as a well functioning Organization was in everybody's interest. The three pillars on which the United Nations was built -- peace and security, development and human rights -- were interdependent. Stronger connections between the regional organizations and the world banking system were important, realistically speaking. The inequities of the world system needed to be recognized. It was also crucial to deal with the issue of the Middle East and the two-state solution. A strong Lebanon was needed to ensure that it did not become a playground for competing interests. Exploiting religious, cultural and ethnic differences would only make the world more dangerous. It was a matter of living with differences, while also respecting them.
Responding to another question, Sheikha Haya noted that NGOs could bring about change by working to change the mentalities of the peoples in their countries. NGOs could play a stronger and more effective role than public officials in educating and informing people. The General Assembly had done much to implement the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals could only be met with civil society partnership.
Responding to a series of questions on youth participation, Ms. de Gonzaga, said getting people to listen was the first part of the battle. Young people and NGOs were both considered threats and difficult to control. The best way to approach resistance was to dispel misconceptions. On young people at the United Nations, there had been a dramatic change in that regard in the last 10 years. In terms of involvement, the key was not only to be at meetings, but to have an issue that one really cared about. Just to be at the United Nations for the sake of being at the United Nations was useless.
On the issue of improving NGO participation, Mr. Connelly said increased NGO presence at the United Nations was a matter of perseverance. NGOs had pursued the Security Council to address the urgent situation in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda for over two years, for example. NGOs needed to be bold, but not rude. Partnerships did exist on the ground, Ms. ZHOREH TABATABAI added. It was, however, a matter of being at the table when decisions were taken. The issue of Governments' comfort level with the NGO community needed to be addressed.
When the floor was opened for questions, several speakers raised the issue of access to the United Nations premises, including the practical question of NGO access and facilities during the planned renovation of the Headquarters complex. Other speakers expressed concern regarding the issue of obtaining visas to attend United Nations meetings.
Responding to questions about the Capital Master Plan, JOHN CLARKSON of the Capital Master Plan Project said current plans envisioned renovation starting in the spring of 2008. Preliminary work would start in 2007 on the construction for conference room space. During the construction, space would be reduced by some 25 per cent. NGO representatives would have access to the building during the first phase of the renovation. Facilities would be available for NGOs during the renovation. Conference facilities would be greatly improved with 2010 technology. Major changes to the building's existing architecture would not be made, however. Conference facilities would meet New York City codes, including for persons with disabilities. Reducing energy consumption was also part of the Capital Master Plan, he said in response to another question.
As the discussion continued, several speakers stressed the need to ensure greater youth participation in the work of the United Nations. The question of how to mobilize the effective participation of African youth in building peace was also raised, with one speaker asking whether there was a specific strategy to mobilize African youth.
Responding to the issue of antagonism between United Nations agencies in the field and NGOs, Ms. de Gonzaga noted that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was providing training for their field representatives so that they could better work with NGOs on the ground. The Department of Public Information (DPI), the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly President's Office were all working to open doors for greater NGO participation.
Summarizing the discussion, Ms. Tabatabai said it was important to keep in mind that civil society partnership already existed. It was a matter of access to the different fora at the United Nations. When thinking about the theme of the roundtable, one needed to ask why was partnership needed in the first place. Partnership was needed to meet the goals of humanity.
Morning Roundtable 5
The roundtable discussion on the "Commitment to Reducing Extreme Poverty and Hunger" as a key Millennium Development Goal was moderated by His Royal Highness, Prince Mouldy Hexham Ben Abdullah El Aloud of Morocco and Founder of the Institute for the Tran regional Study of the Contemporary Middle East North Africa Central Asia, Princeton University.
Other participants included: Demising Nona, Director, Simile Institute, Organization of Rural Association for Progress; Pedro Sanchez, Director, Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment, Senior Research Scholar, Director of the Millennium Villages Project, Earth Institute, Colombia University; Alvaro Umaña, Counsellor of Costa Rica, Office of the Executive Director of Central America and Belize, Inter-American Development Bank; and Sail Settee, Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign.
Prince ABDALLAH EL ALAOUI, set the stage for the discussion, drawing attention to the billions of people living on less than $2 a day, and stressing the urgency with which national Governments and civil society must work together to ensure the Millennium Development Goals were reached by 2015.
Opening the panel, DUMISANI NYONI, Director, Simile Institute, Organization of Rural Association for Progress , said poverty was a failure of systems -- economic, environmental or social -- and until the international community honestly and comprehensively addressed systemic failures, abject poverty would continue to exist. Sadly, the Millennium Development Goals did not adequately address systemic problems and the challenge for civil society was to ensure the Millennium Development Goals addressed grass roots specificities and created opportunities to lift people up and repair damaged socio-economic systems.
In his experience, one of the main ways to address systemic poverty was through partnerships -- connecting people who could help each other. The Organization of Rural Association for Progress had launched a project connecting students in rural Zimbabwe to students from New York, "beyond watching the Discovery Channel," to exchange books, experiences and ideas. But, free books were not the ultimate answer to deepening poverty in Zimbabwe, he said. So, beyond the transferral of resources, the Organization of Rural Association for Progress sought to also change mindsets, so that the same problems did not persist. Livelihoods were at the centre of the Millennium Development Goals and they should be at the centre of the dialogue on eradicating poverty. Until that was the case, the international community's business would remain unfinished.
Mr. SANCHEZ, Director, Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment, Senior Research Scholar, Director of the Millennium Villages Project, Earth Institute, Colombia University, said that his science-based project sought to address health, sanitation, environmental issues in "hot spots", mostly rural villages in African and Latin America, to ensure that the people there achieved the Millennium Goals by 2015. Focusing on the African side of the initiative, he said that some 78 villages at 12 sights in sub-Saharan countries -- about 5,000 people each mostly in farming communities -- had been identified and were provided with free goods to address basic needs.
In the first village, in Kenya, the Project had met with leaders who said that what they needed most was farm equipment -- from fertilizer to harvesting tools. The villagers had been sceptical of the plan until the first trucks of fertilizer began to arrive. Once the village had access to fertilizer and other agricultural goods, its area of arable land had increased dramatically. When the first crops were harvested, the community was transformed: jobs had been created and many of the people there began to see real money for the first time in their lives. Further, with steady income, marriage rates had increased, and the African trend of rural-to-urban migration began to reverse.
On ways developing or least developed countries could scale up their poverty alleviation structures, Mr. UMAÑA, Counsellor of Costa Rica, Office of the Executive Director of Central America and Belize, Inter-American Development Bank, said such countries had three main ways to change their socio-economic conditions: through loans and debt relief, trade and international cooperation. With that in mind, he called for more creative thinking, particularly promoting expanded credit by "debt swap"; softer loans or performance based initiatives.
He also hoped the international community would recognize that many of the world's poor were in a unique situation because they lived in middle-income countries that did not qualify for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Debt Initiative or other international assistance programmes. Those populations needed more attention and dedicated source of help, he said. He also called for more ethical spending and suggested that countries that reduced their military spending could receive expanded international assistance.
SALIL SHETTY, Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, provided a sobering example of the urgent need to step-up global efforts to reduce poverty and hunger, particularly as the Millennium Development Goals' target date approached. He said that when he spoke at various seminars and meetings around the world, he would ask all people in the audience -- over 48 to raise their hands -- if they had heard of the Goals. Typically, a few hands would go up. But once, when he had asked the same question to a group in Sierra Leone, no hands were raised. When he asked colleagues if this meant that only youth had heard of the project in that country, he was shocked by the response that life expectancy in Sierra Leone was around 45 years, so most likely, there had been no one in the audience over 48.
"So you see, this is about life and death", he said, calling for increased aid and enhanced political will to ensure that a real difference was made on the ground. The world had both the resources and the know-how to eradicate poverty and extreme hunger, but, it was necessary for national Governments to keep their promises. At the same time, it was necessary to catalyze civil society, NGOs, social movements, faith-based groups, trade unions and youth groups, among others, to create greater awareness of the Goals.
With that in mind, he also drew attention to the Campaigns "Stand Up Against Poverty; Stand Up for the Millennium Development Goals" initiative, which was set to take place on 15 and 16 October, when hundreds of thousands of people in public and private venues worldwide -- among others, Times Square in New York, Trafalgar Square in London -- would show solidarity to end poverty by 2015. The final tally would be announced on 17 October, the International Day of Poverty Eradication, and would hopefully set a Guinness Book world record.
Asked what the international community could do to help eradicate extreme wealth, Mr. Umaña said that the best way to put the moneys being controlled by a fraction of the world's people at the service of the planet's struggling majority, was to look at that wealth honestly and how it was being used. He added that national Governments must do their part to ensure fair taxation policies.
At the same time, he urged the audience to consider the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had just received a $35 billion pledge from industrialist Warren Buffet, and recognize that some of the world's vast fortunes were being used to help. Mr. Sanchez called on Governments to lobby or encourage wealthy citizens to do more.
Mr. Shetty added that it was important to understand that the Millennium Development Goals were "not charity or aid, but about justice and human rights". The idea was not to just give money to certain people because they were poor, but for the entire international community to work together to make the world a better place. He also noted that average citizens, wealthy or not, should lobby their Governments to do more, because what was being provided by wealthy foundations, significant and important as it was, was a pittance to what Governments had promised back in 2000. Picking up that thread, Mr. Nyoni said that efforts to curb unsustainable consumption patterns should be addressed along with efforts to curb so called unethical spending. "We all have to work together", he said, stressing that no amount of money could help a society locked in a cycle of unchecked consumption.
On addressing poverty in middle-income countries, Mr. Umaña called for dedicated political will, at national levels, to deal with the situation "one village at a time". Success would require partnerships with civic actors like youth groups and churches to guide implementation and monitor social spending. He also said civil society groups should urge national Governments to map out poverty, which was usually located in rural areas far from capitals where access to basic services and the services themselves were better.
Responding to a question about why older persons had been left out of the Millennium Development Goals and how the earth's over 50 population -- which was estimated to skyrocket in the next 10 to 15 years -- could be used as a resource to ensure sustainable development for all, Mr. Sanchez acknowledged that outreach needed to be enhanced and the older persons needed to be better utilized as a resource.
Morning Roundtable 6
The Roundtable on "Promoting Respect for Cultural Diversity in Conflict Resolution" was moderated by Carol Rittner, Interim Director, M.A. Programme and Distinguished Professor, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Richard Stockton College.
Participants included Carole Frampton, Director of Institutional Learning, Search for Common Ground; Ahmed Farid Merini, Doctor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy; Eboo Patel, Founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Corps; Uri Regev, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism; and Mohinder Singh, Chairman of the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, United Kingdom.
Ms. RITTNER opened the debate by recalling the need to distinguish between what divides and what unites men and women from different cultures, especially during a conflict.
Ms. FRAMPTON said it was urgent from now on to take into account cultural diversity in the conflicts resolution process. She said that respecting differences was essential, even though activists were often inclined to describe humanity with a "one man" perspective.
A good way to resolve conflicts would be to have a preliminary contact allowing identification of the common cultural elements of the various protagonists and use them to bring them closer together. Mrs. Marks noted the example of Burundi, where she had decided to use music to alleviate tensions and bring back together opponents from both sides. Eventually, a local radio broadcast had then been created. She underlined the fact that the peacekeeping staff made a mistake by not adjusting to the local cultures.
Mr. PATEL, Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core, stated that the global context was widely religious, but also diverse. He added that although that had always been the case, the big difference today was that the world was more and more interactive.
The situation of youth in war-torn countries was the second theme to be examined. It was easy to enroll children and adolescents who were in search of their identity in fundamentalist religious movements, he said. The ultra-religious process unfolds in three ways: first, a dialogue was initiated; then, there was an attempt to convert. Then, if that doesn't work, it's a death sentence. It was important to make people understand through peace programs that there are universal values common to all beliefs.
Mr. REGEV, Executive Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said that religious beliefs united people, but also made them different from each other. He warned against those who gave a violent interpretation of sacred texts and noted that violence could be, in itself, a dreadful means of communication.
Finally, Mr. BHAI SAHIB MOHINDER SINGH, a religious leader of the Sikh community, said a person's humanity defined their identity before any religion.
Afternoon Panel Discussion
In the afternoon session, Juan Carlos Brandt, Chief of the DPI/NGO Section, moderated the panel discussion entitled, "The Role of the Media and Communications Technology in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals". Also participating in the discussion were Therry Moses Genesis, Assistant Minister of Administration, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Liberia; Nalaka Gunawardene, Director and CEO, Television for Education -- Asia Pacific; Oscar A. Avalle, Special Representative World Bank; Sarbuland Khan, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Information Communication Technologies and Development; and Rebecca MacKinnon, Fellow, Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, and Co-founder, Global Voices Online.
Mr. GENESIS, Assistant Minister of Administration, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Liberia, said the Conference gave his country a chance to highlight the enormous challenges it faced -- from raging unemployment, rising HIV/AIDS rates, and widespread gender inequality. But, it also provided an opportunity to talks about the "new winds of change" blowing in the war-ravaged country and the new era that had been ushered in by its newly-elected President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. As one of Liberia's youngest ministers, he could say that, among other things, the President had bridged the generation gap and had given the country's youth a sense of hope for the first time in 14 years. With other social changes had come some real improvements in its media and communications sector.
But, finishing the "unfinished business" of achieving the Millennium Development Goals could only be accomplished with partnerships between the new Liberian Government, the international community, civil society and the media. Indeed the media had been -- and would be -- critical in sensitizing the population to such issues as HIV/AIDS and gender equality, topics that had been off limits during other regimes. But, he noted that while there had been merge improvements in some areas, the print media faced many obstacles -- largely due to illiteracy -- and the Internet was a luxury, because most technology was centred in Monrovia, the capital, and most Liberian citizens had never seen a computer. With that in mind, he urged the Conference participants to begin sensitizing their respective Governments to the idea that media and commutations technology were an integral part of development and should be given priority as such.
Mr. GUNAWARDENE, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Television for Education -- Asia Pacific, said his organization had been founded in response to the many challenges the Asia-Pacific region had faced in the past decade. Media liberalization had not been matched by a corresponding increase in the flow of information in the public sphere. His organization focused on how the power of media could be harnessed to overcome social disparities. Broadcast, radio and television were still the most effective -- and sometimes only -- way people could access information in large parts of the world. Every media platform needed to be used to combat fundamentalism and extremism. Following the Indian Ocean tsunami, the media had risen to the challenge in amazing ways. National, regional and local media had covered the disaster, resulting in donations of some $13 billion. There had been similar media response to other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake. But such stories quickly became yesterday's news.
Media leaders needed to be encouraged to return to the tsunami-mode, he said. Broadcast media should be made a copyright-free zone. Today, it was lawyers and accountants, not journalists, who decided what footage could be used. That mentality needed to change. Access to vast visual archives was needed. While he was not suggesting the suspension of all copyright control, he was proposing that the media end the commercial use of images of misery. Alternative approaches were needed to deal with the issue of intellectual property. In that regard, he urged civil society to encourage broadcasters to adopt new ways of sharing images.
OSCAR A. AVALLE, Special Representative of the World Bank, said information management was critical to the United Nations system's field-level efforts to eradicate poverty. It was vital, after all, for a timber company in a village in the far reaches of Argentina to have access to the most up-to-date research on that particular industry, from current price ranges to environmental concerns. And, that was more than access to computers -- there was no need in putting computers in a village that didn't even have electricity. It was about providing access to information.
Drawing from his own experience, he said that until the mid- to early- 1980s, it was very difficult for Argentineans to have access to phones. But, since that time, the cell phone industry had exploded. He noted that in Colombia, the Government had adopted legislation on the shared use of cell phone minutes in small remote villages, so that even those people that didn't own mobile phones could have access to them, and along with that, access to immediate information. On the explosion of Internet technology, he said that in the near future, all sorts of information would soon be traded on the open market. That would be a challenge for the developing world, where the large youth populations would be playing catch-up. He called for urgent effort to bridge the "digital divide" and to ensure that international stakeholders were able to provide current, useful and targeted information to their clients.
Mr. KHAN, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Information Communication Technologies and Development, said there was a gap in terms of what was recognized at the highest political levels and what was happening on the ground. The advantages of Information Communication Technologies had become apparent in recent years. In the United States, there had been tremendous productivity gains in the 1990s. Technology, per se, had not brought about that productivity, but rather was changing mindsets combined with new technologies. Without improving collaboration between the various stakeholders it would not be possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals at the national and global level. In that regard, the traditional roles of Governments, the private sector and civil society needed to evolve. Financial and human resources were needed in order to promote collaboration. The goal was to provide a platform where key stakeholders could come together to create a decentralized "network of networks". That was one of the key advantages of using Information Communication Technologies.
Ms. MACKINNON, Fellow, Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, and Co-founder, Global Voices Online, said that in her previous incarnation as a CNN staffer, she had often been dressed down by people living in the developing world who felt that their issues were not being addressed fairly, if at all. She had left the news business about the time she began to take some of those sentiments to heart and understand that people in the developing world were taking matters into their own hands by posting weblogs and personal videos, at their own expense, to give personal accounts of their experiences and events in the wider world. People were no longer waiting for established media outlets to give them information, nor were they depending on it to air their unique concerns.
Indeed, the new media ecosystem that was emerging as weblogs or blogs became more popular and was allowing people in countries where the media was Government-controlled to give the outside world a better look at their lives and the struggles they faced. That was a prime example of how new media were gathering grass roots voices from disparate locations and allowing people with like interests to communicate with each other and the wider world. But, at the same time, any discussion of freedom of expression and new technologies should also take into account Government regulations, censorship and surveillance.
She noted that many Governments were spending vast sums of money to monitor Internet access and usage, and she was particularly concerned that some media giants like Yahoo were actually collaborating with those Governments. Civil society must, therefore, be vigilant, since it seemed, at least at the current stage, that when given the choice companies would side with Governments over freedom of expression and individual rights.
Asked whether bloggers would one day replace professional media, Ms. MacKinnon said she did not think that would happen. If journalism was meant to inform the public discourse, it was important that the media not just lecture the public, but encourage conversation. Some media organizations were experimenting in that regard. Reuters, for example, had set up pages which included both factual reporting and a box including what bloggers were saying. It was possible to have the best of both worlds. If the professional media listened to the conversations happening on the Internet, all would be more informed in the long run. Credibility was an issue, however. No source should be blindly trusted, including CNN and the Baghdad blogger.
Asked how young generations could be protected from commercial exploitation and marketing, Mr. Avalle said parents needed to monitor what their children were doing on the Internet. The benefits of the Internet, however, outweighed possible dangers.
Asked about the truth of the information provided on the Internet, Mr. Khan said there was no universal truth on the Internet. Information could be useful and useless, relevant or irrelevant, true or false. Efforts were being made to establish standards, however, in order to build trust and credibility. Even Wikipedia had standards to ensure that users were not getting completely inaccurate information.
Regarding his work in Liberia, Mr. Genesis encouraged NGOs to explore Africa in order to better understand what was happening on the ground.
Asked if blogs were having a positive or negative effective on traditional media and whether there was an audience for blogs in the developing world, Mr. Guanawardene said blogs were having an impact on the way traditional media was covering issues. Traditional media could no longer get away with half truths. Blogs were challenging producers and editors. Regarding blogging in the developing world, the impact was beginning to be seen in such areas as public policy and civil society networking. It was interesting to see how the mainstream media was struggling to keep up with pathfinders who were finding new ways to reach out to audiences. "Corporate media were beginning to take note", he said.
Responding to another question, Ms. MacKinnon said people had used technology spontaneously following the tsunami. The question was how to make spontaneous information-sharing possible. There was a lot of information that would not make large corporations a lot of money, but needed to be shared. It was a matter of enabling the spontaneous sharing of information. Thanks to new technologies, every NGO with access to the Internet could assist the people in their communities in having their voices heard.
The greatest challenge for civil society at the local level, Mr. Khan said, was to build local partnerships, link them to the global level and create an information flow between them.
Mr. Genesis encouraged NGOs to strive to make the world a better place by engaging the poor countries. In rural Liberia, people had never seen a computer. To make the global world habitable, cooperation was needed.
Mr. Avalle noted that the language of the Internet was English. In Latin America alone there were some 482 languages. Information was useful only as long as it could be decoded. A solution to that problem was necessary.
Mr. Guanawardene said the challenge was how to engage the large numbers of people who were not yet part of the global conversation. It was also important not to be mesmerized by the different information gadgets. Information was not knowledge, and knowledge was not wisdom. Information was, after all, only a stepping stone.
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