Shaping the info society: Geneva takes centre stage as the info-tech thirsty come together for the first ever World Summit on the Information Society.

AuteurO'Brien, Tom
Fonction Money

Billed as an effort to bridge the digital divide between the technologically rich north and the technologically poor south, the United Nations sponsored event, the 'World Summit on the Information Society' (WSIS) is being organised by the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union.

Some 40 heads of government and of state have already announced their participation in the WSIS, which will be held 10-14 December. The halls of Geneva's Palexpo exhibition centre are almost fully booked to hold some 80 Summit events along with presentations from the private sector.

The Swiss government has also ensured that Switzerland, as host country, will play a central role in this most controversial of Summit's proceedings.

In order to fully address the challenges of the "information revolution", the UN Genera Assembly has decided to let the WSIS provide a chance for all those affected to get together to develop a common vision and a concrete plan of action on how to increase and extend the benefits of the information society more widely.

The Aim

The WSIS will bring together for the first time representatives of governments, the private sector as well as civil society at this UN-sponsored summit. Despite a number of differing opinions the diverse array of groups and governments involved have managed to make this something of a starting point for a new generation of world summits based on a network and multi-stakeholder approach that is more than just an inter-governmental talking shop.

Switzerland has certainly been playing an active role in the debate leading up to December's events. Swiss federal councillor Moritz Leuenberger said in a statement that the focal point of the summit would be the question of access to information.

"This means access in both the physical and intellectual sense," explained Leuenberger. "It is of little use if we highlight all the wonderful forms of applying these technologies when half of humanity has no access to a telephone, let alone the Internet."

Another point being pushed by the Swiss delegation is that traditional electronic media, such as local radio be included in the Summit's discussions. With a fifth of humanity not able to read or write this makes Internet access irrelevant to them.

"With all these technologies there is a risk of being dazzled by their fascinating possibilities and of forgetting that these can be accessed by only a few, and that the great majority of the less privileged remain excluded from...

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