At the Summit for Information and Democracy held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the Forum on Information and Democracy announced the up-coming creation of an International Observatory on Information and Democracy. The prefiguration group will be co-chaired by the US academic Shoshana Zuboff and by the former secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurría.
Held on 24 September in New York and via video-conference, the first Summit for Information and Democracy was attended by dozens of foreign ministers from all continents, the OECD’s current Secretary-General, the Director-General of UNESCO, the European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, and many prominent civil society figures and led to concrete deliverables. The event was the latest result of the Initiative on Information and Democracy that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched three years ago with the aim of devising and implementing democratic safeguards in the global information and communication space.
In his opening address, Christophe Deloire, Chair of the Forum on Information and Democracy and Secretary-General of RSF, announced the creation of the International Observatory on Information and Democracy, “an equivalent for democratic disruption of what the IPCC is for climate disruption.” The Observatory will carry out regular evaluations of the information and communication space. It will enable democratic governments and societies to have a clear understanding of phenomena taking place in this space, how it functions and their impact on democracy.
The Observatory’s “Prefiguration Group,” which is tasked with determining the Observatory’s precise objectives, methodology and resources, will be jointly chaired by Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and by Angel Gurría, former OECD secretary-general, former Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance.
The Forum also announced the creation of a working group on accountability regimes for social network accounts and their users, whose composition will be unveiled shortly.
“The success of the Summit for Information and Democracy will enable us to expand the international process we launched, inspired by the one already existing to combat climate change,” Deloire said. “The strengthening and deepening of the work of the governments that have signed up to the Partnership for Information and Democracy and civil society is guaranteed thanks to the announced holding of regular meetings that will be the equivalent of the Conferences of the Parties, the well-known COPs, and will be based on reports provided by the Observatory, the equivalent of the IPCC. The Forum will keep on producing concrete recommendations in its reports and will be a place for consultation and dialogue between governments and civil society.”
The high-level discussions at this summit focused on the recommendations made by the Forum in two reports, one on “How to end Infodemics” (published in 2020) and one calling for “A New Deal for Journalism” (published in June 2021).
A civil society coalition on information and democracy that was launched ahead of the summit will reinforce these activities by means of a collective and coordinated international mobilisation campaign. The call published by the coalition on 20 September highlights the central role that these civil society organisations intend to play in creating democratic safeguards in the digital space.
The summit was chaired by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who hailed the creation of the Observatory. “This tool will be particularly useful for analysing trends in the global information space on a regular basis,” he says. “This observatory will also be able to feed our work and our reflections in multilateral institutions.”
The Minister announced a workshop on the objectives of the Observatory at the Paris Peace Forum (11-13 November 2021), and the organization of annual Summits for Information and Democracy in years to come.