28/10/2003
Press Release
GA/SPD/272



Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

15th Meeting (PM)


SPEAKERS PRAISE PUBLIC INFORMATION REFORMS AS FOURTH COMMITTEE DELEGATES


EMPHASIZE NEED TO SENSITIZE, EDUCATE ON WORK OF UNITED NATIONS


Praising the recent reforms within the Department of Public Information as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on information questions this afternoon, delegates underscored the importance of sensitizing, informing and educating the wider public on the work of the United Nations.


Singapore’s representative noted that, as the voice of the United Nations, the Department’s message faced the danger of drowning in the flood of information competing for the world’s attention.  In order to be heard, the message must be clear and focused, and engage the widest possible audience.  A proactive approach, underpinned by a strong and coherent communications strategy, was necessary if the Organization was to engage and convince the public of its relevance as a multilateral institution, he added.


Several speakers expressed their support for the initiative to create a regional information hub in Western Europe, but called for prudence in applying the same principle to United Nations information centres elsewhere in the world.  India’s representative urged circumspection in applying the hub approach to other regions, saying that the Department should proceed on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the countries concerned.


At the same time, some delegates highlighted the work of United Nations information centres operating at the country level.  Japan’s representative said his country’s Government attached great importance to the information centre in Tokyo, to which it had contributed some $200,000 annually in recent years.  Similarly, Jamaica’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), reaffirmed the importance of the United Nations Information Centre in Port of Spain, Trinidad.


However, while many representatives called for the diversion of funds released by the closure of information centres in Western Europe to centres in developing countries, the representative of the United States questioned the advisability of shifting such resources prior to the region in question undergoing a regionalization examination process.  Regarding the Secretariat’s effort to achieve language parity on the United Nations Web site, he said the Organization’s six official languages were spoken by less than 40 per cent of first-language speakers worldwide.  To better carry out the Department’s basic mandate, it would be more beneficial to post the texts of important United Nations materials in other languages additional to the official six.


The representative of the Republic of Korea, stressing the importance of traditional media, noted that, in 2002 alone, more than 133 million people had tuned in to hear United Nations radio programmes in the six official languages and in Portuguese.  Many other speakers highlighted the important contribution of such traditional media in disseminating information about the United Nations to a wide audience, even as delegates called for a narrowing of the information and communications technology gap between developing and developed countries.


Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Egypt, Bangladesh, Singapore, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cuba, Russian Federation, Bahrain, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Indonesia.


The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, 29 October to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on questions relating to information.  [For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/271 of 27 October 2003.]


Statements


LOUAY FALLOUH (Syria) said his country attached great importance to the implementation of a new type of information that reflected the concerns and cultural aspirations of all peoples.  The United Nations in general, and the Department, in particular, shouldered great responsibility in defining the Organization’s activities, both in developed and developing countries.  Highlighting issues that United Nations bodies had decided upon, including the decisions of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the committees was a major function of the Department, and the same applied to the struggle against foreign occupation. 


Concerning the regionalization of United Nations information centres, he stressed the importance of the centres, especially for developing countries.  Each case must be dealt with separately and all host countries must be consulted.  Syria also appreciated the Department’s efforts to consolidate the United Nations Web site, as well as the way in which the site had been developing.  However, more efforts should be made to ensure a balance among the six official languages, as well as financial and human resources.  While Syria supported the Organization’s efforts to better inform the public at large, it was concerned about its use of partnerships with outside entities that could not be trusted. 


TOSHIHARU TARUI (Japan) expressed appreciation for the notion of Strategic Communication Services described in the Secretary-General’s report, and hope that the Department would continue to provide communication services while setting appropriate priorities. 


He said the concept of regional hubs for the consolidation of the United Nations information centres was a valid one.  Japan attached great importance to the information centre in Tokyo, to which it had contributed approximately $200,000 annually in recent years, bringing its total contribution to the Department to more than $2 million dollars over the past five years. 


On the issue of multilingualism, he noted that the Tokyo information centre was playing a very important role in giving the Japanese people a better understanding of United Nations activities through information products in Japanese.  Regarding the improvement of United Nations Web sites in the different official languages, he called on the Department to continue its efforts to attain its goals within the limits of existing resources by reallocating them according to actual needs. 


SHARAF H. AL-SHARAFI (Yemen) expressed appreciation for the Under-Secretary-General’s new vision for the Department and his quest to find the best way in which to convey the activities of the Organization to the public at large.  Yemen also appreciated the importance that the Department attached to the multitude of languages and the circulation of its activities in the six official United Nations languages.


Referring to the United Nations information centres, he noted that the savings achieved from their closure in certain regions would benefit centres in other regions.  The regionalization process must keep in mind the specificities of each region, especially those in the developing world.  There was also a need to reactivate certain centres, including the one in Yemen.  Welcoming the Department’s restructuring, he emphasized the importance of maintaining a balanced flow of information.


U LINN MYAING (Myanmar), welcoming the Department’s restructuring, said his country recognized the work done by the Dag Hammarskjöld library, as well as efforts to promote multilingualism. 


He said Myanmar’s Government was doing its outmost to enable all those residing within the Union to have access to news and information and to reap the benefits of information and communications technologies (ICTs).  Myanmar was working with its regional partners in Asia -- such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea and India -- developing ICTs.  There was still a digital divide between developed and developing countries and more must be done to bridge it.  The United Nations could play a bigger role in this respect. 


IHAB AWAD (Egypt) stressed the importance of the Department’s efforts to achieve the information objectives of the Organization at a decisive time, which covered the recent events in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories.  The changes in the Department’s structure must be in keeping with the aspirations and concerns of Member States and an information policy was needed that kept in mind the difficult situations facing certain countries.


Stressing the need for close cooperation and increased transparency between the Department and the Committee on Information, he said that institutional, ongoing interaction between them would strengthen the Department so that it could carry out its mandate.


He highlighted several aspects of the Department’s activities that required continuing attention, including multilingualism, the need to promote national information centres and diversification in the media.  The United Nations message should reflect the topics laid out in the Millennium Declaration, which required clear coordination between the Department, the Secretariat and the various United Nations bodies.  Expressing the hope that the United Nations information message would help strengthen the dialogue between various cultures, he emphasized the need to distinguish between terrorism and those fighting for their legitimate right to independence.


STAFFORD NEIL (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), affirmed his support for the Department’s new organizational structure and its continued effort to improve its ability to deliver effective and targeted information programmes.  In spite of the various challenges facing the United Nations, the Department continued to be guided by the priorities set out in the Millennium Declaration, to prepare relevant media materials and devise issue-driven communication strategies connected with major international conferences.


Reaffirming the importance of the United Nations Information Centre in Port of Spain, Trinidad, he reiterated the importance of the establishment of an enhanced information component in the United Nations Development Programme Multi-Island Office in Jamaica as a complement to the work being undertaken by the Trinidad information centre.


IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that in a world that has seen a growing number of walls dividing peoples and cultures, the United Nations should endeavour to sensitize, educate and inform the peoples of the world about its vast agenda in pursuit of peace and development.  The Department of Public Information had always been in the forefront of that endeavour, and its efforts to meet the demands of our time were commendable, he added.


Applauding the expansion of the United Nations Web site, he stressed, however, the need to continue to reach out to global audiences through traditional media such as print, radio and television.  Bangladesh strongly supported the further strengthening of information centres in developing countries, and the proposals to create regional information hubs should be undertaken in a flexible manner, on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the countries concerned.


TAN WEI MING (Singapore) said that even the Organization’s most powerful messages and ground-breaking decisions would not achieve their fullest impact if they could not be effectively communicated to the world.  The role of information as a complement to the policy-making role of the United Nations was, therefore, a vital one.  The voice of the United Nations, however, faced the danger of drowning in the flood of information competing for the world’s attention.  In order to be heard, the Organization’s message must be clear and focused and engage the widest possible audience. 


Given the recent debate on the role of the United Nations, a strong information policy was even more crucial, he said.  Some had questioned the relevance of the Organization as a multilateral institution.  A proactive approach underpinned by a strong and coherent communications strategy was necessary if it was to engage and convince the public.  War must also be waged on the information front to achieve the goals of the Millennium Declaration. 


He said the Department had come a long way in fulfilling its role, expanding its scope and now managing a wide range of content on its broadcast and radio programmes and online publications.  Such accomplishments had not been easily achieved, especially as the work of the United Nations had become increasingly complex.  However, the Department must take a further step in its reform to play a proactive role in the United Nations.  A robust communications strategy must be developed and constantly reviewed to achieve the greatest public effect.  An integrated approach, incorporating the different elements of the United Nations, was also necessary to render the United Nations messages coherent and effective.  To achieve that, the Department must strengthen its collaboration with the relevant departments to better understand the issues to be addressed.  Broad vision, and not individual activities, must drive its work. 


A robust communications strategy, however, could not be effective without an equally robust information infrastructure, he added.  In the information-based society, the appetite for timely and comprehensive information could hardly be satisfied.  With an explosion in demand, the Department must adopt innovative ways and means to keep up with the pace, including the adoption of faster and up-to-date technologies.  Existing tools, such as the United Nations Web site, the News Centre, the information centres and libraries must be optimized.  In that regard, Singapore welcomed the proposal to centralize its web-based communications, given the importance of Internet technologies, rationalize the information centres and improve the management of United Nations libraries. 


He said that departmental reform must take into account the needs and practical considerations faced by Member States.  Care must be taken to factor in the digital divide in determining the most appropriate approach to adopt.  Traditional means, such as radio, television and print, still played an important role for technologically less-advanced countries.  Efforts must be made to identify the most effective combination of the various forms of media, both traditional and new, on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the United Nations story was well told. 


CHOO JONG-YOUN (Republic of Korea), commending the Department’s efforts to implement various phases of reform and restructuring, expressed full support for the rationalization of United Nations information centres around regional hubs.  At the same time, the mandate of each existing centre must be meticulously examined before action was taken in other regions.


He said that despite the need to utilize advanced technologies in outreach efforts, traditional methods of communication, such as radio, were indisputably of great importance.  In 2002 alone, more than 133 million people had tuned in to hear United Nations programmes in the six official languages and in Portuguese.  Those programmes should be expanded by using other local languages.


V.K. NAMBIAR (India) reiterated his country’s support for the ongoing process of change within the Department, saying that, as the voice of the United Nations, it should be vibrant, dynamic and constantly evolving.  Reorientation should meet the aspirations of the developing world and correct the current bias against it in the field of information and technology.  In addition, the Department should do more in terms of highlighting critical development issues and the Organization’s work in addressing them. 


He said the proposal to ensure a seamless transition from United Nations information centres (UNICs) at the national to regional hubs was a worthy one and called for the resources released to be diverted to other priority areas.  Regarding the application of the “hub approach” to other regions, he urged circumspection, saying the process should move ahead on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the countries concerned. 


RI SONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), calling attention to the gap between developed and developing countries in information and communication technology, emphasized the need to establish an equitable international information and communication order.  Member States should make every effort to ensure that public information activities promoted understanding and friendly cooperation between nations.


He said some countries were misusing the power of public information to infuse their ideological and cultural values upon developing countries, and even as a means to overthrow sovereign States.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea called for the strengthening of the capacity of developing countries in the field of public information and urged the United Nations to intensify international cooperation by providing training, investment and technology.


ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) noted that, regrettably, the technological gap between rich and poor countries was widening.  While the use of the Internet in the developed world was growing, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population was focused on mere survival.  There was an overriding need for a new world communication and information order.  It was hoped that the upcoming Information Summit would yield solutions that would close the gap between the rich and poor countries.  Cuba could not go along with the old argument by the masters of information manipulation that nothing could be done.  The United Nations must find viable, action-oriented alternatives to what was happening.


Praising the Department’s work in bringing the Organization’s Web site up to date, he said it was important, however, to allocate the necessary funds for the dissemination of radio and television programmes.  At the same time, the Web site must continue to develop in all the official languages.  Due account must be taken of the traditions of all peoples.  Stereotypes and disinformation were prevalent and the term “massive deceit” was totally justified.  Interference in the internal affairs of other countries was illegal, requiring international action.  Despite United Nations resolutions, the United States continued to direct, finance and encourage illegal transmissions to Cuba.  He denounced the radio and television aggression against Cuba from the United States for the past 20 years. 


Every week, he said, some 2,220 hours of radio and television programmes were broadcast on about 24 frequencies, including 14 stations that belonged to well known terrorist elements operating on United States territory with complete impunity.  On 20 May 2003, Television and Radio Marti, funded by the United States Government, had used four new frequencies, causing interference with Cuban radio stations.  Such broadcasts were flagrant violations of international law and reflected tolerance by the American authorities of terrorist activities.  Such destabilizing manoeuvres had failed, however, due to the skill of Cuban technicians.  Cuba would continue to adopt the necessary action to repel the destabilization actions.


S.V. TREPELKOV (Russian Federation) called on the Department to focus its efforts on disseminating key United Nations information on the maintenance of international peace and the fight against new challenges to security, primarily international terrorism.  The Russian Federation supported the Department’s efforts to improve the work of the United Nations information centres and their incorporation into integrated regional hubs.  The funds thus saved should be redirected towards addressing other important and priority tasks.


Measures undertaken by the Department to expand the Organization’s capability in the expeditious provision of information to the media were timely, he said.  Daily verbatim records, the news bulletin, press releases and the new e-mail service made up a solid body of information, which could be efficiently used by national information agencies.


WILLIAM MARSH (United States), noting the agreement to close nine information centres in Western Europe and to open a regional information hub in Brussels in 2004, said the Department must factor in the existence of other United Nations system offices in the region under review to ensure there was no overlapping of services.


The information centre system had been developed in ad hoc fashion over the years, he said.  While recognizing the validity of information-centre host country views in the regionalization process, all involved should put aside parochial interests and use the opportunity afforded by the information hub process to create a regional-hub system that would better meet the needs of all Member States.  While not disputing the possible need to redirect human and financial resources to strengthen information components in developing countries, the advisability of shifting such resources prior to the region in question undergoing the regionalization examination process was questionable.


He said the integration of the Official Document System (ODS) with the United Nations Web site would significantly enhance the multilingual nature of the United Nations Web site by providing free, public access to all United Nations parliamentary documents in the six official languages and eliminate duplicate formatting and posting of documents.  While commending the Secretariat for endeavouring to achieve language parity on the United Nations Web site, multilingualism, as defined in that context, did not equate with universality.  The six official languages were spoken by less than 40 per cent of first-language speakers worldwide, and the Web site was a tool, not an electronic official document.  To better carry out the Department’s basic mandate, it would be more beneficial to post, on the Web site, the texts of important United Nations materials in other languages additional to the official six.


The United States continued to question the usefulness of the United Nations Chronicle, he said.  The Cyberschoolbus Web site and the “United Nations Works” programme were the backbone of the Department’s educational outreach programme.  While regretting that the Dag Hammarskjold Library would not assume responsibility for setting policy and managing the work of all United Nations libraries, he called on its management to assume a strong leadership position in the newly established Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated management of United Nations Libraries.


Responding to the representative of Cuba, he said that, while the United States delegation had sought dialogue, rather than diatribe, the Cuban delegation had chosen to politicize the Committee.  The United States steadfastly observed its international obligations, particularly those of the Inter-Telecommunications Union concerning avoidance of harmful interference to the services of other countries.  The Cuban Government’s opposition to Radio and TV Marti was driven by an underlying dread of the consequences, should the Cuban people receive uncensored information about their own country and the world about them.  It was not the world, but Cuba, that was in need of a new information order.


FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain) called for a new culture of excellence to be applied to the Department’s work and for regular evaluations to be conducted in order to identify strengths and weaknesses in the implementation of reforms.  Bahrain recognized the crucial role of information in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and in efforts to bridge the digital divide.


He said that creating regional United Nations information centre hubs gave rise to new concerns.  Bahrain called for the careful testing of the initiative, in order to assess the hub’s performance.  Emphasizing the importance of information centres as sources of education, information and awareness-raising, he called for their revitalization and for an increase in the resources allocated to them.


RUDOLF CHRISTEN (Switzerland) noted that a June survey had shown that some 77 per cent of Swiss citizens -- an increase of about 25 per cent -- felt that the United Nations put forth an overall positive image.  While the reasons for such findings were numerous, the positive result was the fruit of an intense and sincere communication effort.  The support that the Department provided to the media was central to the promotion of a clear, objective and realistic image of the United Nations in the world.  The Department’s new structure was suited to the requirements of modern and future communications.


He said the creation of a regional centre in Europe was a step in the right direction and a path that should be pursued.  However, the same means and methods could not be applied across the board to every region.  Switzerland welcomed the creation of a Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries and eagerly awaited the Committee’s findings.  The library of the United Nations Office at Geneva, by virtue of its historical value, should not be the object of centralization in terms of decision-making.


While the development of new information and communication technologies had brought new opportunities to all walks of life, the digital revolution remained just outside the reach of the vast majority, he said.  Switzerland hoped that the World Summit on the Information Society would improve the situation.  Switzerland fully supported the Summit’s goals, namely, the creation of an information society accessible to all.  Digital technology was about freedom of expression and content, and was not just technical, he noted.


SERIK ZHANIBEKOV (Kazakhstan) supported the Department’s efforts to enhance the United Nations public information infrastructure and called for further departmental activities in every region.  Kazakhstan was expanding its information sector by installing a new technological culture in the economy and public administration based on cutting-edge information technologies.


NINA S. DJAJAPRAWIRA (Indonesia) said the major reform of the Department’s structure and operating method was important for improving the targeted delivery of public information services.  The Department’s new mission statement captured the essence of the challenge before the United Nations.


Bridging the digital divide between developed and developing countries was important to the Indonesian delegation, she said.  The majority of the world’s population lacked access to the Internet because some 80 per cent of its content was in English.  Developing local language content was essential for the advancement of information technology for the benefit of non-English-speaking populations.  In that context, the activities of United Nations information centres would be more effective if they used local languages.  The World Summit on the Information Society would provide a good opportunity for narrowing the digital gap.


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