From visions to reality

Civil society on the ladder to the World Summit on the Information Society

The 2. preparatory conference (PrepCom2, Geneva, 17. – 28. February 2003) to the December 2003 "World Summit on the Information Society" In its first half, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has concentrated primarily on clarifying the procedural and substantive starting positions. The summit will get down to business today, when the individual groups – governments, civil society and industry – enter into concrete negotiations on the final documents of the summit – a declaration and a program of action (cf. also the "Civil Society" and the World Information Society).

The first week belonged to the visionaries. In twenty roundtables, workshops, and lectures, the "Knowledge Trager" of the world – from Lawrence Lessig (Stanford University), Robin Mansell (London School of Economics), Cees Hamelink (University of Amsterdam) and Francis Cairncross (The Economist) to Maria Cattaui (International Chamber of Commerce), Bruno Lanvin (World Bank), Latif Latid (Ericsson) and Lauren Hall (Microsoft) – share their ideas about the global information society of the 21st century. Century. The digital divide should be overcome, information technologies should make a significant contribution to sustainable development, the right to communication for everyone must be guaranteed as well as access to knowledge and networks. Cyberspace should be protected from criminals, and the privacy of the individual should not be released for unauthorized state snooping. Intellectual property should be protected without compromising the free exchange of ideas and information. The list of topics grew longer with each day of the conference.

But while the visions were thrown on the screen via PowerPoint in the rough halls of the UN City in Geneva and a tripartite cooperation between governments, business and civil society was conjured up, behind the scenes the political disputes about procedures and content were already beginning.

The 1. The 2nd Preparatory Conference (PrepCom1) ended in June 2002 with the creation of a Sub-Committee on Content and Themes (Sub-Committee 2 on Content and Themes), in which only governments are represented. The argument put forward by governments that they wanted to listen to the voices of non-governmental representatives, but that the negotiations themselves were exclusively their business, was rejected by the (top down) "Excluded" criticism from the (top-down). The argument that, in view of the confusing diversity of hundreds of non-governmental groups, one does not even know with whom one should talk about what, however, also mobilized a reflection among the accredited representatives of the business community and civil society organizations (CSOs) about how one should constitute oneself in order to be taken seriously as a negotiating partner of governments and to be able to make an independent contribution to the success of the summit, which goes beyond the "family concept" "Consultation" of or "Lobbying" with the governments.

On the one hand, the private sector formed a "Business Contact Committee", which is now being run by the "International Chamber of Commerce" (ICC), which is coordinated by the ICC and to which rough global networks of the private sector – from the "Global Business Dialogue on eCommerce" (GBDe) to the "Global Information Infrastructure Commission" (GIIC) – which in turn includes companies such as IBM, Bertelsmann, AOL/TimeWarner, Fujtsu, Nokia, Hewlett Packard, Ericsson, DaimlerChrysler, Cisco, Microsoft, Siemens, Intel, Vivendi, Telefonica, etc. represented.

On the other hand, civil society attempted to develop a more effective negotiating position through the "Civil Society Coordinating Group" structure and organize the content of the CSOs’ input. In December 2002, the coordination group submitted a comprehensive working paper to the WSIS secretariat on all substantive points of the summit, thus demonstrating that, despite the incalculable diversity of the CSOs, important groups can indeed develop negotiable positions on essential ies, an ability that had hitherto been largely denied to the CSOs.

Civil Society Family: A New Internal Structure for Civil Society

Also with regard to the development of a workable internal structure of the sometimes somewhat chaotic civil society discussions, a kind of breakthrough was already achieved in the run-up to PrepCom2. The proposal that the CSOs should initially organize themselves into somewhat more manageable groups, depending on their origins and interests, was accepted "families" organize and then form its own coordination bureau, proved to be quite productive. Within a few days, the originally envisaged ten CS families had grown into 21 groups. This now includes "Families" such as those for social movements, for media, for trade unions, for teaching and research, for think tanks, for science and technology, for sustainable development, for non-governmental organizations, for women, for youth, for regionally active CSOs and NGOs, etc., etc. The "family concept" allows practically any organization to join a family or even to found a new family. This allows groups that have operated in isolation up to now to combine their voices and lend greater weight to their views and goals.

Critics within civil society immediately feared that the "Family concept" to an "disenfranchisement of the grassroots" by a "from top" (top down) appointed "Family Council" and become "Verburocratization" of the whole WSIS process. However, in turbulent discussions among over 500 civil society representatives who had traveled to the conference, the realization finally prevailed that without a structured approach, civil society as a whole would deprive itself of its potential influence. Under the condition that the "Family concept" must not undermine the sovereignty of the individual organizations and the principle of the "Policy development from below" (bottom up) approach had to be strictly adhered to, the majority of the representatives present finally agreed to the proposal.

This consensus paved the way for the formation of an "Civil Society Bureaus" for procedural ies, to which each family can send a representative. In the coming years, this office will work with the Executive Secretariat of the Summit and, above all, with the office of the UN member states to clarify the modalities of interaction between governments and civil society. At the same time the "civil society content coordination group" about 15 topics oriented "Content Groups", who are now taking care of the respective ies in detail.

Every family is free to choose either to call itself a "Content Group" to constitute, as z.B. the "Media family", or their experts to the individual content groups. The "CS Content Groups" in turn, are required to develop negotiable positions and amendments on the individual substantive ies, which are to be introduced into the intergovernmental negotiation process. It goes without saying that the primary goal is not to allow controversial views between different CSOs to merge into a civil society consensus, but to allow negotiable positions of different CSOs to feed into the process of drafting the summit documents.

Parallel negotiations and constructive interference

With relatively high speed, the more than 500 civil society representatives demonstrated that they were not only able to elect the 21-headed board for the procedural ies, but also to start drafting statements on the factual ies in an expeditious manner. The "Media Group", the u.a. which includes the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), Article 19 and the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), produced a report on Friday "14 point paper", that u.a. The campaign includes demands for basic rights and freedoms in information and communication, pluralism and diversity in the media landscape, affordable access to the Internet, and privacy in electronic communications. Other "CS Content Groups" as the "digital divide", to "cultural diversity", or to "Internet Governance" have announced similar statements.

De facto, there is a parallel negotiation process: in the official negotiating group of the Subcommittee 2, which is responsible for content, the governments negotiate among themselves. In the "CS Content Groups" this process is accompanied, mirrored, supplemented or criticized. If civil society has its way, as early as possible, the "CS Content Groups" engage in informal discussions with the respective governmental expert groups to clarify how civil society interests and opportunities can be incorporated into the summit conference process.

At the moment, however, it is still completely open how the governments will react to this offer of the "constructive interference" react. The government representatives of the more than 180 UN member states first had to deal with clearing formal ies in the first days of the PrepCom2 : Choosing the chair of the subcommittee and the members of the negotiating group. The dispute then erupted over which of the available documents – the PrepCom1 declaration, the summary of the five regional conferences, or the document prepared by the president of the WSIS – should be used "Non-Paper" – taken as a working basis for the final documents. The next dispute was over how the document should be structured and what headings should be used for the subsections of the final documents. Nobody can say when the actual factual negotiations will start.

As in the case of the first PrepCom, the negotiations of the governmental negotiating group will again take place behind closed doors. The question of whether governments will ever be willing to deal with the "CS Content Groups" to sit down at a table and engage in some kind of "informal negotiations" The possibility of hacking in has not yet been discussed at all. To "Showdown" The seriousness of the repeatedly emphasized willingness to include the experiences and competencies of non-governmental groups in the summit process will come to light when the second round of negotiations is held. The second week of the conference, the civil society expert groups, through their office, invited governments to informal factual discussions on specific ies. Civil society will not be satisfied with submitting their statements in writing to the secretary of the government negotiating group via a letter carrier without a guarantee that their views will be reflected in the summit documents.

Six Steps to Heaven: From "Screws in front of the tower" to "Inside the room"

If governments are serious about the new format of a UN summit conference envisioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, involving governments, business and civil society from the outset, the rights of access and voice of non-state actors in the drafting of summit documents needed to be clarified more precisely soon. In Geneva, a "Six-Stage Plan" Theoretically, he described the various ways in which civil society can participate:

  1. Stage 1: No access to negotiations;
  2. Stage 2: Access to negotiations, but no right to speak;
  3. Stage 3: right of access and speech, but no right to negotiate;
  4. Level 4: Right of access, speech and negotiation, but no right to vote;
  5. Stage 5: Access, speech, negotiation and minority voting rights,
  6. Stage 6: equal voting rights with governments.

At the moment, as the CSOs see it, Geneva is still between stage 1 and 2, and at best at stage 3 in the plenary of the conference. At the Asian regional conference in January 2003, on the other hand, level 4 had already been applied. CSOs such as GLOCOM, Internet Society, and others were involved in the negotiations for the "Tokyo Declaration" involved, but were not allowed to vote on them formally.

The "Tokyo Model" is now seen in Geneva as a milestone on the road to the summit in December 2003. The success of the summits therefore depends not only on whether the governments agree among themselves on a "declaration" and a "Action Program" The question is not whether these documents can be understood, but whether they will also meet with the approval of civil society and the business community.

However, if governments were to make extensive use of paragraph 55 of their procedural rules adopted at PrepCom1 – limited rights of access and speech and no negotiating or voting rights for nonstate actors – then those civil society groups that support the so-called "civil society" approach were likely to gain more traction "Plan B" Favor: Organize a counter-summit (as recently in Porto Alegre to the Davos World Economic Forum) and make public appearances on the street.

Wolfgang Kleinwachter is a professor of international communications policy at the University of Aarhus and a member of the "CS Think-Tank Family".

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