Professor helps establish Tshwane ethics document

Alexia Harris

Americans enjoy a large amount of access to information, but for some countries, it’s not always granted.

Thomas Froehlich, professor and program director of the Master of Science program in Information and Knowledge Management, recently returned from the African Information Ethics Conference to address African information ethics.

Froehlich, along with 500 other academics, information professionals and practitioners and government representatives attended the conference in South Africa in an attempt to solve the problems the continent faces in regards to information ethics. The majority of the attendees and participants were from Africa and represented more than 20 African countries.

The South African Government hosted the conference with sponsorship from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and New Partnership for Africa’s Development e-Africa Commission. The International Center for Information Ethics, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa also worked in partnership.

“The conference’s theme, ethical challenges in the information age, is a very important topic because there are so many people who are disenfranchised and do not have access to information,” Froehlich said.

Information ethics is anything having to do with the access, provision, development, use of distribution and rights to information and is much more limited in Africa than it is other places in the world, he added.

“The idea was to develop a declaration for a position for information ethics for the continent of Africa,” Froehlich said. “We were successful in developing a statement on African information ethics.”

The conference participants implemented the Tshwane Declaration of Information Ethics document, which contains principles the delegates committed to following.

Some of the objectives include:

• People need to and should have access to information as well as the ability to benefit from it.

• Information should be recognized as a tool for promoting the goals of freedom, democracy, understanding, global security, peace and development and should be used as such.

• Information should be made available, accessible and affordable across all linguistic groups, gender, differently abled, elderly and all cultural and income groups.

Froehlich was invited to the conference because he is considered an expert in information ethics.

“It is the content area in which I publish and is the focus of my research agenda,” he said.

Froehlich said although colleagues surrounded him, he still felt out of place.

“I learned the Western American conception to solve information problems don’t exactly work for Africa,” he said. “Africa is more complex and diverse.”

Problems occurring in Africa are not the same that occur in America or Western Europe, he added.

“For example, the idea of family is quite different there than what it is for America,” Froehlich said. “It’s hard to make simple statements about such a complex continent.”

He said people must learn to respect cultural diversity.

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Alexia Harris at [email protected].