23/04/2002
Press Release
PI/1414



Committee on Information

Twenty-fourth Session

3rd Meeting (PM)


SPEAKERS IN INFORMATION COMMITTEE DEBATE ROLES OF DEPARTMENT,

EXTERNAL MEDIA IN PROMOTING UN CONCERNS


As the Committee on Information continued its general exchange of views this afternoon on the central question of repositioning the Department of Public Information (DPI) for greater impact, speakers from the 98-member body debated the roles of the Department and external media in promoting the key concerns of the Organization.


The representative of the Republic of Korea suggested to the Committee, which is the principal legislative body on the Department’s policy and activities, that by concentrating on conveying the United Nations message through various intermediaries, such as the media and non-governmental organizations, with their channels and audiences already in place to disseminate information around the globe, DPI could conserve resources while still reaching a worldwide audience.


The absence of the voice of the United Nations on the international scene, warned the representative of Tunisia, would strengthen those who wanted to marginalize it in favour of other forms of world governance.  Information, in its broadest dimensions, must figure among the priorities of the Organization.  And DPI must be the umbilical cord that tied it to the outside world.  The process of reforming the Department must not become hostage to finances.


Similarly, the Syrian representative said he was “gravely concerned” at the proposal contained in the Secretary-General’s report on reorientating DPI (document A/AC.198/2002/2) to change its name to the “Department of Communications and External Relations”.  That proposal was the first step to putting an end to the task of DPI and renouncing the role of the Organization to make its voice heard at the widest possible level.  He could hardly trust external communications entities to objectively convey information about the United Nations. 


While advancements in information and communications technology had transformed all areas of human activity, DPI should not forsake traditional means of communications, said the representative of Bangladesh.  Related strategies must be developed and strengthened.  One example was to change the timing of the live radio broadcasts in Asia to suit a wider audience.  He said the United Nations information centres were the real interface of the Organization with the global community, indeed the United Nations window to the outside world.


The representative of Nepal drew attention to the huge gap among nations in terms of reaping the benefits from the information and communications revolutions.


For example, South Asia, a region inhabited by almost 20 per cent of the world’s population, had just 1 per cent of the world’s Internet users, while 80 per cent of all Internet users were in the developed world, which comprised only 15 per cent of the global population.  He favoured retaining, but reorganizing, the information centres, and maintaining journalists’ training programmes.


The Committee on Information will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday,

24 April, to conclude its general debate.


Background


The Committee on Information met this afternoon to continue its general debate on the issues before it, including the ongoing reorientation of the Department of Public Information (DPI).


Statements


SON SE-JOO (Republic of Korea) said the twenty-first century had been marked by swift and dramatic advances in information and communication technologies.  Clearly, the mission and activities of DPI must evolve to incorporate, not only those new technologies, but also the new priorities of the age.  He welcomed the ongoing DPI reform process as an opportunity to enhance the Department’s efficiency, and clarify and bolster its role within the Organization. 


He said that, although he had not advocated a reprioritization of DPI based purely on financial concerns, he supported a new system of programme evaluation and performance management.  Indeed, there were certain programmes, such as the journalists training programmes, guided tours and exhibition space of United Nations Headquarters, which would not fit into a “cut and dried” return on investment formula.  Hopefully, the tangible benefits of such programmes would be taken into account, and alternative funding sources might be considered to maintain them.


Intermediaries, such as the media, educational institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), already had the channels and audiences in place to disseminate information around the globe, he said.  By concentrating on conveying their message to intermediaries, rather than the whole of the general public, DPI would be able to conserve resources while still reaching a significant worldwide audience.  Meanwhile, the Department had done a remarkable job of creating and maintaining a cost-effective, user-friendly, and high-quality Web site that represented the Organization’s many undertakings.


KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) said it was indisputable that DPI and the means at the disposal of the United Nations in the areas of media and communications were of great importance for Member States in their daily work and for the public at large.  Information, in its broadest dimensions, must figure among the priorities of the Organization in the reform process.  The reform of the Department must not become a hostage to finances.  The Department must be the “umbilical cord” tying the Organization to the outside world.  The absence of the voice of the United Nations on the international scene would strengthen those who wanted to marginalize it in favour of other forms of world governance.


Information was the ideal means for the Organization to show that it was fulfilling its mission, he continued.  He noted with satisfaction the progress made by DPI in the greater use of new technologies, particularly the use of Internet, and the development of the United Nations Web site in the six official languages.  The press releases and other publications on the activities of the Organization were very important tools.  Regular reports on activities of organization were indisputably important for smaller delegations, in particular.  He called for the maintenance and enhancement of the production of the press releases.  Also, it would be useless to change the name of the Department to the Department of Communications and External Relations as that name did not accurately reflect the work of the Department.  He was convinced that the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Tunis and Geneva, would be crucial in addressing the digital divide. 


LOUAY FALLOUH (Syria) said he appreciated the efforts under way to enhance the work of the Department.  He associated himself with the statement made on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  He favoured a new information order that was more equitable and more accurately reflected the aspirations of both the United Nations and his people’s wish for a world where equality, justice and mutual respect prevailed.  The United Nations, in particular the DPI, shouldered a great responsibility to deliver the voice of the Organization and explain its objectives and activities to all corners of the globe.  It was expected to reflect the majority interests of its members. 


He said that emphasizing issues on which the United Nations organs had adopted resolutions, especially the Security Council and General Assembly, was a basic task of the United Nations information system.  It was important to face up to foreign occupation and mobilize the international community to put an end to that practice.  The Palestinian problem and the situation in the Middle East was one of the permanent features of the United Nations agenda.  In the Department’s role in informing public opinion, he hoped the efforts would be intensified concerning the aggression perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people in violation of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, and the principles of international law.  The DPI should fully implement the programme on the Palestinian question, which the Assembly adopted annually.


The report on the development of the Web site in the six official languages had not fully focused on the gap in the official sites, he said.  He called for full parity and equal distribution of human and material resources to all sites.  In that context, the priority course of action was attaining parity by a specific date.  He accepted the portions of the report relative to that course of action.  In light of the Assembly’s call last December that information and communications be redirected in an improved manner, followed by a report to its next session, he was surprised that ideas relative to that issue were being tabled prior to the date fixed for the report.  Many of the points included in the reorientation report before the Committee had relied on a misconception of the substance of resolution 253/56, which presupposed that the Assembly had called for a reduction of DPI’s budget.


He said that paragraph 20 of that report, concerning the proposed mission statement for the Department, had been selective in its approach.  He also noticed with grave concern the proposed name change of the Department to the “Department of Communications and External Relations”.  That proposal was the first step to putting an end to the task of DPI and renouncing the role of the Organization to make its voice heard at the widest possible level.  He could hardly trust external communications entities to objectively convey information about the activities of the United Nations.  There was also a grave imbalance with respect to the issuance of publications in the official languages. 


MD. MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said the advancements in information and communications technology had transformed all areas of human activity.  It had

also led to a widening gap between the rich and poor countries.  While developed countries benefited from sharing their know-how, developing countries were being left out.  It would be a pity if the developing countries were made to lag behind due to a lack of access to information.  His country had accorded utmost priority to the information technology sector.  Computer training had been introduced in schools and colleges and cyber cafes established.  He fully agreed with the Secretary-General’s assessment of the need to upgrade the technological capacity of the United Nations.  He appreciated the work done by DPI to redesign the United Nations Web site and noted the new e-mail news alert service launched recently. 


The DPI, he continued, should not forsake traditional means of communications while it continued to apply the latest advances.  Strategies must be developed and strengthened to that end.  He suggested that the timing of the live radio broadcasts in Asia be changed to suit a wider audience.  The United Nations information centres (UNICs) were the real interface of the Organization with the global community and should serve as the United Nations window to the outside world.  The independence and effectiveness of those centres should be maintained and strengthened.  He understood the necessity of reorganizing DPI to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.  That could only succeed if Member States gave DPI the required resources to carry out that reorganization. Programmes proven to be effective should not be discontinued.


HIRA B. THAPA (Nepal) said that there existed a huge gap among nations in terms of reaping benefits from the information and communications revolution.  Eighty per cent of all Internet users were in the developed world, which had only 15 per cent of the global population.  South Asia, on the other hand, a region inhabited by almost 20 per cent of the world’s population, had just 1 per cent of the world’s Internet users. 


He highlighted the ongoing efforts of DPI to provide training facilities to journalists from the developing world.  As a majority of the world’s population resided in those countries, trained and better informed journalists from those countries would contribute positively to the realization of the goals of the United Nations.  As budgetary constraints deprived many developing countries of having their journalists take advantage of DPI-sponsored training, he did not understand why resources could not be saved by reorganizing the existing United Nations information centres, especially in those areas where high rental costs represented the larger part of the budget related to information activities.  A sound policy to remedy that discrepancy would also go a long way to reduce the digital divide that so painfully characterized the present world.


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