Archive for the ‘WSIS’ Category

Ask a Technocrat

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Later this week in Geneva, the International Telecommunications Union will be hosting a high-level UN conference on digital content delivery and the future of the Internet. Thomas Crampton of the International Herald Tribune will moderate a panel this Friday on the role international organizations should play in a world of converging media. His panel will feature leadership from entities such as WIPO, UNESCO, the ITU, the EU parliament and the European Broadcasting Union.
Thomas has put out a request for bloggers to submit questions for the panelists. If you’d like to offer your two cents, you can post your questions in the discussion thread on his blog.
Don’t think you have any questions? Think a little harder. These folks are playing a major role in issues ranging from bridging the digital divide to who controls intellectual property on the Internet. I’m sure we can come up with some good questions, right? -andy

Youth Dialogue on Internet Governance

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Titi Akinsanmi of the Global Teenager Project has just announced the creation of a three-week online forum for young people to learn about Internet governance and why it’s important they become engaged in policy discussions. (Some of you may remember the interview I did with Titi in Geneva in February 2005.) The forum, which opens November 26, intends to build upon the work of the youth caucus from the World Summit on the Information Society, which took place in Geneva and Tunis in 2003 and 2005. They’re also hoping to use the forum to identify young people to take a leadership role in the 2007 Internet Governance Forum in Rio. To participate in the discussion, you can subscribe to the forum by emailing YouthandIG-subscribe@groups.takingitglobal.org. -andy

Video Blogging to Combat Child Hunger

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Fighthunger.org, the blog of the United Nations World Food Programme, recently announced the launch of what they’re calling the Walk the World Viral Video Contest. They’re looking for people to produce a short video (120 seconds or less) offering an upbeat message that spreads the world about ending child hunger by the year 2015, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Anyone 18 years old or older is welcome to submit a video, and they’re encouraging users to upload their clips to either blip.tv or Ourmedia.org and tag them fhvideo.
The winning video will be used in official media campaigns of the UN World Food Programme, and the vlogger who produced the video will also be given a free trip to visit a school somewhere in the developing world where they’ll get to personally experience the World Food Programme in action.
If you’re interested in participating, please be sure to read the contest rules All videos submitted to the contest should use a Creative Commons Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share-Alike License. Videos must be submitted no later than December 15, 2006. So get out that camera and put together a video for a great cause! -andy
ps – Turns out this post is my 1300th post on this blog.

Talking About My New Book at the Harvard Berkman Center

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

On Thursday, April 6, I’m going to be giving a preview of my new book, “From the Ground Up: Evolution of the Telecentre Movement,” at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Every Thursday, a group of local bloggers get together to discuss Internet issues, and I’ll be talking about the book for this week’s meeting.
The book, edited by me and Mark Surman of Telecentre.org, explores the diversity of public computing initiatives around the world, examining the common visions and goals that unite them. It’s intended to inspire technology activists to realize that they’re part of a worldwide movement to bridge the digital divide, rather than working in isolation. The book will be distributed this spring by IDRC in Canada, but for now you can review a very large PDF version (It’s around 10 megabytes – a necessary evil given the hundreds of photographs in the book.)
If you happen to be in the Boston area, please feel free to join us Thursday evening at Berkman. It’ll take place at 7 PM at Baker House, 1587 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, north of Harvard Square. Hope to see some of you there!
Here are some screen shots of the book:


book-cover
The book cover

book-hungary
Opening to the Hungary chapter

book-usa
Opening to the USA chapter

book-ghana
Photo spread from the Ghana chapter

book-chile
Page from the Chile chapter

In Tunisia, The Sound of Enforced Silence

Monday, January 9th, 2006

Ever since the end of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, most of the mainstream media has turned its attention away from Tunisia’s shabby human rights record. WSIS, for a brief time, put an intense spotlight on the way the Tunisian government curtails free speech and suppresses political dissent. But the news coverage ended abruptly after WSIS delegates packed their bags and returned home.
Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper has picked up where other news outlets have left off, publishing a strong critique by Tunisian political activist Neila Charchour Hachicha. Some highlights from her essay:

In Tunisia, the price for speaking one’s mind is harsh. The late blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui spent a year and a half in prison for his Web commentary. The government sentenced teenagers in the southern port city of Zarzis to 19 years’ in prison for having clicked on Web sites of terrorist groups. The teenagers did nothing that analysts, journalists or curious persons do not do several times a month in any democratic state.
The Tunisian government regularly blocks access to my own party’s Web site and that of other liberal and secular opposition groups. The government has even blocked the sites of legally recognized opposition parties. Ben Ali tells Washington and Brussels that he alone stands in the way of fundamentalist groups, and he adds that Tunisia is a genuine democratic republic evolving at its own standards of evolution. Indeed each country has its specific context and needs its own standards of evolution; but freedom of speech is and will always be the minimal credible standard for any newborn democracy. Unless this freedom is guaranteed, a regime cannot pretend that it is evolving toward democracy….
It is humiliating to be denied freedom of expression in one’s own country. It was embarrassing that it needed the public intervention of the Swiss president to defend our cause and help Ben Ali remember that he must respect Tunisia’s national and international commitments as a member of the UN. Democracy cannot be a favor offered by a regime under international pressure. Liberty is a state of mind that each one of us, from the grass roots to the pinnacle of power, must practice every day through tolerance and within the framework of an independent legal system.
Instead of sending its experts after a crime is committed, the UN would be better off considering preventive sanctions for those countries whose regimes do not respect the fundamental rights of its citizens.

If you’ve never read the Daily Star, I highly recommend it, particularly for its opinions and editorials. They’re publishing some of the best English-language commentary on the evolving Middle East. -andy

A Nobel Prize-Winning Dinner

Sunday, November 20th, 2005

After an hour of misery commuting from the Palexpo, we finally arrived at the Diplomat. Other friends and colleagues had gathered there, and they were trying to coordinate enough taxis to get to the restaurant.
“Where is it?” I asked someone.
“In Gammarth.”
Ugh. After the most frustrating bus ride of the week, now we had to get in a taxi, go all the way back to the Palexpo, and continue a few more kilometers to Gammarth. Why on earth couldn’t this information have been relayed to us earlier? Fortunately, there were lots of old friends to comfort us. Suzanne Stein was more than happy to let me vent for a while, just to get it out of my system. (I owe you one, Suz.)
Our caravan of taxis drove north past Lake Tunis and the Palexpo, arriving at the Gammarth Abou Nawas Hotel’s Moroccan restaurant. It was an elegant affair, with beautiful north African tiles in abundance, delicate candle lighting and a trio of musicians performing wonderful malouf folk music. The restaurant was mostly empty, though I recognized one of my fellow civil society delegates at one of the other tables; I waved to him but didn’t go over to say hello, embarrassed by the fact that I couldn’t remember his name to save my life. All I could recall was that he’d served as the moderator and dragoman of a contentious human rights caucus meeting in Hammamet last year. He was sitting with another delegate and a middle-aged couple; maybe his parents had come on holiday from France?
Anyway, the rest of us feasted on a wonderful dinner – a fine selection of mezzes, salads , tagines and couscous dishes. At one point a belly dancer came out; I tried to appear as if I was focused on my food because I’ve always been a belly dancer magnet, if you will – wherever I travel, if there’s a public dancing performance, invariably the dancer pulls me on stage. Seriously, from Bolivia to Cuba to Dubai, I’ve been subjected to horrific embarrassment. There are two types of men in the world – those who relish swinging with a belly dancer, and those who fear it. I fear it. Thankfully, I was spared yet another dance, largely because enough of the other WSA men were more than happy to jump on the dance floor, even without her request. She actually seemed somewhat unprepared for the attention, and even stepped away from the men so they wouldn’t get too close.
The last man to dance with her was an absolute treat – he was the gentleman with the French delegate whose name I forgot. Unlike every other man who danced with her, he knew what he was doing. Quite astonishingly, he was a superb flamenco dancer. His passionate, highly precise performance transformed the whole ethos of the belly dance. The music hadn’t changed – it was still Moroccan, but the sheer act of dancing flamenco brought out the Andalusian elements in the music. Watching him perform was an absolute treat.
Once the dance was over, an Iranian colleague nervously got up and walked over to their table. He spoke to them for a moment and then came back.
“They will let me take a picture,” he said excitedly.
“With the flamenco dancer? ” I asked. That seemed odd.
“No, with Ms. Ebadi,” he replied, grinning from ear to ear.
I turned around and looked at the table. I looked at the woman with the unnamed French delegate. The human rights caucus delegate. Suddenly I realized we had been sitting across from Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi for the last three hours. I hadn’t even recognized her, despite the fact I’d seen her a couple of times over the course of the week.
The Iranian man asked if I would take their picture. I went over with him and he sat down with Ms. Ebadi, speaking in Farsi. The Frenchman said hello to me while they chatted. Boy I felt bad I couldn’t remember his name. Ebadi then said hello to me in English.
“Hello, it’s an honor to meet you,” I replied. “Thank you for coming to speak at the summit to represent civil society. I was very moved by your remarks.”
“Thank you,” she said slowly in English. “You are very welcome.”
I snapped several pictures of her with the Iranian man’s camera and mine before returning to our group. A little while later, as we were getting ready to return to our various hotels, he asked me to email him the photo of him with Ms. Ebadi.
“Would you also like me to post it on my blog?” I asked.
“Oh yes, that would be wonderful!” he replied immediately.
“Are you sure about that?” I said, somewhat surprised. “Might not that cause you some, err, problems when you go home to Iran?”
“That is a good point,” he said, just beginning to think it through. “Let me wonder about it for a while and then I shall tell you yes or no.”
Meanwhile, I started talking with some of my friends about their plans for the next day. Many of them were planning to tour Tunis or Carthage, then go to dinner at the home of one of our Tunisian colleagues. I had been invited as well, but I’d planned to go to Kairouan the next day. The more they talked about it, the more I wished I could stay just one more day, since I’d barely had any quality time with them. Alex then offered to put me up in his room at the Hotel Diplomat, since he had a second bed. Why not? Kairouan will still be there on Sunday.
Before getting in my taxi, the Iranian man approached me. “You know, I have thought about it some more…. Please trim me out of the photo before you blog it.”

Arbitrary Treatment

Sunday, November 20th, 2005

By the time we reached the final afternoon of WSIS, there was hardly a delegate in the Kram Palexpo who wasn’t thoroughly exhausted. Some people had been working nonstop for almost an entire week; you could feel a strong desire in the air to go home, go relax or go to sleep. (If you’re expecting me to post my final thoughts about WSIS now, you’ll have to wait a while. For a variety of reasons, I think it’s in my best interest for me to postpone my debriefing until I get home and can distance myself, shall we say, from the summit.)
There were lots of things going on at night – no doubt every delegation, if not every clique of delegates, planned to have a final get-together before departing Tunis. For me, my evening would be spent with friends I’d made in the Geneva phase of the summit. A group of us met at the ICT4ALL expo to assemble before heading to the Hotel Diplomat in Central Tunis, where we would rendezvous with other colleagues. I left the Palexpo one last time with Cyd Torquado of Brazil, Alex Felsenberg of Germany and several other colleagues; I also bumped into Phil Noble of PoliticsOnline, so the two of us sat together. The bus ride should have been relatively uneventful, but unfortunately it wasn’t.
As Phil and I were talking, a Tunisian woman in a red uniform was arguing with Cyd, who was sitting directly in front of us. She was clearly irritated, and spoke in fast Arabic despite the fact that Cyd didn’t speak the language. She then switched to English.
“I told you to open your bag.”
“Why? Who are you?” Cyd asked.
“Just do it,” she said.
“Are you carrying things?”
“What things?”
“Open your bag.”
Cyd finally opened his bag and she gave it a quick look. Apparently she had been walking through the bus randomly searching people, which was quite strange since we were leaving the summit for the last time. What was she looking for? Pavilion set pieces? Translation headphones? I can understand searching us going into the Palexpo, but departing it? This hadn’t happened all week.
A moment or two later she was standing in front of Phil and me. “Open your bag,” she barked. “Are you carrying things?”
“What things? I asked.
“Things,” she replied. “Bad things or good things?”
Another irritated delegate said behind us.
“Who are you?” Phil added. “May I see your identification?”
“No. Open your bag.”
She was wearing a badge, but it was turned around backwards. Phil reached out to flip it and she smacked his hand.
“How do we know who you are?” Alex chimed in. “If you are going to search us, identify your self.”
“What authority do you have?” Another person said. It was clear she was going to ignore anything we said. By now, it was my time to be verbally assaulted.
“Are you carrying things?” she demanded.
“Again, I ask you – what things would you like to see?” I said, increasingly irritated. She replied in Arabic. This was getting ridiculous.
“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” I said, running out of ideas. “Move along.” Clearly not getting the reference (I don’t think anyone else did either), she simply grabbed my backpack’s handle and unzipped the pocket closest to the straps. Inside there was almost nothing, except a couple pamphlets. Apparently these were not the droids she was looking for. Of course, there were three other pockets in my backpack jammed with all sorts of “things,” including electronic gadgets and a fine range of human rights-related reports; perhaps these “things” would have been more interesting for her? Who is to say.
The woman had moved on to Alex Felsenberg. He was now arguing in a mix of French and English. “This is ridiculous,” he sniped. “The summit is over. This is – what is the word – arbitrary. Completely arbitrary.”
Once she left, the group of us continued to complain among ourselves. “Is this the way they say goodbye to delegates here?” “That was pointless, utterly pointless.” “What gives her the right to search us without identifying herself?” Etc, etc. Once or twice some of the Tunisian delegates around us chimed in: “That was not right… She was probably exhausted, fatigue, you know- but that is no excuse…. She did it to us as well, but I do not know what she was searching for….”
Just as we were beginning to calm down, the bus stopped. A security official boarded the bus and went down the aisle, checking everyone’s WSIS badge. This was getting ridiculous. But everyone was too drained to argue at this point.

False Alarm: Protest Ends Without Incident

Friday, November 18th, 2005

Good news to report: the protest ended without incident. Police didn’t interfere, just made their presence known… Lots of relieved people here. -andy

Report: Riot Police Surround Protestors in Downtown Tunis

Friday, November 18th, 2005

UPDATE: The protest ended without incident; everyone is okay. -andy, 1:35pm
Breaking news from Tunis…. Word has reached civil society members here at WSIS that a group of protesters in downtown Tunis have been surrounded by riot police within the last hour. The protesters were apparently leaving the headquarters of a group of Tunisian hunger strikers when the incident began.
I spoke with a representative from AMARC, the World Association of Community Radio, who has been in contact with people on the scene with the protestors. Please note that all of this information is coming to me second hand, so I cannot confirm the exact details of what is going on, but here is what I was told.
“[Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Shirin Ebadi had called on them yesterday, pleading with them to end their hunger strike – that they were needed in the struggle. So they were to announce a decision this morning, and there was to be a press conference this morning.”
“We hadn’t heard anything more until half an hour ago [approximately 12:15pm local time],” they continued. “We were told that – our colleagues that are covering it had called – and that the people were moving out of [hunger strike] headquarters onto the street and onto [Avenue] Bourghiba, and that they were surrounded by riot police. And we are trying to get more information from them – it was very noisy and it was very difficult to hear when they called here. So we have other people who are trying to find out what was going on.”
I’ll post an update if I can get more information. Stay tuned… -andy

Coming Soon: Godzilla in 3D!

Friday, November 18th, 2005

One of my favorite moments yesterday at WSIS happened while I was exploring the Japan pavilion. They were showing off a whole range of new technologies, including a 3D TV that apparently didn’t require those funky disposable glasses.
I was asked to stand directly in front of the TV, about one meter away from it. They had marked off rectangle boxes on the floor so you could see where to position your feet. On the TV, a man was sitting in a chair, pretending to swing punches; a blue-green line flickered across the bottom of the screen. He was a little blurry, and certainly not 3D.
“Rock to the left and right very slowly while looking at the blue-green line,” the guy manning the booth said. “When the line turns completely green, stay in that position.”
I rocked back and forth for a few moments; nothing seemed to be happening. Then suddenly the line turned blue, and the man’s punches started to fly right in front of my nose. I instinctively leaned backwards to avoid the punch; the man next to me laughed.
“You must be seeing the 3D now,” he said.
“Oh yes, definitely, I replied. “How does the technology work?”
“It is a little difficult to explain,” he said. “If it knows where your eyes are positioned, it can trick you to see 3D.”
(punch, punch, swing, punch)
“What about if you want to walk around or slouch on your couch?”
“We will develop a version that can track your face so it can adjust the signal based on the position of your eyes.”
(swing, punch, punch, swing)
“But what if you want to watch a football game with a group of friends?”
“Ah, that will not work just yet,” he admitted. “More difficult problem to solve.”
Ready to leave the pavilion, I thanked him for demonstrating the TV.
“You’re welcome,” he replied.
“You’re welcome,” the man on the TV added.
My eyes must have bulged out for a moment, startled by the 3D pugilist talking to me. Now that’s a really cool trick, I thought for just a split second.
The whole time I was staring at the TV I managed to pay no attention to the man behind the screen – quite literally. Just behind the guy who was demonstrating the TV, I noticed a curtain. I had assumed it was just part of the pavilion’s walls, but suddenly the curtain opened and the virtual slugger appeared in the flesh.
“Hello!” he said, throwing a couple more punches my way. I laughed and took a few swings back at him; he playfully ducked and slipped behind the curtain.
Never doubt the Japanese ability to create bleeding-edge technology. Now if they can only go back and convert all of those Godzilla movies (and perhaps the entire catalogue of Ultra Man episodes) into 3D, now that’ll be an important breakthrough…. -andy