December 2003: UN's World Summit on the Information Society held in Geneva.
The choice of place for the second part of WSIS - Tunis - is more than hypocritical for a summit on information society: While Tunisia is catching up economically with the capitalist North, it is far from any information society if you are talking about the freedom of information (report). Furthermore - and different to 2003 - it seems almost impossible to express protest against this summit. Nevertheless some initiatives and organisations called for alternative meetings. Some Human Rights Groups take part in the "Citizens Summit on the Information Society (CSIS)". Others try to bring in their ideas within the WSIS itself.
Free access to knowledge for everybody is not the goal of WSIS, and the summit organizers' plan is to concentrate on governmental and corporate use of information and communication technologies. This approach fits the choice of place. Yet, the summit does not only give legitimacy to a repressive regime, its focus also ignores the social and technological situation in the Magrebh region. The majority of people in this part of the world do not have access to communication tools and the authoritarian regimes in the region are reliable allies to the european governments in supressing freedom of movement.
Update 16 November:It is reported that Tunesia is blocking unofficial websites related to the WSIS. People said that they could not access Websites as wsisblogs.org or the CSIS Website from hotels or other places outside the official media centre. ( study on Tunesian internet filtering ). Furthermore there were reports of repressiv actions by Tunesian authorities against groups claiming freedom of speech in the days before the conference started.
2005:'Tunisia and WSIS' dedicated page of the WSIS CS Human Rights Caucus| CSIS Website | IP Justice | from the region(fr):tunezine |nawaat | reveiltunisien | Wikipedia On WSIS | IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group | Some Blogs: one | two | three | four | five (de) |
The Geneva03 "We Seize" Polymedia Lab ran from Dec 9 to Dec 12, and even a few hours before it closed its doors, people were still working on about 10 permanent work-terminals and 30 laptops. A few hours prior, the number of connected laptops had peaked at around 40. Within the same building, a radio studio and various video streaming boxes were continuously in action - including streaming a live radio show to Resonance FM in London where it was transmitted over the airwaves.
The Polymedia Lab was an experiment in free sharing of knowledge and software, cables, boxes and food, and in some cases even clothes. It came together despite initial problems on Dec. 9th, when the authorities suddenly decided that the project could not take place at the scheduled location by closing it down [pics]. Eventually, Geneva City Council provided the Palladium, a stylish culture venue. Strangely enough, when the council was asked for a space a few weeks ago, they were not able to find something, claiming that all spaces were fully booked.
All this was taking place at the same time as the official UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, Switzerland. Throughout the week a video and audio stream was broadcasted worlwide by HighNoon. Activists demanded that the UN Summit addressed issues of intellectual property, human rights, the right to communicate, infowar, the rights to cheap generic medicine, and to free software as a model for technological development. Some of the issues addressed and debated, and projects put into practice in the Polimedia Lab included: Seizing... You can't beat the feeling! | All technology to the multitude | Free Software | Become the Media! | Switch TV! | Gasparri redux | We proclaim our precarious state | Pirate pride | WSIS Reload | Attention as a common good | Digital Denied | Intellectual Property | Reclaim the media - Reclaim the money | Small cybersoviets growing up... | Icome and action | Cielito Lindo | Hacklabs | Yomango
A one day event labelled as World Forum on Communication Rights also took place in Geneva alongside the WSIS summit on Thursday 11th. This was an independent civil-society led initiative, open to all seeking democratic, just and participative media and communication. This event was initiated by the Communication Rights in the Information Society campaign (CRIS), it is led by a coalition of international NGOs.
The last day of the WSIS saw the evaluation questions begining. Even the BBC reporters blog covering WSIS noted the lack of momentum and the general feeling of impotence within WSIS on Friday.
In central Geneva the anti WSIS demonstration organised for midday in the main shopping street next to the railway station was stopped by Police. As people began to gather a steadily growing number of police in riot gear stopped anyone they thought might be there for the demonstration and searched them and their bags, also checking and recording passport details and ID papers. It was a public show of intimidation, but people stood their ground. The numbers present were hard to estimate since the aggressive policing encouraged people to spread themselves down the street, but we reckon there were around 50-60 people (excluding corporate press and undercover police).
After a banner had been unfurled the police announced that the demonstration would not be allowed and that people must disperse. Shortly after the first arrests took place as three people who refused to show their ID papers were dragged and carried away. There then followed about half an hour where more people were dragged off [video] and pushing took place as the police presence grew until they had dispersed the crowd, they also confiscated banners and other items. There was a report of one man being beaten inside one of the police vans.
Two follow up protests took place - one at the train station where people covered their mouths to represent the silencing of critical voices - and another outside the police station where two of the arrested had been taken. Here there were reports of police charging at the demonstraters and dispersing them. There were something like nine arrests, but all were later released. Read report and pictures and audio: french report.
An immediate message of solidarity came out from the Civil Society end plenary session condemning the police repression and once again focussing attention onto the freedom of communication and expression, and the direct hypocrysy seen here in geneva (also see story 8 reporters banned after peaceful protest). It was later followed up by a Press Release and adopted within the official closing statement, which caused some trouble inside wsis and outside with police, as well as not a little confusion.
At the Polymedia Lab (see review) the High Noon video streaming continued (pic) and a radio show was streamed live from the Lab to Resonance FM in London (mp3 dowload) while more analysis and coverage continued to be published. As the WSIS was concluding so too was the Polymedia Lab, with the grand final gala Yomango dinner - people logged off from their computers and joined together for a fine communal meal, followed by a party (attended also by visitors from WSIS). By 2am the net connection was closed, the beer had run out, and the Palladium hall provided by the authorities was cleaned and cleared.
There will now be a process of evaluation on all sides, but what is certainly clear is that the WSIS has been (and has been shown to have been) a non inclusive summit, more interested in business than development issues. But while community media and communication rights were pushed out of the main agenda, their influence and agenda was everywhere. With the next phase set for Tunisia 2005 you can sure that the WSIS will remain controversial, and also that the links made here in Geneva will strengthen the growing movement around media justice and communication rights.
Other Recommended Reports + Links:
Five audio pieces from civil society orgs in/out wsis:
Reporters without borders / South African photographer / SIL - letters for the unwritten languages / media caucus / governments and open source
Audio: "Spontaneous" demonstration of "joy":
50 people from Tunisia gather outside the UN to show they joy about the next WSIS being held in Tunisia! (french)
"Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs":
Civil Society Declaration to the World Summit on the Information Society
Press Statement of the Indigenous Peoples Delegation
Community Media Forum Review [it]
WSIS RFID Story: China: The Real Risks
WEMF celebrates / reflects - media Activists expose "Infowar"
Richard Stallman: Combatting Terror Tactics
European and North American Womenaction Reports
Presentations and workshops continued thoughout the day at the Polymedia Lab, including open source swaps, Yomango, and culture hacking amoung others, while films were also shown in the venue while the High Noon video netcast streamed an impressive collection of films and content, spinning across the globe through the time zones (review).
Inside WSIS (pics) Thursday saw the the World Forum on Communication Rights (WFCR), with an impressive list of speakers covering issues such as Human Rights, Poverty, Communications for Peace and communications during war, Copyright, Trade, and (Resisting) the Enclosure of the Global Knowledge Commons. Speakers also denounced the increasingly excessive use of intellectual property rights as an income protection mechanism, reserving knowledge for the elite and preventing public knowledge from reaching the legitimate public domain. The Civil Society statement on Communication Rights was also released [see Highlights | Commentary].
In the evening, around 50 activists involved in the alternative events WSIS? We Seize! put up a projector in front of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and screened the short film "Give me the Mermaid" - a film criticising the intellectual property regime - on the outside walls of the building. An "official" invitation for the event had been distributed inside the Palexpo building, and a number of civil society and media representatives followed the invitation. The film was a compilation of clips with Disney figures acting as the voices of corporate power. The WIPO is an international institution that harmonizes intellectual property laws on a US based model, giving corporations full right to decide on intellectual property. Rather than inspiring creativity, as the industry claims, activists maintain thatintellectual property rights are a means of control of knowledge in the hands of a few powerful business actors. The police initially tried to stop the screening, but were persuaded to go easy when presented with the invitation to the screening, printed by the group, which looked like a formal and official invitation from WSIS.
Audio : Listen to reason for action targeting WIPO
Video : Watch Give me the mermaid (scroll, clip starts at 20:08) [download]
Read more : Wipe Out WIPO! | WIPO Hit by Little Mermaid | Call for Protest
Pictures : 1 | 2
Around the corner at L'Usine the Strategic Conference got underway a day late (pics). See reports from the following sessions: Hacklabs, InfoWar and Autonomous Media. The proceedings were streamed and the IRC participation and notes are archived. In Vienna there was also a banner drop reading "Save The Digital E-COLOGY".
At the WSIS itself and ICT4D exhibition continued (pics 1,2), news surfaced of an important intervention into the security regime of the UN Summit, where a group of independent researchers had spoofed the registration process to reveal how RFID chips were embedded in the passes and how delegates privacy is threatened by a security system that breaks the principles of the Swiss Federal Law on Data Protection, the European Union Data Protection Directive 95/46/ECand the UN guidelines concerning Computerized personal data files (See Press Release, Picture Story).
Meanwhile Radio Non Grata, a pirate radio station set up by Reporters Sans Frontieres after their exclusion from the WSIS was shut down by Police in France - where they were broadcasting from. RSF have over the past days been highly critical of both the WSIS (labelling it a "masquerade") and the UN (see report).
Tunisia, where the next part of the WSIS is due to be held in 2005, is fast becoming a very hot topic. Indeed both the RFID and RSF press releases mention it as a prime cause for concern. It has an appalling record on human rights and the freedom of expression, and currently the 2005 Summit is planned to be headed by Habib Ammar, under whose Ministry of the Interior torture of political dissidents was widespread. Reports have also come in from inside the WSIS Palexpo of the effective censoring of Terra Viva, a newspaper produced by Inter Press Service, which has been critical of Tunisia.
Other reports have also described how some exhibitors are refusing to be interviewed or filmed (including UNHCR and Microsoft - especially about the immigration registration kit), and how some activists have been prevented from handing out flyers inside the WSIS.
Geneva03 events will continue overr the next few days - see new Schedule
News from Geneva that the police have raided the Polymedia Lab on Tuesday, 9th December, at 11am local time. The Polymedia Lab was planned in for today's S-Conf open conference event to take place. Whilst the participants are currently consulting legal counsel, events have temporarily moved elsewhere. Meanwhile, action committees are formed to deal with the issues of space and accomodation.
Reports: short | long | Quicktime Video Clip | Performance review | Denial of new space | Meeting notes
Streaming audio | pictures | | irc.indymedia.org #sconf
Newswire reports: [1,2,3, 4, 5]
More information under: [WSIS? We Seize! | Polimedia Lab website | uk feature site | Wiki website | World Summit on Information Society]
Today the Geneva03 platform held a press conference at which the text of the press release was presented, illustrating the main points of its discontent with the official discussions: quote: "The official agenda of this UN/ITU Summit talks about free access to information, the digital divide and equality of opportunities, in reality its doors are closed, its discussions exclusive and the agendas of those who attend it concealed..."
Civil Society elements, participating in the official discussions, did not refrain from also publishing a press release on its views. Although less direct the main message was still critical of the official process and in particular it states that "At this step of the process, the first phase of the Summit, Geneva, December 2003, our voices and the general interest we collectively expressed is not adequately reflected in the Summit documents." Indeed some of the more progressive sections of civil society are organising their own fringe event, the World Forum on Communication Rights(program), to discuss their vision of the future of Information Society. There were also reports from yesterday's contention between the delegates that couldn't agree on the government declaration. The civil society plenary has decided to make their own declaration and are drafting a civil society plenary declaration that will support free and open software, against media monopoly etc."
Many human rights and communications rights activists from around the world are holding meetings sharing their experiences and planning campaigns. Just one of the new initiatives announced today included the plan to create a global index to monitor communication rights and repressive regimes around the world. Many are also preparing to present the Charter of Communication Rights, which today had an addition unanimously accepted which denounces info-war in terms of the targetting of journalists in conflicts and the attacking of civillian communications structures and media and so on.
Rumours that the workers of the ITU, who are hosting the whole WSIS, were to go on strike tomorrow have been denied. However the situation remains that 80-100 workers will lose their jobs at the end of December. While many have said privately that they are angry at their situation, and would like to take some form of action, they are in a difficult position. Their contracts forbid them from engaging in 'political activity' and they are represented by a company union, which means any organising meeting they hold has ITU management representitives
The spaces and infrastructure that are going to host the alternative conferences, workshops and projects are in their final stages of preparation. The co-ordination meetings of S-CONF which starts tomorrow and continues on Wednesday, looking at the strategic alternatives on the fundamental issues facing information society, have been concluded and its shedule is now complete (NB. it will be streamed live and archived). A conference about migration, labor, media and organizing and their relation to information society is also scheduled for the 9th.
Meanwhile the the WSIS infrastructure is also taking shape at the Palexpo centre right next to Geneva airport. In the massive halls the facilities for exhibitions and the main summit are being prepared. Bizarely the security checkpoint hall was still this morning being cleared of mountains of straw and what smelled mostly like cow shit. In the adjoining hall the ICT4D exhibition (Information and Communication Technology for Development) and forum was taking shape with some strange bedfellows - The Ministry of Information Industry PR of China rubbing shoulders with APC South Africa. One interesting installation being set up was the African Village which contains a streaming radio studio - a joint collaboration with AMARC and Radio Lora which will be broadcasting each day in several languages (including english language 8am-9am GMT) - listen here.
The registration process to the ICT4D exhibition has been a real mess all day. Participants that had registered were consistently not found in their databases, with passes being issued apparently just on trust. Combined with the clear lack of training of those in charge of operating the systems it was a wonderful opportunity to get a badge in exchange with very poor personal data. The security to the ICT4D space was also lax enough to allow non accredited people to roam freely, despite a number of soldiers setting up the barbed wire outside throughout the day. Indeed the area around the Palexpo centre is now being fenced off and screened off to provide a sterile area for the governments, corporations and corporate media representitives who are now arriving, including tomorrow the World Bank Group.
End Comment: Last night two swiss corporate journalists were overheard to say "wow, it's like back in 1968" - "yeah" replied to the other, "it's like '68, but with laptops!".
[All Geneva03 events| latest news]
03-12-2003 19:10The UN world summit of the information society is approaching fast, it will take place between Dec 10 and 12. A World Forum on Communication Rights, initiated by the Cris Campaign, will take place at the same time. It will tackle issues that the WSIS dares not, linking communication with issues such as poverty, social exclusion, militarism, cultural diversity and human rights.
The "We Seize" initiative has organised a follow-up to the Hub-Project in Florence. A number of imcistas will report - read on for some background:
We Seize | Hub Project | PolyMediaLab | High Noon| Strategic Conference
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a full United Nations Summit to be held 10-12 December 2003 in Geneva with a second meeting in Tunis in 2005. [Official Website]
Community media and other civil society organisations are organising a number of events to run alongside and contra to the WSIS which, they believe, fails to promote media diversity or engage with the question of fair access to the Information Society.
The Summit's stated objective is to address the inequalities that will arise as the world changes from an industrial to information-based society. Information is a powerful tool for economic and social development and the WSIS was announced as a platform for the UN, governments, the private sector along with civil society groups to contribute to bridging digital and knowledge divisions.
However the Civil Society grouping including many progressive electronic networks have severly criticised the process for failing to agree on a comittment to basic human right standards (most prominent in this case being the freedom of expression), as well as failing to properly include a development agenda and address issues such as media concentration, support for community media, internet governance, free software, and security. The stage is now set for a confrontation as the movement for media democracy and communication rights continues to gain pace.