Questions on ICT Policy

I was recently interviewed on my thoughts on ICT policy advocacy and the work of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Extracts from this interview, conducted by APC, refer more to my political views than that of ICT policy itself.

Outline what you think are the significant ICT policy advocacy issues at national level in developing countries, countries in transition and developed countries?

Affordable access, freedom to communicate and policies to protect, broaden and enhance communication from all facets of society, particularly that which is not governed by commercial or private interests are at the heard of ICT policy advocacy issues in many countries, not only developing and transitional.

In general, developing countries face economic and public communication challenges to implement affordable infrastructure. In addition to, and often in parallel, limits to what can be said, what can be heard and what can be seen are impediments to the free use of ICTs and more importantly, the maturation of a healthy and informed society.

Many developed countries fear democratized flows of information and will, as is evidenced in Australia, construct impediments within policy towards a sustainable, innovative and dynamic community broadcast sector. Technologies do provide for many more opportunities in which to express oneself and the interests of communities, but they can also provide safe haven for policies that limit the extent by which communities may foster the means by which they communicate with each other.

How do you think the APC regional and global policy work can be used strategically for supporting national policy work in different countries?

This is a very broad question and one that deserves far more time than can be afforded in this document. However, from my experience, I can offer some brief suggestions based on the premise that as ICTs are part of our everyday lives, ICT policies can no longer remain isolated from public discourse and the ballot box.

  1. Improve the branding, visibility and national engagement of the ICT Policy Portals. I am not sure what happened to the Asia Policy Portal, but this is one such project that could have brought together regional issues into a multi-lingual aggregation site, maximizing what resources were available towards strengthening the national sites rather than denude their impact.
  2. Assist in capacity building of APC members to engage more effectively within ICT policy within their countries. This may entail forging common ground with other like-organisations, strengthening advocacy outreach from both a research and practical basis.
  3. It would be invaluable to link ICT policy with other issues paramount in each country. For instance, ICT policy within the digital content industries may limit the effectiveness of community television broadcasters within the digital spectrum. Linking this with issues of employment, multiculturalism, religion has the potential to bring complex policy issues to the heart of many communities.
  4. The migration of the APC discussion papers to audio, video and DVD, to ensure their broad reach, to engage with communities in discussion from the cabin of a semi-trailer to the television talk-shows that inhabit most living rooms.
  5. Broaden the scope of advocacy work to engage with the arts that which reaches communities from all walks of life.

Describe your experience in building capacities in civil society organizations for influencing policy processes. What have been the main lessons driven from your experience that you would reflect in your work, in case you are selected?

I have had mixed success in broadening capacity for such work within civil society, but I have had extensive experience in extending capacity for low cost ICT infrastructure from as early as 1991 and earlier still in the community broadcast sector. On a policy basis, I have worked within organizations that have seen changes in policy within the organization, and organizations that deal specifically with policy on a national level.

In the past 14 months I have been involved in the establishment of Open Spectrum Australia, an organization set up to deal specifically with the issues of digital spectrum allocation to the community television broadcast sector. The organization has been extremely effective in its short life-span, largely due to the skills, creativity and determination of its key members. The capacity that has grown within the organization has been with its members, who have managed to gain access to both popular media and legislators. This effort, largely a series of papers, a very effective television campaign, representation to parliament and responses to parliamentary reviews, may just have created the kind of outcome we have been looking for, at least in the short-term. And we have done so with no budget, no central office, no logo and no visible website.

What I have learnt from this recent experience, and that of my 25 years in community media, is that no matter how hard we try, no matter how far we travel, no matter the extent of our success, it is both these and our failures that teach us that to communicate, to express oneself, to be informed and to make informed decisions is a right that we must all sustain…and to do so takes not only the pen of the academic, it takes the soil stained hands of the gardener, the sharp tongue of the poet and the compassion of a priest to ensure we are not silenced, that we are heard, understood and welcomed on the common ground that is our home.

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