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December 12, 2003

Just say no. In April 1986 a very fat Briton and his fellow actors from the BBC children's programme Grange Hill shot to the top of the pop music charts with the song Just Say No.

This afternoon Nick Thorne, the plump British Ambassador to the United Nations, sang a similar tune when he took to the podium at the World Summit, giving the British verdict on whether his government would be contributing to a Global Solidarity Fund (a UN body designed to build digital infrastructure in poorer countries).

Mr Thorne was frank about the British stance. "We do not believe that a new international fund could tackle the real underlying problems," he said. "It might even divert funds away [from existing aid channels]. A fund is not the answer."

The UK was happy to provide "technical assistance" to poorer countries, but will provide cash only though existing channels.

More worrying for countries seeking change is that Britain seems to be playing down the significance of the World Summit's sequel, Tunis 2005. The UK will hold the presidency of the EU in the latter half of 2005, and wants to avoid the preparatory committees (PREPCOMS for all you acronym lovers) that proved so contentious in the run up to Geneva. "The UK believes that a light preparatory process will create the right conditions for a conference," Mr Thorne said.

This will be a punch in the teeth for non-Western countries, who need all the discussion time they can get to lobby for a change in the status quo on two issues. First, they want to get a better deal on the Digital Solidarity Fund, or something very like it. Second, they want to break the Western grip on the internet and its development - an issue known as internet governance. Tunis is the only chance non-Western countries will get to debate internet governance, a topic so controversial that it was dropped from the Geneva summit's agenda.

If the UK succeeds in limiting the debate over these two issues then the Western governments can put up the bunting and gather round the piano. They want to keep the UN out of both issues and have done a reasonable job so far.
Jack Malvern @ 02:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 11, 2003

As Timms goes by... The UK government's top man at the World Summit - Stephen Timms - confirmed this morning what everyone suspected was the British attitude: stand well back and hang onto your purse strings. If Britain is going to hand out any more aid to poorer nations, Mr Timms suggested at a British Council event, it will be on its own terms and not through any of those spendthrift international agencies, thank you very much.

The most telling aspect of his speech, however, was that it appeared to be based entirely on a report written by the Institute of Public Policy Research, an independent think tank. Has the British government done no thinking of its own?

There is no question that Mr Timms understands the debate. He is certainly more informed than he was on December 1, when he took part in the IPPR meeting. The problem is that he appears to have consulted few, if any other sources since. Why else would his patter be so similar to the conclusions reached at that meeting?

There are two good reasons for this:
a) the IPPR meeting provided a very good bluffer's guide to the World Summit, and
b) the British government shares the American government's view that the World Summit is a talking shop for politicians and should not be considered a platform for solving technological issues.

So, Britain is cynical about the World Summit, but just how cynical? Daily Summit has obtained a leaked report of the IPPR meeting, from which Mr Timms seems to have formed the British government's policy.

See if you can spot the difference between the report and the statements Mr Timms made this morning:

IPPR: "While market forces will on the whole drive much of the technology forward it is necessary to clear some regulatory roadblocks."
Mr Timms: "It's absolutely essential we retain market dynamism."

IPPR: "Other concerns were that [a multilateral fund to help poorer countries build their digital infrastructure] was over-simplistic and would reinforce the culture of aid dependency."
Mr Timms: "The Global Solidarity Fund [a multilateral fund to help poorer countries build their digital infrastructure] would continue the aid dependency cycle."

The essence of the IPPR document (and thus probably British government policy) is that multilateral funds should not be trusted because no-one has adequately explained how the money will be spent. Worse still, cash could too easily fall into the hands of governments who would build their infrastructure in such a way as to limit freedom of expression.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Britain is keen to provide funding on a more limited basis providing it promotes free market activity. There is only one caveat. It must first win the approval of the Department for International Development's notoriously prickly policy makers.
Jack Malvern @ 04:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 04, 2003

Nice idea... Britain's top e-Minister, Stephen Timms, says he plans to make every public library in the UK a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Aaron Scullion @ 05:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

In the news, among plenty of reaction to the ITU's new ICT index (see below), the Koreans are planning to jump further up the table, Bahrainis are pleased, but Kiwis, Aussies and Brits are depressed.

David Steven @ 03:51 PM | TrackBack

November 16, 2003

Where's the progress? The summit is in trouble, as previously noted. Three more days of talks, designed to sort out gaping disagreements, have dribbled to a close.

By now, we shoud have something to really work with in Geneva - but instead, every time the participants get round a table, more tensions come out.

The draft paper optimistically calls for a "people-centered, inclusive"
information society - something which it wants to get from a hopelessly divided bunch.

There seem to be three main problems:
- Firstly, surprise, surprise, - money. The EU, especially Germany and the UK, and Japan are desperately against even a voluntary fund to pay for ICTs.
- Secondly, freedom of expression and human rights. China have successfully ambushed a complete paragraph on the "free flow of information" - not a good decision for the good of the world's media.
- And finally - Internet governance. China again seems to be causing more trouble than anyone else - it looked like governments would agree on just stating the need for further discussion in the declaration (a bit of a cop-out anyway), but China is blocking progress here, because Taiwan is a member of the ICANN government advisory board.

In addition the Civil Society seems to be generally brassed off with the course things are taking. They also said that terrorism legislation is now clamping down on the freedom of speech - an interesting swipe (especially at the US).

These are pretty complex issues, but Daily Summit is going to unravel them as best we can, over the next couple of posts.
Erin Dean @ 02:35 PM

November 15, 2003

Murdoch flexes his muscles. Rupert Murdoch came back to town - London town that is. The media magnate whose empire embraces the US, the UK and his native Australia arrived for the coronation of son James as CEO of satellite broadcaster BSkyB - one of two big beasts (along with the BBC, of course) on the British media landscape. A rumoured shareholder rebellion against the Rupert-James combination failed to materialize.

In separate interviews Rupert told BBC Economics Editor Jeff Randall (November 14) that, if James didn't measure up he would "of course" have to go. And James told Money Telegraph's Robert Peston in "Facing Down Dad" that he worked for the Board and not his father.

Now the pair (and the BSky Board) can contemplate a possible takeover of Channel 5 following the UK's recent relaxation of cross-media ownership rules: The bigger prize of the now combined (Carlton-Granada) ITV Plc, open to operators not already active in UK broadcasting, is still denied him.

In the Randall interview Mr Murdoch also flexed his newspaper proprietor's political muscles. Welcoming new Tory leader Michael Howard in term's of the offical Opposition party's credibility, Murdoch hinted that his best-selling Sun daily tabloid- a key element in the PR strategy associated with Tony Blair's 1997 and 2001 New Labour election landslides - could not be counted on for support next time. Murdoch also owns the Times and Sunday Times, two of the most influential broadsheets.

Whilst acknowledging the British PM's "courage in the international sphere"(a reference to the Bush-Blair alliance over Iraq), he implied that the Tories might have more attractive policies to resist intrusion on British sovereignty by the new EU constitution.

Teasingly he said he had good relations with both Tony Blair and Michael Howard, adding "the jury is out".
Andrew Taussig @ 11:38 PM
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