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Swiss drum up support for Information Summit

A Geneva summit hopes to break down the digital divide

(Keystone)

Organisers of the World Summit on the Information Society say they are concerned that a lack of interest and substance could threaten the event's success.

The first phase of the summit - hosted by Switzerland - kicks off in December, while a second round of high-level talks is slated to take place in Tunisia in 2005.

"I feel we are behind, although others say we're ahead," Mark Furrer, head of the Federal Communications Office, told swissinfo.

"We have to use the next few months to improve the content... people are also not yet aware enough of the summit."

The government has been keen to raise the profile of the event, taking advantage of the recent G-8 summit in France to drum up support among world leaders.

"The promotion has begun and several presidents from Europe and Africa have already confirmed their presence in December," said Furrer.

He declined to comment on which leaders were planning to attend the summit, but he said he was optimistic that between 50 and 70 heads of state would show up.

He added that he did not know whether President Bush would attend.

Concrete goals

Furrer underscored the need for governments and the private sector to take an active role in the Geneva talks, which are aimed at ensuring equal access to information for all people.

"We need a meeting point like Geneva to find new solutions for the digital divide... And afterwards, the private sector will have to make a certain investment in order to reap the harvest," he said.

He added that Switzerland was doing everything in its power to ensure that the event yielded more than just a list of good intentions.

"We don't want to just talk about theoretical solutions... We want to come up with best practices and show how information technologies can keep people better informed and improve health and education systems," said Furrer.

The Swiss believe one of the key elements for a successful summit will be to come up with a "politically relevant action plan that is as substantial and focused as possible".

Developing nations

The summit was also the focal point of an address by the Swiss communications minister, Moritz Leuenberger, during a recent state dinner with the leaders of non-G-8 countries in Lausanne.

In his speech, Leuenberger called on the emerging country leaders, including the South African president Thabo Mbeki and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, to lend their full support to the talks.

"In order for it to succeed, the summit needs you," said Leuenberger.

According to Furrer, the leaders were enthusiastic about the event.

"The response of emerging countries was very positive because the summit is about their problems," he told swissinfo.

Switzerland plans to host a series of summit-related "side events" in December, which will specifically address the growing divide between information "haves and have-nots".

The UN also plans to organise a World Forum on Electronic Media, as well as a symposium with Nobel laureates during the summit.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Info summit

The first phase of the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society will take place in Geneva from December 10-12.

Its aim is to come up with an action plan to ensure equal access to information for all people.

Switzerland has begun actively campaigning to drum up support for the event, which will bring together representatives from governments, civil society and the private sector.

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