Centre for Internet & Society

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's speech at the opening of NETmundial in São Paulo was refreshingly free of the UN-speak that characterised virtually every single other presentation this morning. The experience of sitting for five hours in a room where the word "multi-stakeholder" is repeated at the rate of five mentions per minute is not for the faint-hearted; it almost makes you wish for more of the straight-talking tough-love of people like Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Surveillance was mentioned by a few brave souls. Two peaceful, silent - and rather effective - protests broke out during the opening speeches; one, against the data retention clause in Brazil's otherwise path-breaking and brand-new law for civil rights on the Internet, Marco Civil, and another for honouring US NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and urging action against surveillance. Sadly for Brazilian civil society, the Marco Civil protestations went unheard, and Rousseff signed the bill into law in full.

There were lots of speeches. Lots. If you missed them, here's a handy visualisation you can use to catch up quickly: just add some prepositions and conjunctions, and you'll have a perfectly anodyne and universally acceptable bureaucrat/politician keynote address.

The afternoon was given over to assimilating previously received comments on the outcome document and adding new ones from people in the room. Much contention, much continuity, lots of hard work, lots of nitpicking (some of it even useful) and lots of ambiguity; after more consultation - the slog goes on until tomorrow afternoon - the outcome document will be laid to rest. Lunch was excellent: there's a reason the Grand Hyatt São Paulo costs as much as it does.

Our quest to plumb the depths of multi-stakeholderism continued: we thank the kind folks who gave us their time and allowed us to record them.

Q: What does "multi-stakeholder" mean? What is "multi-stakeholderism"?

Multi-stakeholderism to me is the ability to engage with every stakeholder and have them in the room, and have them understand that it is not an equal opportunity for all. I also understand that civil society and academia will never be at the same place as business, which has far more resources, or governments, which have the sovereign right to make laws, or even the technical community, which is often missing from the policy dialogue. There are three things which are important to me: (1) Will I be able to make interventions not just in the dialogue but in the decision making process? For me, that is key. (2) Do I have recourse in a process which might be multilateral or inter-governmental - do I have recourse when international treaties are  ratified or signed, because they become binding national laws? and (3) What is it that happens to dissent in a process that is not multi-stakeholder? I think even the ITU (the International Telecommunications Union) has taken cognizance of multi-stakeholderism. So it's not new, but it's also not old or accepted, which is why we contest it. We will never have equal stakeholders. And who gets to represent the stakeholder communities? I don't think power imbalances get resolved, and I think it's a deeply flawed process. It's not perfect. But what worries me is the alternative. So give me a better alternative.
Subi Chaturvedi, Media for Change/ Lady Shriram College  (India)

Simply put, multi means many components, and stakeholders are people who have the stakes. So multi-stakeholder means many people who are informed to take the process forward. The process is still on: it's evolving. The idea is that everyone who has an interest should bring it forward, and the dialogue must be balanced. Proof of concept is important - it's not about taking a dogmatic position but a scientific position. Business is concerned about the justification around return on investment.
Jimson Olufuye, Africa ICT Alliance (Nigeria)

Everyone who has a stake in the use and operation of the Internet should have a stake in the way it is managed. I think we shouldn't be considering this as a power game - it's not winner takes all. Decision making should be as much as possible consensual, where no one has a veto power.
Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General, UNESCO (France)

It is very simple. I think people are complicating matters. It's not a power game. The Internet is fundamentally a global network of interconnected computers. People have become not only consumers of information but providers of information, so the stakes in the media/ICT world are massive. Unprecedented. Therefore, around major issues confronting the Internet, decision making should be as participatory as possible.
Indrajit Banerjee, Director, UNESCO (France)

Additional Links

The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of their individual authors. Unless the opposite is explicitly stated, or unless the opposite may be reasonably inferred, CIS does not subscribe to these views and opinions which belong to their individual authors. CIS does not accept any responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the views and opinions of these individual authors. For an official statement from CIS on a particular issue, please contact us directly.