19 October 2007
General Assembly
GA/SPD/377

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Fourth Committee

8th Meeting (AM)


IN A WORLD YEARNING FOR BALANCED INFORMATION, PUBLIC INFORMATION DEPARTMENT


MUST LEARN TO TAP, MANAGE RANGE OF INTERNET CHOICES, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD


An impartial United Nations Department of Public Information, with a modernized worldwide network of regional centres, was needed in a world increasingly hungry for balanced information, members of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard this morning as they continued their general debate on questions relating to information.


Singapore’s delegate said the world now faced a bewildering array of choices in terms of information and communications technology, such as blogs, podcasts, YouTube, GoogleVideo, MySpace, SecondLife and Wikipedia.  As people increasingly turned to the Internet to exchange ideas and information, the Department of Public Information must learn not just to tap, but to manage those media.


She said that the sheer volume of information available via new media raised the chances of people becoming confused, misled and deceived, since it could be difficult to differentiate between what was accurate and what was misleading.  In leveraging the information revolution, the United Nations and other information providers must strenuously maintain their credibility.


A few speakers warned of the dangers posed by a monopoly on information by powerful countries.  Myanmar’s representative said efforts by developing countries to lift their people’s standard of living were not given due recognition by the international media.  Only certain aspects of various situations were highlighted and, even then, in a most biased way that distracted attention from issues deserving more focus.


Another example, offered by Cameroon’s representative, was the media’s tendency to play up negative news about Africa, presenting a frozen and caricatured continent that was prey to conflicts and scourges, rather than a stable and attractive region committed to meeting its development challenges.


In light of that perceived imbalance, Iran’s speaker said -- as echoed by others -- an important mission of the Department of Public Information was to provide all people with accurate, comprehensive and timely information on the United Nations tasks and responsibilities, so as to strengthen international support for the Organization’s activities.  Also important was to formulate an effective and efficient information policy that guaranteed greater intercultural understanding.


Towards that goal, he and several other delegates said that the global network of United Nations information centres could serve the United Nations in its outreach, but only if they were sufficiently equipped with modern communications technology.


Many representatives drew attention to the digital divide, as both a technological gap and a regional one between the North and the South.  The representative of the Dominican Republic, on behalf of the Rio Group, said that traditional methods of communication, such as radio, television and written press, were still vital, particularly since they were often the only means of obtaining information in developing countries.


He urged the United Nations to change its practice of using only two official languages -– with a tendency to use only one -- at least, in a world connected by the Internet.


Also speaking in today’s general debate were the representatives of Cuba, Morocco, Japan, Egypt, the Russian Federation, the Philippines and Trinidad and Tobago (speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community).  The Permanent Observer of Palestine also spoke.


The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Monday, 22 October to take up two draft resolutions on information, and a resolution on the question of Gibraltar.


Background


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its general debate on questions relating to information.  Reports before the Committee are summarized in yesterday’s Press Release (GA/SPD/376).


Statements


DIANE LOO (Singapore), aligning herself with the statement made yesterday by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the world was now faced with a “bewildering array of choices” in terms of information and communications technology.  As people increasingly turned to new media to exchange ideas and information, such as blogs, podcasts, YouTube, GoogleVideo, MySpace, SecondLife and Wikipedia, the United Nations Department of Public Information must learn to tap and manage those media.  While it was true that 300 million people had access to United Nations Radio programmes, and that the Department was planning to put audio and video on the web, there was still scope for leveraging new media technologies for even greater outreach.


She said that the sheer volume of information available via new media raised the chances of people becoming confused, misled and deceived, since it could be difficult to differentiate between what was accurate and what was misleading.  In leveraging the information revolution, the United Nations and other information providers must strenuously maintain their credibility.  In addition, their message must be delivered in a timely way, since credibility would suffer if stakeholders did not receive information on time.  Also, communicators should strive to “tell it like it is”, but they should do so with a certain finesse and a greater appreciation of various communications technology.


ILEANA NÚÑEZ B. MORDFOCHE ( Cuba) said that achieving an information society was a “pipe dream” for most developing countries, where 852 million people suffered from hunger, 2 billion people had no access to electricity, and more than 2 billion had never used the telephone.  For a large number of those people, the word “Internet” had no meaning.  Meanwhile, information being disseminated from the developed world was often misleading, false and distorting.  “They even fabricate news to divert the attention of the international community,” she said. 


Further, she said, in a world where a handful of transnational companies monopolized the flow of information, “freedom of information” was an empty phrase.  The worldwide network of United Nations information centres should play a more effective role in disseminating balanced information.  Radio should continue to be used to broadcast information to vast illiterate populations that lived in the developing world.  Cuba itself had a literacy programme, “Yes I Can”, operating in 15 countries, and acknowledged by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  The programme used audio-visual aids.


She then denounced the radio and television aggression waged by the United States against Cuba, in violation of international laws regulating relationships between States, as well as the rules and procedures of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  Those illegal broadcasts sought to promote unease among the Cuban people with regard to their revolution.  The Deputy Director of the Union’s Radio-communication office and Special Envoy of the Union’s Secretary-General reiterated the Union’s condemnation of those aggressions, after having confirmed the truth for himself following a visit to Cuba in February. 


Meanwhile, the United States Congress had increased the budget of the Government Office of Cuba Broadcasts by $10 million, so that it could use a G-1 aircraft to increase television broadcasts against Cuba, she said.  That Office had also leased airspace to Miami-based stations for six months, enabling them to air hundreds of hours of programmes that were not balanced or objective.  Several stations broadcasting subversive programmes against Cuba belonged or provided services to organizations linked to well-known terrorists acting against Cuba in United States territory.  Cuba reiterated its condemnation of such United States aggression, and fully rejected the United States intention to broadcast radio and television programmes to Cuba.  The choice of the kind of information that the Cuban people wished to receive was a sovereign decision.  Cuba would continue to adopt the necessary measures to repel those aggressions.


JUAN I. MARTÍNEZ ( Dominican Republic), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, recognized the work of the Department of Public Information in enhancing the image of the United Nations and its objectives.  Through its close collaboration with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Public Information Department had contributed significantly to the understanding and promotion of peace operations in all countries, particularly in troop-contributing nations.  Improving the way it disseminated information –- particularly putting it within reach of disabled persons -– should remain a priority for the Department. 


Noting the Department’s steps to create an informative table on the new and updated pages of its websites, he urged the Department to do more to avoid an imbalance between the official languages of the United Nations, emphasizing that the Department’s official press releases should be distributed in Spanish.  The Group stressed the need to guarantee parity in all official United Nations languages in transmitting the Organization’s message.  He called attention to the request in the report of the Committee of Information (document A/62/21) for proposals to increase the number of languages in which the press releases were published.  The Group awaited those proposals with interest.


At the same time, he said, traditional methods of communication, such as radio, television and written press, were still vital, particularly since they were often the only means of obtaining information in developing countries.  Radio programmes should continue to be presented in as many languages as possible, including Portuguese, and personnel from those regions should also be retained.  Still, the cost of multilingualism could not be quantified by the number of documents.  The architecture of the information structure should be modified to reflect the Organization’s six official languages.  The Organization could not continue to use only two languages -– with a tendency to use only one –- at least, not in a world connected by the Internet.  The email system should also be improved.  The technology revolution made it increasingly necessary for an international organization to count on competent personnel able to work in the main languages of the world, and the United Nations must adapt to that reality.


AZZEDINE FARHANE ( Morocco) said that information, and its timely dissemination, was a need and a challenge for the United Nations.  The adoption of an approach of empathy for, and interaction with, the peoples of the world was also needed.  The Department’s significant efforts should be stepped up to encourage and project a positive image of the United Nations and the importance of the debates that were at the heart of the Organization.  The recent strategy that had been adopted was interesting, but must be strengthened in terms of the relationships with the United Nations information centres and civil society, and other organizations around the world. 


In particular, he called for a strengthening of the United Nations information centres, especially in developing countries.  The information network should take each centre’s situation into consideration, and greater attention should be paid to the circumstances in developing countries, especially in Africa.  The digital divide meant that the Internet was not the sole means of disseminating information; radio was also key.  Multilingualism should be strengthened on the website and in various Department publications; the website should be improved to make it possible to incorporate the responses of its readers.


Given the changes in international relations, certain complex themes should be spread to the world’s peoples, including, among others, United Nations reform, climate change, and the campaigns against HIV/AIDS and terrorism, he suggested.  That should be accomplished through a system that disseminated information in a more equitable, just and timely manner.  Neutrality in the press communiqués about the Organization’s various meetings should be preserved.  Also necessary was to respect harmonization among the Organization’s official languages in all the information that was disseminated, as harmonization would contribute to the work of the entire United Nations system.  


HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) said the Department’s most important mission should be to provide all people with accurate, comprehensive, timely and relevant information on the tasks and responsibilities of the United Nations, in an unbiased and transparent manner, in order to strengthen international support for the Organization’s activities.  It was important to formulate an effective and efficient information policy for the United Nations, which guaranteed greater intercultural understanding.  The Department should continue to enhance its technological infrastructure and improve its activities in areas of special interest to developing countries, as those countries suffered from an unjust, inequitable, partial, and monopolized media world.  He urged the Department to convene a seminar to specifically address that concern.


He said that the United Nations information centres played an important role in conveying the Organization’s messages to the peoples in their host countries.  Yet, the centres could serve the United Nations in its outreach only if they were sufficiently equipped with modern communications technology.  The Department should report on efforts to modernize the centres in developing countries.  It should also allocate resources for local languages, which were not official United Nations languages, but were spoken in developing countries. 


The Department’s commitment to maintaining a culture of evaluation was appreciated, but the host countries of United Nations information centres should be involved in the evaluation process, he said.  The Department should play a role in promoting respect for all countries, religions and civilizations, and he urged the Secretary-General to promote the Global Agenda for Dialogue.  The Department should also increase the number of participants in its annual training programmes for journalists from developing countries, and continue its annual programme for Palestinian journalists.


MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTOU (Cameroon) noted that the Department of Public Information played a key role in advancing the dialogue among civilizations.  The right kinds of beliefs could trigger solidarity within the international community, while the wrong kinds could cause breaks among its members.  Unfortunately, the media tended to play up negative news about Africa.  At a meeting between African Heads of State in Cannes, France in February, President Paul Biya had said that the media often portrayed a frozen and caricatured Africa, prey to conflicts and scourges, rather than a stable and attractive Africa committed to meeting its development challenges.


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 1999, had used the term “digital divide” to describe the marginalization of certain countries in the information age, he recalled.  Indeed, only 19 per cent of world’s population, mostly from developed countries, made up 90 per cent of the world’s Internet users.  The last global summit on information society had advocated various actions to reduce the digital divide, and the Public Information Department should be commended for its efforts to promote inclusiveness in that regard.  He also commended it for its work in disseminating impartial information on various subjects of interest, including concerning Africa. 


He paid tribute to United Nations information centres for their part in that endeavour, and for translating and distributing documents published by the Department.  The rationalizing of those centres must be done on a case-by-case basis, while engaging the Member States served by those centres.  Also, the rationalization exercise must not be detrimental to the Yaounde Centre in Cameroon, whose services benefited francophone countries in the region.  The Yaounde Centre should be retained and strengthened.


MARI MIYOSHI (Japan) recalled that the Department of Public Information and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had co-sponsored the international media seminar on peace in the Middle East, held in Tokyo in June.  Although the situation in Gaza had been pressing at the time, the seminar had been held with both Palestinian and Israeli participants, representing various spheres of society of both parties.  She thanked Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka and his team for their hard work in realizing the seminar. 


She commended the Department’s efforts in the field of climate change, and lauded the commitment of world leaders in addressing that concern, as evident during the 24 September high-level meeting.  Japan would host the Group of Eight (G-8) Hokkaido Toyako summit next year, during which it would contribute actively to the issue of climate change.  She also commended the Department’s efforts regarding the Millennium Development Goals, saying that the United Nations information centre in Tokyo had done much to encourage 48,000 Japanese youth to take part in the “Stand Up” campaign.  Indeed, enlightening the world’s citizens on various issues was an important task of the United Nations, and Member States should do their utmost to cooperate with the Department in that regard.  Japan itself had hosted a series of public forums on United Nations reform, to foster dialogue with civil society.  It would also hold an international conference on African development in May 2008.


YUSSEF F. KANAAN, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, noted the Department’s efforts to expand its services and communications strategy to draw the world’s attention to important issues; among them climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, peace and security and human rights.  He underlined the importance of the Department’s programmes to bring the issues of Palestine and the Middle East to the world’s attention, and the contributions that made towards peace.  The Department’s Palestine unit played a critical role in that regard, including the conference held in Tokyo, entitled “Retrieving the path of peace:  Reengaging Israelis and Palestinians in the search for a durable and comprehensive political settlement”.


He encouraged the Department to continue to provide assistance to the Palestinian people through the training of journalists and broadcasters, which had a special significance for Palestine, despite the obstacles imposed by the Government of Israel; it had recently prevented three Palestinian journalists from obtaining travel visas to participate in the Department’s training programmes.  Those practices were in violation of several different international and human rights laws, for which the international community should confront Israel.


The library of documentaries on Palestine’s history was important, he said.  Also, tours of United Nations grounds should be led by guides who could cover Palestine’s history.  Pointing to the negative treatment of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed by some Western media, he said that the Department should pay more attention to intercultural dialogue.  Its role in developing television and radio programmes and expanding partnerships with different media outlets was appreciated, as was the role played by the Dag Hammarskjold Library.


U NAY WIN (Myanmar), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of ASEAN, said developing countries must harness communications technology for their development, but lack of resources and infrastructure tended to hinder them.  That was why the strategic approach and work of the Department of Public Information was so welcome.  A more strategic approach would contribute to bridging the digital divide between the developing and developed world, as unfortunately, powerful countries were exploiting the digital divide to impose their will on the weaker members of the world community. 


Moreover, he said, efforts by developing countries to uplift their people’s quality of life were not given due recognition by the international media.  Only certain aspects of various situations were highlighted and, even then, in a most biased way.  Such unethical behaviour only distracted attention from issues deserving more focus.  He underlined the relevance of the United Nations information centres around the world, which promoted greater public understanding about the ideals and work of the United Nations.  The centre in Yangon, for example, was doing admirable work in providing information to students of various disciplines, including law, international relations, history, economics and others.  Hopefully, its valuable service would be expanded.  Myanmar supported the work of the Department of Public Information in promoting understanding of different values of diverse cultures and civilizations.


AMR KAMAL ELDIN ELSHERBINI ( Egypt) said that in a world dominated by technology, the United Nations should continue to take the initiative in sustaining cooperation in the information and communications field, minimizing the gaps in the flow of information between countries, and supporting the information capacities and media infrastructure of developing countries.  Those efforts should be done in parallel with the Department of Public Information’s role as the mouthpiece of the Organization.  The inability of the United Nations to reach solutions to many of the world’s long-standing conflicts and challenges had created a negative view of the Organization.  Organized mass media campaigns, aimed at enlightening the world of existing realities, countering that criticism and highlighting the Organization’s achievements, should be undertaken.  The Department, as well as mass media, should use the six official United Nations languages in a balanced way.  


He encouraged the Committee on Information to intensify its activities in raising awareness about the scope and requirements of achieving a durable and comprehensive peace and stability in the Middle East.  That should be done through objective media messages that revealed the reality of the situation.  In that regard, the Committee’s annual seminar in June on Middle East peace had provided a timely opportunity to promote dialogue and communication between the two sides, and had helped create the proper environment for restoring the peace process. 


The Department’s role in helping to implement the priorities of the Millennium Development Goals was of no less importance, he said.  The United Nations had a key role to play in raising international awareness about those issues.  Rationalizing the operations of the United Nations information centres was also of great importance.  Dealing with that issue should be done with the utmost precision and transparency between the host countries and the Organization, taking into consideration the cultural circumstances of each region and the ways technological development could optimize each centre’s work.  The United Nations should boost intercultural dialogue, contribute to the elimination of confusion between terrorism and legitimate armed resistance of peoples under occupation, and narrow the information gap between the peoples of the North and South.


MARIA V. ZAKHAROVA ( Russian Federation) said it was crucial to give extensive coverage to globally important issues such as development, responses to new threats to security, conflict prevention, United Nations peacekeeping efforts, and the dialogue among civilizations.  She voiced approval for the ongoing rationalization of the United Nations information centres, and reiterated the importance of the centres’ work in preparing materials in languages spoken by local audiences and involving the local media in the communications process.  However, an “equitable approach” should be taken with regard to budgetary allocations, human resources and other issues.  She noted the fruitful work of the Moscow information centre, which coordinated outreach activities on United Nations agencies in Russia and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.


She welcomed the development of all forms of Russian-language coverage of United Nations activities, and supported the work to expand webcasts in the United Nations official languages.  Similarly, work on the Media Library and the modernization of United Nations Radio and Television were also welcome, as were positive innovations in the Organization of its press briefings and other endeavours by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  Press releases and briefings should not only be used for disseminating information, but also for promptly refuting distorted and false information about the Organization’s activities.


Noting the many references to the dialogue among civilizations as a priority issue, she said Russia had been promoting that cause actively, including through the 2006 World Summit of Religious Leaders, which had been held in Moscow, as well as the photo exhibit it organized during the October High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace, at United Nations headquarters.  Russia had also co-sponsored the General Assembly resolution on the Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The Department of Public Information’s programmes commemorating the Holocaust should reflect objective and thorough information on the outcome of the Second World War.  Any attempts to consign to oblivion those who fought against fascism and national socialism must be firmly terminated.  In that context, Russia condemned the tendency in many countries to present Nazi accomplices as heroes, while destroying monuments to those who fought alongside anti-fascist coalitions.


ELMER G. CATO ( Philippines), associating himself with the statement made on behalf ASEAN, said that selling the story of the United Nations to the rest of the world was not an easy task.  Yet, the Department of Public Information had risen to the challenge, and without its efforts the peoples of the world would not have the kind of understanding they currently had of the Organization’s work.  He appreciated the efforts to broaden the Organization’s worldwide reach by strengthening partnerships with Member States, the rest of the United Nations system and civil society, including through the use of traditional media, the Internet and its relationships with the members of the working press.


He said that the Department had also played a vital role in creating a better and peaceful world through its efforts to promote and strengthen the dialogue among civilizations and the culture of peace.  The support it had given to the High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace, which the Philippines had spearheaded with Pakistan, was noteworthy.  As a troop-contributing nation, the Philippines also appreciated the Department’s role in highlighting the achievements and challenges of modern-day United Nations peacekeeping.  The Department should enhance its outreach on peacekeeping, particularly to troop-contributing countries.  The United Nations was in the best position to tell the story of the United Nations peacekeeper, in whatever medium it deemed fit, he added.


PHILIP SEALY (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted the Department of Public Information’s key role in relaying information about United Nations activities in poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, combating terrorism and meeting Africa’s needs.  While agreeing with the wisdom of using the Internet to reach its audience, he said the Department should be mindful that the best way to disseminate information to the vast majority of people was through print and radio.  He commended the Department’s Caribbean Unit for the award it received from the New York Radio Festival for its programme commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. 


He said his Government had recently begun paying the rent for office space used by the United Nations information centre for the Caribbean, based in the Port of Spain, which served 14 countries.  Hopefully, the centre could use the financial resources allotted to it through the programme budget for the biennium 2008-2009 to modernize its information and communications system, and permit the Director and recently appointed national information officer to begin to undertake a programme of visits to the various capitals within the subregion. 


Notwithstanding the centre’s efforts, CARICOM still called for the Department to send national information officers to serve at the UNDP office in Kingston, Jamaica and Bridgetown, Barbados, he said.  Meanwhile, the allocation of staff and resources to United Nations information centres must be continuously reviewed, so that the Department could discharge its mandate effectively.


He said he appreciated the Department’s role in mounting an exhibition called “Lest we forget – the Triumph over Slavery”, in March at United Nations Headquarters.  The Department’s support had also been critical in hosting a panel discussion on the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  He looked forward to the upcoming cultural event in December to showcase the music of the African diaspora, for whom dance had been an important act of resistance to slavery.  The event would also demonstrate that popular American music had its roots in the slavery era.


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For information media • not an official record