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New Book: Communicating in the Information Society

10 Dec 2003



A press conference to launch UNRISD’S new publication, Communicating in the Information Society, will be held on 10 December 2003, from 11:30-12:30 (Halle 4, Room No 10) at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which will take place at the PALEXPO exhibition centre in Geneva. The two editors, Bruce Girard and Seán Ó Siochrú, will be presenting the book, along with Michael Powell, who is in charge of the Institute's project on development and information and communication technologies.

This 235-page edited volume brings together various perspectives on the information society. It questions which information society we are building, and who will benefit most from it. The contributions range from practical, down-to-earth advice on concrete implementation of an information society, through strategies to enrich the potential of WSIS, to philosophical insights into the central concepts. They all support the idea that the process of communicating must be at the centre of such a society.

The book begins by focusing on two groups of users who are critical to designing and implementing an information society that empowers instead of divides, and whose needs and potential are often ignored: women and local communities. It makes the case for gender mainstreaming in WSIS. It also lays down the principles and practice of “community informatics”, concerned with the design, deployment and management of information systems by communities themselves, designed to solve their own problems.

One of the contributions discusses the powerful dynamic of “traditional media” which is often neglected because of the focus on the development potential of the Internet. It provides a reminder of the impact of television, newspapers and radio, which is more far reaching and pervasive than Internet, especially in the South. It also stresses the need to place the public interest at the centre stage of all forms of media.

Another contribution argues that WSIS can provide an opportunity to establish a new media framework in which media can flourish and contribute to democratic public life and human development. Such a framework can both enhance freedom of expression and promote in practice the right to communicate.
One of the contributors recalls that the international community has established a broad set of human rights standards on how informational developments should interact with society as a whole. It underlines the need to encourage and democratize communication as an interactive and participative process and calls on WSIS participants to mobilize around achieving the right to communicate.

A chapter on scientific journals looks at how a narrow, conventional and profit-maximizing trend has created an institutional elite and highly profitable business through ever more tightly policed gateways for accessing scientific knowledge. It also discusses how the information society involves strategic aims which, in effect, serve to control the political debates surrounding the production, storage and reception of information.

The last contribution, a glossary of the information society, counters the tendency to reduce the information society to a purely technical or economic discourse, clarifies the meaning of terms, and lays the groundwork for a rights-based approach. Finally, it should be noted that the Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) campaign is where the idea for this area of research originated.

Contents
What About Gender Issues in the Information Society?, Dafne Sabanes Plou
A Community Informatics for the Information Society, William McIver
The Other Information Revolution: Media and Empowerment in Developing Countries, James Deane et al.
Media and Democratization in the Information Society, Marc Raboy
Human Rights for the Information Society, Cees Hamelink
Locating the Information Society within Civil Society: The Case of Scientific and Scholarly Publications, Jean-Claude Guédon
A Brief Descriptive Glossary of Communication and Information Aimed at Providing Clarification and Improving Mutual Understanding, Antonio Pasquali

Sean O Siochru is co-founder and director of Nexus Research in Dublin. Bruce Girard is an independent media worker and formerly researcher at the Delft University of Technology.