"Digital Divide" Needs to Be Bridged, Vatican Aide Tells U.N.

Information Technology Unevenly Distributed, Says Archbishop Foley

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NEW YORK, JUNE 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican appealed at the United Nations for the overcoming of the «digital divide» in information technology that separates the rich from the poor.

Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, voiced John Paul II´s concern in this area when he addressed a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly dedicated to Information and Communication Technologies for Development. The meeting took place Monday and Tuesday.

Quoting «Redemptor Hominis,» John Paul II´s first encyclical, Archbishop Foley said the «most essential» question about technological progress is if it helps each person become «truly better.» That means, the archbishop explained, «more mature spiritually, more aware of the dignity of his or her humanity, more responsible, more open to others, especially the neediest and the weakest, and more ready to give and to aid all.»

In expressing his concern to make information and information technology accessible to the greatest possible number of people, the archbishop recalled the three basic principles of communication: «the overriding importance of truth, the dignity of the human person, and the promotion of the common good.»

«Bridging the digital divide requires that measures be taken to end the unjust discrimination dividing the rich from the poor, both within and among nations, on the basis of access to the new information and communications technologies — ICTs,» he stressed. «Another divide operates to the disadvantage of women, and it, too, needs to be closed.»

«The extension of basic telecommunications services to the entire population of developing countries is a matter of justice,» the Vatican representative said. He suggested that «the principle of universal service in telephony should be extended to provide for access to basic online services at reasonable tariffs.»

Archbishop Foley recalled that communications technologies have extended and sustain the globalization process, «leading to a situation where commerce and communication are freed from the restraints of national» borders.

«This can create wealth and promote development, but there has been an unequal distribution of the benefits,» he pointed out. «While some countries, as well as corporations and individuals, have greatly increased their wealth, others have been unable to keep up or have even become poorer.»

«Worse, there is a perception in some countries that globalization has been imposed upon them and that it is a process in which they are unable to participate in an effective way,» Archbishop Foley warned.

«While globalization has both positive and negative effects, we can only agree with those critics who have pointed out that, as regards the new ICTs, the result has been a widening of the digital divide between the developing and developed countries,» he continued.

«It follows that individuals, groups and nations must have access to the ICTs in order to share the promised benefits of globalization and development and not fall further behind,» the Vatican aide emphasized.

However, he stressed, «transfer of technology is not merely a matter of making equipment available, but of spreading the necessary formation and information. The role of knowledge is fundamental in the development of telecommunications.»

The archbishop said that attention «should be given to increasing the knowledge base of the inhabitants of the LDCs» — less developed countries — and to ensuring that «the need for an investment in education goes hand in hand with the need for investing in the telecommunications infrastructure.»

«The Holy See believes that development must be understood not solely in economic terms, but in a way that is fully human, concretely enhancing every individual´s dignity and creativity. Education for development should not merely fill heads with information, but ought to release the creativity of the human person,» Archbishop Foley concluded.

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