29/10/2002
Press Release
GA/SPD/248



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fourth Committee

16th Meeting (PM)


UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL DESCRIBES TRANSFORMED PUBLIC INFORMATION DEPARTMENT


WITH RENEWED FOCUS, CLARITY OF PURPOSE IN STATEMENT TO FOURTH COMMITTEE


The United Nations cannot fulfil its goals without communicating effectively to the world’s peoples, and that was the principal responsibility of a transformed Department of Public Information -– one with renewed focus and clarity of purpose, the Department’s head, Shashi Tharoor, told the Fourth Committee this afternoon.


Updating delegates on the “ongoing and fundamental reorientation of the Department’s focus and structure”, Under-Secretary-General Tharoor said his aim during the comprehensive review had been greater efficiency and effectiveness, while recognizing that in an era of budgetary constraint new priorities would not be matched by additional resources.  Noting that considerable progress had been made and more was under way, he added that the Department must demonstrate its ability to adapt to a changing world and willingness to learn and change, as well as make an honest effort at using its resources for the maximum possible impact.


As part of the reform effort, he continued, the Secretary-General had decided to establish a new operating model for the Department, as well as a new operating concept for the United Nations information centres.  The new operating model, which will be put into effect this Thursday, recognizes that content generation emanates from other departments and agencies, while content coordination, refinement, presentation and distribution are the Department’s responsibility.  The Secretary-General had also proposed a thorough impact assessment for each of the Department’s major product and service lines, as well as changes in the delivery of Library services and in the Secretariat’s publication programme.


A key element in the DPI reform proposals, the creation of regional information “hubs”, would require the approval of Member States, he added.  As a first step, the Secretary-General had proposed to consolidate the information centres located in western Europe into a regional hub, releasing resources for a strong, efficient information office and for redeployment to activities of high priority, in particular strengthening the United Nations information presence in developing countries. The form that consolidation and strengthening of information centres would take in other regions would be considered on a case-by-case basis once a decision to approve the principle of regional hubs had been taken by the General Assembly.  A key guiding principle in implementing the concept would be

that the overall information capacity in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be


enhanced, and that offices and outreach in the Middle East would be particularly strengthened.


Describing activities and highlights of the past year, Mr. Tharoor said the United Nations Web site continued to grow in popularity worldwide.  The site was currently receiving some 6.5 million “hits” a day from 172 countries, had been accessed some 1.1 billion times in 2001 and would receive an estimated 1.6 billion hits in 2002.  The News Centre -– one of the most popular sites on the United Nations Web site -– would soon be available in all six official languages, thus contributing in a major way to providing current information about the Organization in all official languages.  The creation of a new and separate Internet Service, to complement the Press Service and Radio and Television Service, would strengthen the management and development capacity of the site.


He said the Department had played a major role in the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.  The Summit, the largest and most complex conference ever held by the United Nations, had attracted an unprecedented number of journalists from every continent.  While the phrase “sustainable development” was one that made most journalists’ eyes glaze over, the Summit placed those two words on the covers and front pages of some of the world’s leading publications.  The extraordinary volume of news coverage -– the vast majority positive -– and the praise the Department received for its professionalism and logistical assistance, indicated that the Department had successfully met its goals.


He also outlined the Department’s particular focus on Africa, expansion of the character of the United Nations Chronicle, now being printed in all six official languages, reduction of the lag time between year covered and publication of the United Nations Yearbook and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s continued effective service in an environment of resource constraints.


During the discussion that followed, speakers agreed on the importance of the Department of Public Information’s efforts to improve its ability to adapt to changing realities.  While commending the Department for its use of new information technologies, speakers also stressed the need for the DPI to maintain traditional means of communications and to achieve the goal of language parity, particularly regarding the widely popular United Nations Web site.  Speakers also emphasized the primacy of the Department’s role in bridging the information technology gap.


The representative of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the Secretary-General had not presented concrete proposals or referred to the Committee on Information’s recommendation on language parity on the United Nations Web site.  The Secretary-General’s reform proposals did not adequately take into account the observations of the Committee on Information, which was the political authority for establishing guidelines for the services provided by the Secretariat.  In that regard, there was a need to establish the duties of the Secretariat and the Committee.


Egypt’s representative emphasized the need to revert to the Committee on Information before addressing the results of the Department’s comprehensive review.  The achievement of linguistic parity in all six official languages on the


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United Nations Web site was a foremost recommendation of that Committee, as was the maintenance of the live radio broadcasting and the restoration of the financial and human resources for United Nations information centres.  The restructuring of the Department should in no way affect existing General Assembly mandates.


The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the restructuring of the DPI must be done with the active participation of Member States.  The priorities, mandates and activities established by the General Assembly should be maintained.  He urged the DPI to improve its activities to bridge the gap between developing and developed countries.  Traditional means of communications, in particular radio, were still the most used and available medium for millions of listeners across the globe, especially in developing countries.  The Group was concerned, he said, that the Secretary-General’s report had not mentioned the strengthening of traditional means of communications.


Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Yemen, Belarus, Japan, Cuba, Algeria, Israel, Brazil, Republic of Korea, Thailand (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), United Republic of Tanzania and Nigeria.


The Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, Walid Haggag (Egypt), introduced that body’s report. 


The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 30 October, to continue its discussion of questions relating to information.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin its annual consideration of United Nations information issues.  Before it was the Secretary-General's report on questions relating to information (document A/57/157), which covers recent activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and its implementation of recommendations contained in General Assembly resolution 56/64 B of 24 December 2001.


The report says that the Assembly, in its resolution 56/253 of 24 December 2001, requested the Secretary-General to conduct a comprehensive review of the management and operations of the Department.  The review would address the Department's overall effectiveness and efficiency; the focusing of its work to better reflect the Organization's priorities and mandates; the need for greater coordination within the Secretariat on public information activities; and the work and funding of the United Nations information centres.  Specific proposals for the Department's reform will be included in a forthcoming report of the Secretary-General on the comprehensive review.


The report says that the DPI has been mindful of its mandate to create an informed understanding of the Organization's work and purposes.  Using the Millennium Declaration as a guide, the Department is focusing on several major issues, including the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the battle against international terrorism and the needs of the African continent.  The DPI is working with agencies and programmes of the United Nations system to advance the Millennium Development Goals through a joint communications strategy.


The Department has also worked to project the Secretary-General's voice on key international issues and to convey the message that the United Nations is an indispensable Organization to the peoples of the world, the report explains.  Following the 11 September terrorist attacks, The DPI moved quickly to inform the public of the Organization's response, creating a special Web page in all official languages on United Nations actions to address the issue of terrorism.


While maintaining its traditional means of dissemination, the Department has further extended its use of new information technologies to deliver news and information to audiences around the world, the report says.  The United Nations News Service has established itself on the Internet as a gateway to up-to-date United Nations news and information.  The Internet site is backed by a parallel

e-mail service that brings news directly to the desks of redisseminators.  In the first two months of operation, the service secured over 2,000 subscribers.  The initiative is an integral part of the Department's efforts to improve media access in developing countries to news and information sources from the United Nations. 


The Department is also meeting the special needs of the developing countries through outreach activities of the United Nations information centres, Headquarters training programmes for media practitioners from those countries, as well as information strategies for the current cycle of conferences and special sessions of the Assembly on economic and social issues.  Widespread use of traditional media, such as radio and print, also takes into consideration the needs of audiences on the other side of the digital divide.


The report says that the Department, mindful of the importance placed on the multilingual character of its work, has a number of information products and services available in the six official languages, such as daily live radio programmes, the United Nations Chronicle and the United Nations News Centre. 


To enhance the ability of the United Nations system to speak with one voice, the Department has taken a leading role in developing the United Nations Communications Group into a more flexible, pragmatic and task-oriented mechanism for inter-agency coordination on public information and communications.  The DPI provides the secretariat for the Group, which officially replaced the Joint United Nations Information Committee in January 2002.


According to the report, the United Nations Web site receives, on average, close to 5 million visits daily from people in more than 156 countries.  The visitors view over 500,000 pages of material daily.  In 2001, the Web site was accessed over 1.1 billion times, an increase of some 488 million over the previous year.  A new interdepartmental Working Group on Internet Matters, chaired by the DPI, has helped to increase departmental cooperation in the area.  The Department's Information Technology Section, renamed the United Nations Web Site Section, has been moved to the Department's News and Media Division as of June 2002 to take advantage of increased synergies with radio, television and print media. 


The report says that since early 2002, many parliamentary documents in the six official languages have been directly linked to the new Official Document System (ODS), eliminating the need for copying them from the ODS and posting them again on the Web site.  The Department continues to build its in-house capability for live webcasting.  Using "The UN Works" concept, the Department is currently developing a Web site to promote awareness and understanding of the Millennium Development Goals.


The report says that the Department's live radio project has continued to reach large audiences worldwide with a daily 15-minute current affairs newsmagazine.  For the 2002-2003 biennium, additional resources totalling some $2.37 million were appropriated for the project.  Whenever possible, other resources within the Department are used to augment the project's production capacity.  In view of the Department's budgetary situation, however, there is no scope within its current budget for the absorption of the cost of the live radio project.  While the Department explored the possibility of raising extrabudgetary resources, it has not yet received a positive response.  To continue the project beyond the current biennium, regular budget funding will be needed.  The Department plans to include funding proposals in its 2004-2005 programme budget submission.


The United Nations News Centre portal, which features enhanced search and navigation tools and database-driven functions, has been redesigned, the report continues.  It has been further upgraded with the launch of the French-language version and work is under way to develop similar News Centre sites in other official languages.


The report also describes the Department's other activities during the past year, including outreach to non-governmental organizations, public services, thematic information programmes, the United Nations information centres and publishing activities.


The United Nations information centres, the report says, serve as the local focal point for strategic advocacy on behalf of the United Nations system.  In the past year, 77 United Nations information centres, services and offices have intensified their efforts to communicate the Organization's global messages and to demonstrate the Organization's relevance to people everywhere.  They have focused their work, in particular, on local and regional issues, delivering their messages in local languages whenever appropriate.


Also before the Committee was the report of the Committee on Information (document A/57/21) covering its twenty-fourth session from 22 April to 2 May.  The Committee considered, among others, the report of the Secretary-General on the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communication (document A/AC.198/2002/2) of 25 March 2002.


During the Information Committee's general debate, speakers pointed to the critical role of information in development and the achievement of social justice, the report says.  A number of delegates spoke of the bitter contradiction inherent in the fact that astounding advances in information and communication technologies were serving to deepen the digital divide between the developed and developing countries.  Many delegates emphasized the continuing importance of the establishment of a new world information and communications order based on the free and balanced flow of information. 


According to the report, many speakers noted the essential role of the Department of Public Information in bridging the digital divide.  They stressed the urgent need to harness information technology for the equal benefit of all people everywhere, in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals.  Technology, they said, was especially important for Africa.  


The report says that delegations strongly supported the Secretary-General's commitment to enhanced communications as a key element in the reform of the United Nations in a new information age and to developing a culture of communications within the Organization.  Speakers agreed that the Department of Public Information was the "voice" of the United Nations and that its principal goal was to raise the level of popular awareness of the Organization's aims and to build broad-based support for its work. 


The report says that some delegations cautioned that budgetary considerations alone should not determine the provision of long-established activities and services to Member States.  The Committee must first examine the Secretary-General's comprehensive review of the Department before decisions were taken in other forums.  All delegations supported the strengthening of the Department, saying that the reorientation of the Department should be characterized as a work in progress.  A number of delegations supported the Department's new focus on performance management, programme effectiveness and efficiency. 


According to the report, delegates strongly supported the Department's embrace of new technology.  They commended the Department for enhancing the United Nations Web site, which they saw as a major communications tool to extend the direct reach of the United Nations around the world.  However, many speakers said that more needs to be done to improve the multilingual character of the Web site and to achieve the goal of parity among all six official languages. 


The report says many delegates emphasized their concern that the use of new technologies should not be at the cost of traditional means of communication, which were still the main source of information in most developing countries.  A number of speakers pointed to the importance of radio, especially in Africa, as a cost-effective and far-reaching means of outreach and expressed strong support for the live radio project. 


The report says that many delegates strongly supported the Department's alignment with the Millennium Declaration and the major issues emphasized by the Secretary-General, namely poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, the environment, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the battle against terrorism and the needs of the African continent.


The report also says that many delegations supported the Department's role in the global fight against terrorism.  Several speakers hailed the creation of the multilingual "UN action against terrorism" page on the Web site.  Speakers also pointed to the importance of the work of the information centres, which they saw as "United Nations windows on the world", especially in developing countries.


The officers of the Committee on Information for the 2001-2002 period are Milos Alcalay (Venezuela), Chairman; Ivan Matchavariani (Georgia), Tserenpil Dorjsuren (Mongolia) and Peter Mollema (Netherlands), Vice-Chairmen; and Walid A. Haggag (Egypt), Rapporteur.


Statements


SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, began by outlining the Department's activities since the issuance of the Secretary-General's report (document A/57/157).  To start with a twenty-first century item, he said, the United Nations Web site continued to grow in popularity worldwide.  The Web site had been accessed some 1.1 billion times in 2001 and would receive an estimated 1.6 billion "hits" in 2002.  Some 6.5 million people visited the Web site daily from more than 172 countries.  The United Nations News Centre -- one of the most popular sites on the United Nations Home Page -- would soon be available in all six official languages.  Given its substantial readership, the new Centre would contribute in a major way to providing current information about the Organization in all official languages.  He added that he had taken steps to strengthen the management and development capacity of the United Nations Web site by creating a new and separate Internet Service to complement the Press Service and Radio and Television Service.


The DPI had played a major role in the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, he continued.  The Summit, the largest and most complex conference held by the United Nations, had attracted an unprecedented number of journalists and media personnel from every continent.  The DPI had sought both to raise global awareness about the Summit and the wider issue of sustainable development.  The Department had also had the task of keeping the substantial media presence informed of ongoing negotiations and coordinating the plethora of media interviews by senior officials.


While the phrase "sustainable development" was one that made most journalists eyes glaze over, Johannesburg had placed those two words on the covers and front pages of some of the world's leading publications, he said.  The extraordinary volume of media coverage of the Summit -- the vast majority positive -- and the praise that the DPI had received for its professionalism and logistical assistance, indicated that the Department had successfully met its goals.


He said that the DPI continued to pay particular attention to Africa.  Recent focus had been on publicizing the priorities set by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), including wide dissemination of an information kit on the final review of the New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s and the regular publication of the journal, Africa Recovery.  In the past year, the United Nations Chronicle had continued to expand its character as a forum for academic discussion and debate on a number of issues vital to the United Nations and had resumed print publication in all six official languages.  The United Nations Yearbook had made dramatic strides in reducing the time lag between the publication date and the year covered.  The issue covering 2000 had been sent for reproduction and was due out before the end of the year.  The Dag Hammarskjöld Library continued to effectively serve Member States and civil society in an environment of resource constraints.


A key goal for the Department, he said, was the ongoing reorientation of its focus and structure.  It was an unusually interesting time in the history of the Secretariat, in the first year of the Secretary-General's second term in office and as the Organization repositioned itself for even greater relevance as the "indispensable global institution of the twenty-first century".  The Department was key to that continuing transformation.  At the same time, many Member States had called for changes in the DPI.  Some had suggested a streamlining of its operations while others had asked for it to do more, particularly in the developing world.


The debate was not a new one, he said.  Over the years, the work of the United Nations in the field of public information had often come under close scrutiny of Member States, who had historically been divided on the subject.  Soon after the United Nations was established, the policy and budget of DPI's forerunner -- the Office of Public Information -- had been at the centre of a complex debate.  The level of expenditure for public information activities had been challenged in budgetary committees as early as 1948.  Throughout its history, and particularly in the last 20 years, the Department had been the subject of at least seven periodic reviews and reappraisals, with a major restructuring in

1987-1988. 


In its resolution 56/253 of December 2001, the General Assembly had requested the Secretary-General to undertake a comprehensive review of the Department's management and operations, he said.  Both he and the Secretariat had embraced the proposal for a review as an opportunity to examine DPI's overall effectiveness and efficiency, its focus on the substantive priorities and mandates of the Organization and the need for greater coordination within the Secretariat on public information activities.


The first stage of the review was reflected in the Secretary-General's report on the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications (document A/AC.198/2002/2), which was released in March 2002, he said.  The report set out the Secretary-General's vision for a "transformed" DPI with renewed focus and greater clarity of purpose.   The Secretary-General reinforced that vision in his September 2002 report on "Strengthening the United Nations:  an agenda for further change" (document A/57/387).  That report contained the principal conclusions of the comprehensive review conducted this year of the Department's management and operations.  The full text of that would be issued in due course for those who would like to see "flesh on the bones" of the Secretary-General's recommendations. 


In addition to DPI's own review, the results of several other reviews, which have been completed or were being carried out elsewhere in the Secretariat, would impact the Department's work, he added.  They included reviews of the United Nations system library services, Secretariat publications and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) review of United Nations information centres. 


In conducting the comprehensive review of the Department, he stressed that his aim had been greater efficiency and effectiveness, with a consciousness that the Department was living in an era of budgetary constraints, where new priorities were not matched by additional resources.  What was essential was for the Department to demonstrate its ability to adapt to a changing world and its willingness to learn and to change, as well as make an honest effort to use its resources to obtain the maximum impact possible.


The Secretary-General's reports of March and September 2002 had put forward his vision on how to position the DPI for greater impact in the future, he continued.  The reports outlined several important issues and questions which had emerged from the in-depth analysis of the Department over the past year.  They included a lack of clarity around DPI's mission; the existence of fragmented activities with unclear linkage to a coherent overall strategy; a limited capacity to understand whether programmes and activities matched "customer" needs; and an unclear organizational structure.  The reports had highlighted the main issues and findings so far and defined new directions and broad areas of focus for the Department. 


He said the Secretary-General had decided to establish a new operating model for the Department, as well as a new operating concept for the United Nations information centres in the field.  The Secretary-General had also proposed a thorough impact assessment for each of the Department's major product and service lines, as well as changes in the delivery of library services and in the Secretariat's publications programmes.


The Department's new operating model recognized that content generation emanated from other Secretariat Departments and offices and organizations of the United Nations system, he added.  However, content coordination and refinement, as well as content presentation and distribution, were the Department's responsibility, working in close collaboration with the media, Member States and civil society.  The new organizational structure would be put into effect on Thursday, 1 November 2002, he said.


A key element of the DPI proposals -- that related to the United Nations information centres -- required the approval of Member States, he said.  On the Secretary-General's proposal for the creation of information centre regional "hubs", as a first step the Secretary-General had proposed to consolidate the information centres located in Western Europe into a regional hub.  That proposal would not include the United Nations Information Services at Geneva and Vienna, as they provided essential services to United Nations offices in those cities.  The plan would release resources for a strong, efficient information hub and for redeployment to activities of higher priority, in particular the strengthening of the United Nations information presence in the developing world.


He said a key benefit of creating strong and effective regional hubs would be to strengthen the capacity and autonomy of information offices away from New York.  It was vital that the creation of regional hubs be accompanied by creative steps to ensure that outreach in both official and non-official languages of the Organization was enhanced, rather than diminished.  He would approach both individual governments and regional organizations to determine what assistance they would be able to offer to enhance the Department's language outreach.


The Secretary-General had, in his March report, stated that the concept of regional "hubs" should "be applied in a flexible way, taking into account the views of Member States", he added.  The form that consolidation and strengthening of information centres would take in other regions would be considered on a

case-by-case basis, once a decision by the Assembly to approve the principle of regional hubs had been taken.  A key guiding principle would be that the overall information resources to Africa, Asia and Latin America would be enhanced, and that offices and outreach in the Middle East would be particularly strengthened.  The Secretary-General would present further specific proposals at the twenty-fifth session of the Committee on Information, in event that the Assembly decided to approve the concept of regional hubs and the redistribution of resources to developing countries that that would permit.


Reform was a process, not an event, he concluded.  While the DPI could not be reinvented overnight, considerable progress had been made.  At the dawn of a new millennium, the United Nations could not succeed in fulfilling its goals without being able to communicate its work effectively to the world's peoples, in whose name the Organization had been established.  That would be the principal responsibility of the new DPI. 


WALID HAGGAG (Egypt), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced the report of the Committee, which covered its twenty-fourth session from 22 April to 2 May 2002.  He said the report reflected the rich nature of that session and fruitful negotiations that had taken place on draft resolutions.  Many delegations at the session had focused on the report of the Secretary-General on Strengthening of the United Nations:  an agenda for change, under the section on the Department of Public Information, which contained preliminary findings on the effectiveness of the Department.


He said many Committee members had divergent views on draft resolution B of the Committee's report, and it was necessary to adequately reflect those in the report.  Many contended, for example, that it was the responsibility of the Committee to pronounce on issues raised by the Secretary-General in his report.  In the end, members were able to prepare and agree on the text of the draft, which allowed the Committee to pronounce on the general activities of the DPI.


Reviewing draft resolution B, he said it contained a brief introduction and general discussion of the DPI activities.  The operative part focused on such activities as multilingualism, promotional campaigns, bridging the digital divide, United Nations information centres, DPI's role in peacekeeping, such traditional means of communication as radio, and the DPI Web site.


He added that the report also contained a draft decision, whereby the General Assembly would appoint Saudi Arabia to the Committee, increasing its membership from 98 to 99. 


BRUNO STAGO (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the public information activities had adapted to changing realities in the world, especially in view of the technological revolution that had given rise to globalization.  The Committee on Information played a central role in guiding DPI’s activities and information policy.  The Rio Group, which played an active role in that body, endorsed the Committee’s recommendations.


The Rio Group was concerned that the reform proposals did not take into account the observations of the Committee on Information, he said.  He was concerned about several fundamental issues, including the need to establish the duties of the Secretariat and the Committee.  The Committee was the political authority for establishing guidelines for the services provided by the Secretariat.  The definition of the United Nations communication strategy rested upon Member States, and not exclusively on the Secretary-General.  The establishment of any office in the DPI must respond to the need to facilitate the efficient and joint design of those strategies.  If the Secretary-General thought the Department needed a closer follow-up, the Group was ready to consider the Committee’s active involvement.


Regarding the issue of multilingualism, he said the Secretary-General had not presented concrete proposals or referred to the Committee’s recommendation on language parity on the United Nations Web site in the different languages of the Organization.  Given the growing number of people who spoke Spanish, any strengthening activity must include optimization of United Nations information services in Spanish.  The Spanish language version of the United Nations Web site was the second most visited site, although the supply of sources in Spanish had not met the increased demand.  The Group was also concerned about the need to preserve the traditional means of news production and dissemination.  The Secretary-General should take into account the fact that access to new technologies was limited in many countries.  The Rio Group supported the work of the United Nations information centres, which had specialized libraries.  Member States must be consulted on any measures that would impact their budget.


ADRIANA PULIDO SANTANA (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it was well known today that the information, communication and technology revolution might open vast new economic growth and social development opportunities for all.  Nevertheless, the developing world still remained far from enjoying the benefits of the knowledge-based economy, because of the technological gap.  It was a paradox that, while the problems of distance and communications in the world had been dramatically reduced, the problem of the digital divide continued to grow.


He said the Group was conscious that it was not an easy task closing the digital gap.  It required the joined efforts of everyone and the United Nations system should play a key role in the process of bridging that divide and reversing the trend that threatened to widen it.  In that regard, Venezuela said the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society would be an opportunity for all countries to suitably adapt themselves to the reality of the times.


Turning to the United Nations public information policies and activities, he expressed appreciation to the Secretary-General for the publication of the report (document A/57/387), in which he proposed some specific actions to enhance the United Nations public information.  That report, with the recommendations made by the Committee on Information, could serve as basis for the exercise of reform and strengthening of the Department of Public Information.  The Group was supportive of those efforts.  With regard to the proposal to restructure the DPI, it must be done with the active participation of Member States.  The priorities, mandates and activities established by the General Assembly should be maintained.  The role of the United Nations information centres should also be strengthened in developing countries.


The Group also welcomed the proposals to integrate the management of United Nations Libraries and improve its modernization through the use of technology, he said.  But, the traditional means of communications, in particular radio, was still the most used and available medium for millions of listeners across the globe, especially in developing countries.  He expressed concern that no mention had been made of strengthening those traditional means of communications in the Secretary-General's report.  The importance of ensuring the full equitable treatment of all six official languages of the United Nations in the activities of the DPI should be equally stressed.


Mr. HAGGAG (Egypt) said the report presented reflected the tremendous developments during the past year concerning the role of the United Nations in the field of information.  It also underlined DPI's increasing role in various areas, including the enrichment of the United Nations Web site, services provided to the media, efforts made to interact with non-governmental organizations and activities provided to the public.  While the DPI had undertaken efforts in the best possible manner, the Department still found it somewhat difficult to respond to the multiple mandates agreed upon by Member States and to deal with them within its limited financial and human resources.  He agreed with the redrafting of DPI's primary activities to enable it focus on disseminating the major aspects of the United Nations' work.


He emphasized the need to revert to the Committee on Information before proceeding to address the results of the comprehensive review conducted by the Secretariat, and which formed the basis of the new recommendations submitted by the Secretary-General.  He added that any action taken to restructure the DPI should in no way affect the existing mandates adopted by the General Assembly.  He looked forward to any evaluation that the Department might conduct to ascertain the results of its activities and the extent of their impact, and hoped that such an evaluation would be submitted to Member States for appropriate action.  The achievement of linguistic parity in all six United Nations official languages on the United Nations Web site was a foremost recommendation of the Committee on Information, so too the maintenance of the live United Nations radio broadcasting programme, and the restoration of the financial and human resources for United Nations information centres.  He added that the African Group had elaborated a common position on the Secretary-General's proposals on the DPI in the report "Strengthening of the United Nations:  an agenda for further change."


MOHAMED ALI SALEH ALNAJAR (Yemen) said information should be a priority for the United Nations, since its task was to address public opinion and counteract any biased information spread throughout the world.  The United Nations' role should be neutral, representing the true nature of events in the absence of political pressure.  All nations should be aware of United Nations resolutions and how they had been implemented, and the DPI could give that information objectively to all.  After 11 September, it was the Organization's duty to develop mechanisms that would achieve dialogue among civilizations, and condemn campaigns of discrimination and hatred.


It was important for the DPI to consider the challenges of new technology, he stressed.  The United Nations needed to develop a realistic attitude in overcoming the obstacles to information dissemination throughout the world.  It was important that the DPI developed its full potential in the information and media-training areas, particularly through information centres around the world, so that developing countries could benefit from its programmes and courses.


OLEG SERDYUKOV (Belarus) said his country was committed to maintaining the momentum in the development of a communications strategy and culture along the lines of the recommendations of the Secretary-General and the Committee on Information.  The DPI should make additional efforts to help close the technology gap between the North and the South, and to make sure that the digital revolution was used to the maximum extent possible for the developing countries and countries in transition.  Effective implementation of those tasks would be facilitated by the systematic evaluation of the DPI to develop agreed upon communications strategies.  Strengthening of the information centres was also critically important, as was the balanced use of conventional and new technologies and the achievement of multilingualism in United Nations information activities.


In the last year Belarus had worked to enrich information flows between it and the United Nations, he said.  Belarus radio stations had joined the United Nations radio project and Belarussian listeners were now able to receive daily, first-hand information about the Organization’s work.  Belarus was grateful for the comprehensive approach to working with national information media, which played a pivotal role in the thorough coverage of the Organization’s work.  The Department had implemented a training programme for journalists from developing countries and countries in transition.  He supported all efforts to increase the efficiency of the information infrastructure of United Nations peacekeeping operations.


He also urged the DPI to maintain the momentum in coverage of the efforts to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.  Belarus was grateful to the DPI for the practical steps it had taken in that area and he hoped that the United Nations would continue to implement a long-term policy.  He was confident that the information component of United Nations activities would see further strengthening.


KAZUHIKO KOKUBU (Japan) stressed the importance of public information about the United Nations and its activities, mainly generated and disseminated by the DPI to Member States and the public.  He said, appropriate information policy within the United Nations system remained as important as ever.  Japan was looking forward to the report on the comprehensive review of the management and operations of the DPI, and additional reviews of publications and information materials, library services and information centres conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services.  Those reports would provide an essential basis for a detailed and in-depth deliberations on the future direction of DPI reforms.


It was important to adapt United Nations activities to high piority issues, such as the goals of the Millennium Declaration.  This would require the

redeployment of resources away from low priority and obsolete activities.  He said Japan expected the Secretary-General to identify and propose activities that should be terminated.  After the restructuring of the DPI there should be periodic review to ensure that the activities remained timely and relevant. 


He said Japan noted the transfer of the Cartographic Section to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and, while not objecting to the move, it believed that the Section should continue to provide an adequate level of service to other departments.  The Secretariat should be asked to explain the long duration of two or three years proposed for the completion of the systematic evaluation of the impact and cost-effectiveness of all DPI activities.  The reason and necessity for such long duration, he said, remained vague.  Japan also hoped that publishing activities would focus on issues of high piority.


ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said the current technology and knowledge revolution had influenced all fields of endeavour.  Many of today's globalizing tools had emerged from scientific and technological advances and the fields of information and communications.  Unfortunately, those advances were not equally distributed among all of the world's people, and the technological gap had continued to widen.  In the developed world, creative innovations were introduced and use of the Internet and communications had spread.  In the developing world, priorities were still subsistence and survival for the great majority of its inhabitants.


He commended the United Nations, and especially the DPI, for developing the United Nations Web site, and trying to reach the most remote corners of the Earth. That effort would be seriously affected if funds devoted to the production and broadcast of United Nations television and radio programmes continued to be cut. Efforts should also be made to continue improving the Web site not only in English, but in all the official languages of the United Nations, without distinction or discrimination among them.


The shortage of resources to maintain democratic and balanced information services was among the problems faced by developing countries, he said.  Objective, impartial and non-discriminatory information, which considered specific social and cultural traditions, should help strengthen and consolidate relations among nations.  All were victims of information aggressions every day, both in the poorest and richest nations.


NADJEH BAAZIZ (Algeria) said information played an important role in today’s world, especially in view of new communications technologies.  Information was being transmitted at unimaginable speed.  The DPI should ensure that all countries were able to access the benefits of new technologies, in order to bridge the digital divide.  A global strategy was needed to ensure international balance in the area of information.  Important progress had been achieved in disseminating the work of the Organization.  Progress in the use of Internet had been remarkable.  The success of the United Nations Web site reflected the public’s interest in the work of the Organization. 


Linguistic diversity was important for the Organization, which was why she welcomed the quality of the various Web pages in the different languages.  The six official languages must have equal treatment in the development of the Web site.  She also welcomed improvements in the multilingual character of United Nations publications.  Documentation and reference materials of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library must also be ensured.  Particular attention must be given to training journalists from African countries.  The DPI should redouble its efforts on decolonization activities. 


She said the United Nations information centres were of great interest for developing countries where access to information technology was limited.  The centres should be given financial and personnel resources to respond to new challenges.  Regarding the proposal for regional information centres, that proposal would be a possibility for countries where operating costs were high and communications mediums were sufficiently developed.  In disadvantaged regions, however, proposals for regional information centres should be considered on an individual basis and with prudence, keeping in mind the views of Member States.


ARYE MEKEL (Israel) said the challenges and opportunities facing the world today, particularly as a consequence of the revolution in communications technologies, had affected every fact of life.  In most societies, the increased access of populations to various sources of news and information had had, on balance, a positive impact.  Access to information was a basic building block of democracy.  To the extent that knowledge and understanding was enhanced, all members of society would benefit.  The free flow of information and the free exchange of ideas and opinions occurred only in open societies.  It was unfortunate that as the free world embarked upon the exciting journey that technology had made possible, others were being left behind, intent on controlling their news media and the sources of information available to the public.


The last year had witnessed some of the consequences of that state of affairs, he said.  The attacks of 11 September, and many smaller attacks carried out since, had been perpetrated by the disciples of closed societies.  One of the most blatant examples in the past year of the disdain of terrorists not only for the behaviour of the free world but also for its beliefs and values was the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.  He said Mr. Pearl had been targeted for murder because, among other reasons, he was a journalist seeking the truth.  He commended the Committee on Information for observing World Press Freedom Day 2002, which had featured a videotaped interview with Mr. Pearl’s widow, Marianne. 


One of the most incredible developments in recent years was the Internet, he said.  In just a few years, the Internet had transformed the world, creating tremendous new sources of wealth and permitting vast quantities of news, information, pictures and sounds to traverse the globe within seconds.  The Internet was a powerful tool for enhancing knowledge and understanding and for promoting democratization around the world.


However, it could also be a source of hatred and intolerance.  In recent years, there had been a proliferation of Internet sites committed to promoting hatred, intolerance, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice and racism.  The international community must take note of that trend.  Responsible Member States must commit themselves to combating those developments, not by destroying the technology on which their dissemination depended but by defeating hateful speech in the marketplace of ideas.


SIDNEY LEON ROMEIRO (Brazil), speaking for the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said the United Nations must evaluate its outreach in a more systematic and quantifiable manner.  It was inevitable and even desirable in an organization of its magnitude that conveying information would involve a wide range of activities.  However, that did not warrant the fragmentation of information, which could not be properly addressed if the Organization did not systematically monitor the impact of its information products.  He looked forward to the introduction in the General Assembly of the Secretary-General's report on "Strengthening the United Nations", and anticipated that any actions taken to evaluate the impact of the activities of the Department of Information would contribute to its performance.


He stressed that radio was one of the most efficient means of communication.  United Nations Radio had been continually expanding its audience, and its transmissions showed a high standard of quality.  He underscored the importance of draft resolution B of the Committee's report, which dealt with traditional means of communication -- radio, television and publications.  He fully concurred with the view in the draft that radio remained one of the most cost-effective and

far-reaching traditional media, especially in the developing world.


CHOO JONG-YOUN (Republic of Korea) said that as the information arm of the United Nations, the DPI played a central role in common endeavours to communicate the priorities of the Organization to the greatest extent possible.  He supported initiatives to ensure the Department’s greater efficiency and effectiveness.  In view of its broad mandate, there was a clear need to prioritize its activities.  The identification of target audiences and the clarification of programme objectives would be useful to evaluating the effectiveness of all activities.  He welcomed DPI’s increased use of contemporary technology, as well as its useful

Web site.


The new e-mail service bringing news directly to non-governmental organizations, academia and civil society was another method to reach even more subscribers, he said.  Such endeavours should be strengthened as an effective mechanism to expand the United Nations outreach.  Traditional activities, however, would have to be reviewed, including publications, which were being marginalized in the electronic age.  Systematic evaluation and monitoring was necessary so that lesser priorities were discontinued in favour of more effective methods to fulfil DPI’s mandate.


Regarding the United Nations information centres, he said further endeavours were necessary for integrating and streamlining their services.  While the information centres were the voice of the United Nations in the field, measures must be taken to avoid duplication and repetition.  The Republic of Korea supported the proposed plan of consolidating several centres into one regional hub.  United Nations peacekeeping operations were assuming paramount importance against the backdrop of an international scene beset with new and long-standing conflicts.  The DPI should continue its efforts to strengthen its capacity for the effective functioning of the information component in peacekeeping.  The United Nations should also work to bridge the digital divide.  All countries and peoples should be enabled to derive the vast benefits of information and communications technologies.


KULKUMUT SINGHARA NA AYUDHAYA (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said it was essential that the United Nations had broad-based public support for its work.  The DPI should make optimal use of available communications technologies to ensure effective and efficient information dissemination.  With special respect to developing countries, the DPI should continue its activities in high piority areas, such as poverty eradication, health and education.


He supported the Secretary-General's proposed restructuring of the DPI, especially the establishment of the Division of Strategic Communications, which will devise, disseminate and evaluate United Nations messages around piority themes.  Such departmental restructuring should take into account the views of Member States.  He looked forward to the outcome of the planned systematic evaluation of the DPI.  Underscoring the importance of the United Nations information centres and welcoming the possibility of setting up regional information hubs, he said an additional responsibility for the centres should be disseminating information in other languages apart from United Nations official languages.

Despite the rapid development in communications technology, he said a digital divide persisted.  He, therefore, supported the call for the establishment of the United Nations Information Technology Service, the Health InterNetwork and the Information and Communication Technologies Task Force.  The DPI should, however, continue the use of traditional means of information, such as radio, television and news publications.  He also supported the integration of the United Nations libraries and welcomed plans to have the Dag Hammarskjöld Library assume responsibility for setting policy and coordinating the work of all United Nations libraries.  He backed all efforts to make full use of the Internet and urged the DPI to continue to assist all Permanent Missions to the United Nations in improving their Web sites.


LIBERATA MULAMULA (United Republic of Tanzania) said the Fourth Committee needed to seriously consider practical measures of bridging the digital divide to ensure equal access to new information and communications technologies.  The transfer of technology was not merely a matter of making equipment available, but access to knowledge and information should be regarded as key to development.  The DPI could assist developing countries in improving their technological capacity in the information field, particularly through information centres and training programmes.


She described United Nations information centres in the field as "windows" of the Organization to the world, especially in developing countries.  The centres not only promoted United Nations activities, but created awareness of critical issues dealt with by the United Nations to benefit mankind.  He was encouraged by the Secretary-General's continued efforts to address imbalances in resources available to centres.  Care should be taken when considering those proposals, however, especially the idea of establishing regional hubs.  That proposal should be carefully reviewed and practical criteria on the location of information centres should be established.  The support and consent of affected Member States would be paramount in successfully implementing that idea.


She commended the use of new information technologies by the DPI to deliver news and information about the Organization to audiences worldwide, but said it was still essential to maintain traditional means of disseminating information, such as print and radio.  The radio was still the basic means of communication and source of information in most developing countries.  Maintaining and strengthening radio services was thus vital for the developing world, as a cost effective means of reaching millions of people.


CHARLES A. ONONYE (Nigeria) said his country endorsed the Department’s efforts to prioritize its work programme by focusing on vital issues such as poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS and the dangers of international terrorism.  The DPI should continue with that strategy, which had been useful to developing countries, especially in

sub-Saharan Africa.  The live radio project continued to reach large audiences.  In Nigeria, the programme enjoyed an audience of not less than 50 million, the largest in Africa.  Nigeria appreciated that achievement and hoped that adequate funding would be made available for its sustenance. 


He commended the DPI for developing and maintaining a Web site, which remained a major communication tool for the United Nations.  The daily press briefing, the United Nations television service and the training programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries should continue, as developing countries benefited from those services.  He commended the Department

for the expansion of its cartographic and geographic products and services, particularly presentations in support of Security Council briefings and the revised peacekeeping and gender maps. 


The United Nations information centres had continued to serve as the local voice of the Organization throughout the world, through the dissemination of information on the work of the Organization, he said.  Regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish regional information “hubs”, Nigeria held the view that that would be feasible only in regions with high rent and maintenance costs.  The establishment of hubs should be reasonably flexible and done on a case-by-case basis, with the consent of the countries concerned.


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