Prepcom2: Contribution from the IAMCR

2005-02-28 00:00:00

Comments on documents presented by the “Group of Friends of the
Chair” to Prepcom2

Established in 1957, the International Association for Media and
Communication Research (IAMCR) draws its membership from around
the world. We are the largest international professional
organisation in the field of media and communication research.
IAMCR members promote global inclusiveness and excellence within
the best traditions of critical research in the field of media and
communication (See appendix for a list of formal aims of the

IAMCR has been an accredited civil society participant in the
World Summit on the Information Society since the early days of
Phase I. In July 2002, the association created a task force on
WSIS to monitor the various stages of the event and help IAMCR
intervene effectively. Our members have been active in WSIS
activities in the areas of education and research, media, and
internet governance, among others. Two of our members represent
different families on the Civil Society Bureau.

IAMCR notes the efforts of the Group of Friends of the Chair to
produce a basic framing document to focus discussion in Phase II
of WSIS, and welcomes the GFC’s invitation for contributions from
interested parties. It is in the spirit of cooperation and
multistakeholder collaboration, and in the interest of the world
community as a whole, that we offer the following comments.

An essential principle: multistakeholder collaboration

Both the “Political Chapeau” and “Plan of Implementation” proposed
by the Group of Friends of the Chair reiterate the fundamental
principle of multistakeholder collaboration in determining and
realizing the goals of WSIS. We applaud the recognition,
reiterated several times in the two documents, that these goals
can only be accomplished “through the involvement, cooperation and
partnership of governments and all stakeholders and that
international cooperation and solidarity at all levels are
indispensable if the fruits of the Information Society are to be
shared equitably by all”. However, the nature and extent of this
collaboration remains vague and undefined. During the first phase
of WSIS, despite the formal openness of the process to input from
nongovernment actors, real input with impact came about only as a
result of constant and sometimes draining struggle. Negotiations
over process often superseded debates over content. At the end of
the day, most observers and participants agree that the most
significant results of nongovernment – particularly civil society
– involvement in WSIS were achieved in the corridors and on the
margins of the Summit rather than inside the event itself. Despite
the myriad obstacles to their meaningful participation,
nongovernment actors clearly demonstrated that their expertise
constitutes a critical contribution to defining the shape and the
substance of knowledge societies. We would appreciate a clear
articulation of how the GFC sees the participation of
nongovernment actors in the Tunis phase of WSIS and beyond, and
hope that this vision will be as inclusive as possible.

A role for research

IAMCR has much to say on many of the subject areas covered by
WSIS. Our particular expertise, however, is in the area of
research. The WSIS Declaration of Principles adopted in Geneva
refers to ICT research and development but pays no attention to
the importance of social-scientific or humanistic research in
building a people-centred knowledge society. The Plan of Action
goes a bit further – calling on academics, for example, to explore
the ethical dimensions of ICTs. The GFC documents make no mention
of research at all. We therefore call on the GFC to correct this
lacuna, by including a significant reference to the need for
research in the currently open paragraphs of its report on
“further commitments” and “resource mobilisation”.

The WSIS Declaration and Plan of Action are ambitious documents,
which the GFC is trying to take forward in Phase II of the Summit.
Many of the action areas that have been announced will require a
vastly extended knowledge base before they can be properly
addressed. WSIS documents should refer explicitly to the central
role of research activities and institutions in facing the many
challenges that they identify. Research should be considered a
target area for the plan of action in itself, as well as a crucial
resource for the accomplishment of other targets. Nearly every
target line of the WSIS plan of action has a significant research
requirement, and this means that the human and financial resources
required to produce research need to be taken into account. In
addition to new and original research, WSIS should also recognize
the need for independent analysis and expert synthesis of existing
research findings.

IAMCR is currently preparing an «International Researchers’
Charter for Knowledge Societies», which aims at establishing the
rights and obligations of the international research community -
all disciplines included - in the information age. The Charter
proposes a number of basic principles, including the right to
seek, retrieve and distribute research results freely, the respect
of the status of researchers for independent, open and fair
working conditions, and the free access to archives, libraries,
universities and other entities funded through public resources.
It also suggests the means necessary to implement these rights and
obligations, and calls on the research community as well as
governments, the private sector and other segments of civil
society to recognize those tenets and implement them, in the name
of knowledge enhancement and capacity building. Finally, it urges
all actors to establish or invent instruments for the improvement
of the status of research, for making it independent of
technological or political considerations as well as the biases
deriving from commercial interests, and thus improving the
relevance of research to education, academia and society at large.

This Charter will be offered by IAMCR as a contribution to WSIS as
soon as it has been adopted by the association’s governing bodies
later this year.

Media and communication – an unfortunate blindspot within WSIS

IAMCR, as our name clearly indicates, is concerned about media and
communication. The media and on and offline means of communication
play central roles in today’s world. In the face of globalisation
there is a growing need for dialogue aimed at fostering greater
social and economic equality and at facilitating the actions and
practices that are needed to foster respect for human rights and
to alleviate poverty or distress wherever it occurs. This is the
role of the media.

Sadly and paradoxically – as many critics have noted –, the World
Summit on the Information Society has so far failed to recognize
the central importance of media and communication in building an
equitable, people-centred information society. WSIS to date has
paid only cursory lip-service to media and has not acknowledged
critical issues such as the lack of media freedom in many parts of
the world, the rising global concentration of private media
ownership, the challenges facing public service media where these
exist, or the importance of recognizing and promoting the
legitimacy of independent community-based media. The GFC documents
“recognize the role of the media” and include an action line on
this topic. We strongly urge that this be translated into a
thorough analysis of the role of the media in meeting the stated
goals of WSIS, the obstacles presently standing in the way of
their fulfilling this role, and a series of recommended action
steps towards creating an international enabling environment for
media and communication.

The ongoing importance of education

Bridging the digital divide, research on the social and cultural
implications of ICTs and a free and vibrant media will only result
in a more humane and equitable society to the extent that people
are able to make use of the powerful emancipatory capacity that
these unleash. Education is therefore another resource to be
deployed at every stage of the development of knowledge societies.
An associate member of IAMCR, the European Consortium for
Communications Research (ECCR), wrote recently that education
efforts need to be developed dramatically, if the promise of the
information society is to be realized: “Current initiatives are
meagre and concentrate on the acquisition of computer skills with
an overwhelming focus on tasks oriented tools and procedures,
falling short of providing even the minimal foundation needed to
orient oneself in the Information Society in the making. The
severe deficit of adequate education leads to a new form of
illiteracy which entails societal risks comparable to that of
illiteracy of the past centuries.” Information and communication
literacy skills are therefore among the key building blocks of a
genuine knowledge society and should be recognized as such in the
documents presented for discussion by the GFC.

Financial mechanisms and Internet governance

As we mentioned above, we have limited ourselves in this document
to commenting on those issues within WSIS which speak to our
particular areas of expertise, namely research, media and
education. As citizens of the knowledge society, we have also
underscored our interest and concerns regarding the
multistakeholder collaborative process. In this respect, we are
encouraged by the spaces that have opened up for civil society
participation within the official WSIS structures of the Task
Force on Financial Mechanisms and the Working Group on Internet
Governance. We recognize, however, that these are not enough and
therefore, in the coming months, IAMCR will continue to be active
in discussions regarding these two major points on the current
agenda for Phase II of WSIS.

Appendix: Aims of IAMCR

IAMCR has consultative status ‘A’ with UNESCO and is regarded as
the international umbrella organisation in the field of media and
communication research. The formal aims of the association are:

- To provide a forum where researchers and others involved in
media and communication can meet and exchange information about
their work;

- To encourage the development of research and systematic study,
especially in areas of media production, transmission and
reception, in the contexts in which these activities take place
and in those subjects and areas where such work is not well

- To stimulate interest in media and communication research;

- To disseminate information about research and research needs –
not only to researchers but also to those working in the various
media and others responsible for communication policies;

- To seek to improve media and communication research, policy and
practice and to encourage research, especially from international
and interdisciplinary perspectives, and to exchange information on
practices and conditions that would improve the quality of media
and communication practice, and media and communication research;

- To contribute by means of appropriate research, to the
development and improvement of the education and training of
journalists and other media professionals.

15 February 2005