I was at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens last week taking pictures, among other things. I have finally been through all the snaps and have posted a few below amid a quick rundown of events.
The remainder can be found at my IGF photo gallery/archive at kierenmccarthy.co.uk/photos/igf/. If anyone has any questions or queries, please email me at: kieren [at] thiswebaddress.co.uk.
|All pictures here are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial- ShareAlike 2.0 Licence|
|That means that you are free to use the pictures for non-commercial purposes so long as you give me a credit. If you wish to use any image for a publication, newsletter and so on, or if you need a high-resolution version (professional quality, Canon EOS 20D, 3504px by 2336px), please contact me. I will charge according to the National Union of Journalist’s pricing chart.|
Where do you start with the IGF?
Well, as good a place as any is the man that has put a year of his life turning what was no more than a vague blueprint rapidly negotiated as a compromise in Tunis in November 2005 into an international conference that has been heralded as an “outstanding success” — Mr Markus Kummer.
I don’t pretend to understand how the United Nations works, but I do know that taking responsibility of the IGF was in career terms a big gamble for Markus. It was an entirely untested method of multi-stakeholder dialogue, the terms were incredibly vague and everyone and their dog had a different idea of how it should be set up and run.
There was a huge number of people watching the IGF, many determined to push their particular agendas, and more than a few willing it to fail. When Markus told me 12 months ago that he was concerned a year was a very short period in which to organise such an event, I wasn’t sure I believed him. Having followed the process, I am now surprised he managed to do it at all. That he did, with a serious lack of resources, and was still relaxed on the Saturday lunchtime before the conference – as the pic above testifies – demonstrates his remarkable resilience.
Not to be outdone, Chengetai Masango – the other man in the IGF’s permanent secretariat – even remained calm when I prodded him to shift the entire IGF2006.info website onto the UN’s servers just hours before the conference opened proper, and despite having 1,000 more pressing issues. I never heard him moan or raise his voice, even when the pressure was more than most people could bear.
It was hosted at the Divani Apollon in Vougliameni, about 10 miles south of Athens.
Right on the beach. Not that anyone managed to actually get on the beach for five days. A large number of attendees stayed on for the weekend after the conference. Like an idiot, I assumed everyone would do the same as they did at the World Summit in Tunis and head off straight away, so I was on a 4am bus to the airport on Friday morning, having left a few compatriots in Athens city centre at 3.15am (I have no pictures of that event, although I fear there are some).
The main room started being fitted out on the Sunday – it had been used for a wedding reception on the Saturday night. This was a hell of a job,which included installing translator booths, cabling, screens, TV cameras, seating and so on.
There was some controversy when the security people said they were only comfortable with 800 people in the main room (the Greek prime minister, various other ministers, and a large number of other important officials and heads would be in the room).
There were 1,500 attendees and so a system to distribute passes to the opening ceremony was rapidly drawn up and implemented on the Sunday – much to alot of people’s irritation.
The room was packed (the empty seat you see in the pic above was mine). Although coming from India – where crowding is an everyday part of life – the man in ultimate charge of the event, Nitin Desai, felt a few more people could have been crammed in. I think he was right – it would have made for an incredible atmosphere.
Before that though, there was the flag-raising ceremony – where the hotel was officially designated United Nations territory. Anyone in the building was therefore under the protection of the UN – something that on occasion proves to be quite important.
The chairman of the meeting, Greek transport minister Michaelis Liapis, was there in casual clothes and with some Greek delegates, alongside the UN staff, and the whole thing was running smoothly.
A final relaxed meal for the UN staff at the restaurant just over the road from the hotel on the Saturday saw alot of greeting of old associates as the academics – and some government officials – had arrived for the GigaNet all-day conference in the hotel on the Sunday.
Everyone was in good spirits, with Nitin Desai telling a few interesting tales – all of which I missed while trying to persuade the waiter to bring me first a menu, and then take an order, then produce the food, and so on…
The opening day saw increased security.
And queues for conference badges.
But finally, it all kicked off with the star turns of the Greek prime minister, plus EC Commissioner Viviane Reding.
Plus, head of the ITU, Mr Utsumi; Egyptian communications minister Mr Kamel; Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Mr Sebban; and Executive director of Women’s Net Ms Primo.
And various Greek ministers, who all disappeared off with the Greek PM soon after he had given his speech.
Plus, of course, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn – co-inventors of TCP/IP the protocols that underpin the Internet and make it what it is today.
The Greek prime minister, Costas Karamanlis gave his speech.
As did Nitin Desai, who read out a message from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Utsumi gave a much-commented-on speech about Socrates which was another barely concealed promise to the gathered masses that the ITU would get the Net in the end.
Reding provided her usual blend of impressive rhetoric that left some in the room worrying how much she and EU officials really knew about how the Internet works.
And Vint Cerf talked about how he had never envisaged being on stage in Athens 30 years later when he and Kahn were drawing up the basic network protocols.
After a number of other speeches and a break for lunch, it was back with the “Setting the Scene” opening session – the full details of which were thrashed out with the 16-member panel and moderator Kenn Cukier just a quarter of an hour before.
It was experimental, and despite efforts to prevent the IGF from becoming just another row over the US government and ICANN, somehow it ended up with a long discussion about ICANN with its chairman Vint Cerf taking the floor from his front-row seat at one point.
And Cukier sharing exchanges with ICANN CEO Paul Twomey.
But the first session ended with everyone breathing a sigh of relief, and things were on track for the next day when the broad issues of Openness and Security would take place in the main room at the same time as a number of workshops covering a wide variety of aspects of the Net.
BBC World presenter Nik Gowing took the morning Openness session, marked by its faster pace and some argument when China’s official denied his government blocks Web content. That exchange provided the most headlines during the conference. Then it moved onto the Security session, again hosted by Kenn Cukier.
In the meantime, the workshops had started up.
There were 36 of them in total, the largest number covering the issue of other languages on the Internet, closely followed by discussions of freedom of speech and expression online.
Translators provided real-time translation in English, French, Spanish, Greek, Russian and Chinese in the main room and occasionally in the press conference room.
And the ever-trusty scribes, who are now as much a part of the Internet community as anyone else, put what was said up on screens in real-time, plus rapidly supplied transcripts to be posted online after the event.
While talking about the unsung heroes of the conference, there were also those on the IGF Advisory Board who, Nitin Desai pointed out at the end of the conference, had become more of a supporting organisation than an advisory group. Above are (left to right): Ayesha Hassan, Robin Gross and Adam Peake acting in their role as question takers and information organisers for the main moderator.
Another was Emily Taylor, pictured here with Janis Karklins.
And, of course, the two lynchpins, Avri Doria and Desiree Miloshevic.
The planned rooms for workshops had to be rapidly re-organised over night when it became clear more space would be needed. Two rooms were made into one, and the UN secretariat shifted into a smaller area to make room for a new workshop.
The next day started with a Diversity main discussion.
Moderated by Yoshinori Imai.
More workshops, the Access session, more workshops, and slowly a feeling of optimism started to grow over the conference as more and more people started talking to others and discovering commonalities. Early tensions started to ebb.
The Iranian representative was angry at what he saw as a slight on the first day, and was in a provocative mood the second day, but on the third issued a statement which amounted to a diplomatic truce.
And then the final day’s session. A summing up of the conference by Nitin Desai and Markus Kummer, followed soon after by a press conference where the forum was hailed a success, guaranteed a future and details were given about the next year’s event in Brazil.
Just before the Emerging Issues session, a petition from Amnesty International was handed over to Nitin Desai in the main room.
And lastly the Closing Ceremony. Where credit was given where it was due, and the meeting officially ended.
But not until there had been a kiddie photo-op, of course.
At which point, people got a chance to put their feet up for the first time in a while.