NZ rethinks info society powwow

The prospect of a New Zealand minister or other senior figure attending the World Summit on Information Societies in Geneva in December is looking decidedly slim.

The prospect of a New Zealand minister or other senior figure attending the World Summit on Information Societies in Geneva in December is looking decidedly slim.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says there will be no New Zealand government commitment until after PrepCom 3, the third preparatory meeting, scheduled for September.

MFAT’s Cathie McGregor was one of the two delegates to PrepCom 2, also in Geneva, at the end of last month. “I need to reflect first,” McGregor said last week, a few days after returning. “Then we need to consult ministers and examine where the texts emerging from the meetings are going.”

Also there is “the current state of the world” to consider, she says, implying that war in Iraq and terrorism-related matters may disrupt plans and give ministers other priorities.

PrepCom 2 is a long way through preparation of two key documents, a declaration and a plan of action. Delegates had hoped to finish the documents at the preparatory conference, “but we didn’t get as far as we expected”, McGregor says.

New Zealand is still “involved in the process” of creating the conference framework, even if no one senior attends, she says.

The nine-page draft declaration takes as its key the principle of “an inclusive global information society … where all persons, without distinction, are empowered freely to create, receive, share and utilise information and knowledge for their economic, social, cultural and political development.”

The document points to the changes ICT has already wrought on the relationships between citizens and their governments, and calls on “all stakeholders” in government, non-governmental organisations, businesses and civil society to “embrace fully their new roles and responsibilities”.

“The use of ICTs in human resources and human capacity development, including ICT literacy, should be promoted as a continuous and fundamental requirement of the Information Society,” says the declaration. It calls for “the existence of independent and free communication media” — but adds, “in accordance with the legal system of each country”.

Equitable access should extend across gender and socio-economic spectra, the declaration says, and this implies an “adequately developed” and continually upgraded digital infrastructure in all countries. If taken seriously this will perhaps mean more work for ICT-skilled New Zealand professionals internationally.

The draft plan of action calls for the creation of national and regional “ICT backbones” on internationally-recognised standards; they are called more explicitly “IP backbones” at one point in the document.

“Priority shall be placed on strengthening local microenterprises and small and

medium-sized enterprises through their integration into the digital economy.

“Public policies must foster innovation and entrepreneurship. The development of technology-based firms shall be encouraged through such mechanisms as venture capital funds, technology parks and business incubators, together with the participation of academic institutions and research networks.”

Email Stephen Bell

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