The World Summit of the Information Society, planned for Tunis late next year, could turn out to the most disappointing of all United Nations global events in recent years warned the International Federation of Journalists this week. Government must stop backsliding on their promises to help out poorer nations and must defend fundamental rights, the IFJ told delegates to a major media conference in Marrakech, Morocco.
Speaking at the opening of the event, called to support countries of Africa and the Arab world who are among those most affected by the “digital deficit” which marks out winners and losers in the information technology race, Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ said governments must end their obsession with technology and focus on using the Information Society to protect workers’ rights and to expand free expression.
“Some governments think the information society is only about structure and technical equipment,” he said. “They are wrong. We must use technology wisely to liberate people from censorship and ignorance and to create better living and working conditions for all. If not, the Information Society will be flawed.”
Earlier, at the opening ceremony, White congratulated the Moroccan government for “setting standards of free expression that are a model for others in the region to follow” after it emerged that the Tunisian government, which is hosting next year’s summit, had tried to force the organisers to stop Sihem Bensedrine, a well known Tunisian journalist and dissident, from speaking.
White said this was an example of how censorship and attacks on press freedom cast a shadow over the summit, but he confirmed that the IFJ will not boycott the meeting in Tunis. Some human rights and free expression groups had threatened a boycott in frustration that a country with such a poor free speech record should provide the venue for the second part of the summit which opened in Geneva in December last year.
“We shall go to Tunis to express solidarity with Tunisian journalists and we shall still challenge the Tunisian government, which has a deplorable record,” said White.
The Marrakech event, which is supported by UNESCO, the Moroccan government and the Montréal-based group ORBICOM, is due to conclude today with a call for fresh action to ensure that the agenda and discussion at next year’s meeting gets back on track. The IFJ says that free speech issues, workers’ rights and the need to promote public service values in media must be brought back on to the agenda.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries