|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Information
1st Meeting (AM)
DPI IS MODEL OF CHANGE IN ADOPTING MORE STRATEGIC APPROACH TO COMMUNICATIONS
AND EVALUATION, INFORMATION COMMITTEE TOLD AT OPENING OF SESSION
Rationalization of Information Centre Network, Need
For Language Parity, Importance of Traditional Media among Topics Discussed
With the United Nations -- now in its sixty-first year -- standing on the cusp of a new era, the Department of Public Information (DPI) was providing a model of change by adopting a more strategic approach to communications and to the evaluation of its activities, allowing the Department to be more responsive to the realities facing the Organization today.
Opening the Committee’s 2006 substantive session, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information said a “culture of communications” had truly been established in the Secretariat. Presenting a “balance sheet” on DPI’s performance following the Secretary-General’s 2002 reforms proposals and in the wake of the 2005 World Summit, he said the changes the Department had implemented in the last three years had three clear strategic objectives: achieving greater effectiveness through the targeted delivery of public information; making enhanced use of the new information and communications technologies; and building partnerships with civil society.
As the first Secretariat Department to institute self-evaluation as an integral part of its work, DPI’s pioneering efforts were now regarded as a model to be replicated throughout the Secretariat, he said. Indeed, assessing the effectiveness of its work was not an option for DPI, but the foundation for ensuring that its programmes were better matched with the needs of its audiences. With its new strategic approach, including closer consultations with clients, greater system-wide coordination and systematic evaluation of its activities, for the Department, a “culture of evaluation” was not a slogan but a reality.
Three concrete measures had followed the Department’s reorientation, he said. The DPI had redefined its mission statement, put in place a new operating model and established a new organizational structure. The Department increasingly relied on its network of information centres to mobilize global public opinion in support of a revitalized United Nations. Bolstered by the more prominent role assigned to them, the United Nations information centres (UNICs) had emerged as crucial players in promoting the world body’s priority issues at the national level.
Having carried out a successful campaign for the 2005 World Summit, the United Nations communications team’s proactive efforts during the Summit had produced a discernible overall impact in the global media, he said. The Department was now focused on keeping the world informed about the exciting changes taking place as a result of the Summit, while rendering the complexities of institutional change comprehensible. In the midst of a remarkable exercise in renewal, the Department and the Committee, linked by a common purpose, were committed to making the world better aware of the United Nations role.
Noting that the process of reorienting United Nations public information activities was continuing apace, Austria’s representative, on behalf of the European Union, said the overall process should further optimize DPI’s activities, maximize the efficient use of its resources and enhance the visibility of its operations. Stressing that the systematic impact reviews conducted by DPI for the past four years were important instruments to gauge whether the United Nations information met the demands of its users, he encouraged the Department to persevere in its efforts towards deepening the culture of evaluation in every aspect of its activities, including products and services.
On the rationalization of the work of UNICs, he noted that the Union had lent its full support to the Secretary-General’s 2002 proposals for regional hubs, hoping for real benefits to the Organization and the world’s peoples. The decision had forced a number of European countries to take the tough decision to close offices in their capitals. The Union had expected other Member States and regional groups to take equally tough decisions on UNICs in their own countries if circumstances warranted. The rationalization of the UNIC network should include common terms of reference, in-depth evaluation and transparent budget planning. In that regard, he said the Department should thoroughly evaluate UNICs in cooperation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
South Africa’s representative, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended the role DPI was playing, notwithstanding its limited resources, to portray a positive public image of the Organization. The presence of information centres in developing countries, particularly in least developed countries, assisted in addressing disparities they faced in accessing information and information technologies. Any proposal to further rationalize the UNIC network must be in close consultation with the host countries, the countries served by the centres and the regions involved. Adequate resources, moreover, must be allocated to ensure the effective function of UNICs in developing countries.
While progress had been made to narrow the gap among the different languages on United Nations websites, he expressed concern at the continuing disparity in treatment of different languages and urged DPI to continue to attain language parity on United Nations websites. The Group also attached the utmost importance to the continuation of traditional media, including both radio and print, in disseminating the Organization’s messages, as such traditional media outlets remained the primary means of communication in developing countries.
Also speaking in today’s debate were the representatives of Guyana (on behalf of the Rio Group), Bangladesh and Peru.
In an opening statement, Committee Chairman Mihnea Ioan Motoc ( Romania) said the Committee was meeting at a time when the United Nations was in the midst of a remarkable renewal. The 2005 World Summit had produced a clear road map and had set the stage for the Organization’s comprehensive reform. After piecemeal reform, and some ad hoc repair and maintenance action, fundamental changes were finally in the offing. At the Summit, Member States had concurred on a common vision not only to strengthen the United Nations as a centrepiece of multilateral architecture, but also to re-engineer it to lead in an ever more diverse and promising world. The DPI was the voice through which that sense of optimism and common purpose must be conveyed.
Also this morning, the Committee elected by acclamation Ruedi Christen (Switzerland) to replace Sebastiăo Filipe Coelho Ferreira (Portugal) as Vice-Chairman for the remainder of the term of the Committee’s current bureau. It also approved its agenda and programme of work.
The Committee Chairman also welcomed Austria’s admission, bringing the Committee’s membership to 108.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, 25 April, to continue its general debate.
The Committee on Information met this morning to begin its twenty-eighth session. [For further information on the session, including detailed summaries of the reports before the Committee, see Press Release PI/1708 of 21 April.]
MIHNEA IOAN MOTOC ( Romania), Chairman of the Committee, welcomed the admission of Austria to the Committee, and noted that the Dominican Republic and Thailand had requested membership.
He then informed the Committee that Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Holy See, Lesotho, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Slovenia, Tajikistan and Thailand had requested to participate as observers in the twenty-eighth session, as had the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Acting by acclamation, the Committee elected Ruedi Christen ( Switzerland) to replace Sebastiăo Filipe Coelho Ferreira ( Portugal) as Vice-Chairman for the remainder of the term of the Committee’s current bureau.
Outlining the documents before the Committee, Mr. MOTOC noted that the Secretariat had requested the Committee to review the programme plan and strategic framework of the Department of Public Information (DPI) for 2008-2009, which would be discussed by the Committee on Programme and Coordination (CPC) this August/September. Originally, preparation for the 2008-2009 strategic document was to have begun by September 2005 and was to have been submitted for the CPC’s consideration in June 2006. Due to the extraordinary situation arising from the 2005 World Summit and the subsequent mandate review, however, that had been set aside.
While the mandate review was still ongoing, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) had decided that the CPC would meet in August/September to consider the 2008-2009 strategic framework, he said. Given the fact that the Secretariat had not had enough time to prepare the strategic framework document and issue it in the six official languages, it had been agreed that DPI would submit the document as a conference room paper in English only, and that every effort would be made to produce it in all official languages before the end of the session.
He said it had been agreed that a special plenary meeting would be convened in the morning of 5 May to consider the document and adopt a recommendation in that regard. The meeting would take place only if the document was made available in all official languages. Based on that decision by the Bureau, he proposed that the draft agenda be orally amended to include DPI’s strategic framework for 2008-2009 issued as a conference room paper for the Committee’s general debate.
The Committee then approved its agenda and programme of work, including a decision to hold a plenary meeting on 5 May in the morning.
In an opening statement, Mr. MOTOC ( Romania) thanked the Under Secretary-General and the Department for the excellent cooperation extended to him and the Bureau. He was comforted by the knowledge that the Department was led by someone who was not only known for his vision and leadership, but also for his unwavering commitment to the ideals of the United Nations. He was also encouraged by the growing relationship between DPI and the Committee, which over the years had evolved into a solid partnership. The job of DPI was to inform the world about the Organization’s work, but it was the Committee’s responsibility to keep DPI informed about the priorities agreed to by Member States.
The Committee was meeting at a time when the United Nations was in the midst of a remarkable renewal, he said. The 2005 World Summit had produced a clear road map and had set the stage for comprehensive reform of the Organization. After piecemeal reform and some ad hoc repair and maintenance action, fundamental changes were finally in the offing. At the 2005 World Summit, Member States had concurred on a common vision not only to strengthen the United Nations as a centrepiece of multilateral architecture, but also to re-engineer it to lead in an ever more diverse and promising world. The DPI was the voice through which that sense of optimism and common purpose must be conveyed. The Committee, the legislative body dealing with public information, was an integral part of that renewal. To be an effective partner of DPI, the Committee itself must consider ways and means to strengthen its role, especially in the context of United Nations reform.
He noted that, in his opinion, there were three ways Member States could strengthen DPI’s hand, including by helping to ensure that DPI was given adequate funding for its work. While budget was not an area with which the Committee was concerned, many members served on the Fifth Committee and could, as such, convey to it the feelings prevalent among Member States on the need for adequate funding for DPI. The Committee could also help DPI locally. The information centres and services were the vital link through which DPI connected to the public at large. By supporting the local information centres and building partnerships with them, DPI’s ability to promote the Organization’s work could be greatly enhanced. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were great sources of creative energy, and the Committee could enhance public information by promoting greater dialogue and partnership between DPI and national civil society organizations.
Though United Nations reform, including the ongoing mandate review, was not within the Committee’s purview, it should be able to contribute to the process, including by considering a more streamlined resolution that was duly updated, more action-oriented, coherent and less repetitive. He appealed to members to embrace the challenge of reform and give DPI very precise, action-oriented guidance.
The session, he said, would be important for a number of reasons. It would provide an opportunity to review the state of United Nations reform as it affected DPI. In the past three years, major changes had taken place in the Department, and there had been both structural and operational overhauls. The reports before the Committee provided a clear picture of changes brought about by the Secretary-General’s reform process. The Committee’s views on the reports would shape the general debate and form the core of the draft resolution. The overarching objective was to collectively provide the best possible policy guidance to the Department so that the Organization continued to benefit from the strong voice given to it by DPI.
Statement by Under-Secretary-General
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, presenting a balance sheet of the Department’s performance, said the Committee had played an important role, since its establishment in 1978, in helping to steer the Department’s work. That partnership had been a key factor in redefining DPI’s role in a complex and evolving global media environment. Member States’ interest in DPI’s work was also evident from the steady growth in the Committee’s membership. With the Dominican Republic and Thailand slated to become the newest members of the Committee, its membership would increase from 67 in 1978 to 110 in 2006.
The task of DPI, simply put, was to tell the United Nations story, he said. Since that story was also the story of the world and the current time, it was always changing, sometimes alternating between hope and despair. From the inspiring achievement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the triumphant dismantling of colonialism, from the successes of peacekeeping to the widespread of uneven growth in human prosperity, the last 60 years had seen a collective march towards the goals of peace, justice and development enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
The same six decades had, however, been blighted by the savagery of war, the soul-destroying persistence of poverty, and the rampant spread of disease, he said. If the United Nations had won credit for preventing the cold war from turning “hot” and placing issues such as sustainable development and the empowerment of women at the top of the global agenda, some had dismissed the Organization as “irrelevant” to today’s challenges. Others had demanded that it reform or perish. Yet, at no point in time had the United Nations ceased its efforts to inspire the vast majority of people in the world to hope for a better future.
At the 2005 World Summit last September, more than 150 Heads of State and Government -– the largest gathering of world leaders in human history –- had renewed their pledge to uphold the ideals of the United Nations and had reaffirmed the vital importance of an effective multilateral system, he said. Yet, Member States were engaged currently in a contentious and sometimes divisive debate about the nature, extent and tenor of the reforms needed to renew the Organization.
That apparent contradiction was also reflected in some opinion polls, he said. According to those polls, while support for the United Nations was down in some countries, in others the Organization was on the rebound. According to the most recent Gallup poll, the United States public had given the Organization its second lowest ratings in the 53-year history of these surveys. However, another poll, conducted by Zogby International, found that more than two thirds of Americans believed the United Nations was central to solving world conflicts –- a 10 per cent increase over the number who expressed that belief in 2005. Furthermore, some 80 per cent of those Americans polled by Zogby viewed the decisions of Member States as the key element in the Organization’s capacity to accomplish its work.
The picture was equally mixed when it came to other regions of the world, he said. In a poll conducted by PIPA/Gallup, a majority of respondents in eight African countries surveyed said they believed the United Nations should have the right to intervene to stop human rights abuses such as genocide, and that the United Nations was the entity Africans most trusted to intervene in situations like Darfur. No matter how contradictory the numbers, the underlying message was unmistakably clear. People’s faith in the “idea” of the United Nations as a universal Organization leading global collective effort for the common good was still firm. Faith in the United Nations as a “reality” had weakened, however.
With horror unfolding daily, and the world unable to stop it, Darfur was a good example of the gap between intent and reality, he said. People were questioning not the ideals behind the United Nations or its legitimacy as a universal body, but its ability and commitment to deliver on the promises made by Member States. One of DPI’s key challenges, therefore, was to close that gap and make the United Nations not only a symbol of our collective hope, but also a powerful instrument for translating that hope into everyday reality. With comprehensive reform efforts now under way, such a possibility was within reach.
Indeed, signs of renewal were everywhere, he said, including in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit and the flurry of activities that had followed the Summit. With the creation of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations human rights machinery had been revitalized. A Peacebuilding Commission and a Democracy Fund had given the Organization new resources for implementing integrated strategies for post-conflict recovery. A comprehensive review of United Nations mandates was on the anvil, creating a unique opportunity to strengthen and adapt the Organization to new priorities.
The Secretary-General had also proposed measures for a fundamental overhaul of the rules, systems and culture of the United Nations Secretariat, he added. Through targeted investments, the realignment of staff skills, and streamlined budget and finance processes, the Organization’s management practices would be modernized, creating a more transparent, nimble and accountable Secretariat. The issue was before the Fifth Committee today, and DPI was pleased to be an integral part of that change -– a change it is the Department’s job to project.
He noted that steps to reorient DPI had begun three years ago with the 2002 reform proposals. Working in partnership with the Committee, the Department had undertaken a comprehensive review of its work. Three concrete measures had followed. The DPI had redefined its mission statement, committing itself to help fulfil the Organization’s substantive purposes by strategically communicating its activities and concerns to achieve the greatest public impact. The statement recognized that the Department’s work was not an end in itself and that the information which the Department must communicate was generated by the Organization’s substantive work and its component parts. The DPI had also put in place a new operating model. While content generation emanated from the Secretariat’s other departments and offices and United Nations organizations, content coordination, presentation and distribution were DPI’s responsibility, working in close cooperation with the media, Member States and civil society partners.
The Department had also established a new organizational structure, based on the revised operating model, which included a Strategic Communications Division, a News and Media Division and an Outreach Division, he continued. The Information Centres Service, the Internet Service and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library had been, respectively, merged into each of the Divisions, while ancillary functions such as the Cartographic Unit, which had moved to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, had been dispensed with altogether, resulting in a reformed and more coherent departmental structure.
Since 2002, the Secretary-General’s reports on the Department’s activities had chronicled in great detail each of the steps taken, measures implemented and results achieved, he said. The five reports now under consideration were the latest in the series. For the first time, there was no report that specifically addressed the question of reorientation, as the Department had now implemented those aspects of the reform proposals that were within the Secretary-General’s authority and were based on existing General Assembly resolutions and the Committee’s guidance. Reform, however, was an ongoing process, not a one–time event, and change was the only constant in the Department’s work. By its very definition, reform was change aimed at improving the way in which things were done. Improvement implied becoming more strategic, efficient and accountable. What really counted was not what measures had been taken in the name of change, but what results had been achieved through change.
He added that the changes DPI had implemented in the last three years had three clear strategic objectives, namely, to achieve greater effectiveness through the targeted delivery of public information, to make enhanced use of the new information and communications technologies, and to build an expanded grass-roots support base through partnerships with civil society. A strategic approach, in its essence, required setting priorities in a manner that enabled an organization to do not only what was most pressing, but also what was most achievable. Under DPI’s new strategic approach, that goal was achieved through closer consultations with DPI clients, greater system-wide coordination and the systematic evaluation of its activities -– all of which were proud “firsts” for the Organization.
To target the Department’s focus where it could have the greatest impact, Secretariat departments and United Nations family organizations had been identified as “clients” and DPI as the “service provider”, he said. Some 50 departments and United Nations offices and 26 field missions were now included in the client consultation process. As substantive offices supporting the implementation of United Nations priorities, client offices were responsible for generating the content or “raw material", the setting of priorities and the key messages. The Department’s task was to take that content, repackage it for various target audiences and promote it globally. That was done through a variety of means, including traditional means and the newer information and communications technologies.
He noted that three distinct sets of collaborators supported DPI’s Headquarters staff in their efforts to gain maximum media exposure, namely, the United Nations information centres, services and offices; the United Nations family of organizations; and a global network of civil society organizations serving as redisseminators and multipliers. That integrated approach had proven to be practical and effective, both in terms of developing sound communications strategies and implementing such strategies through interdepartmental and system-wide coordination. Constant consultation and feedback through the client planning process had enabled DPI to tailor its products and services more closely to the needs of the Organization.
He noted that the prioritization and coordination demanded by the client planning process had resulted in a more strategic approach to communications, helping client departments develop broader communication goals, plan for the longer term and move beyond their previous event-driven priorities. Most important, it had improved understanding across the Organization of the importance of putting communications at the heart of its substantive work. Most client departments now recognized public information as an integral part of their work and, therefore, made every effort to involve information specialists from the very outset of a new project. A “culture of communications” had truly been established in the Secretariat.
One of the biggest United Nations stories in the past six months had been the 2005 World Summit, he said. The Department was pleased that it had been able to carry out a highly successful campaign for the Summit. One way to measure the success of the campaign was through media analysis. Had the world’s media paid attention to the messages the Department had conveyed and had its efforts made any difference? To answer those questions, a group of independent and external media analysts had reviewed the quantitative and qualitative value of the Department’s promotional work. They concluded that the proactive efforts of the United Nations communications team during the Summit had produced a discernible overall impact in the global media. Reviewing hundreds of media reports from around the world, they had found that the efforts of the United Nations spokespersons had directly led to the Organization being depicted in a more positive light.
He said the Department was now focused on keeping the world informed about the exciting changes taking place as a result of the Summit, while rendering the complexities of institutional change comprehensible. Beginning with the Secretary-General’s op-ed article, “Glass at least half full”, and through press interviews and background briefings, the Department had reached out to the world’s media, bringing out the drama of decision-making at the United Nations, sometimes live through upgraded webcasting channels. The Secretary-General and the General Assembly President had played a key part in that effort, the success of which was best illustrated by the worldwide media coverage of the new Human Rights Council.
Following the initial ill-informed criticism of the President’s plan for a new Human Rights Council, DPI had elaborated an intensive three-week campaign to educate and better inform key journalists and editorial boards, he said. The General Assembly President and the Secretary-General had briefed media on the record, with many additional background briefings provided by senior staff and specialists. An op-ed piece written by the Secretary-General explaining why the new Council deserved international support, for example, had been published in a major newspaper in the United States and, with the help of the United Nations information centres (UNICs), had been translated and reproduced in some 40 newspapers in 31 countries.
The tide had slowly turned, he said, and the media had begun recognizing the value of the new human rights body. A number of publications had revised their assessments and had taken a far more positive position, recognizing the improvements made through complex negotiations. While some opposition remained unreconciled, the communicators had played a vital role in mitigating some negative perceptions of this key reform, and the episode had become a prime example of the using accurate public information to enhance understanding of the Organization’s work.
In informing the world about the Organization’s work and mobilizing global public opinion in support of a revitalized world body, DPI relied increasingly on its network of information centres, he said. A good communications strategy by itself was of limited value unless it reached the intended audience. Aware of that challenge, the Department had taken measures to further strengthen UNICs and fully integrate them within the Department’s overall communications strategy. Through the realignment of resources, the upgrading of the use of information and communications technologies, building partnerships at local and regional levels and regular interaction with Headquarters, the UNICs were being equipped for success.
Bolstered by the more prominent role assigned to them, UNICs had emerged as crucial players in promoting United Nations priority issues at the national level, as evident in relation to the 2005 World Summit and its Outcome Document, he said. By designing communications strategies aimed at specific local audiences and translating major documents and press material in local languages and posting them on their own websites, UNICs helped DPI connect with a wide range of readers who do not use the Organization’s official languages. At present, 49 United Nations information centres and services maintained websites in five official and 28 non-official languages. The United Nations Regional Information Centre in Brussels alone maintained a website in 13 languages, connecting all of Western Europe.
How our communications strategies were being better tailored to the needs of regional and local audiences could be seen in the Department’s Rwanda outreach and educational programme, he said. Key information centres were collaborating with DPI’s Africa Section on the implementation of the global programme. With the introduction of a new operating model for the United Nations Communications Group at the country level, UNICs had been given a leadership role in coordinating communications activities at the national level. A growing cohesion was also taking place throughout the UNIC network itself, encouraged by the regional and global strategic communications workshops and the use of improved internal communications tools.
A key focus of the rationalization of UNICs had been to strengthen the centres in major media hubs and to give them a greater coordinating role at the regional level, he stated. The Department was already seeing the difference. Of the posts redeployed as a result of the regionalization of the Western European UNICs, two D-1 posts had now been filled in the information centres in Cairo and Mexico City, and the third one designated for Pretoria was expected to be filled soon. The Cairo Director had been in place for four months and was already providing public information support to other information centres in the Middle East. The other two centres would follow that lead. Based in the same time zone and working from a country with many similar attributes as those in the rest of the region, the senior Directors were in a position to anticipate needs, provide guidance and generate synergies among the centres in their region.
Within the network of UNICs, a special role was played by the United Nations Regional Information Centre, UNRIC, in Brussels, not only because it covered 21 countries and operated in 13 languages, but also because of the higher visibility it had ensured for the United Nations in a politically crucial region, he said. Within a very short period of time, UNRIC had emerged as a major media centre. The Secretary-General’s report reflected the initial evaluation of UNRIC’s operation prepared with the help of a communications expert. He was pleased to be able to provide additional information concerning UNRIC’s work under its new management, since the drafting of the report.
He said the thrust of the concept to establish a regional hub for Western Europe was to rationalize and streamline information activities and to create a critical mass to perform those activities more efficiently, while at the same time allowing for synergies in the hub and ensuring better coordination. The creation of the new structure had been possible largely due to the advanced technological base available in Western Europe, the geographical contiguity of the countries involved and the ease of travel within and between the countries. To serve this geographically and linguistically diverse group, the Centre’s staff were divided into nine geographical desks that covered 21 countries. The Centre was also divided into nine thematic desks that corresponded to United Nations thematic priorities. The desk officers in charge of those issues sought interlocutors in European Union institutions and within the NGO community.
The Centre served as an important liaison between the United Nations and the European institutions on a broad range of activities, he said. Recently, with the decision on the Human Rights Council occupying much of the media’s attention, the Centre had helped to establish a group called “Friends of Human Rights in Europe”, which included representatives from the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as major NGOs. The Centre already held joint press briefings with European Union officials, and its staff met on a regular basis with communications officials. A plan for weekly joint press briefings about United Nations-European Union relations was being developed now. The response from the media had been very positive, as was evident from the extensive coverage of United Nations reform issues both in print and audio-visual media.
The Centre had also been assigned a coordinating role among the 18 United Nations agencies in Brussels, he added. Replicating the model of the United Nations Communications Group at United Nations Headquarters, it had established a communications group for the Brussels-based United Nations family organizations. With UNRIC in the lead, the Group met once a month to plan, coordinate and carry out communications work. Steps had also been taken to establish a United Nations system website.
The Centre, however, was still faced with a few initial difficulties, including overcoming physical distance from its target audiences within the constraints of its limited travel budget, he said. A regional communications strategy outlining the longer-term communications objectives in the region, which was currently being developed, would take into consideration the Centre’s existing capacities, opportunities and limitations. The strategy would identify key communications priorities and would develop common messages to be disseminated by the Centre to its target audiences. Those efforts were being further strengthened by fostering closer coordination between the Centre and DPI at Headquarters, and between UNRIC and the United Nations information services in Geneva and Vienna.
A central element in the Department’s approach to communications had been greater coordination within the United Nations system, at the centre of which lay the United Nations Communications Group, he said. The Communications Group brought the wide body of knowledge, expertise and interest of the United Nations system under one umbrella. It had already proven its utility on a number of issues, ranging from common media accreditation policies to coordinating campaigns on the Millennium Development Goals. With the avian influenza and possible human pandemic posing a grave potential threat, the Communications Group was helping the United Nations system to face the immense task of keeping the world informed and prepared. To have an impact, United Nations communicators must speak with one voice. A clear division of labour among United Nations entities had been established for coordinated information channels and messages.
Innovative use of new information and communications technologies had had a striking impact, he continued. Television and radio reports, as well as photographs, were increasingly transmitted from the field to Headquarters via the Internet. That seemingly mundane development was, in fact, very exciting, as the Department could be more responsive to breaking news than ever before, disseminate to ever larger audiences and do so with minimal transmission costs. Today, radio stations could easily download programmes from the web –- with a higher audio quality than the telephone -– and the Department could offer more services. For instance, the Arabic radio unit posted its daily and weekly programmes, but now also offered broadcasters longer interviews with United Nations officials, as well. The new services have helped United Nations radio double its audience in the past two years, as more and more stations -- including in the developing world -– had acquired Internet capability.
A real revolution in Internet delivery was coming in video, and DPI intended to be on the cutting edge of that revolution, he stated. The Department was now able to receive video from several United Nations agencies and peacekeeping operations, making it more able to respond to news events more quickly and to supply the news material that broadcasters craved. The heart of that service was UNIFEED, a daily news feed launched last year in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and APTN. For the first time in United Nations history, the Department was now distributing video news material by satellite to some 600 broadcasters worldwide, including major international networks like CCTV, Sky News, RTVE, the BBC World Service, as well as a number of broadcasters across the developing world.
In the past year, some 1,000 United Nations stories had been disseminated, covering humanitarian emergencies, field programmes and peacekeeping operations, he added. The first pictures showing the famine in the Niger had been disseminated on UNIFEED, and the team had its first global scoop last month with exclusive pictures of the arrest of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. What the world had seen was United Nations footage.
The Department was also investing in its capacity to receive and send video on the web and would soon start using the web to disseminate news video, he said. In the meantime, the Department continued to serve broadcasters that did not have the technical means to receive satellite material. It was still mailing out audio and video tapes –- some 4,000 video tapes in the last six months of 2005 alone –- mainly to developing countries.
More areas of the website were benefiting from the conversion to a database platform, he said. A new web-based Media Alert, a new web page for United Nations press releases and meetings coverage summaries, and the development of a web-based media accreditation procedure were all examples of the innovative ways the Department was using the web to better serve its clients. The new press release web page, in English and French, launched on 6 April, provided quick, global access to DPI’s coverage of intergovernmental deliberations –- some while still in progress -– as well as to numerous other meetings and statements by senior officials, with an advanced search function providing access to press releases and other information resources dating back to October 1995.
On the issue of public outreach, he said there was now widespread recognition that Governments, civil society and the private sector needed to work together. Created in the name of “We the Peoples”, the United Nations owed its existence to the peoples of the world who continued to view the Organization as the source of their hope for a better tomorrow. The large pool of NGOs affiliated with DPI provided a crucial link with ordinary citizens at the grass-roots level. Reflecting the growing importance of those groups in global affairs, DPI had sought their increased contribution to policy development at the United Nations. The turnaround regarding the Human Rights Council, from strong reservation to near universal approval, had been made possible in part by the proactive outreach of civil society groups.
One target audience that the Department had very consciously tried to reach were students and teachers, he said. By using a variety of tools, including electronic communications via the Internet, meeting with remote partners through live videoconferences via webcasts, DPI had slowly moved inside the classroom. While not competing with the teachers, the Department was becoming a good teacher’s aide. To introduce the United Nations to young people, DPI had also teamed up with MTV. Early this year, DPI's UN Works Programme had taken MTV to Pakistan for a special TV programming and website coverage of the earthquake there. The goal was to alert young audiences to the devastation and to relief efforts, and it had worked.
DPI’s outreach to the faith-based community was also a new activity, he said. As part of continuing efforts to promote dialogue among civilizations, the Department had launched the “Unlearning Intolerance” series two years ago. The objective was to provide a platform for people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds to explore ways to promote respect and understanding among peoples and ways in which education could help overcome intolerance. Four seminars had been held so far, focusing on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, the role of “hate media” and combating genocide.
The Department had also strengthened its relationship with the academic community, he said. The institution of a new section consolidating the essential reference base for UN activities, the Yearbook of the United Nations, opened up greater opportunity for scholars to contribute to the evolution of United Nations policy through the medium of seminars; university programmes, including videoconferencing; and the print and electronic editions of the UN Chronicle.
Knowledge, according to an old African proverb, was like a garden, he said. If it was not cultivated, it could not be harvested. One of the places where knowledge was best harvested was the library. With knowledge sharing and content management emerging as the two overarching focuses of the Library, the Department had proposed that the Library’s official name be expanded to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge Sharing Centre. “DHLKSC” might be a mouthful of an acronym, but at least it would no longer be confused with a courier service.
The change was not merely symbolic, he said. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library, through the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, was leading a concerted effort to help United Nations libraries build upon their original role as independent repositories to develop networks of knowledge sharing communities. Moving from building and maintaining book and periodical collections, it was facilitating a knowledge-enabled environment and the exchange of information among stakeholders. Integrated United Nations libraries were reorienting their products, services and staff skills to offer timely and relevant support to growing and changing constituencies.
In fact, he said, the entire focus of United Nations library work had shifted to a model of service that was oriented towards making connections for its users. United Nations libraries were now providing increasingly personalized service and direct support to constituents, resulting in the more effective dissemination of information. Library staff were also learning to adapt to the new work environment created by the technology and resources available on the Internet to provide access to a range of electronic collections, regardless of their locations. For those who preferred the old style library, where the smell of a printed page could energize a creative mind, print collections would be maintained, and recurrent DPI publications would be published in hard copy.
The Dag Hammarskjöld Library was also at the centre of a new system-wide focus on improving internal communications, he said. In an effort to improve internal communications, it had been given the responsibility of managing the Organization’s Intranet, iSeek, helping to strengthen the United Nations through better information and knowledge sharing. While all duty stations, as well as the network of United Nations Information Centres, had access to iSeek, the reach of the intranet was gradually being extended to other duty stations to migrate to the common iSeek platform to ensure that all Secretariat staff, regardless of duty station, had access to the same level of information and a user-friendly interface to enterprise–wide tools.
Three years ago, in cooperation with the Office of the Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the Department had launched an “annual programme impact review”, he continued. The review was designed as an internal managerial tool to systematically evaluate the Department’s products and activities, employing a results-based framework similar to that of the programme budget. Managers had been asked to establish baseline data and use them to track future performance. Clearly-measurable performance indicators, such as opinion polls, users’ surveys, media reviews, had been formulated, linking the Department’s products and activities more precisely to the needs of target audiences.
Practically all DPI programme managers have been trained in self-evaluation, a pioneering development for the Secretariat, he added. The results of the three-year project had been presented in great detail in the Secretary-General’s report before the Committee. The report showed that an ever-increasing number of people were reading DPI’s material, visiting its websites and listening to its programmes. Over the past two years, the estimated reach of United Nations radio programmes had more than doubled to some 300 million a week, with particularly strong growth in Arabic, Chinese, French and Spanish language listenership.
The United Nations multilingual websites received 1 million visitors every day, generating over 2.6 billion hits annually, he said. On average, website usage, both for the main United Nations website and for local language sites in the field, had increased by 50 per cent since 2003. Each copy of Africa Renewal and Afrique Renouveau, the centrepiece of the Organization’s Africa information programme, is read by an average of eight to nine people. Cyberschoolbus, DPI’s website for children, had shown an even higher growth rate, some 138 per cent over the past two years. The size of the student audience of the United Nations Chronicle had increased by 86 per cent since reforms in 2003. Visitors who had taken the guided tours had indicated that in nine out of 10 cases, they left the tour with a better understanding of the Organization’s work.
While these numbers spoke for themselves, the intangibles could hardly be quantified, he added. With the help of the APIR, the Department knew what worked and what did not, and could take appropriate corrective measures where necessary. For example, based on feedback from users, the Department’s press release website had been redesigned to better serve the public’s information needs. Following a users’ survey on its e-mail service, the United Nations News Centre was working on technical solutions to respond to the subscribers’ suggestions. The Library’s website had also been redesigned based on feedback from its users, including delegations.
For DPI, assessing the effectiveness of its work was not an option, but the foundation for ensuring that its programmes were better matched with the needs of its audiences, he said. As the first Department in the Secretariat to institute self-evaluation as an integral part of its work programme, DPI’s pioneering work was now regarded as a model, which, he hoped, would be replicated throughout the Secretariat. For DPI, “the culture of evaluation” was not a slogan, but a reality.
Linked by a common purpose, the Committee and the Department were committed to making the world better aware of the United Nations role, he said. At the moment, the Organization was in the midst of a remarkable exercise in renewal led by Member States at the Secretary-General’s initiative. The ongoing mandate review was a vital part of the reform process. One area of particular interest was the Committee’s role and its validation of DPI’s activities. Over the years, the resolution that gave DPI its mandates had incrementally grown, with Member States giving guidance on policy, as well as operational, matters. He urged members to find ways to streamline the resolution. In keeping with the reform spirit, by making it shorter and focusing only on what mattered most, the Committee could give DPI solid practical direction and greater flexibility to respond to the needs of Member States.
Now in its sixty-first year, the United Nations had constantly reinvented itself, responding to the demands of the times and reflecting, as well as shaping, the world’s changing priorities, he said. Through reinvention and revitalization, DPI, as the Organization’s public voice, had done the same. Sometimes staying ahead of the curve, it had provided the Organization with a model for change. The United Nations now stood on the cusp of a new era. The Department looked forward to the vital role which our Organization would play in the future with the Committee’s support. “We know tomorrow belongs to us, but we will earn it by our performance today”, he concluded.
SABELO SIVUYILE MAQUNGO (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, reaffirmed his delegation’s position on the role of DPI in promoting the work of the United Nations, saying that DPI assumed the important task of projecting a positive image of the Organization to the wider public, and of explaining the United Nations role and showing the impact of its actions. The Group of 77 and China appreciated DPI’s work promoting, through its campaigns, such issues of global importance as sustainable development, decolonization, the dialogue among civilizations, the rights of women and children, HIV/AIDS, as well as development for Africa.
At the same time, the Group would urge DPI to ensure the pertinence and relevance of each subject to the areas identified by the Committee on Information for promotional campaigns, he said. It would also underline the importance of the Department as the Organization’s “public voice”, and in providing accurate, impartial, comprehensive and timely information to Member States and the wider international community on the work of the United Nations. Further, despite the negative publicity that the Organization received, particularly in the host country’s media, the Group of 77 and China commended the role DPI was playing, notwithstanding its limited resources, to portray a positive public image of the Organization.
He went on to stress the importance of ensuring that there was a consistent message between DPI and any other entity which provided public information on the United Nations. As part of the Organization’s accountability and transparency, his delegation also believed that Member States should be able to learn about important facts affecting the United Nations through official channels first, rather than through private media. The General Assembly had a Charter-mandated role of oversight where matters affecting the Secretariat and the Organization’s resources were concerned. The interaction between the media and the Secretariat did not replace that Charter requirement for the Secretariat to report to Member States through the Assembly, he said.
Turning to matters before the Committee, he said that the Group of 77 reiterated its view that the presence of UNICs in developing countries, in particular in least developed countries, strengthened the flow of information in such countries, and assisted in addressing disparities they faced in the areas of access to information and information technologies. He added that any proposal to further rationalize the UNIC network must be in close consultation with the host countries, other countries served by the centres, as well as regions involved.
They must also take into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characteristics of different regions. He said adequate resources must be allocated to ensure the effective function of UNICs in developing countries. The Group of 77 welcomed the adoption of the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society adopted by the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society this past November, he continued, stressing the conference outcome’s call for specific initiatives to be taken at all levels to bridge the “digital divide”, as well as to place information and communication technologies in the service of development.
On other matters, he said that, although his delegation noted progress had been made to narrow the gap among the different languages on United Nations websites, it continued to be concerned by the continuing disparity in treatment of different languages, and would urge DPI to continue its efforts to attain language parity on United Nations websites in accordance with relevant Assembly resolutions. The Group of 77 also attached the utmost importance to the continuation of traditional media, including both radio and print, in disseminating the messages of the United Nations, particularly since such traditional media outlets remained the primary means of communication in developing countries.
The Group of 77 would, therefore, encourage DPI to continue building partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to expand the United Nations’ message to all corners of the world in an accurate, impartial and effective way.
ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria), speaking on behalf of the European Union , said public outreach for the United Nations was an important task. “Without informing the world on the UN’s activities and publicizing the UN’s achievements, we cannot expect to have the support of all peoples for its missions”, he said, adding: “This is also the case when the UN is seeking to improve its effectiveness, redress shortcomings and pursue ambitious reforms.” The European Union was pleased to note that the process of reorienting United Nations activities in the field of public information and communication was continuing apace. The overall process should further rationalize and optimize DPI’s activities, maximize the efficient use of its resources and enhance the visibility of its operations.
He commended DPI for its efforts to develop a more strategic approach to promoting global awareness and greater understanding of the United Nations work in priority areas. He said his delegation also acknowledged and encouraged DPI’s efforts to meet the complex demands of today’s information society. The objectives of DPI’s mission statement -- which largely echoed key focuses of the Millennium Declaration such as poverty, conflict prevention, human rights, development in Africa and HIV/AIDS -- could only be achieved if the public was aware of the interlinkages between development, security, human rights, justice and the rule of law. The European Union also praised DPI’s efforts to preserve the United Nations photo and audiovisual archives, as they constituted a unique historical and institutional memory.
“We are convinced that successful communication rests on ever deeper knowledge of audiences and their expectations”, he continued, stressing that the systematic impact reviews conducted by DPI for the past four years were important instruments to gauge whether the United Nations information met the demands of its users. The European Union would, therefore, encourage the Department to persevere in its efforts to wards deepening the culture of evaluation in every aspect of its activities, including products and services. He added that the United Nations website was a primary source of information for the “United Nations family”, numerous stakeholders and the interested public and was growing in popularity as illustrated by an increasing number of “hits”.
With efforts under way to further attract users through redesigning pages and search functions of the site, the European Union would encourage further efforts in that regard, as well as those aimed at boosting coordination with other websites, enhancing compliance with requirements for persons with disabilities, and to include more webcasts and radio files in numerous languages. Turning to the rationalization of the work of UNICs, he recalled that the European Union had lent its full support to the Secretary-General’s 2002 proposals for regional hubs, hoping for real medium- and long-term benefits to the Organization and the peoples of the world. That decision had forced a number of European countries to take the tough decision to close offices in their capitals.
The European Union had expected the regionalization plan to be advanced more vigorously than it had seen, and had also expected other Member States and regional groups to take equally tough decisions on UNICs in their own countries if circumstances warranted. The European Union was willing to undertake the task provided that the resources were devoted to those centres around the world which were to be part of the regionalization process, but, regrettably, that did not meet the consensus of the membership.
He stressed his delegation’s commitment to efforts to create a network that more effectively addressed the needs of its customers, and said the European Union would strongly encourage the Secretariat to make all efforts in that regard. He added that the rationalization of the UNIC network could and should include improving the centres’ work through common terms of reference and in-depth evaluation and transparent budget planning. The Department should thoroughly evaluate UNICs in cooperation with the OIOS, and provide a detailed report to Member States.
Turning to United Nations libraries, he commended DPI for seeking “significant progress” in implementing new activities and fostering a culture of management and knowledge-sharing while streamlining traditional library processes. He added that the key to effective change lay in staff training and improving internal communications, particularly enhancing the use of information technology, and including intensifying coordination among libraries. He encouraged the Secretariat and the directors of all United Nations libraries to preserve that approach.
On World Press Freedom Day -- 3 May -- the European Union would reiterate its strong commitment to a free press and the important role it played in a free society, he said, expressing his delegation’s profound concern that, in many countries, press freedoms and the dissemination of information were limited or non-existent. Freedom of opinion and expression was set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the freedom to “hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The European Union strongly condemned the use of violence to hinder the activities of journalists, and also condemned attempts to control or influence the media by distorting or suppressing information or opinions.
“We believe that the establishment of a free press is essential for democratic and open societies ... [it is] also one of the indicators of a successful transition from conflict to a post-conflict society and a crucial tool in preventing the resurgence of conflict”, he said.
GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that over the past few years, a host of initiatives had been taken to maximize the use of DPI’s resources and to enhance its overall efficiency and effectiveness. And while his delegation supported efforts to improve DPI’s working methods, it was convinced that the regionalization of operations was not a viable option of enhancing the United Nations information and communication machinery.
As the recent analysis of the rationalization of the United Nations Regional Centre for Western Europe illustrated (document A/AC.198/2006/1), the dramatic change in the pattern of doing business and of serving the media and civil society in a large and distant geographic area from a centralized location had had the adverse effect of reducing the Organization’s visibility. The Rio Group would, therefore, urge that future action in that area be guided by the lessons learned from the rationalization process in Western Europe. Clearly, he said, the successful rationalization of UNICs necessitated increased dialogue with host countries, as well as greater sensitivity to unique regional needs and demands.
Further, he stressed that another related issue requiring particularly urgent attention was the gap that existed in information and communication technologies among developing countries. The Rio Group was closely monitoring developments regarding the realignment of resources, use of technologies and expansion of partnerships, in keeping with the more “strategic communications approach” to accord UNICs’ broader programmatic functions and support for communication to other offices within its region. The Group had noted efforts to address the staffing needs of UNICs, including the appointment of a Director for the UNIC Office in Mexico City. It also anticipated the early deployment of an Information Officer, whose duties would include the enhancement of services in the region, in particular to those countries outside the scope of the existing UNIC network.
Turning to other matters before the Committee, he said the Rio Group would reiterate that despite constraints facing the effort, multilingualism must be respected and applied in the dissemination of information regarding the United Nations. The Secretary-General’s relevant report had highlighted the increased used of the Organization’s website, which made the availability of information in all the official languages even more imperative. The Rio Group urged that additional resources be allocated to accelerate activities concerning parity among the Organization’s official languages, as well as to the adoption of long-term strategies to strengthen governance on coherence. He added that eliminating existing language disparities on the Organization’s websites could also be facilitated through further and greater cooperation between the DPI and academic institutions, in addition to continued collaboration between the Department, the Working Group on Internet matters and content-providing offices.
The Rio Group also appreciated DPI’s efforts to improve on its use of traditional means of communication such as radio, television and print materials, particularly in light of the “digital gaps” among Member States. It also noted that the introduction of new information and communication technologies resulted in an expanded outreach of United Nations Radio broadcasts, which now reached larger audiences, including Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Turning to United Nations libraries, he commended efforts under way to streamline the traditional library procedures. He said the Group also appreciated measures taken thus far by DPI to boost the accessibility of persons with vision and hearing disabilities to the United Nations websites, and encouraged DPI to continue working with the Inclusive Development Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as experts in the field, to achieve greater progress in that area.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY ( Bangladesh), former Committee Chair, said he aligned himself entirely with the statement by the Group of 77 and China. Those were “important times”, and significant responsibilities lay ahead for the Committee and for DPI, which now had a more strategic orientation and was making the best use of available communication and information technologies. The Department’s messages were now sharper, and its target audiences were more clearly defined. Further, as a result of the Department’s “culture of evaluation” since 2001, it was also now better equipped to measure in clear and concrete forms the results of public information and communications activities. He was confident that the conclusion of DPI’s comprehensive three-year review of its major product and service lines, in collaboration with the OIOS, would prove useful in not only increasing the worldwide access to United Nations public information activities, but also in meeting the needs of its target audiences.
His Government believed that the various UNICs that dotted the globe were the “real interfaces” between the United Nations and the world community, and he underscored the need to further strengthen the centres, particularly those in developing and least developed countries. To that end, he stressed the importance of the UNIC in Dhaka, which was actively engaged in promoting the United Nations to some 140 million people through its various outreach activities and website. With that in mind, the UNIC needed a Director as soon as possible, and should also be provided with adequate and necessary resources.
Turning to other matters, he said that his delegation was concerned that one of the two weekly radio broadcasts in Bangla had been arbitrarily discontinued, despite evidence that it was one of the most popular United Nations radio programmes broadcast in a “non-official” language, catering to some 200 million people in Bangladesh and neighbouring India. “Bangla” had been the language which had laid the foundation for South Asia’s renaissance, and the region’s culture of pluralism, tolerance and democracy. Bangladesh would, therefore, urge the immediate reinstatement of that programme, he said, adding that, indeed, there must be increasing attention paid to Bangla at the United Nations, given the value of the language “as an instrument of positive transformation and change”.
He went on to commend DPI for the excellent work done by its website team, noting that the introduction of a new press release page was timely and useful, and that the services which provided live video coverage of meetings and events had been well received. Looking ahead, he encouraged DPI to gear itself up for the work that would be generated once the newly established Peacebuilding Commission took up its duties.
With the culture of change under way at the United Nations, including efforts towards management reform and deliberations on choosing a successor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, DPI would need to conduct itself prudently, objectively, impartially and wisely -- “sometimes with courage and always with efficiency”, and with the ability to respond effectively to the membership’s calls for support and assistance, if and when such calls were made, he said.
VITALIANO GALLARDO ( Peru) said the Department’s work, in a time of change, was important, with change demanding that its activities be increasingly forward looking. He commended the Department’s leadership and paid tribute to the work of his team. At the 2005 World Summit, DPI had reached out to many people around the world and had reported effectively on that great event. The Department would have to follow up on the guidelines the Summit had established. United Nations reform would not be an easy time for the Organization or the Department. Reform must respond not only to the trend of globalization, but also the trend towards fragmentation. A culture of communication and evaluation had emerged in the Department, for which he expressed congratulations.
He said he also wished to underline DPI’s work in the context of United Nations peacekeeping operations. The values of communication, transparency and evaluation were important in the development of the planning for many peacekeeping operations, and underpinned the achievement of the objectives of peace and security set for the Organization.
Regarding the question of rationalization and regionalization of the United Nations information centres, he associated himself with the views expressed by the Group of 77 and the Rio Group. The new approach of regionalization should recognize geographic, historic and cultural realities of the areas in which the approach was pursued. Without question, the work of the transformation and reform of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library was fully in keeping with his delegation’s approach. He urged DPI to do its utmost to secure access to United Nations information for all parties wishing to receive it in the six official languages. Freedom of the press, he added, was a significant part of a democratic society.
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For information media • not an official record