Internet Governance Forum Opens To Applause, Concerns

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By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch

Applause for the United Nations-Led Internet Governance Forum came from speakers at yesterday’s opening session of the four-day meeting.

US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) head Lawrence Strickling reiterated the US support for the IGF model, and compared it to the treaty approach currently underway for the review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR). A treaty conference is definitely not the right venue for the discussion about the challenges in internet issues, from economic challenges to freedom of expression, sustainability and others, he said.

The US delegation, the European Union delegation and the Indian Minister for Communications and Information technology, Kapil Sibal, all have met in special sessions with international civil society groups. Sibal in his opening address asked for a Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation that could come up with a collaborative, consultative, inclusive and consensual design to address public policy issues in cyberspace.

The new UN Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo – “the new man” – as he called himself in the opening, said he was impressed with the success of the IGF. Despite limited resources, the forum has grown in attention and in sheer numbers over the year. ITU Secretary General, Hamadoun Touré said the IGF is “an excellent example of multistakeholder interaction,” which was no wonder as it was a result from the multi-stakeholder World Summit on the Information Society organised by ITU.

Touré tried to dismiss all notions of mission creep by the ITU, by expressly welcoming the new chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Fadi Chehade, and by rejected claims that the new ITR were aimed to control the internet.

Yet despite the general display of harmony and applause for the IGF, not all is well. The British Minister for Culture and Communication, Edward Vaizey, in his opening address reminded the UN for that after another year it had still not filled the positions of the executive secretary for the IGF and also the former chair role, which had been performed by the special advisor to the UN secretary general on internet governance. Both positions have been vacant for nearly two years. As a donor country, Vaizey said he was not happy to see this and pointed to a similar comment made a year ago in Nairobi.

Even more grave concerns came from Expression Online, an initiative of local media freedom NGOs in Azerbaijan. In an open letter to the IGF secretariat and the delegates of the 7th IGF Expression Online complained that the IGF secretariat had not assigned a booth to the organisation and had also “tried to prevent the distribution of Expression Online Initiative’s reports” on the situation of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. Participants at a pre-event organised by Expression Online were able to receive copies of the reports. During that event, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunya Miyatovic, had appealed to the government in Azerbaijan to stop the harassment and prosecution of journalists and bloggers in the country. Emin Milli, a writer and dissident from Azerbaijan who presented the Expression Online report, in an open letter challenged the repeated statements of the Azerbaijani hosts that the internet was free in the republic.

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