December 12, 2003The Academy Award goes to... anyone but the US media. Coverage of the Iraq war, and embedded reporters in particular, came under the spotlight at a workshop hosted by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
The event began with the screening of four nominees, all European, in the news coverage category at the Academy's prestigious Emmy awards earlier this year. Channel Four/ITN carried off the title but the content of the final four selections provided interesting fodder for the workshop discussion.
Co-incidentally all four entries emerged from the Gulf conflict. Channel 4's programme began from Baghdad on the day Saddam fell and covered events and atmosphere in the following days. It was joined on the short list by Germany's ARD for a report on the radioactive DU ammunition, France 2 Television for a powerful piece on looting at Baghdad Museum and footage from the UK's Associated Press Television News.
The workshop was chaired by International Academy executive director Georges Le Clere and president Fred Cohen. They explained that the awards were not open to American broadcasters but that didn't stop the audience having a go at the US media and the concept of embedded journalists. Many of the comments were aimed at war coverage in general with the consensus being that the truth had been the first casualty in Iraq. The most acerbic remarks were on US journalists 'sense of theatre' and even American speakers themselves offered no defence on the discussion.
December 11, 2003Nothing much to say from the USA. There weren't even any protests as they had their say at the plenary session. Rumours were circulating the corridors of the media centre that John Marburger, George Bush's science and technical adviser, would be interrupted by campaigners. Many here are left disappointed by the lack of incident - even those in the room who continued talking during his speech.
The content was also characterized by lack of incident - by lack of key buzz phrases of this summit "digital divide" nor "digital solidarity fund" - on the lips of so many speakers at this summit. He said that investment in innovation must be a priority. I think others I have met here this week would argue that investment in the developing world should be higher up the list.
December 10, 2003US backtracking? At UN meetings, agreement is a relative term. Even though draft summit documents have been agreed by all countries, there's still room for wriggle room - or in UN jargon, "interpretative statements."
An interpretative statement allows a state to express reservations about parts of an agreement it is unhappy about (and does not intend to hold to!). They caused chaos at the end of WSSD, where no-one really knew whether last-minute US attempts to water down the text on corporate social responsibility had been successful. The signs are that they plan something similar here in Geneva...
Tucked away in any other business a few minutes ago, the US delegation checked with the summit chair that provision had been made for entering interprative statements in the record. It has replied, the organisers. But text must be submitted by Thursday 6 o'clock.
Daily Summit wonders which reservations the US wishes to express... Live hands? US journalist, Jeff Jarvis is not here - but we thought we knew what question he'd be asking the US Ambassador (and head of the US delegation to the summit) at today's press conference (and here) . So we asked it for him.
Daily Summit: "Ambassador Gross. There's a lot of anger back in the US about what are seen as predatory attempts by the UN to wrest control of the internet from ICANN. Jeff Jarvis yesterday said the UN would have to prise the internet out of 'dead American hands.' How do you reassure the folks back home that the internet is safe?" (laughter)
Ambassador Gross: "The documents reflect very much where we are on that subject. Under the Secretary-General's good offices, a study will be done to look at a variety of issues - but only a study will be done. That is the only action that is contemplated. There is really nothing other than that that will come out of these documents.
"Of course, the issue of how the internet will evolve is something that many people can play a role in today. I am always a little confused by statements [that suggest the US has exclusive control over the internet]. The way that it works now is that it is multi-stakeholder. There's a direct role for governments through ICANN and other processes. There's a direct role for individuals to play from around the world.
"In addition, it's important to realise that ICANN is a very important organisation, but it is merely one part of a much larger puzzle. It does certain technical things, but there are many things it doesn't do. It is a misperception on the part of many that ICANN is internet governance." Status quo rocks. America temporarily adopted a new anthem this morning as its ambassador David A. Gross reacted to the new diluted declaration of principles, upon which all negotiations at the World Summit will be based.
He sounded, to the untrained ear, like the chorus of the rock band Status Quo's Rockin' All Over the World. To paraphrase the ambassador: "I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it, I la-la-la like it."
Whether Mr Gross is a fan of Rick Parfitt remains unclear, but he is certainly in favour of the status quo (ie the power to control the future of the internet lies almost exclusively in American hands).
The failure of the new Draft Declaration of Principles, published at the eleventh hour last weekend, to address the issue of who governs the internet has made him very happy indeed.
"These are important documents, although they are not legally binding," Mr Gross noted with some satisfaction at the American press briefing. "They are important expressions of political will."
The ambassador was responding to a question on whether the US would renege on any agreement that was made in Geneva (as it did by withdrawing unilaterally from the Kyoto agreement on climate control, for example).
His answer was deft. While not actually saying the World Summit was a waste of time, he pointed out that the US was not bound to do anything decided by other governments at Geneva. America is listening, but more in the manner that a chiropodist listens to his bunion-afflicted patient than a chairman listens to his shareholders.
"It would be incorrect to see a political summit as a way to decide technological issues," he added with a diplomatic boot in the teeth to those who would like to see states have a say in the future of the internet. "A summit like this is [designed] to draw attention at the highest political level."
In any case, when it comes to the resolutions made at this conference, America has little to fear in terms of regulation of the internet. Thanks to a political stand-off at pre-summit meetings, that topic is off the agenda until the Tunis conference in 2005.
And what of the surprisingly low turnout of the largest, most technologically literate country in the world? What does the fact that America sent the same number of government officials as Gabon, and fewer journalists than Bangladesh, say about America's commitment to the World Summit?
"I don't think it says anything about our commitment," Mr Gross told Daily Summit. "Unlike other conferences where you have to be part of a delegation to participate, that is not the case here. If you walk around the conference centre I expect you'll find as many Americans here as any other nationality."
America is, Mr Gross seemed to be saying, rocking all over the world.
Jack Malvern @ 11:40 AM | Comments (1)US pledges millions at WSIS. The economic development agency of the US government, OPIC, has announced a $400 million finance facility in the telecommunications and IT sectors of 152 countries - this is on top of $5 billion of total support already spent. But this will be a private-public mechanism - NOT part of a digital solidarity fund.
The Daily Summit asked OPIC President Dr Peter Watson if support was dependent on a country's record on human rights. "We always respect international labour standards, environment and human rights as a condition to all of our projects" he said. So, we asked about Iran, which censors the internet. "We are not currently authorised to do business in Iran. Out of 152 countries, Iran is not one of them".
Cara Swift @ 10:33 AM | Comments (0)So what do we know about John Marburger, George Bush's science and technology adviser, and the man the US has just announced will speak for them at the summit (he replaces Mr Who)?
According to this profile, Marburger - an authority on nonlinear optics - is a natural shmoozer, whose influence has grown in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Apparently, "he volunteers that he is a lifelong Democrat. He is a supporter of nuclear power. He believes marshalling public support is vital to any civic enterprise. He tells associates he is an "incurable optimist," an outlook that the president shares...."
His strong points should overcome the obstacles [to gaining influence] - especially if Bush believes his new science adviser can strengthen or add new insights to the administration's battle against terrorism. Marburger's public relations skills will be invaluable.
"He's very friendly, very personable, a gentleman," said Connie Kepert, a member of the citizens' advisory council created by Marburger. Kepert told Newsday, a Long Island newspaper, "He really gave people the feeling that he really did care about their concerns." And Charles Shank, director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California said recently, "His real strength is as a communicator. There's a whole range of people who are great scientists but few who are great scientists and great communicators, too."
David Steven @ 09:39 AM | Comments (4)
December 07, 2003Indigenous Tribes. Further to Erin's entry, there will also be representatives from the world's indigenous communities at the summit.
One of them, David Laughing Horse Robinson, is Chairman of the Kawaiisu Tribe in Southern California and he recently ran for Governor in the California, USA recall election. During the week he will be talking about the use of modern technologies in reconciliation movements, political lobbying and public education on indigenous issues.
November 28, 2003WSIS Unzipped. There's a lot to be learnt in this article by Alan Toner (part of art collective Autonomedia, whose Info Exchange is quite something). Alan's article puts WSIS into context, details past attempts to tackle communication on this scale, and explains why it could be remembered, ironically, as a conference without content...
Aaron Scullion @ 04:22 AM | TrackBack
November 27, 2003In the news, a Chinese human right activist, jailed by the Chinese, but freed after intervention from George Bush, looks like she's now on her way to a jail sentence in the US - for smuggling microprocessors back to China... (link via Instapundit)
David Steven @ 09:46 AM | TrackBack
November 26, 2003In the news, the Washington Times reports that the "UN could restrict content on the internet", in its take on the ongoing battle between supporters of ICANN and those who want a UN-regulated internet.
In the UN corner are a number of big hitters from the developing world, including Brazil, China and India, complaining about US hegemony, and rising levels of junk mail and fraud.
Standing up for ICANN, those who think UN control could threaten the idea of free speech on the Internet. As Diane Cabell of Harvard's Berkman Centre for Internet and Society puts it: "You might get the lowest common denominator instead of the highest common denominator, and before you know it, you're restricted in terms of what content you can put online".
(Link via Lextext.)
David Steven @ 08:06 PM | TrackBack
November 25, 2003Growling Around Internet Governance. From behind-the-scenes exchanges (as well as online reports) it's not hard to predict that internet governance will be one of the most aggravated topics at WSIS. Current arrangements based on ICANN (address: 4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330, Marina del Rey, CA 90292-6601, U.S.A.) are regarded by many as "a byzantine structure, geared to corporate need".
ICANN defenders say proposals to dismantle or replace it are surrogate attempts by governments or international bodies (such as the ITU, host to the WSIS summit) to gain control over a crucial communications asset. They point to ICANN's own detailed self-reform proposals contained in CEO M.Stuart Flynn's 'Heathrow Declaration'.
But for many the current arrangements are beyond reform. In the words of Hans Klein, Chair of Computer of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, "the question is not what is ICANN going to do, but what is the U.S. Government going to do". Get ready to read the lips of U.S. delegates in Geneva.
Something to watch out for at WSIS - a compromise between the ICANN and Klein positions - is the idea of a public-private partnership, "beyond the shadow of the U.S. Government", based on a multilateral, internationally representative framework and on the consent of the governed.
Andrew Taussig @ 08:40 PM | TrackBackWho controls the net? The Register, beloved site of techie-types, has a great article covering the arguments over internet governance, closely analysing the "battle lines that are there for all to see" in the summit's key texts, while providing a detailed history of ICANN, the often criticised and much discussed US-based organisation currently in charge of running the Internet's infrastructure. But the author's assertion that WSIS is the "make or break moment" in the long-running "tussle between ICANN and ITU" doesn't do much to encompass the summit's many aims.
Is the internet community so focused on the mechanics of online operation that they're failing to make the important distinction between 'Internet' and 'Information Society'?
November 14, 2003In the news, Steven Lang reports that arguments over the role of the media are stopping consensus being reached on a draft declaration to be considered by heads of government in Geneva.
"China argues that since the WSIS meeting is about the Information Society, it is purely a technical meeting," he wrotes, "and as such, the media certainly has no special role to play."
Chinese delegates are blocking proceedings every time press freedom is raising, supported by Venezuela, Mexico and Egypt. They are "effectively wearing down other delegates who believe that media has a key responsibility in the Information Society. An observer at the proceedings noted that even the United States, one of the more vocal supporters of press freedom, appears to have lost its passion for including media as a stakeholder."
David Steven @ 08:46 AM
November 12, 2003American Approach - The United States commented on WSIS Draft Declaration and Action Plan saying "Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a critical role in sustainable economic and social development. Access to information requires an environment that promotes the creation of knowledge and ideas. The realization of the digital opportunities afforded by the information society can contribute to a better life for all citizens through the promotion of democracy, transparency, accountability and good governance. The United States urges participants to use this unique opportunity to reaffirm and implement Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes the right of each individual to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."... but Reporters Without Borders, among other organisations, offers an interesting view of the American media after the terrorist attacks.
Ahmed Reda @ 10:49 PM
November 06, 2003"Too important for US to downplay." America, it seems, hasn't decided who should lead its pack at WSIS, even though there's just a month to go.
Aaron Scullion @ 11:04 AM | TrackBack
October 31, 2003The Christian Scientist is calling on the US to "defend the net from the UN."
In an editorial, it argues that countries such as China and Cuba may use WSIS to impose government control on the internet.
"Some governments seek to use national security as an excuse to control Internet freedoms," the paper writes. "Already, Cuba has tried to include language that would approve government filtering and censorship of private media.
The US delegation must ensure in preconference drafting that the final document defends basic freedoms for Internet users."
Meanwhile, a debate is raging within the US about how seriously to take the summit. The State Department's leading telecom official has told industry representatives that decisions have not been made on who will lead the delegation or what position will be taken on key issues.
The private sector seems worried:
"Some private-sector parties at Wednesday's State Department meeting questioned how U.S. interests will be furthered at the meeting, with one industry representative voicing concern about whether developing countries might unite on telecom-information technology policy principles at odds with the Bush administration, potentially repeating the dynamic that doomed September global trade talks in Cancun, Mexico.".
David Steven @ 11:18 AM | TrackBack
October 28, 2003Open Source. The US position on this is summed up as follows: "The United States recognizes that open source software can contribute to increased access and diversity of choice but it is only one of many possible models for the development of software. The WSIS documents should not promote one over the other (i.e. open source vs. proprietary), but should instead foster the availability of diverse alternatives and the freedom to choose among those alternatives."
Update: The guys at Slashdot have got their teeth into this. 147 comments in 5 hours...
David Steven @ 11:06 AM | TrackBack
October 25, 2003Brussels = Washington? EU officials will have their work cut out if they want to use the conference to undermine the USA's dominance of the internet..
Aaron Scullion @ 11:03 AM | TrackBack