10 December 2003


NEW YORK, 9 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening ceremony of the World Electronic Media Forum in Geneva today:

We have just seen, in voices and reports from around the world, the power and paradox facing all of us, as producers and consumers of electronic media in the information age.

The power is clear:

  • to educate and entertain;
  • to inspire and inform;
  • to sound the alarm and arouse the conscience;
  • to bring people and places closer together;
  • to shine a light on injustice.

In the information age, electronic media are among our most important vehicles of peace, progress and solidarity.

And yet, there is a paradox.

Electronic media may seem to be everywhere, but there are many millions of people in the world whom they still do not reach.

Many do not have electricity, let alone electronic media.

Others are too poor to buy televisions, radios or satellite dishes.

The barriers are not only technical.

Signals are broadcast in a limited number of languages.

In some countries, it is not legal to receive signals from abroad.

Some programming can make people in rich countries more sensitive to the plight of the less fortunate.  But other shows provoke envy and resentment on the part of the deprived.

Media have also been used, in Nazi Germany, Rwanda and elsewhere, to disseminate hatred, vile stereotyping and propaganda.


And the consolidation of media ownership has sparked concern about lack of pluralism.

The digital divide is not just digital; it reflects wide disparities in freedom, in wealth, in power, and ultimately in hope for a better future.

We are here together in Geneva to put power and paradox together, and come up with a plan as partners.

The goal is not more information in more places, but an information society -- open and inclusive -- in which knowledge empowers all people, and serves the cause of improving the human condition.

The media are fellow stakeholders in that effort.  And freedom of the press is essential if you are to fulfil your vital role.  It is one thing for governments to establish regulatory and policy frameworks.  But when they go further, down the slope towards censorship and harassment, all of us -- and potentially all our rights -- are imperilled.  The Summit must reaffirm this fundamental freedom.


Information technologies have brought us into a new age, but also to a threshold.

With the explosion in knowledge and capacity, we have, more than ever before, the ability to reach development goals we have sought for many, many years.

Like those who witnessed the dawn of the industrial age, people around the world have been given their first glimpses of exciting new achievements ahead.

All over the developing world, as antennas and satellite dishes sprout across the landscape -– some of them placed there in defiance of the authorities -- we can see the immense thirst for connection.  Let us show that we are listening, and that we are going to help them fulfil their dreams.

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