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It's 1984 all over again as former secretary-general's devastating critique of the ITU mysteriously disappears from the web

ITU study group

ITU Study Group in action. via Flickr © ITU Pictures (CC BY 2.0)

In George Orwell's prescient dystopian novel '1984', the leading character, Outer Party Member Winston Smith, works in the RecDep (records department) of the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite historical documents so that they accord with the current party line on any and all subjects.

To do this, he must "rectify errors" (i.e deliberately change records of the past and destroy the originals) to remove all references to and photographs of "unpersons", as people who have fallen foul of the Party are called.

Smith is able simultaneously to deny a reality that he knows exists or existed (because he had concrete evidence of it in his own hands every day at 'work' before consigning it to the flames) and accept and embrace the "new" reality that he knows is actually false.

He does this by exercising the art of doublethink whereby in one thought he admits that he is changing historical reality, but is able to rationalise the fact via a secondary act of doublethink.

And what has this to do with telecoms? You may well ask.

Well, last week I wrote a piece about the 150th anniversary of the ITU and quoted extensively from an astonishing critique of the organisation penned by Yoshio Utsumi, who was the ITU's Secretary-General between 1998 and 2006. Mr. Ursumi was writing in the Spring 2015 edition of New Breeze, the official organ of ITU-AJ, the ITU Association of Japan.

The ITU-AJ came into being on September 1, 1971 with the remit to "coordinate Japanese activities in telecommunication and broadcasting sectors with international activities. Since then, ITU-AJ has been conducting cooperation/coordination works for international organisations including the International Telecommunication Union."

"New Breeze, the ITU-AJ’s magazine, has been published since 1988 to publicise Japanese telecommunications/broadcasting policies, services, technologies, standardisation activities, and industry trends in the Japanese market to foreigners overseas and in Japan."

Earlier this year New Breeze asked the former Secretary-General to write an article celebrating 150 years of the ITU. He did so and it was duly published. However, the piece was far from being the sort of anodyne panegyric so often so characteristic of self-congratulatory ITU publications.


Geneva gets a Japanese lacquering

For example (and lest we forget) Mr. Utsumi wrote, "The liberalisation of telecommunications involves very high level political policy-making processes and the ITU lacks the ability to handle them."

He added, "The ITU which emphasises consensus, does not suit to the liberalised telecommunications market. To begin with, consensus decision-making is basically incompatible with the principle of free competition where those who make innovations get benefits and the strongest wins. Consensus decision-making practice also requires much time. It is too slow for today’s advancement of technology".

One would have thought recusant sentiments of that sort might have set the alarm bells ringing at the ITU but the piece seems to have slipped, whole and entire though the meshes of the editorial control net and been published exactly as it was written.

In the remarkable outpouring Mr. Utsumi also dared to write about subjects that others know to be true but are unwilling to articulate. For example "Decision-making in the ITU is by majority-rule, but most people participating in ITU activities - whether in a state of paralysis or dogmatically committed to consensus - do not even realise that consensus decision-making practice is a major cause of difficulties. If consensus cannot be discarded there can be no progress. This has become a common occurrence at the ITU. As a result, except for the field of radio frequency allocations for which there is no other venue for finding resolutions, people dislike the ITU as a venue to harmonise differing interests. As such, hundreds of private groups - so called Forums - have been established and are replacing ITU activities. And, even in the field of radio frequencies, issues such as co-ordinating satellite orbital positions are being carried out more quickly, directly by the parties concerned, and not through the ITU".

He continued, "One of the ITU's strongest suits has always been its remit to promote telecoms development in developing countries and economies [but] regarding development support for developing countries… there are also problems. At the ITU Additional Plenipotentiary Conference in 1992, closing the digital divide was taken as a large responsibility and the Development sector was created independently from the Secretary-General. Placing such emphasis on development was very good, but ITU participants wanted the Development sector as their own organisation and completely ignored the practical reality that it would not function unless the Secretary-General used all of his political power to gather funds. In all UN agencies, development activities are carried out by the heads of such agencies with their political leadership exercising their full capabilities. As a result, the ITU's development activities have weakened and its projects disappeared, while other international agencies and NGOs have been replacing the ITU."

And then come a couple of sentences that must have caused apoplexy in the corridors of power: "The ITU Development sector has become nothing but a place for representatives from developing countries to receive travel expenses from the ITU and attend fruitless meetings. As the position of the ITU has declined it has come to consist mainly of just clerks. Rather than a place for solving major managerial problems, it has become a place of trivial, low-level debates and job-seeking exercises." Many ,many people think exactly that but it has never before been articulated in an ITU publication and it's a bucket of frogs to a bottle of sodypop that it never will be again.

No ITU employee, retired or still in office, has ever gone on to the public record with such criticisms. The temerity of the article ensured that news of it quickly spread and the ITU-AJ, rather than coming back with a measured and adult riposte such as "The article by Mr. Utsumi is his personal opinion and in no way reflects the views or reality of the workings of the ITU," leaving the piece in situ and weathering a brief storm chose instead to remove the offending piece from public view without bothering to mention it. 

Mr. Utsumi's article has disappeared without trace, airbrushed from the Internet as though it has never been. But the web is the web and, of course, copies still exist and can be, are are, available to be quoted from verbatim. This is censorship, pure and simple.

Airbrushed from history. Gone missing in cyberspace

This morning the  "Contents" page of New Breeze, Vol. 27, Spring, April 2015 now lists for Page 22 of the journal a piece entitled "Hopes for the New Secretary-General on the ITU's 150th Anniversary." There is no such article there. Page 22 and its subsequent pages are missing and have been replaced by a three page advertisement for "ITU Kaleidoscope 2015" to be held in Barcelona between December 9 and 11 this year.

And how's this for irony? The conference is called "Trust in the Information Society". Apparently, Kaleidoscope 2015 "will analyse means of building information infrastructures worthy of our trust. The event will highlight ideas and research that will help ensure the Information Society's growth in inclusivity and sustainability thanks to its trusted foundations".

It goes on (and on), "The ICT ecosystem has become a facility we can no longer do without, making it essential to ensure that users of ICTs may trust in the Information Society. A key point will be the identification of the main challenges still to be addressed to develop standards supporting the development of trustworthy information infrastructures." The question is, is New Breeze a trustworthy information structure?

You couldn't make this up, and I'm not.

The entire farrago is either a matter of cowardly self-censorship or the imposition of it after the event from elsewhere and therefore all the more sinister and reprehensible.

I was surprised, nay amazed, not to have been contacted by some sub-section of the ITU press and PR machine after I wrote the original article last week. In the past, and over many years, they have been remarkably quick to come back with addenda, alterations, codicils, corrections, rebuttals, suggestions and pressure for changes to pieces perceived to be in any way critical of the organisation. But his time, with a genuine humdinger of a story? Nothing, nada, zilch. Total silence. They want this one forgotten about as quickly as possible and so are keeping uncharacteristically quiet. But the genie is out of the bottle and he let his pet cat out of bag as he left. They can't be recalled. They won't go quietly back in. The proof of a disquieting and nasty totalitarian tendency is out there. Take a look.

And then, this evening, after today's stint of expunging reality and rewriting history, let's all head down to the Chestnut Tree Cafe for a noggin or two of Victory Gin and to raise a toast to Big Brother. This time though we're watching him.

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