Vietnam Internet Forum discusses Internet Universality indicators

Vietnam Internet Forum discusses Internet Universality indicators

UNESCO’s concept of Internet Universality featured strongly in discussions in Hanoi this week during Vietnam’s first-ever Internet Forum, hosted by the Embassy of Sweden and the Ministry of Information and Communications.

A special session interrogated UNESCO’s project to develop indicators to assess national situations concerning online Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multistakeholder participation (known as the ROAM principles).

An earlier session on Digital Access also saw reference to the ROAM indicators, and remarks about their interdependence by UNESCO director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger.  He signalled how progress on Media and information literacy under the “A” (i.e. Accessibility” could, for example, help reinforce the right to freedom of expression under “R” – Rights.

Jaldeep Katwala, Sze Ming Tan, Arthit Suriyawongkul, and Hong Phuc Dang at the Vietnam Internet Forum
Jaldeep Katwala, Sze Ming Tan, Arthit Suriyawongkul, and Hong Phuc Dang at the Vietnam Internet Forum

In the special session, Arthit Suriyawongkul of the Internet and Civic Culture group (Thailand) cautioned against separating online and offline considerations.

At the same time, he pointed out that the right to association online tends to become primarily a communications issue, and should be considered as such. He also raised the challenges of ensuring online anonymity given that Internet communications require entailed IP addresses.

 The importance of the indicators covering openness issues such as open data and open markets was raised by Hong Phuc Dang, the founder of Fossasia. She highlighted how regulation in favour of these values could help strengthen entrepreneurship, smart cities and Internet development within countries.

Communications researcher Nguyen Nhung urged that the indicators give significant attention to rural-urban divides, and that they should have a definition of “universality” that included access to use of the Internet by vulnerable people as well as the LGBT community.  

From Malaysia’s Sinar project, Sze Ming Tan proposed that UNESCO’s emerging indicators should assess the extent to which stakeholders are empowered to participate, and the extent to which they actually report back to constituencies.

The session was moderated by Jaldeep Katwala of the Fojo Media Institute, who also underlined the importance of indicators to assess transparency around decisions to limit rights online.

UNESCO’s Berger proposed that the ROAM indicators, once finalized, would be like assessing the functioning of the limbs of an elephant.  “It is important for the Internet as a creature to move forward on all four legs, and to avoid being slowed through one of them dragging behind”, he stated.

 “As with an elephant, the Internet at the national level should also harmonise with the local ecosystem of actors and issues,” said Berger. The national level in turn should also be aligned to international standards for human rights, added the UNESCO director.

Once finalized, the indicators will be presented to the council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in 2018.

Working with the APC consortium in developing the indicators, UNESCO has now completed a first phase consultation about what issues needed to be addressed.

“Later this week the project will move into the second phase of requesting comment on actual draft indicators which have been elaborated on the basis of phase one,” Berger told the Forum.