8-11 MARCH 2003

His Excellency Mr. Atef Ebaid,

Prime Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt;

Excellencies Ministers;Eminencies; Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an honour for me to convey gratitude and appreciation to His Excellency Mr. Atef Ebaid, Prime Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt and through him to President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak and the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt for hosting this Sixth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers. This generous hospitality is a proof not only of the continuous support that the Arab Republic of Egypt has been extending to strengthen joint Islamic action, but also of its keenness on everything that leads to the betterment, pride, unity and well being of the Islamic Ummah.

The return to Cairo once again of the Information Ministers of Islamic States for their meeting, having been here for the second session held in 1990, is but a proof of their desire to benefit from the experiences of the blessed information advancement in Egypt, as well as from its radiant civilization, particularly at this very critical time. It is a time when the Islamic Ummah is being targeted from all directions, subjected to biased campaigns and unprecedented challenges. Those campaigns are intended to undermine our values, civilization and culture. And information plays a key role in all of these. Egypt has for generations played a pioneering role in uplifting Islam and the Islamic civilisation, in defending Islam’s noble heritage and serving its humanitarian causes. The roles were played through distinguished Egyptian thinkers, intellectuals and journalists, men who have made monumental contributions to the development of Arabic and Islamic thought, and to keeping pace with modern civilisation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is also a delight to commend the valuable efforts made by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran under President Muhammad Khatami, for the three years it chaired the previous session. Iran managed the course of the joint Islamic information action and organised the first international television production festival in member states. That festival scored great achievements and opened up huge avenues for production specialists to know each other, exchange works and carry out joint projects. I must also thank the Iranian officials for hosting the ministerial follow-up committee whose work was preparatory to our present meeting.

As the Arab Republic of Egypt takes the torch to steer the course of Islamic information, we are confident that the torch in safe hands that are capable of making progress in a track where it has brilliantly excelled, with a sharing spirit, which have conferred giant strides on Egyptian media. This is a pride of every Muslim. A consequence of those qualities is the 6th October Egyptian Media City.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

We nurture the hope that our meeting today would open up a new era of a joint Islamic information action. For this work requires a great deal of reform and sincere efforts. Islamic information is still struggling to stand on its feet and rise to the challenges ahead, so that it will be able not only to refute the lies peddled by biased people and show Islam in its true light and defend just Islamic causes, using modern language and methods, but also to promote the Islamic Ummah in a field that has become one of the most important and crucial.

Fortunately, the Islamic Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs, under H.E. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, met in Dakar a few weeks ago, where most of what we have before us today were discussed. The Committee left us important recommendations that would assist us in our task. In this connection, it gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to President Abdoulaye Wade’s for his efforts. I also commend the efforts expended by the Senegalese officials and the conference participants in diagnosing areas of past failures and in drawing up a plan to face the future with enlightened mind and well thought out courses of action.

COMIAC, as we are used to calling the Standing Committee, has examined the findings and proposals of the review committee of the mechanism for joint Islamic action; they adopted what needed to be adopted and left the task of implementation for this session. Their efforts include the means of devising new routes to be followed in updating our information strategy and the yearly plan that needs to be agreed upon in order to implement the strategies. In doing this, we shall be guided by the information code of ethics recommended by the Committee of Experts.

COMIAC has also placed on our shoulders the task of delving into the issue of financing, a large stumbling block which has previously hampered our activities and paralysed our moves. His Excellency President Wade has proposed a solution to the chronic financial crisis. The solution involves devoting a special session in the coming 10th Islamic Summit Conference to be held later this year in Kuala Lumpur, with the aim to contribute and gather necessary funds needed to implement the information action plan, $3million over the next three years, and to launch the implementation of the Islamic programme for the development of information and communication, which requires $2million.

While I support this move in the belief that it is the best solution to solving the financial problems that have stalled our work in this area, I am certain that Their Excellencies, Ministers of Information would urge their colleagues, Ministers of Foreign Affairs in member states, to take the issue seriously and present it to Their Majesties, Highnesses and Excellencies in member states when they attend the next Islamic Summit meeting in October.

To convince our leaders about the credibility and importance of the issue of funding, we must at this session chart the course of our information plan in a way that would take our media to impressive, effective, international media standards. We must do this through cooperation among our media establishments and relevant international agencies so that we would be able to overcome the digital divide that separates our countries and the advanced countries.

Engineering experts in member states have prepared the drafts of this plan; the senior officials meeting has also considered its details; and the aspects of the draft agreed to be implemented would be presented to our meeting today. The proposed plan is only the first stage, which has to be implemented before we can move on to the next stage. We must start to prepare for that stage and ponder upon its features. This we must do because the world is witnessing an astronomical leap in the field of new information and communication technology, which is growing steadily at an alarming speed. We must hurry to catch up with this development in order to derive from its benefits and enter the information society whose institutions are also enjoying constant growth, with their benefits spreading into all fields of human learning.

Among the issues that must be included in the plan is the cooperation and coordination among radio and television establishments in member states. The aim of this is to complement each other’s efforts and exchanging each other’s needs, under a programme in place for the exchange of first-rate analogue or digital equipment among countries that have been able to change them and those that have not.

The television production festival for OIC Member States to be held in Islamabad might be an occasion for mutual understanding among the heads of the above-mentioned Islamic institutions concerning their needs and how to cross-exchange those needs among themselves.

I cannot but mention that our entry into information society is the most important achievement that can be made by correcting and firmly fixing our positions and steering the course of our society to what would bring growth, progress and sustainable development.

Our success in establishing the right foundation for entry into the new technological decade of information and communication and the state of mastery over and proper development of information is inexorably linked to how we prepare for effective participation in the forthcoming World Summit on the Information society (WSIS). The summit would be held in two phases: in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of this year; and in Tunis, Tunisia, in 2005. Although the Tunis phase is the crucial one, our proper preparation for the Geneva phase is the key to the success of the Tunis phase.

Regional organisations have assigned huge importance to those two phases. The European countries have held several preparatory phases and arrived at important plans and programmes. The Asian countries have done the same at their Tokyo meeting, while African countries also held meetings in Mali for the same purpose. These meetings indicate the special importance of these issues. They are issues that should not be treated with indifference, just as their potentially crucial outcomes should not be neglected.

Based on the foregoing, our present session must look for the best means to prepare properly for the Geneva and Tunis phases of the Information Society Summit, so that we would be able to enter the information and knowledge society while we are assured of the future of our Ummah and our upcoming generations. Modern media has today assumed growing responsibility in the shaping of societal values, cultures, structures and future directions. This occasion therefore presents a wonderful opportunity for us, an opportunity that might not be easy to come by again, to do what needs to be done for the Islamic Ummah. By it, the Ummah will regain its self-belief and confidence in its ingenuity and ability to contribute effectively to the building of a modern civilisation and to keep pace with rapid developments, as demanded by contemporary logic. We must seize this opportunity so as not to allow others to be in a position where they can control our political, social and economic future.

Everybody knows that the advanced countries began their gradual evolution into an information and knowledge society some thirty years ago. They have surpassed the remaining countries of the world by a huge gap. Lately, globalization, sharply manifested in the information sector, has further assisted the developed countries. In the face of these achievements, we must make a momentous decision today: do we want to be active participants in the information and knowledge society? Or we want to be mere followers, consuming other people’s products and being under their ideological and cultural hegemony and by default their economic and political hegemony?

The prevailing situation in today’s world imposes on the Islamic world the need to know the precariousness of our present position and our compelling need for mass mobilisation so as to end marginalization and backwardness. The greatest threat facing us today is the scientific and digital divides separating the rich countries and us. True masterly genius lies in the ability to provide the strong will needed to make the required changes for the better; then in the ability to embark on purposeful action, after having been armed with necessary knowledge, for the future lies in knowledge. Investment in information and communication technology is therefore the best investment for building the future.