The World Summit on the Information Society: a general overview (December 2003)
MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY, 31 December 2003
The convening by ITU and its partners of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a major achievement for all those who believe that information has long been the missing element in the development equation.
It is the first Summit to take place in two sessions – the first in Geneva in 2003, the second in Tunis in 2005. The Summit was carefully prepared by a series of regional meetings – with all sectors represented. And global preparatory commissions which are led by governments. The problem with Summits of this kind is that governments must agree to the principles and action plans that emerge from them well in advance of the meetings themselves.
ITU set up a bureau specifically to facilitate civil society participation. Civil society achieved a victory in the February, 2003, Prepcom2 by getting some content included in the official drafts to be considered again in September. But then in the later Intersessional meeting, many of the issues regarded by civil society as key were omitted from the working documents for the Declaration of Principles and the Action Plan, despite the stress put on them by the civil society submissions. The discontent increased in the September, 2003, Prepcom3 meeting, where the civil society press release stated that if the final Declaration of Principles and the Action Plan did not reflect social priorities instead of market-based ones, civil society would not lend credibility to the Summit nor its results.
For the Summit itself, the Communications Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) campaign organised a day of debate within WSIS in Geneva to ensure that civil society voices are heard, and other groups, mostly from outside the process, decided to organise an alternative event, parallel to the Summit. The many civil society groups believe that the Summit documents do not reflect the fundamental inequalities that govern the global information society, and prepared their own declaration of principles, at variance with the official documents. The processes was not perfect but civil society made itself a force to be reckoned with in the most global ICT game in town.