Bali Spirit promotes media and technology for peace

Rita A. Widiadana and Wasti Atmodjo, The Jakarta Post, Jimbaran

The three-day Global Peace Forum conference concluded here Tuesday with the issuance of the Spirit of Bali, a strong commitment to build a new mechanism through which media, information technology and emerging means of communication can contribute to enhance mutual understanding among peoples and cultures.

The meeting, organized jointly by UNESCO and the Indonesian government in Jimbaran, Bali, discussed ways to optimize the use of conventional and new high-tech forms of communication.

Those include the Internet, cell phones and satellites. Participants said these tools could be used to narrow the wide disparities that led to conflicts, including the increasing religious, social and ethnic tensions in many parts of the world.

"Today, we find ourselves in the fortunate position of being able to carry out communications and dialogue on a global basis more efficiently than ever before," Abdul Waheed Khan said during the closing of the meeting.

New information and communication technology provide possibilities for global access and participation that the conventional and mainstream media cannot afford.

While in the past the notion of media convergence was an abstraction pushed by communication theorists and technological innovators, now people all over the world are sending their own version of news via short message service (SMS), videos on their cell phones, the internet and other devices.

The World Wide Web has vaporized national perimeters of media flow, bringing content from anywhere in the world to anyone with an internet connection. The availability of broadband has spawned platforms such as YouTube, My Space and other leading-edge websites that are constantly developing to keep pace with audience trends.

"We have the means, motive and opportunity to be everywhere at once," said Khan, adding that these abilities can foster democracy, transparency and a strong civil society for the betterment of the world's people.

The meeting, involving 100 participants from 34 countries, proposed the establishment of a steering committee to explore the possibility of building the Power of Peace Network, connecting all member countries through communication.

Arief Rachman, Executive Chairman of the Indonesian National Commission for UNESCO, explained that the recommendations are not legally binding for the member countries.

"UNESCO has the ability to establish standards. Each member country should follow up with enforcing actions such as creating laws and infrastructures," Arief said.

In the case of Indonesia, he said the government had a lot of homework to do to provide an adequate communications infrastructure for its 230 million people, so that they can catch up with the rapid developments in economics, science, technology and other fields.

State Minister of Communications and Information Sofyan Djalil recently acknowledged that Indonesia still lags behind other countries.

Data from the Indonesian Internet Business Community is not encouraging. Compared with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia has the lowest growth rate in Internet users, mostly due to a lack of infrastructure.

Currently, only around two million Indonesians, or less than 1 percent of the total population, use the Internet. Malaysia and Singapore are at 20 percent to 30 percent.

In addition to inadequate infrastructure, low buying power also affects people's access to computers and the internet. Currently there are only 5 personal computers (PCs) per 100 households in urban areas here. In rural areas, a rate of 1 per 100 per households is still an elusive dream.

Arwin Rasyid, president of PT Telkom, the state-owned telecommunication and internet provider, previously said that building telecommunication infrastructures is expensive and difficult in an archipelago such as Indonesia.

"It would require an investment of billions of US dollars to get everybody equal access to telecommunication facilities," he said.

There are only 20 million telephone land-line users in Indonesia, while there are more than 60 million with cell phones. "Connecting to the Internet is still quite expensive at Rp 165 per minute," Rasyid added.

PT Telkom is presently building new networks and infrastructures in several remote areas across the country. The company has been launching a number of programs, such as Internet Goes 2 Campus and School and Internet Goes 2 Villages to boost the number of internet users in the country.

"The programs involve 2.2 million school and university students, while by the year 2020, we hope to reach 6,060 villages through our rural internet program," he said.

Despite his optimism, the road to equal communication access in Indonesia is still long, and putting UNESCO's Spirit of Bali recommendations into action will be a significant challenge.
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