Understanding the encounter at the WSIS requires an enquiry spanning over 30 years, covering two main strands that converged in Geneva December 2003. One, the ‘information society’ debate, takes in the role of information, the internet and the ‘digital divide’ and can be traced to the 1970s. The other, the ‘communication debate’, encompasses broader issues of knowledge ownership and use, media diversity and communication. Its defining moment came in the early 1980s with the MacBride Report of UNESCO. Although each has its (uniquely compromised) history, only one, the latter, is likely to have a future. At the WSIS, these intersected in both official and unofficial fora. The impact was felt within the intergovernmental process, but more profoundly within the spaces of civil society. Burdened with ideologically inspired promises it could never fulfil, comprised by a worn out neoliberal agenda, the outcome of the ‘information society’ debate in the plenary halls was always going to be limited. The ‘communication society’ debate, on the other hand, marked the completion of a shift from governments to civil society as the driving force, and a potentially deeper and more democratic articulation of the issues. It culminated with the publication of the Civil Society Declaration. The further development of this agenda must look outside the WSIS road to Tunis, and develop a stronger presence at civil society venues such as the World Social Forum, and at global governance meetings and events.
International Communication Gazette, June 2004 vol. 66 no. 3-4 203-224.