11 December 2003


(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 10 December (UN Information Service) -- Nitin Desai, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, gave a briefing on 10 December on the Secretary-General’s speech which will be delivered at the Summit opening later today.  Both officials underlined that this was “a Summit of opportunities” and a chance to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr. Desai said that the Summit was about democracy and development.  Contentious issues had been “thoroughly discussed and happily resolved”.  The emphasis was on the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development and the media were key actors in the process.  The United Nations promoted e-governance and e-education, and today a new initiative would be launched on e-schools.

Mr. Tharoor stressed that the Summit was unusual and departed from previous United Nations conferences in a fundamental way.  As Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it, “where most global summits focus on global threats, this one will consider how best to use a new global asset”.  The WSIS focused on the positive, and they were thus in an unusual and exciting position, said Mr. Tharoor.

Information and communication technologies were not a “magic bullet”, said Mr. Tharoor, but they did have the potential to improve the lives of people everywhere.  He went on to highlight four key points of the Secretary-General’s keynote speech.  The digital divide was actually several gaps in one:  the technological divide, the content divide (web-based information), the gender divide (question of access), and the commercial divide (barrier to equitable trade).

Concerning the media, Mr. Tharoor said that the World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF), jointly organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI) with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Switzerland, which was being held from 9 to 12 December 2003, had opened with a “ringing endorsement” by the media of the objectives of the Summit.  The Secretary-General would announce that yesterday at the WEMF, broadcasting leaders from all over the world had adopted a declaration in which they pledged to do their part for development and social cohesion. The Secretary-General would also pass on that document to all heads of State, whether they attended the Summit or not.  Mr. Desai said that a significant outcome of the process was that the media had gained recognition of their “special role” in a separate chapter.

On the debate surrounding the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund.

Mr. Desai said that agreement had been reached on a review of the issue by a working group of the Secretary-General.  Mr. Tharoor emphasized that although the question of how to proceed would remain under review, it was significant that developing and developed States alike had agreed on the principle, namely the need for financing of ICTs.  The market potential was enormous in both the North and South, he added.

Concerning the lack of attendance by Western and other heads of State, Mr. Tharoor replied that if leaders had not managed to come to Geneva, it would be a “missed opportunity”.  This was not merely a gathering to discuss technological issues, but a chance to set policy in the first 10 years of the twenty-first century.  Mr. Desai said that he did not believe their absence meant a lack of interest on their part.  He had been impressed by the engagement of all governments -- the United States, members of the European Union and also developing nations -- throughout the difficult preparatory process.  He felt that all governments had been fully involved at every stage.

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