Monday, November 14, 2005

Tunis: WSIS and WSA, part 2

There is commotion about the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in the Netherlands. The Dutch newspaper Volkskrant brought the story today: Dr. Cees Hamelink, advisor to UN secretary Kofi Annan will not go to Tunis. Dutch news radio copied the story for at least 12 hours. So far no foreign newspaper (Guardian, The Times of London) has the story. There are two questions: who (the hell) is Dr. Cees Hamelink; what was his advisory role?

Hamelink was for years professor at the University of Amsterdam teaching communication; now he is a professor at the Free University of Amsterdam, teaching globalisation, human rights and health care. He has written extensively. One of his works is The ethics of Cyberspace, published by Sage in London.

As to his advisory role, Hamelink had been asked by the UN secretary to co-organise the UN Summit on the Information Society after the first leg of the WSIS in Genf (Geneva). He and the other advisors got complete freedom to give citizens a voice and put human rights on the agenda.

This Summit should have been different from the Genf one, which was not exactly a Summit with firm decisions. Governments and citizens should sit at one table. It never happened. Human rights were a no-no topic. Afraid that the Chinese would leave the room, the US and Europe remained silent on the subject.

In order to clear up the Babylonic confusion of tongues on the concept of Information Society, Hamelink had organised a panel with language scientist Noam Chomsky and a scientist on peace question Johan Galtung. This panel should talk about small newspapers and radio stations in Latin America and Africa, which are under repression of the government. Issues should have been: censorship, property of international media, privacy and intellectual property.

Besides the WSIS was going to be held in Tunesia, which is not know for human rights and freedom of speech.

So after two years of preparatory work, Dr Cees Hamelink is disappointed and has decided to stay at home. He does not believe in reform from the inside: the 12.000 participants from 175 countries should stay home; that would send a message to the participating governments and especially to Tunesia.

Is the professor communication sending the right signal at the right time? I doubt it. First of all he knew all the way that the second leg of the WSIS was going to be held in Tunesia. So why did he accept the invitation? On the eve of the opening of the WSIS he seeks the publicity and calls for the participants to stay home. Can you imagine that 12.000 participants will send the plane tickets and hotel reservations to the waste paper bin? I personally think that despite his astute publications, Dr. Cees Hamelink must be a naïve academic. If he really had looked for effect, he should have announced his absence at the preparatory meeting in Genf in September and sought international publicity.

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