28/04/2003
Press Release
PI/1474



Committee on Information

Twenty-fifth Session

1st Meeting (AM)


‘THE UNITED NATIONS MATTERS, AND ITS VOICE MUST BE HEARD’, COMMITTEE

ON INFORMATION TOLD, AS IT BEGINS CURRENT SESSION


At a time of increasing divisions between peoples and cultures, the Committee on Information was urged today by Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information Shashi Tharoor to send a strong message to the General Assembly and the world that the United Nations mattered and its voice must be heard.  The Committee, which makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the policy and activities of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), is scheduled to meet through 9 May.


Other speakers in the Committee’s general debate, which began today, said now was a defining moment for the Organization as it confronted the challenges of the changing global landscape.  Of crucial importance to meet those challenges was the reorientation of DPI.  Strengthening multilingualism at the United Nations, reviewing carefully the regionalization of United Nations Information Centres on a case-by-case basis, and the impact of radio were also emphasized.


Opening the Committee’s 2003 session, Mr. Tharoor said it was meeting at a time when the recent and ongoing events in Iraq had seriously challenged the United Nations.  Questions had been raised about the Organization’s future.  Some had declared that the United Nations was “irrelevant”, while others were genuinely concerned about a perceived United Nations’ failure to prevent the war and the consequent weakening of the Organization. 


The world was slowly coming to realize that neither of those analyses was true, he said.  The depth of disappointment in so many countries at the Security Council’s failure to find a collective solution showed how much was expected of the United Nations.  It was encouraging that people worldwide were convinced that the United Nations was the institution where decisions should be taken on matters of collective peace and security.


Faced with the great challenge of finding ways to increase awareness and understanding of the United Nations multiple roles in the Iraq crisis, DPI had succeeded in conveying the message that success or failure in any one area, however important, did not “make or break” the United Nations, he continued.  Ensuring that the immediacy of the situation in Iraq did not overwhelm communication of what the United Nations was doing in other areas had been no less challenging.


While he said he would not speak of a “new DPI”, he could speak of a “renewed DPI”.  There had been a great deal of change over the last year regarding the Department’s activities and implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. 

DPI had further refined its mission, which was “to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact”.  New priorities had been set; a new operating model had been put in place; and both short- and long-term goals had been defined.  But, none of that could be achieved without the adoption of a revised programme budget that better reflected the agreed priorities.


The newly-elected Committee Chairman Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (Bangladesh), said the Committee was meeting against the matrix of an extraordinarily trying time, in which the resolve and commitment that had originally led to the creation of the United Nations was being tested.  The session also coincided with an important period of reform of the Organization.  The Committee, thus, had the onerous responsibility to ensure that the voice of the United Nations was heard around the world, through both traditional and the latest online technologies.


Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the President of the Group, the Permanent Representative of Morocco, said that DPI’s dynamic role was to both be informed and inform.  It must be strong, reactivated and restructured, with the capacity to elaborate coherent communication strategies, which allowed the developing world to benefit from the new communications technologies.  Restructuring, however, should not be at the expense of the communications programmes concerning development, conflict prevention, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, dialogue among civilizations, and the wide-ranging needs of Africa.


Acknowledging DPI’s “courageous” efforts to meet the demands of an efficiency-oriented environment, the representative of Greece, on behalf of the European Union, said the extraordinary opportunity provided by the Department’s new strategic direction would maximize the use of its resources and enhance its political visibility.  With its new organizational structure -- launched on 1 November 2002 –- DPI now had all the necessary tools to carry out its mandates.  Prioritization of activities was crucial, and the Department should present its proposals in a clear, strategic and measurable way. 


In other business, the Committee elected Larbi Djacta (Algeria), Marius Ioan Dragolea (Romania) and Sebastiao Filipe Coelho Ferreira (Portugal) as Vice-Chairmen.  Janice Miller (Jamaica) was elected as Committee Rapporteur.


The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work for the twenty-fifth session.  It welcomed Saudi Arabia to the membership of the Committee, bringing to 99 the total number of members and was informed that Switzerland, Suriname, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were seeking membership.


Participating in the Committee’s work, along with its members, during the current session were Australia, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Holy See, Madagascar, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Suriname, Switzerland, and Tajikistan, as well as the intergovernmental organization, the International Organization of La Francophonie.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would participate as observers as will the United Nations Correspondents’ Association.


Statements in the general debate were also made by Algeria, the Republic of Korea, and Mexico. 


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


Background


The Committee on Information met this morning to begin its twenty-fifth session.  It was expected to hear statements from its Chairman, as well as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and begin its general debate.


The Committee, the principal legislative body mandated to make recommendations to the General Assembly on the work of the Department of Public Information (DPI), opens its current session against the backdrop of the Department’s ongoing reform of its activities.


For further background, see Press Release PI/1473 of 24 April 2003.


Statement by Chair


The Committee Chairman, IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), said the session was taking place against the matrix of an extraordinarily trying time.  In many ways, the resolve and commitment that had originally led to the creation of the United Nations was being severely tested.  Yet, if the question was posed to the peoples of the world whether they needed the Organization today as much as they did when it was first set up, the response of the overwhelming majority would be a resounding “yes”.


He said that, in a world that would sadly continue to be riven with conflicts and turmoil, a forum for dialogue and deliberations would always be required.  When calamities occurred, massive humanitarian aid would need to reach victims.  When human rights abuses occurred, often flagrantly and with impunity, the Organization needed to bear witness to them and condemn them.  Now, more than ever, the United Nations must bring to fruition the solemn pledges of the Millennium Declaration, to devote the first 15 years of the new century to end extreme poverty and hunger, widespread illiteracy and disease. 


The current session also coincided with an important period of reform within the Organization, whose membership had charged the Committee with an “onerous” responsibility, he said.  It was not merely change for the sake of change that was being sought, but a transformation of DPI through a strong and practical action plan, which further empowered and adjusted it to respond to current realities and challenges.  It was through that Department that the “voice” of the United Nations was heard around the world, through the traditional media and the latest online technologies.


He said the Committee and DPI could play a most useful role, not only as the global voice, but also as a conduit to the Organization of the views of peoples from all regions of the world.  The Committee should pay particular attention to the concerns of the developing countries.  Its actions must be guided by the need to focus on the developmental goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals.


The Committee had long registered its concern about the burgeoning digital divide between the developed and developing countries concerning information communications technology, he said.  It was the Committee’s task to encourage DPI to play a strong role in the preparations leading up to the World Summit on the Information Society, scheduled for late this year, and for 2005, so the Summit could have a positive and lasting impact.  On World Press Freedom Day, members would pay tribute to journalists in conflict situations and honour those that had lost their lives in the line of duty during the Iraq war.


He said there was no reason why, through the combined endeavours of the Committee and the DPI, that the goals set by the Committee could not be achieved.  It was true that the world, at times, appeared divided, but the Committee could introduce harmony where there was chaos and conflict, and unity where there was division, by opening the “windows of our hearts and minds” to allow for the free flow of ideas and cultures from around the world. 


Opening Statement by Under-Secretary-General


The Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, SHASHI THAROOR, said the Committee was meeting at a time when recent events in Iraq had posed serious challenges for the United Nations.  Many were worried about the broader implications of the war, and serious questions had been raised about the Organization’s future.  Some had said that the United Nations was “irrelevant”, comparing its fate to that of the League of Nations.  Others were genuinely concerned about what they saw as the United Nations failure to prevent the war and the consequent weakening of the Organization. 


The world was coming to realize that neither of those analyses was true, he said.  The depth of disappointment in so many countries at the Security Council’s failure to find a collective solution showed how much was expected of the United Nations.  Yet, it was encouraging that people around the world believed that the United Nations was the institution where decisions on matters of collective peace and security should be taken.


DPI’s greatest challenge, he said, had been finding ways to increase awareness and understanding of the United Nations’ multiple roles in the Iraq crisis.  Ensuring that the immediacy of the situation in Iraq did not overwhelm communication of what the United Nations was doing in other areas had been no less challenging.  The Department had succeeded in conveying the message that success or failure in any one area, however important, did not “make or break” the United Nations.  The general public, and even the mass media, rarely distinguished between the role of the United Nations as a “stage” on which Member States played their parts, and might agree or disagree, and that of the United Nations as an “actor”, intervening with its agencies and staff in various situations.


Since the beginning of the crisis at the end of 2002, the Department had played a central coordinating role in conveying a consistent message on the United Nations role in the Iraq crisis, he said.  He had chaired a system-wide Inter-Agency communications task force to ensure coordinated information-gathering and a rapid-response communications strategy.  He had also issued regular media guidance and talking points to United Nations officials.  Initial efforts had focused on the need to seek a peaceful solution, including the role of the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council process.  Once the conflict had begun, efforts had been concentrated on ensuring the protection of Iraqi civilians and meeting their humanitarian needs, as well as on the issues of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. 


Today the focus was on post-war Iraq and the nature of a possible United Nations role, he said.  That guidance, which was constantly revised to highlight what were considered the “messages of the day”, was circulated to all senior United Nations officials and Directors of United Nations Information Centres so that they could pro-actively communicate such messages to the global public.  Senior officials had given numerous interviews in major media across the world.  Opinion pieces by the Secretary-General and senior officials had also been published in newspapers worldwide.  A press centre in Amman, Jordan, had been established in March in cooperation with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations agencies to provide daily briefings on humanitarian developments.  The Department’s communications efforts had been directed not only at the media, but also at the public at large.


The Department had organized a special event for 2 May in observance of World Press Freedom Day, with the theme “The Media and Armed Conflict”, he said.  The conflict in Iraq has claimed the lives of a number of journalists, injured several others, and damaged several media locations.  The Secretary-General would address the event, which was a clear indication of the importance he attached to the role of themedia in dealing with the questions of armed conflict and press freedom.  The Committee’s Chairman had also agreed to speak.  The Department was also commemorating the Day at Columbia University on 1 May. 


While the debate on the United Nations role in Iraq continued, it was clear that the relevance of the United Nations would not be determined by its conduct on one issue alone, he said.  The world still faced innumerable problems that would remain relevant when Iraq had faded from the headlines, and the DPI would continue to draw them to the world’s attention.


Regarding the Department’s activities and the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, he said there had been a great deal of change over the last year.  While he could not speak of a “new DPI”, he could speak of a “renewed” DPI.  Last year, the Department had presented to the Committee the results of the first phase of the comprehensive review of its management and operations.  It had further refined its mission, which was “to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact”.  With that mission statement as its guide, DPI’s aim was to achieve more focused messages, better identification of target audiences, prioritization of the allocation of limited resources among the many mandated activities and identification of programmes that could be improved upon or eliminated.


He said the Secretary-General had taken the process further in September 2002 with his reform report, “Strengthening of the United Nations: An agenda for further change”, which had launched the second phase of the Department’s comprehensive review.  That report contained five specific actions to improve the Department’s ability to deliver effective and targeted information programmes.  With the Committee’s endorsement of the initial proposals last year, and with the Secretary-General’s action plan as its guide, concrete steps had been taken to mould a more effective DPI.  The reorientation report reflected the implementation of the Secretary-General’s vision and detailed the Department’s new operating model, based on a Division–by-Division reform programme.


The new operating model was based on the fact that the Department’s work was not an end in itself, he said.  While the substantive Secretariat departments and United Nations system organizations were responsible for generating content, the DPI would coordinate and refine, as well as present and distribute, the relevant information.  DPI’s new organizational structure included a Strategic Communications Division, a News and Media Division and an Outreach Division.  The Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General remained administratively part of the Department and worked closely with it.  The Strategic Communications Division was responsible for disseminating United Nations messages and was responsible for developing communications strategies to promote the United Nations work on priority issues. 


He said a new element in the operating system was the introduction of the concept of the Secretariat departments as “clients”, which identified their own priorities, and the Department as “service provider”, working along clear guidelines given to it by the Departments.  Issue-driven promotional campaigns would be implemented using all the Department’s assets, including print, radio, television and Internet, and through working with the media, civil society, the private sector and the United Nations information centres.


A vital aspect of the new approach was its extension to the field, he said.  Under the Department’s new structure, the network of information centres, services and information components of United Nations Offices had been made an integral part of the Division.  Regarding the Office of Internal Oversight Services’ review of the structure and operations of United Nations information centres, the DPI had already taken steps to address issues such as the submission of annual plans setting proposed activities around strategically selected messages.


Another mechanism to encourage strategic partnerships within the United Nations system was the work of the revitalized United Nations Communications Group, he said.  The common communications platform provided a forum for coordination on communications policies, issues and programmes of the United Nations system.  An example of the new partnership between DPI and the United Nations system was the development of a communications strategy for the World Summit on the Information Society (2003 and 2005) in cooperation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  The Department has participated actively in the United Nations Information and Communications Technology Task Force as it prepared for the world summit.  A parallel event, the World Electronic Media Forum, was being organized in association with the television industry and the Government of Switzerland.  The event, which would take place in Geneva in December 2003, would focus on the role of the electronic media in the information society.


The Department had also taken into account the General Assembly’s call to enhance public information activities in support of development in Africa, he said.  The Africa Section, now located in the Strategic Communications Division, was working with client departments, including the newly formed Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, to formulate comprehensive communications campaigns that highlighted priority issues on Africa’s developmentagenda.  The magazines, Africa Recovery and Afrique Relance, provided a valuable means for promoting Africa’s issues to target audiences in Africa and elsewhere, and thereby supporting the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).


A key element in the successful implementation of the new operational approach would be the work of the News and Media Division, he said.  DPI relied heavily on Headquarters-based United Nations correspondents.  Their knowledge of the complex workings of the organization made them an indispensable resource.  The Department had also taken advantage of global the communication technology revolution to reach out to the global media.  Some 17 million people listened to United Nations radio in seven languages every day.  He hoped the Committee would support the long-term continuation of the radio pilot project.  United Nations Radio enabled partner stations to cover crucial events that they did not have access to, such as daily United Nations briefings on developments related to Iraq.


The establishment of the Internet Service in the News and Media Division -- to create a more integrated operation for the delivery of the large quantity of multimedia content it provided -- was one example of how the Department’s reform was helping to ensure that it better served the media, he said.  The new integrated effort, which included the Internet Service and United Nations Radio, would result in United Nations News Centre Web sites in all official languages by the end of the year.


Since the introduction of the United Nations News Service last April, over 15,000 subscribers in 130 countries, including a growing number of developing countries, had signed on, he said.  The strength of the News Centre was the ease with which users could instantaneously access information related to any particular issue from across the United Nations system.  Numerous external sites, including those of major media outlets, were creating direct links to the News Centre as a source of breaking news on United Nations activities. 


A new Outreach Division had also been created to firm up partnerships with civil society, the academic community, the media and an expanding network of depository libraries, he said.  The newly created Civil Society Service, which brought together several sections under one umbrella, was now better equipped to meet the demands placed on it.  The NGO Section, which served over 1,400 non-governmental organizations associated with DPI, as well as 2,200 organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), continued to build new bridges with civil society. 


While many had feared that the Department was abandoning print media as a result of increased interest in the Internet, it had remained conscious that printed materials remained indispensable in many parts of the world.  The United Nations Yearbook, now a part of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, would release its 2001 edition in the summer and was also available on CD-ROM.  The new Publications Board -- set up under the Secretary-General’s reform programme as a standard-setting body with representatives from across the Secretariat -- had also begun functioning. 


He said a new mechanism had been established in the area of library services reform, namely, the Steering Committee on the Modernization and Integration of United Nations Libraries.  That Committee, which had held its inaugural meeting in March, had adopted an action plan to maximize cooperation amongst the various libraries of the United Nations System.


The UN Works Programme, part of the Outreach Division, was a multi-media platform that put a human face on critical global issues, he said.  UN Works had tapped into the resources of media companies and leveraged the ability of United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors to reach global audiences through original television programming, including a two-million-dollar television series funded by the private sector, and public service announcements on major television stations.


To plan and implement further changes, DPI had had to re-prioritize some of its activities, while remaining within its budgetary ceiling, and was proposing to transfer resources accordingly in the biennium 2004-2005, he said.  It had been necessary for the Department to identify areas where savings could be made without diminishing the impact of mandated programmes.  In the Secretary-General’s reform report, he had proposed to rationalize and consolidate information centres located in Western Europe into one regional hub, thereby releasing resources for a strong and efficient information hub and for redeployment to higher-priority activities, including information centres in developing countries.  The proposal was driven by the realization of the need to create better understanding of the Organization and to garner public support for its work.  It was clear, however, that the resources available at the field level to accomplish that, using the existing structural arrangements, were insufficient.


The plan to close the nine existing centres in Athens, Bonn, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris and Rome and to replace them with one regional hub, was reflected in the Department’s submission for the proposed programme budget for the next biennium, he said.  The intention was to benefit from the synergies within the European Union and take advantage of the high level of computer connectivity in the region.  The United Nations information services in Geneva and Vienna would not be affected, as they performed functions essential to the work of major United Nations offices in those cities.  Staffed and resourced to work in all languages of the European Union, the hub’s programmes would be based on a common list of United Nations priorities.


The Department would seek to concentrate its operations in fewer strategic locations and to equip regional hubs with a critical mass of staff, supported by sufficient operating resources, to project a more coordinated message in the regions concerned, he said.  The new operating concept would also allow the DPI to redirect resources to other priorities, including to information centres in developing countries.  In particular, the centres in Africa and the Middle East would see an increase in resources, enabling them to deliver more effective and targeted programmes at a crucial time.  The possibility of expanding the United Nations information centre at the United Nations Office at Nairobi into an Information Service, which could possibly become a regional hub, was also being considered.  A hub in a developing country to cater to the needs of the Lusophone community was also being considered.


Resources would also be redirected to multilingualism on the United Nations Web site and the systematic evaluation of the impact of DPI’s activities, he said.  In implementing the regionalization process, the interests of Information Centre staff affected by the closures would not be overlooked.  DPI and the Office of Human Resources Management had already formed a working group on the question to provide guidance to affected staff.


The Department had made significant progress in the use of the six official languages, he said.  In his report (document A/57/355), the Secretary-General had presented proposals for strengthening the Department to support and enhance the United Nations Web site in all official languages of the Organization.  Recognizing that the Department’s current resource capacity was inadequate to sustain the rapid expansion in the use of the Web site or to keep pace with the daily addition of new material in all the official languages, the Secretary-General had recommended identifying additional resources of some $1,297,500.  The General Assembly, in its decision 57/579 of 20 December 2002, had requested that the Secretary-General proceed with the implementation of his proposal through the redeployment of resources within the Department, giving priority to the language posts required.


The Department was using innovative approaches to achieve the goal of multilingualism within its existing resources, he said.  As a first step, some of the savings to be released from the closure of United Nations Information Centres in Western Europe would be redirected to Web-site activities, both at Headquarters and in the field. 


DPI was also taking a number of measures to advance parity among official languages on the United Nations Web site, he said.  An Arabic News Centre had been launched three months ago.  DPI was currently redeploying resources to have, by the end of the year, a News Centre in the three remaining official languages.  Steps were also being taken to make available the databases operated by the Department in all official languages.  Among the databases and Web sites already fully multilingual was the Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s United Nations Documentation Research Guide, which was available through the new Security Council portal and could also be accessed from the Dag Hammarskjöld Library home page. 


He said the Secretary-General had entrusted him with a new function, namely, Coordinator for Questions related to Multilingualism throughout the Secretariat.  In that role, he was determined that DPI, already the most multilingual of departments, took the lead in narrowing the gap between current realities and the expectations of Member States.


Another vital aspect of the Department’s work concerned performance management, he said.  In line with the Secretary-General’s reform programme, the Department had taken steps to make performance management an integral part of its work, including training programme managers in evaluation and audience research techniques.  An annual programme impact review was also being introduced to ensure the alignment of the Department’s activities with its priorities.  The annual review aimed to make evaluation a part of the daily work of programme managers.  To accomplish that, the Department had requested the assistance of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which was helping DPI to complete a series of change management projects.  The OIOS Evaluation Section was assisting the Department in a three-year review of its products and activities requested by the General Assembly.


The Department’s ability to deliver effective and targeted information programmes would depend not only on how it organized itself but also on resource allocations aligned to its programmatic needs, he said.  New priorities had been set; a new operating model had been put in place; and both short- and long-term goals had been defined.  None of that could be achieved, however, without the adoption of a revised programme budget that better reflected the Department’s agreed priorities.  In that regard, the Secretary-General in his reform report had suggested that since the 2004-2005 budget would be adopted in 2003, the programme of work should be reviewed and updated and a programme budget better aligned with agreed priorities should be adopted.


To translate DPI’s new operating model into programmatic terms, the Department had changed the subprogramme structures contained in the 2002-2005 medium-term plan, he said.  The Department now had a new subprogramme structure, which would enable it to align its organizational structure with its sub-programmes:  Strategic communication services, News services, Library services and Outreach services.  He sought the Committee’s endorsement with regard to the new structure and the related programme of work.


The proposed programme budget for 2004-2005 had been prepared on the assumption that the regionalization of United Nations information centres in Western Europe would be implemented, he added.  The 2004-2005 proposed programme budget also took into account the transfer of the Cartographic Section to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 


One of the Secretary-General’s priorities in revitalizing the United Nations was to restore public confidence in the Organization by reaching out to new partners and by “bringing the United Nations closer to the people”, he said.  At the critical juncture, he appealed to the Committee to send a strong message to the General Assembly and to the world that the United Nations mattered and that its voice must be heard.  In a world that has seen a growing number of walls emerging, dividing peoples and cultures, effective public information could greatly contribute towards bringing down those walls.  We can, thereby, “see all that we share in common, and strive all the more effectively to fulfil our common aspirations”.


General Debate


MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the rapid pace of globalization had been dictated, not only by the markets, but also by the character of international society.  It was very important for the Organization to be highly visible and to adapt itself to meet the new challenges.  In that process of revitalizing and adaptation, the public information Department had been called upon to play a significant and dynamic role, for it was that Department which had helped to create the international image of the United Nations, explain its role, and show its impact on international relations.


Indeed, he said, DPI played a dialectic role, bringing together opinions and promoting the work of the United Nations, which must be informed and must inform.  It must “communicate” with its environment and take into account the response of the environment, in order to regenerate itself and better serve that environment.  The Committee’s work was crucial in ensuring the dissemination of information on a wider scale and in a balanced way.  Thus, DPI must be strong, reactivated and restructured, with the capacity to elaborate coherent communication strategies and to benefit from the new communications technologies. 


As the Secretary-General had stated in his report, the Department had suffered from a fragmentation of its efforts, as a result of too many mandates and missions, he said.  That had led to its restructuring, which should be consolidated under the Information Committee’s supervision.  In addition, the Committee should be regularly informed of the results and implications of that reform process.  


At the same time, he said the Group hoped that DPI’s restructuring would not be conducted at the expense of the communications programmes having to do with development, conflict prevention, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, dialogue among civilizations and cultures, sustainable development and the needs of Africa, for that continent had been the greatest victim of globalization and the most marginalized. 


Regarding the restructuring of the Information Centres, he stressed their importance for the developing and least developed countries, as valuable sources of information and interaction.  Their presence was all the more important for the developing countries, as those had an acute shortage of infrastructure and the human resources needed to reap the benefits of the new information technologies.  In addition, the envisaged restructuring should be undertaken on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the concerned countries. 


Pending the bridging of the digital divide and the dissemination of the new information technologies, which would be the focus of deliberations at the two-part world information summit in Geneva and Tunis, he said the Group remained committed to preserving and consolidating the traditional means of communication, such as radio broadcasting, which had an undeniable impact in remote areas.  It further reaffirmed the need for strict observance to the principle of multilingualism. 


He said that, since the Iraqi crisis, world opinion had been characterized by deep concern and sadness.  The United Nations must persevere and reflect the diversity and cultural integrity of civilizations.  The United Nations must bring together that most important “human wealth” and direct it towards peace and life, and, to the extent possible, put an end to war and suffering. 


GEORGE PSIACHAS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, acknowledged the Department’s courageous efforts to meet the demands of a challenging, efficiency-oriented environment.  The Union appreciated the constructive interaction between DPI and the Committee.  The Union remained fully supportive of DPI’s important role, as it was convinced that the United Nations should strengthen its efforts to inform the people of the world about its aims and activities.  The extraordinary opportunity provided by the new strategic direction that DPI had embraced would further rationalize its activities, maximize the use of its resources and enhance its political visibility. 


He said the Union was also pleased to see that the Secretary-General’s proposals were being adhered to and urged the Secretary-General to continue the process.  The Union also welcomed DPI’s new organizational structure launched on 1 November 2002.  With the new Strategic Communications Division, News and Media Division and Outreach Division, DPI now had all the necessary tools to carry out is mandates.  He was also pleased to see that DPI’s new mission statement echoed the guidelines set forth in the Millennium Declaration.


Self-evaluation and performance management were indispensable to DPI’s success, he said.  As such techniques were already enshrined in the United Nations budgetary and management evaluation rules, they should not be made contingent on resources from elsewhere in the programme.  While pleased with the reference to the consolidation of information centres in existing United Nations houses in the field, further elaboration of what had been achieved so far would have been helpful.  Regarding the Official Document System (ODS), the Union welcomed the successful implementation of the full multilingual support function.  The Union looked forward to the implementation of free, public access to the system as a final step in upgrading the existing proprietary system to a new open one.


He commended imaginative efforts to expand the Organization’s language capacity through the academic community and urged DPI to continue its work in that area.  The responsibility for achieving greater language parity on the Web site should not fall to DPI alone but should be shared with the Organization’s other programme managers.  The Union supported the restructuring of DPI, including the implementation of the rationalization of the network of the United Nations Information Centres around regional hubs in consultations with concerned Member States.  That reform should be an opportunity to reinforce multilingualism in the United Nations communications activities.


Regarding the budget, he said the Union welcomed the opportunity to see the programme narrative of DPI’s budget bid.  Given the resource picture for this year, prioritization of important activities was a fundamental necessity, making it all the more important for DPI to present its proposals in a clear, strategic and measurable way.  He was sure that the Secretariat would be able to furnish the Committee with more precise details concerning indicators of achievement, and baselines from which to measure future success. 


Radio broadcasting remained the most cost-efficient and far reaching traditional media, he said.  DPI should continue to build partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to extend the United Nations message to all corners of the world and should continue its focus on enhancing all six official languages, as well as Portuguese.  The Union welcomed the creation of the Strategic Committee to develop strategies to achieve a more modern library system within the United Nations system as an important first step on the path to reform. 


The death of 70 journalists and media staff in 2002 could not be understood as just a number of human casualties, he said.  It was regrettable that in many countries, freedom of press did not exist.  The freedom of opinion and expression was a right accepted worldwide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He strongly condemned the use of violence to hinder the job of journalists and condemned attempts to control the media by distorting or suppressing information.  


MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria) said he supported the statement just made on behalf of the Group of 77.  Significant progress had recently been achieved in the area of information technology.  Indeed, the transmission and reception of information was taking place at an unimaginable speed, which had brought the world together, but also had led to inequalities.  The Department must ensure that all countries had equal access to the benefits of information technologies, to narrow the digital divide and to allow developing countries to integrate into the world economy.  Paradoxically, while the world was becoming smaller, the digital divide was growing.


He called for the elaboration of a strategy, aimed at achieving an international balance in the area of information.  That required initiatives on the part of all countries.  The dissemination of information was a key component of the United Nations’ work, as that could contribute to accelerating peace, security and development.  Noting the stunning progress in the use of new technologies in the United Nations, he applauded the wide use of the Web site, which recently set a record of more than 10 million “hits” in a 24-hour period.


Also important, he said, was the fundamental question of linguistic diversity.  In that regard, he was pleased with the quality of the United Nations Web sites, as well as the quality and service provided by the news centre, especially its translation into Arabic earlier this year.  He appealed for all six languages to receive equitable treatment.  He also noted the progress made in enhancing the multilingual character of the publications and urged their continuation.  The library’s services had been made more up-to-date, effective and accessible.  Also welcome had been the improved capacity of radio broadcasting in the six languages.


He recalled that the Secretary-General, in his report, had showed that the cost of establishing and using the regional centres was high and required highly developed infrastructures.  In underdeveloped regions, the information centres were very popular.  He, thus, repeated his country’s support for them and hoped they would continue to receive adequate resources and personnel.  Their demise should only be planned in advanced regions of the world, and all actions in that regard should be undertaken on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the host country concerned.


HA CHAN-HO (Republic of Korea) said the rapid technological advances in the new millennium were profoundly impacting the entire global society.  The digital revolution generated a massive flow of information almost instantaneously at the click of a mouse.  The Republic of Korea was committed to taking a proactive role in the use of information and communications technologies and was keen to share its experiences with developing countries.  His Government had focused its policy on bridging the digital divide and to guiding developing countries in achieving a more sustained information society.  Given the enormity of bridging the digital divide, the United Nations had to play a significant role.  In that regard, he fully supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to bridge the digital divide through the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Geneva in December.


In recent years, DPI had exerted all efforts to reorient its activities, publishing several relevant reports, he said.  The Department had revised its operating models and had established its organizational structure based on the reports’ recommendations.  The DPI should continuously adapt itself in meeting new challenges.  It was essential that reorientation and reform endeavours be carried out not only with efficiency and transparency, but also without losing sight of budgetary aspects.  He strongly supported the re-evaluation of less urgent activities so that the resources could be diverted to high priority areas.  He also underlined the Committee’s central role in the ongoing restructuring. 


While it was desirable to maintain parity in the use of the six official languages in DPI’s work, increased operational costs could not be disregarded, he said.  From a practical point of view, there was no complete parity in the use of all United Nations working languages.  In that light, DPI had to explore initiatives and alternatives that could be implemented within the parameters of its limited resources.  The Department should explore ways of establishing cooperative partnerships with large commercial sector television networks to produce and broadcast television programmes.  Through partnerships, DPI could keep the world better informed of the United Nations roles and activities.  He encouraged DPI to enhance its existing partnerships with the private radio sector.


He said his country fully supported the proposal to rationalize the network of information centres around regional hubs.  He was pleased that the creation of a Western European hub was being discussed.  The DPI should find the best method to reduce the costs of management of regional hubs in close consultations with respective host countries.  The most effective way to maximize the dissemination

of information about the Organization’s activities was to develop a user-friendly United Nations Web site.


Given the importance of United Nations peacekeeping operations, he joined other countries in reaffirming support for promoting closer coordination between the Department, the field and Headquarters.  A more proactive and professional approach must be developed both within and between DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to reduce areas of duplication and achieve the mandate of peacekeeping operations.  He encouraged DPI to continue with its reform measures under the forward-looking strategy of Mr. Tharoor.  As the pace of information quickened, the Committee’s role would become crucial.


ALFONSO DE ALBA (Mexico) emphasized the urgent need for the Committee to deal with question of information in a comprehensive way, which took into account its connection with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), civil society, and the media. Among the fundamental task of the Committee was the need to identify, not only ways to strengthen dissemination, but also to contribute to the developing world’s greater access to information.  Unfortunately, those countries had been relegated to second-class citizen status.


In that connection, he said the Committee should abandon its “dry review” of the work of the Secretariat and become more involved in the promotion of sources of information, which were well balanced and objective.  In the past few weeks and months, the world had witness great distortions in the press.  The Committee should consider that issue and work closely with UNESCO, in terms of the programmes being developed to improve the access of developing countries.  The upcoming World Summit would provide an excellent opportunity for such topics.


He commended the efforts made regarding the Secretary-General’s suggested reforms to better use existing resources and better define the objectives of a single strategy for the Department.  In specifying the tasks to be developed within the framework of the Millennium Summit, not all topics of interest to his delegation had been noted.  For instance, that list should include education, culture, the fight against drugs and organized crime, gender equality, gender perspective and greater emphasis on the need to promote tolerance and non-discrimination.  All of those items should receive treatment equal to those already identified by DPI.


Also important was for the Department to be clear that its role was not exclusively to disseminate information, but to serve as a window on civil society, he said.  The impetus in recent years to include civil society had been promising.  Civil society had greatly benefited the Organization and would continue to do so.  Moreover, it would be increasingly difficult for States not to have the support of civil society.  Relevant United Nations programmes should be improved.  Civil society groups should be relied upon not just as transmitters of information, but as elements influencing decision-making within the Organization.


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