Open letter to GAC chair Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi asking for open meetings

Here's a copy of a letter I've sent to the chair of ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee asking him to include a review of its closed session policy as part of the wider GAC review.

I'm dead serious about it. I don't think there are any good reasons left to maintain closed sessions and the GAC would actually benefit enormously from ending them and letting in observers.

Anyway, here is:

Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi
Governmental Advisory Committee to ICANN
Industry Development Division
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission
Level 11, Menara Dato' Onn, PWTC
45 Jalan Tun Ismail
50480 Kuala Lumpur

Dear Mr. Tarmizi,

The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN is at a turning point in its history, having recently been recognised by the world's governments as the main forum in which to discuss many of the issues surrounding the Internet.

As you yourself have publicly acknowledged as chair of the GAC, an integral part of this endorsement will be reform of the committee itself. Discussion over what shape these reforms should take and how they should be implemented is due to take place at ICANN's conference in Vancouver this week.

I would like to argue very strongly in favour of one reform that would not only enhance the GAC's role but also lend it greater credibility in the eyes of the world. That is: to end the practice of holding closed GAC meetings and instead allow interested observers to sit in on all meetings of the GAC and report on its deliberations.

One of the most striking features of the recent World Summit process, culminating in this month's meeting in Tunis, was the benefit derived from free and open dialogue between all stakeholders.

This openness, and the inclusion of civil society, was remarked upon by all, not least United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, as a step in the right direction and something of lasting advantage to all parties.

The philosophy of a multi-stakeholder process with free and open dialogue was also explicitly endorsed through countless mentions in the Tunis Summit final documents.

I would very much like to see the GAC continue in this spirit of co-operation and allow non-participatory observers into all meetings. What's more, I am convinced that it is in the GAC's own interests to relax its rules.

The dispute over Internet Governance saw the world's governments meeting publicly several times in order to discuss a highly contentious matter. The result of this real-world process was that many of the arguments previously put forward by governments to retain closed meetings of the GAC were effectively demolished.

There were no disruptions. Rather, a far greater understanding of governments' perspectives was fostered.

There was no inaccurate or misleading reporting of events within the meetings. In actual fact, by having the meetings open, a certain degree of balance was achieved when the implications of decisions made inside were selectively represented by various parties outside in order to sway public opinion. There were at least no doubts over what people had actually said.

There is also little reason for governments to be anxious or uncomfortable about publicly expressing their views. In part thanks to WSIS, observers are now well aware of individual government's perspectives. The huge educational process that all sides went through now means that participants are able to state their views without fear of being misunderstood.

At the same time, there are several clear advantages to holding open meetings.

For one, they would provide instant accountability and put valuable pressure on participants to co-operate with one another in a constructive manner, to everyone's benefit.

They would produce greater understanding of governments' position on matters of vital importance. Everyone without exception accepts that governments have an important role to play in the Internet. As a result, the better understood governments' views are, the more efficient decision-making processes can be expected to be.

Plus of course, open meetings would increase the GAC's credibility in the eyes of the public, and eliminate the fear that secret deals are being done behind closed doors.

With the Internet now the subject of global, widespread review, there is a large, genuine and legitimate interest in all its decision-making processes. With the GAC a fundamental part of this, not only would it be beneficial to open up meetings, but failure to do so in the light of recent events could be viewed as a retrograde step.

I therefore ask that in your capacity of chair of the GAC, you review, and prompt committee members to review, the policy of closed meetings.


Yours sincerely,

Kieren McCarthy
Freelance journalist