Broadcast Media in the Information Society?
  World Electronic Media Forum
  14 November 2005. One day before the start of the WSIS summit, the World Electronic Media Forum has opened its doors. The Forum, which takes place within the summit compound and as an official parallel event, is a two-day conference to highlight the important role of traditional media in the information society.

For TV and radio broadcasters, and more generally for all traditional media organizations, the WSIS has not always been a happy process. Conceived primarily as a summit on ,new' technologies and the Internet, the WSIS documents have side-lined the role of traditional media channels as well as of media content. Media organizations have played a prominent role in the ever-present debates on freedom of expression, and the Media Caucus - the main civil society-based space on media issues - has become a prominent advocate calling for establishing and deepening this right. Yet the wider issues around the role of media have been largely neglected.

So, at the first WSIS summit in Geneva 2003, an alliance of broadcasting unions - amongst them the European Broadcasting Union EBU, the North American Broadcasters Association NABA, and the Associacion Internacional de Radiodiffusion AIR - held the first World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF) to highlight the media-related shortcomings of the WSIS process. This endavour is being continued in Tunis.

For the next two days, representatives of media organizations, journalist unions, media regulators, and the UN will discuss topics such as the safety of journalists in conflict zones, the use of information technology in broadcast media, audiovisual archives, cultural diversity, and the role of media in development. Amongst them are Sashi Tharoor and Josť Antonio Ocampo, both Under-Secretary-Generals of the UN, as well as Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, making the WEMF one of the most high-level events taking place in Tunis during these days.

Critical voices, however, are rare on the WEMF agenda. Rather than discussing the boycot which many civil society side-event-organisers have decided for today, in response to the on-going repressive acts against civil society by the Tunisian authorities, the opening speakerHabib Chawki Hamraoui, President of the Arab States Broadcasting Union ASBU, thanked the Tunisian President Ben Ali for his hospitality. In spite of the often-repeated commitment of media representatives to freedom of expression, and their criticism of the WSIS host country Tunisia, participants have failed to find a session focusing explicitly on rights and freedoms on the WEMF agenda.

Most of the speakers of the WEMF will represent big (and often conservative) industry, rather than civil society-based approaches. The session "Using ICT in the Broadcasting World" includes a Microsoft representative as main ICT speaker, and the session on cultural diversity will feature the Vice-President of the Venezuelan Association of the Broadcasting Industry - although, in 2002, the Venezuelan mainstream media had supported a military coup d'etat against the elected president of the country.

The WEMF will highlight the important role of media content and traditional media platforms, such as radio and TV. Yet it is likely to be a gathering of the media establishment. For critical voices and new, original approaches, one will have to look elsewhere.

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