01/05/2001
Press Release
PI/1339



Committee on Information

Twenty-third Session

2nd Meeting (AM)


BRIDGING DIGITAL DIVIDE BETWEEN INDUSTRIALIZED AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES


STRESSED IN COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION DEBATE


Bridging the digital divide between the industrialized and developing countries was the key point underscored by many speakers, as the Committee on Information continued its general debate this morning.


Nigeria’s representative said that while information technology had contributed to the economy of a few countries in the South, the reality was that many countries had not benefited and that the gap between developed and developing was widening.  There was an urgent need to integrate developing nations into the new information and communication order.  He therefore called on developed countries to increase assistance for communications infrastructure in developing countries, as well as for the support infrastructure.


Lending support to Nigeria’s call, Algeria’s representative stated that reversing the continuing gap between the two hemispheres would also require large-scale international cooperation.


Cuba’s representative said there was a lack of political will in industrialized countries to reverse negative trends.  Instead, a frenzied race had been unleashed to patent not only technologies, but also the ideas that supported the new economies, creating further barriers to third world countries that needed those technologies.  Intellectual property rights excluded developing countries from knowledge.  In addition, private research was focused on the whims of rich consumers and not on the needs of the large groups of dispossessed.


Mongolia’s representative strongly advocated a new and more just information and communication order that was based on a free and balanced flow of information to the world’s people.  The United Nations system should play a proactive role in that regard by creating an indispensable environment for universal access to information and communication technologies for all nations.


The representative of the Netherlands (on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group) said that in a changing environment of new technologies and opportunities, the United Nations would have to try and bring its message to as many people as it possibly could.  That was a daunting task and underscored the need for further and continued reform and improvement in the way in the Organization disseminated information. 


Reform was more than simply reducing costs and improving efficiency, he went on to say.  The overall objective should be to enhance the effectiveness of United


Nations information activities.  It was also necessary to move further away from the approach of trying to do it all and to develop new strategies and approaches.


The observer for Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, stressed that all the official United Nations languages must be used and used effectively.  Moreover, he underscored that Arabic must have parity with the other languages.  He called for increased television and radio broadcasting in Arabic and for the library to make more Arabic material available.


Also this morning, Milos Alcalay (Venezuela), Chairman of the Committee, informed members that Antigua and Barbuda would participate in the session as an observer.  The delegation of the observer for Palestine would also participate in the session as an observer and address the Committee in its capacity as Chairman of the Arab group.


The representatives of Syria, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Egypt, and Yemen also made statements in this morning’s general debate. 


The representatives of the United States and Cuba also spoke in exercise of the right of reply.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its general debate.


Background


The Committee on Information met this morning to continue its general debate. (For background information on the twenty-third session of the Committee, which began yesterday, see Press Release PI/1336 dated 27 April.)


Statements


MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela), Chairman of the Committee, proposed that the Committee hold its general debate during meetings today and tomorrow.  On Thursday morning, the Secretary-General was expected to address the Committee in honour of World Press Freedom Day, and that afternoon the Committee would hear a statement by the Interim Head of the Department of Public Information (DPI).  He hoped that the open-ended working group could start its work on Friday.  In that regard, he asked for texts before the weekend, if possible, allowing time for translation.


MOHAMED BELAOURA (Algeria) said the Department of the Public Information occupied a central place in organizing and disseminating the messages of the United Nations.  That role was all the more essential since mobilization of public opinion was one of the priorities of the Department.  He called upon it to redouble its efforts to ensure the widest possible dissemination about United Nations actions in the field of decolonization in order to help people in the Non-Self-Governing Territories to exercise their right to self-determination.


He welcomed the fact that the United Nations Web site had been developed so much and was now well known.  Progress by the news centre on the Web site provided much satisfaction and hope. He also hoped that the six official languages of the Organization would receive equal treatment and development on the Web site.  In addition, he called for the Arabic service in the library to be strengthened so that that the many users of that language could have access to pertinent information.


He said the United Nations could and must play a primary role in the pursuit of freedom, development cooperation and bringing communication in the South up to the levels of the North.  Many countries in the developing world, particularly in Africa, were decades behind in the new information order.  The continuing gap between the two hemispheres must be redressed.  Only large-scale international cooperation could reverse that trend, he added.


CHARLES ONONYE (Nigeria) said that the establishment of a new and effective world information and communication order was important to his country.  That was why Nigeria had joined with other nations during the Millennium Summit to underscore the importance of an effective information and communication order as a vital tool in the process of globalization and liberalization of the world economy.  In Africa, access to information could stimulate change and create improved environments that would respond to the specific needs of the people.  Teachers used information and computer technology to obtain material to convey up-to-date information to their students.  For a continent seriously affected by poverty, the acquisition of appropriate information and communications technology could play a decisive role in developing the capacity for food security.  Unfortunately, the absence of relevant infrastructure was a major hindrance to harnessing the benefits of modern information technology in Africa.


Information and communications technology provided an essential tool for building durable democratic institutions, particularly in new and emerging democracies, he said.  That position was based on the assumption that all of the population had access to information technology.  It had been argued that information technology would promote economic development in developing countries.  While it had contributed to the economy of a few countries in the South, the reality was that many countries had not benefited.  The gap in information technology between developed and developing countries continued to widen.  There was urgent need to focus on how to integrate the developing nations into the new information and communication order.  Nigeria called on the developed countries to increase their assistance for the development of the communications infrastructure in developing countries, as well as the support infrastructures.


Nigeria applauded DPI for continuing to provide high quality service that all could be proud of, he continued.  The performance of the Department during the Millennium Summit was exemplary.  The Web site –- equipped with live and multimedia access –- provided an invaluable asset to all delegations and to the media around the world.  Nigeria attached great importance to the accessibility of the Web site to users, especially in developing countries and welcomed measures to ensure broad-based global support for the Organization through the activities of DPI.


While Nigeria supported the United Nations efforts in facilitating the availability and utilization of information technology in developing countries, it urged the Department to continue to re-evaluate its activities, prioritizing its goals in a manner that was consistent with the Millennium Declaration, he said.  Greater emphasis should be given to areas such as economic and social development, poverty eradication, debt relief, elimination of illiteracy, eradication of drug trafficking, women’s rights and children in armed conflict.  He welcomed the Department’s involvement in the implementation plan for the Brahimi Panel Report on United Nations Peace Operations.  Provision of an adequate information infrastructure in any peace operation was crucial to the success of the mission and the safety of peacekeepers and other international personnel involved.


As the cheapest and most accessible communications technology, radio remained critical to developed countries as the traditional means of dissemination of information, he added.  Nigeria supported the efforts of the Secretariat to promote global outreach through broadcasting arrangements with partner radio stations in most regions of the world, making it possible to disseminate information in an impartial manner all over the world in the United Nations official languages and others.  Nigeria welcomed remarks made yesterday about the radio pilot project.  Subject to availability of funds, Nigeria suggested that radio listening posts be established in educational institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.


Nigeria welcomed the proposals contained in the report on the integration of United Nations information centres with field offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), he said.  The integration should focus on the development of human and technical resources, which was vital for the improvement of information and communications systems in developing countries.  He also supported the training programmes for journalists and broadcasters from developing countries, especially in Africa.  Nigeria supported the proposals made by the Committee to strengthen DPI to enable it to meet its increased responsibilities and, hopefully, create conditions to facilitate the integration of developing countries into the global information and communication technology revolution.


JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) said he wished to underline the urgent need to bridge the existing gap between the developed and developing countries in the field of public information and communication.  His delegation therefore strongly advocated a new and more just order that was based on a free and balanced flow of information to the world’s people.  The United Nations system should play a proactive role in that regard by creating an indispensable environment for universal access to information and communication technologies for all nations.


He stressed the importance of objective information in the regions fraught with tension where the Organization’s peacekeeping missions operated.  The raising of public awareness about such missions was crucial for the successful fulfilment of mandates.  His delegation also believed that the United Nations information system could play an important role in the field of sustainable development by focusing on crucial socio-economic and environmental issues.


He said that to further enhance the plans designed by the Secretary-General, the Organization, and especially the communication capacity of the Department of Public Information, had to be strengthened by introducing state-of-the-art technology and allocating necessary resources in line with existing needs.


RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) said that today, more than ever before, scientific and technological developments, particularly in the area of information and communications, influenced all spheres of human life.  Nevertheless, at the beginning of the new millennium, the gap between rich and poor nations continued to grow.  While humanity had more and better instruments to combat poverty, poverty was growing around the world. 


The process of globalization was greatly based on technological and scientific developments in the area of information and communications, he said.  The development of information and communications came with a bitter contradiction.  The more progress was made, the broader the technological gap between developed and developing countries.  While some countries talked about accelerating the development of the Internet and the most sophisticated means of communications, others faced very high levels of illiteracy and poverty.  Some 97 per cent of Internet servers were located in developed countries.


In a globalized world, the technological gap between the North and the South became wider under conditions of growing privatization of scientific research, he said.  The new world economy based on knowledge was turning information into a good, which was as valuable or even more valuable than traditional goods.  In the developed countries, a frenzied race had been unleashed to patent not only technologies, but also the ideas that supported the new economies, creating further barriers to third world countries that needed those technologies.  Intellectual property rights excluded developing countries from knowledge.  Private research was focused on the whims of rich consumers and not on the needs of the large groups of dispossessed.  The lack of political will of industrialized countries to reverse negative trends caused him to reiterate the conviction that a new international information and communication order was needed today more than ever before.


Cuba believed that aspects contained in draft resolution A, which were traditionally approved by the Committee, were today more important than ever and could not be replaced with a discussion on the digital divide, which Cuba would not oppose since it was a major topic.  He said the international community must make great effort if it wanted to move from word to action and action, allowing developing countries to become active counterparts in the development of resources. 


The United Nations information centres must play an important role, particularly in developing countries, as key elements for disseminating information on the Organization, he added.  Cuba reiterated its concern for difficulties in the integration process of the information centres with UNDP field offices.  Special attention must be paid to the achievement of proper financing for the different information centres, in particular those based on developing countries.  Cuba commended the efforts made by the United Nations and DPI, specifically in developing the United Nations Web site and the efforts to take the Internet to all developing countries.  Nevertheless, that must be done without affecting the capacity and scope of the United Nations radio and television programmes, which were pivotal for developing countries.


The need to work to develop and improve the Web site in all United Nations official languages must not be overlooked, he said.  He joined with Spanish-speaking counties to give Spanish the treatment it deserved as an official United Nations language, both on the Web site and in the rest of the Department’s work.  Cuba was not satisfied with the attempt to continue reducing the already decreased structures of DPI, based on recommendations made in the Brahimi report, which had not taken into account all realities.


He said that over 1,600 hours per week of radio and television programmes were broadcast to Cuba from the United States on over 26 frequencies.  Those radio and television transmissions were flagrant violations of international law and regulations provided by the International Frequency Registration Board of the International Telecommunications Union.  Despite the fact that the United Nations had adopted different resolutions to prevent misuse or exploitation of information resources for criminal or terrorist purposes, the United States continued to run, finance and facilitate illegal transmissions against Cuba, some of which were terrorist and distortive of the existing reality in his country.  The United States had done everything in its electronic war against Cuba, including improving power, antennas and changing VHF transmission to UHF.  Cuba reiterated its condemnation against that aggression and rejected attempts of the United States to keep illegal radio and television transmissions against Cuba and to decide on the kind of information Cubans must receive. 


PETER MOLLEMA (Netherlands) spoke on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group.  He said that while the technological changes that were reshaping the way information was distributed had to be taken into consideration, the traditional tasks of the Department of Public Information –- media such as radio, which reached millions of the world’s listeners -- must not be forgotten.


“We have to determine what we think are the core activities of the Department of Public Information”, he said.  “We need to formulate policies to strengthen the Department’s effectiveness and efficiency in order for it to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.”  Such policies must also ensure that the Organization reached out to disseminators of information, especially the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), utilizing the latest technologies.  “We need a Department of Public Information that realizes the slogan: Global Vision, Local Voice”, he said.


He said that in a changing environment of new technologies and opportunities, the United Nations would have to try and bring its important message to as many people as it possibly could.  That was a daunting task and underscored the need for further and continued reform and improvement in the way the Organization disseminated information.  Reform was more than simply reducing costs and improving efficiency.  The overall objective should be to enhance the effectiveness of United Nations information activities.  It was also necessary to move further away from the approach of trying to do it all and to develop new strategies and approaches.


LOUAY FALLOUH (Syria) said he attached great importance to setting up a new information order, which was more just and reflective of United Nations principles, international law and the wishes of all people.  All wanted a world of mutual respect.  There was a need to bridge the digital divide between the developing and developed countries, to bring forth the voice of the United Nations and to reflect the real situation of developing countries without presenting a distorted view of their aspirations. 


Syria had made great progress in the area of audio-visual information and in its written press, he said.  Information and development went hand in hand.  Syria’s media contributed to informing public opinion regarding events of a regional or international order, stressing matters of interest to developing countries.  The transmission of information had seen great progress through the use of the Internet.  Syria also disseminated information via satellite to inform the rest of the world about challenges facing the Arab world in an objective and sincere manner.


The United Nations and its Member States were responsible for disseminating the voice of the Organization and making its aims and activities known in both developed and developing worlds, he said.  Syria expected the Organization to provide coverage of the positions of the majority of its members.  It was essential to cover resistance to foreign occupation, thereby ensuring the mobilization of the international community to fight foreign occupation.  It was also essential to strengthen efforts to bring about global peace, in particular in the Middle East, and to promote various forms of development -- cultural and social.  DPI must enrich the work of the United Nations in the area of information and must work with greater force.


It was important to use the six official languages of the United Nations and to place them on an equal footing, he said.  He agreed with the Secretary-General on the importance of equality in the languages of the United Nations and also on the point that its resources not be wasted.  Regarding the development of the United Nations Web site, Syria felt that all financial resources must be applied to ensure full equality between the six languages on the Web site.  Necessary resources must be allocated to do that, and he hoped that when the Secretary-General presented his initial proposal for the 2002-2003 programme budget, that it would contain all necessary appropriations to ensure complete parity among all language sites and not widen the gap caused by the digital divide. 


He said there was still a great divide in the way in which written documents appeared.  He stressed the importance of all documents being issued in all the official languages of the Organization.  It was also important to continue training courses given to developing countries to improve their Internet skills.  The Secretariat had not adopted specific measures to ensure that press releases were printed in the six official languages.  Syria expressed its wish to work together to step up the work being done and to improve the information situation in the United Nations. 


KIM YOUNG-MOK (Republic of Korea) said that since the primary mission of the Department of Public Information was to provide reliable and accessible information about the United Nations, it was necessary to develop an overall communication strategy to analyse demand features of worldwide target audiences and to tailor the Department’s efforts to meet the demand.  As part of that communication strategy, the Department should further develop the United Nations Web site and upgrade the library system in order to improve efficiency and eliminate overlapping activities.  That process should include the establishment of one central Internet portal and one central system-wide online catalogue to facilitate the retrieval of United Nations materials.


His delegation supported the Department’s efforts to increase both public awareness and support for United Nations activities.  Since intensive and comprehensive work on improving the Organization’s peacekeeping had been under way in both the Security Council and the Secretariat, he stressed the importance of involving the Department from the planning stage of a peacekeeping operation through interdepartmental consultations and coordination with other substantive departments of the Secretariat.  He also called on the Department to assist in the implementation of recommendations contained in the Brahimi report.


BORIS MALAKHOV (Russian Federation) said that while the rapid introduction of modern information technology in all fields of life opened up opportunities for economic growth, its negative consequences must also be kept in mind.  The adoption of General Assembly resolutions on information security was an important step in the information field.  An independent press, television and radio broadcasting played an important role in a democratic society.  The media must become an instrument that contributed to the prevention of crises.  The free media must play a most important role in the eradication of racism.  He proposed the inclusion in part B of the General Assembly resolution of a paragraph that called upon States, the media and non-governmental organization to prevent use of the media and new information technologies which would undermine democracy, fan ethnic strife and contribute to any manifestations of extremism.


Information was an important means for molding public opinion, he said.  He noted the concrete steps taken by DPI to reorient its activities in the information field.  The United Nations rightly attached importance to the development of new information technology.  At same time, he was not convinced that it was wise to stress the creation within the United Nations system of a fully fledged news agency which would work on the same principle as world information services.  For DPI to compete would be difficult and complex. 


It was, however, sensible to focus on the preparation of materials to enhance the interest of media in United Nations activities and to provide professional comments to media.  The United Nations could and must be a source of the most up-to-date information for the media, in cases where the United Nations was involved in a crisis area or had infrastructures that journalists might lack.


The launching of an updated central United Nations Web site in line with equality of all languages improved communication about United Nations activities, he said.  However, the principle of parity in all languages, supported overwhelming by the majority of Member States -- was taking shape far too slowly.  While the main page was visually identical, a gap still existed and continued to grow in the volume of information, mainly because of limited resources.  He supported carrying out a technical and economic survey to determine the requirements in staffing, technologies and material content to obtain parity in six languages.  Strengthening the technical basis of Web sites was necessary, as was the need to equip them with modern search systems in all official languages. 


Russia stressed the significance of daily 15-minute radio broadcasts for vast Russian audiences, he added.  For further success, the proportionate number of staff and technical provisions in all six language sections in the radio service was necessary.  That could be done in an inexpensive way, namely through the fair reallocation of existing resources.  Russia supported the need for a balanced approach to providing resources to information centres.  Where necessary, a programme to merge information centres with UNDP must be carried out, taking into account the views of host countries.  However, the analysis by DPI of seven out of 14 questionnaires did not provide a full assessment of the situation.  Russia noted the active participation of DPI in promoting the fifteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.  It was also grateful for measures to promote dialogue among civilizations.  DPI’s work in that area would help achieve the objective of peaceful coexistence.  DPI faced complex tasks.  Russia was ready to cooperate in the attainment of acceptable solutions.


HOSSAM ZAKI (Egypt) said his delegation had studied the Secretary-General’s report on the equal distribution of resources for United Nations information centres. He hoped those centres would continue their important role and keep pace with political, social, economic and environmental developments in the Organization.  He also hoped the Department of Public Information would continue to review the level of resources devoted to those centres to reach the optimum levels needed for them to function efficiently.  In addition, the Department should bear in mind the special needs of the African continent -- especially in light of the Millennium Declaration.


He said his delegation was looking forward to the Secretariat submitting realistic proposals on achieving linguistic parity on the United Nations Web site.  He hoped that it would double its efforts to prepare and submit such proposals, since time wasting would only lead to further increasing the gap between what was available on the Web site in English and what was available in other languages, namely Arabic.  His delegation had always made a point of drawing attention to the activities of the Department in relation to the question of Palestine.  He also expressed appreciation to the Department for organizing the annual training programme for Palestinian journalists.


ALI AHMED MOHAMED AL-DAILMI (Yemen) said that Yemen had chosen the path of democratic expression and was convinced of the importance of communication.  There were great disparities between developed and developing States regarding information technology.  The international community must help developing countries acquire the technology to bridge the digital divide.  Information had become a way to realize political freedoms.  Better information technology would enable better coverage of events. 


Developing countries must be assisted in modernizing their information technology, he said.  In doing so, national priorities must be respected.  It was urgent that DPI address, in its legal context, the Palestinian question and the situation as a whole in the Middle East. DPI must shed light on the daily

sufferings of the Palestinian people and the violation of their rights on a daily basis as a result of the siege against them.  He called for full implementation of the information programme on the Palestinian issue adopted each year in the General Assembly.


The Department had played an important role in peace and security, economic and social development and in the promotion of human rights, he said.  The Internet was a driving force in that action.  He congratulated DPI for the broad dissemination of information and expressed support for the United Nations information centres.  He subscribed to the Committee’s strategy to bring about a fair distribution of information, covering all countries of the world.  Yemen was concerned at the weak status of the Arabic language, despite the consistent appeals of the Assembly.  The use of the Arabic language should be promoted, particularly regarding interpretation and translation at United Nations conferences, and in publications and television broadcasts.


MARWAN JILANI, observer for Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, said he wished to reaffirm the importance of information and the actions of the Department of Public Information in making the principles of the United Nations Charter known.  Among those principles were the maintenance of peace, the struggle against poverty and violence, denouncing oppression and assisting people in the fight for self-determination.  For such efforts to be successful, the United Nations must be strengthened, particularly in the way it provided information.  In that respect, the Organization’s information centres must have all the possible means available to them.


He said that Arabic must have parity with the other languages and called for increased television and radio broadcasting in Arabic and for the library to make more Arabic material available.  It was also highly important to strengthen the information coverage on the question of Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people.  He believed that the Department of Public Information must reflect the cultural diversity of countries –- a diversity which would increase the heritage of peace and understanding.


Right of Reply


DAVID A. TRAYSTMAN (United States), speaking in right of reply, said that the Cuban delegation should work in a more constructive manner.  Time could be better spent by discussing the enhancement of the Department’s role.  Energy should be focused, for example, on strengthening the information capacity of peacekeeping operations and enhancing the safety and security of staff.


RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) said that his statement had referred to those subjects.  His delegation had always been prepared to discuss the problems of DPI.  Unfortunately, Cuba had no other alternative but to deal with the United States media aggression in part of its statement.  While it might be better to devote time to other matters, it would also be better if the $22 million that the United States spent on that media aggression be used for United Nations projects.  It was throwing that money out the window because Cuba’s technicians had been blocking the illegal transmissions for years.  The United States had no right to decide on the information that Cubans received.  Cuba would continue to work constructively, but insisted on right to denounce that kind of activity.


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