WSIS Intersessional Meeting, 15-18 July 2003, Paris: Intervention of the International Federation of Journalists

Thank you Madame Chair,

On behalf of the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ group, I want to make a few comments on the tasks facing this meeting from the perspective of the people who work in the information and communications industry.

The IFJ, as part of the global union movement, has submitted detailed comments on the draft declaration and the action plan. These speak for themselves and I hope that you will take these into account in the preparation of the summit material.

I should begin by saying that we welcome the opportunity to take part in this meeting and we acknowledge the work done so far, but there is still a long way to go before the declaration and action plan can command the full support of people who are working today to build the information society.

The information society we all know will only succeed if it is inclusive, if it respects diversity, if it recognises social and democratic values and if it provides reliable information that will improve the quality of people’s lives.

Indeed, as the aspiration of Article 8 of the draft declaration suggests, we need a “peopled centered Information Society.”
It is surprising, then, that precious little of the declaration and action plan refers to the fundamental rights of workers and the need for core labour standards for those working at the heart of the information society.

The information society is creating many new jobs. But millions of workers – including young workers- in the information and communications industry work in insecure, unregulated and vulnerable conditions.

At the very least we must demand that people are able to work in conditions that reflect international labour standards, including freedom of association, equality of opportunity, and respect for health and safety. This should be reflected in article 10 of the draft Declaration and 40 of the draft action plan, as mentioned in the observers’ recommendations attached to the drafts.

If not, we run the risk of creating a sophisticated post-industrial society built upon new forms of exploitation that will only add to existing social dislocation in many communities around the world. We welcome the intervention of those governments that support strengthening the texts in this crucial area.

We believe that all governments must observe existing labour rules and apply them to new forms of work; they should commit themselves to respect international labour conventions; and they should further consider what new laws are required to provide workers with additional employment protection in the information society. The ILO, we believe, has a key role to play here.

As journalists, you will not be surprised to know that we welcome the commitment to free expression and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human rights. We think, though, that this fundamental human right must be given more prominence in the work of the summit and should be taken up within the action plan.

This is not a theoretical matter. Too many journalists and media workers today are the victims of violence and there is too much censorship, both of the Internet and media at large, to ignore the fact that freedom of expression is not yet achieved in many countries of the world.

The summit should send an uncompromising message to censors everywhere that free expression will not be sacrificed in the information society.

Having said that, we have doubts about attempts to extend the human rights agenda in the name of the information society. While we support greater access to information and freedom of information laws, we are not convinced that the so-called right to communicate will take us further in creating a just, equitable and democratic information environment.

The laudable objectives of those arguing for communication rights can, we believe, be achieved more than adequately through the defence and promotion of existing rights, particularly Article 19, without introducing confused and legally uncertain new rights into international texts.

If that happens, the result could be a return to the divisive and destructive debate of the New World Information and Communication Order, which so divided this house 20 years ago.

In short, Madame Chair, we have to face hard realities and take decisions that make a difference to people’s lives without setting agendas that are both unrealistic and complacent.

In that spirit we welcome the suggestions of some observers and governments (in particular from the Swiss governement) to strengthen the texts by recognising the role of traditional media, supporting the commitment to public service broadcasting and seeking specific laws to limit media concentration.

On this last point, journalists and media workers world-wide have been astonished to see in the draft declaration references to the use of general anti-monopoly rules as instruments to curb media concentration.

This flies in the face of a reality well understood in every corner of the world – that media products are not just economic goods. They have a cultural and democratic value that requires special attention. Recent debates in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia reveal just how important media concentration rules are.

Finally, Madame Chair, we must remember that the information society is about people. That is why people’s rights – whether over access to information and services, or the right of authors’ and creators to be fairly paid for their work – must figure prominently in the summit conclusions.

The challenge is to eliminate the obstacles to an inclusive and democratic information society. That will only happen if we make the right choices.

And the choices we make should put people first.

Thank you.