A lot of Day 1 of PP14 was about looking good. The South Korean hosts of the event wanted to present the best of Korean ICTs and culture to the world. The outgoing Secretary-General wanted to present his stewardship over the last four years of ITU as a success (yep, even that WCIT bit). Member States wanted to present themselves as being progressive leaders of ICT adoption and innovation.
There wasn’t much of substance discussed on Day 1, so the overview of the day below is rather short:
Opening ceremonies like this are fairly predictable affairs, whether they be at ITU, ICANN or the IGF: they’re full of very earnest statements to the already converted about the importance of the organization whose meeting it is, followed by a bunch of facts and figures showing how the local host country is a leader in the area of whatever topic the meeting is focusing on. This is followed by glitzy videos of local culture and attractions. Everyone agrees with the speakers on how important the work of the meeting is (“Yeah! We’re doing Very Important Things!”) and then wonder if they can slip away at some point to experience some of the touristy things they’re being shown glimpses of.
The highlight of the P14 Opening Ceremony was the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, speaking. She spoke about the hyper-connected digital world we are moving into. Her presence, however, resulted in wifi and mobile phone signals being jammed in the room for the duration of the Ceremony. People had to pay attention to the speakers instead of surfing the Net. Oh, the hardship of it all.
Outgoing Secretary-General Dr Hamadone Toure spoke confidently about how well the next three weeks would proceed and how much cooperation and collaboration there would be between delegates to develop goals for ITU to achieve in the next four years. In other words, there will be good outcomes, y’all hear? Even if it means Dr Toure has to come into the room and beat heads together until you learn the value of cooperation, ‘kay?
Member States embarked on the first of many sessions that will include Policy Statements from Member States. There are 193 Member States, and all have the option to speak for five minutes, so we could be in for a bit of marathon over the next few days as we try and get through them all.
Countries that delivered their speeches on Day 1 were:
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
- Viet Nam
Not all have been translated into other languages yet, but policy statements are published shortly after they have been presented on the floor.
Rather than try and explain what the contents of all these policy statements were about, here’s a summary of it in 140 characters:
— Samantha Dickinson (@sgdickinson) October 20, 2014
Finally, three highlights from the policy statements:
- Japan supported the multistakeholder model of ICTs without ever using the word “multistakeholder”. Is “multistakeholder” becoming as taboo as references to “NETmundial” in some circles? Is it possible that Japan is trying to encourage some of the other States to embrace the concept of multistakeholderism by repackaging it in ways that they won’t balk at?
- Russia emphasized their deep concerns about cyber threats and the need for an international (intergovernmental) approach to tackling these problems. This should not surprise anyone as it is a position they have had for a long time now. The English interpretation of their speech talked about concerns about domain names and databases being corrupted, causing routing problems. Until we get a more leisurely translation of the written version of the speech, however, I would advise not becoming overly excited or concerned about this reference, as nuances of meaning can be lost in live interpretation.
- Saudi Arabia requested that the ITU play a leading role in the preparatory process for the overall review of the 10th anniversary of WSIS happening in 2015. The UN General Assembly resolved earlier this year that the preparatory process begin in June 2015, culminating in a High-Level Meeting during the General Assembly in December 2015. ITU was the initiator of the original WSIS process, having first passed a resolution on WSIS back at its 1998 Plenipotentiary. In 2001, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that turned it into a UN-wide event. Given ITU’s pivotal role in creating the WSIS process, it is understandable that some Member States may want ITU to have a pre-eminent role in the upcoming WSIS+10 overall review. Particularly as two of the other key UN bodies involved in the WSIS+10 review process, UNESCO and CSTD, have demonstrated a more multistakeholder-friendly attitude toward the WSIS process. The ITU, on the other hand, is still an active battle ground between States that want ITU to be more multistakeholder and those that want ITU to remain predominantly intergovernmental in nature.