The Digital Freedom Coalition held its first summit on December 9th, 2022, on the eve of World Human Rights Day, to promote the issues of democracy in the digital age. The summit was divided into four panel discussions, including “Democracy in the Digital Age: Political Perspective” , “Freedom to Connect: Infrastructure & Content” , “Digital Freedom and Civic Engagement”, and “Digital Economy: Road Ahead”.
The keynote speech by Dr. Swarnim Wagle covered the economic perspective of digital freedom, including inclusivity, efficiency, innovation, and the impact on youth through platforms like YouTube and UpWork.
The first panel, “Democracy in the Digital Age: Political Perspective,” discussed how democracy is reflected in digital platforms and the challenges of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. Panelists discussed the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression in the digital age, proper implementation of international treaties and conventions, and issues of digital literacy and access to digital services in rural areas.
The second panel discussion touched upon several important topics related to the freedom to connect in Nepal. The CEO of the e-Governance Commission, Mr. Dipesh Bista, discussed the challenges faced in providing equitable access to digitized services and the efforts of the commission to address them. Ms. Sarita Lamichhane spoke about the lack of accessibility of digital platforms and services for marginalized communities, including people with disabilities, and the need for digital literacy in the communities where the internet has just been introduced mostly in developing and rural contexts.
The third panel discussed the civic context in digital platforms. During the discussion Mr. Prabesh Subedi emphasized the importance of digital literacy and awareness of proper use of digital platforms, while Mr. Jhanbindra Bhusal, representing the regulatory body for press, talked about the challenges in implementing the code of conduct for online media during the election period. Mr. Bipul Pokharel shared his views on the challenges and opportunities for the media industry in utilizing emerging technologies, and Advocate Prapoosa KC spoke about the concerns related to cybercrime in Nepal, specifically regarding the online sexual harassment of both men and women.
In the fourth panel, the panelists discussed the current state of the digital economy in Nepal and the challenges faced in the journey towards a fully-fledged digital economy. They emphasized the importance of digital literacy and the need to adapt existing technology to move forward in the digital world. The panelists also talked about the challenges faced by the banking and e-commerce sectors and highlighted the need for regulatory mechanisms and policies to protect individual privacy and data security. They emphasized that small and medium businesses should adopt digital platforms and technologies and the need for the establishment of a comprehensive digital infrastructure. The panelists also stressed the need for digital trade rules, digital trade strategies, and consumer protection policies to ensure the growth and success of the digital economy in Nepal.
The closing ceremony of the event was attended by the Chair of the Digital Freedom Coalition, Mr. Babu Ram Aryal and the Special Guest, Dr. Ganesh Raj Pandey, Secretary of Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. Dr. Pandey shared his thoughts on the present state of digital services utilization in Nepal. He appealed to the organizers to submit the report from this summit itself that outlines the legal obligations of various stakeholders such as the business community, civil society, and end-users that needs to be addressed by the government. He also highlighted the numerous opportunities that could be enabled by adapting technology for public service delivery and promised to endorse the needs of citizens.
Mr. Aryal expressed his gratitude towards all the participants, panelists, guests, supporting organizations, and members of the organizing committee. He appreciated the efforts of all the stakeholders and promised to come back with a more constructive summit next year. With his remarks, the event officially came to an end and all attendees were invited to interact with each other followed by dinner.