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The idea of holding a World Summit on the Information Society was suggested in 1998 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating, standardizing and developing telecommunications around the world. It was agreed that the Summit would be held under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. Preparation of the Summit was entrusted to the ITU. However, a number of UN agencies expressed a desire to be associated with preparations for the WSIS. UNESCO was one of them.
The first phase of WSIS took place in Geneva, Switzerland, December 10 to 12, 2003. It addressed a broad range of themes concerning the information society and adopted a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action. The second phase took take place in Tunis, Tunisia, November 16 to 18, 2005. Internet governance and financing were a key focus in this phase, which assessed progress on the implementation of the Plan of Action and the adoption of required additions.
One of UNESCO's principal tasks is to promote the free flow of ideas and knowledge, and it therefore feels it has a fundamental role to play in the preparations for WSIS. UNESCO is concerned about the ethical, legal, social and cultural dimensions of the information society.
In preparation for the first phase of the WSIS, the Canadian government set up an interdepartmental coordinating committee to develop the Canadian position and ensure the best possible participation by all the government players. The Canadian delegation was led by Foreign Affairs and Industry Canada. The Canadian Commission was invited to join the committee to represent the views of civil society. A distinctive feature of WSIS is the encouragement given from the outset to participation by governments, civil society and the private sector.
In the Spring of 2002, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO began to hold a series of cross-Canada consultations to provide the coordinating committee with the views of organizations in the field, non-governmental organizations and representatives of academia. The final report, entitled Information, Communication And Knowledge- Building Contemporary Societies, summarizes the views expressed at the ten roundtables held between May 2002 and June 2003. After the Summit, the Commission organized a debriefing session on 23 January 2004 with NGOs who participated in the Summit. The report is also accessible on line.
In preparation for the second phase of the WSIS, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO organized a conference entitled: Paving the Road to Tunis - WSIS II: Canada's Civil Society Views on the Geneva Plan of Action and the Prospects for Phase II. The Conference was held in Winnipeg from May 13 to 15, 2005, and brought together more than 200 people from all provinces and territories and the private sector, civil society, academia and all levels of government, federal, provincial/territorial and municipal.
The main objective of the conference was to collect views on the Geneva Plan of Action from a Canadian civil society perspective. Participants were invited to examine the status of major elements included in the Plan of Action: infrastructure, cost of access, community access centres, free standards and free software, adapted technologies, education, traditional media, freedom of expression in both traditional and new media, cultural diversity, preservation of indigenous languages, building partnerships with developing countries, Internet governance and applications. The programme and the list of participants of the conference are available on line. As an outcome of the conference, a Civil Society Communiqué was prepared by the participants presenting the beliefs, expectations and hopes of their organizations at the Canadian and international levels in building genuine information societies. The final text of the communiqué is available on line. The proceedings of the conference were presented at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference in Paris, France, in October 2005 and at the Summit in Tunis in November 2005.
PowerPoint presentations made by speakers are available on request at the following address:
The conference was sponsored by Foreign Affairs Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Industry Canada and the International Development Research Centre.
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