Ministerial Round Table "Towards Knowledge Societies" Geneva 2003

Background

1. The international community is currently giving considerable attention to what has been designated as the “Information Society” and the opportunities that both traditional and new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are opening up for human progress and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. UNESCO aims to ensure that certain key intellectual and ethical concerns are not overlooked in the process.

2. The debate is not only about technology and infrastructure – however important these issues may be – but also about the broader social, cultural, economical, political and institutional dimensions of change and the resultant need for a more complex, holistic and comprehensive vision and a clear developmental perspective.

3.Indeed, enhancing information flows alone is not enough if the opportunities for development that are offered by knowledge are to be truly grasped. Discussions should therefore preferably be based on the concept of knowledge societies rather than on that of a global information society and focus on key principles, enshrined in the universal instruments related to human rights, and notably the equitable sharing of the benefits of scientific and technical progress, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

4. UNESCO is busy seeking to spread this message through a variety of events accompanying the present global discussion on the development of the information society. It is the core of its work in the UN ICT Task Force, the Global Knowledge Partnership and in its contributions to the process leading to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). This Ministerial Round Table Meeting, the UNESCO High-Level Colloquium bringing together political and intellectual leaders on the eve of the first Summit meeting in Geneva and a number of side events at the Summit itself, are all milestones along this road.

5. The Ministerial Round Table Meeting is intended to encourage international debate on issues related to education, sciences, culture and communication in knowledge societies and to allow ministers in charge of ICTs and information society related issues in UNESCO Member States to exchange ideas and experiences. It is also intended to sensitize ministers to the importance of content in the discussion related to ICTs and to provide them with additional elements for the preparation of their countries' input into the various events and decisions ahead.

6. The Ministerial Declaration to be adopted by the participants in the Round Table Meeting is expected to outline a set of basic principles and guidelines for the development of equitable knowledge societies as an aid to political leaders in their decisions in general and in preparing the World Summit on the Information Society in particular. Taking account of the Millennium Development Goals and being linked to the work of the WSIS Preparatory Committee, it should build on pertinent resolutions, recommendations and declarations already adopted by the Member States of UNESCO.

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