By AL for APCNews ATHENS, Greece, 01 November 2006
What does diversity mean in the internet? The linguistic and content plurality approach is what the organising committee for the Internet Governance Forum, that is going on in Athens, Greece from October 29th to November 2nd, chose.
This is one of the four issues that are on the table these days [the other three are openness, access and security] and during the morning plenary session on November 1st, governments, civil society and the private sector (in the panel and the audience) offered different interpretations of web diversity.
Julián Casasbuenas, executive director of Colnodo, APC’s member in Colombia, participated in a panel with ten people (two women and eight men) that spoke in English, French, Spanish and Chinese about the possibilities of promoting different languages on the internet versus the hegemony of English, Latin character systems, as well as local content .
Julián made reference to isolated groups in Colombia and mentioned the challenge of making their cultures known via information and communication technologies. He highlighted the importance of initiatives like Creative Commons licenses, which allow the ancestral knowledge of these communities to be protected. He also emphasised the importance of free software in facilitating production and publishing processes.
A large part of the panel (and the posterior discussion), however, revolved around the domain name system (DNS), that at the moment only allows English-language characters. To what point is the domain issue representative of internet diversity? APCNews spoke with audience members and many were under the impression that the discussion could have centered on some of the richer aspects (the gender issue, for example, was completely ignored).
What are the arguments that make this issue a protagonist? During this session authorities from countries that do not use the Latin-based alphabet (no more and no less than most of the inhabitants of the planet) demanded the possibility of travelling the information superhighway with their own codes. The defenders of the current system, among which we find Vint Cerf (one of the “fathers” of the internet and a Google executive), claim that it is necessary to preserve the net’s stability and that domain names are “identifiers” and not “identities”.
“Every time a language dies, a vision of the world dies with it”, sentenced Adama Samassekou (president of the African Languages Academy), giving the debate and discussion a new turn. Citing an anonymous wise man, he managed to capture the spirit that should guide the discussion: “The beauty of a rug is lies in the diversity of its colours”.
For academic and activist, Divina Frau-Meigs the possibility of expressing herself in her mother tongue is a basic human right of all peoples. She proposed forming an expert group to study the possibility of new tools to preserve and promote oral cultures, through, for example, recognition, indexing and the transcription of key words. A new possible route was then open for the next Internet Governance Forum (that will take place in Rio de Janeiro).
APCNews spoke with Julián Casasbuenas one the workshop had concluded. “It was good to also see other panellists bring up the discussion of tools that allow the creation of local content. That is a way in which including diversity can be facilitated” he commented. He also highlighted the need to provide local groups support (economic and technical) so that the creation and dissemination of local content can become a reality.
1 The panel was also composed by Andrzej Bartosiewicz de Polonia (president of the ID group of ITU-T research group number 17 de UIT-T; Alex Corenthin, director of NIC Senegal and ISOC president in Senegal; Patrik Faltstrom from Stockholm, Sweden, a consulting engineer for Cisco Systems, member of the Internet Engineering Task Force and member of the Swedisgh IT policy and strategy group; Divina Frau-Meigs, media sociology professor from the París 3 University, Nouvelle Sorbonne, France; professor Qiheng Hu, director of Internet Society in China; Nurul Kabir, CEO and founder of Spinnovation Limited; Keisuke Kamimura, from Glocom in Tokio, Japan; Elizabeth Longworth, executive director of the UNESCO office of the director general; Riyadh Najm from Saudi Arabia, of the Ministry of Culture and Communication of his country and president of the technical committee of the world broadcasting union and Adama Samassekou, president of the African Languages Academy. It was presided by Nikolay Vassilev, minister of state administration and administrative reform and moderated by Yoshinori Imai, from NHK, the Japonese radio broadcasting corporation.