|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Information
1st Meeting (AM)
NEW HEAD OF UN COMMUNICATIONS STRESSES STRATEGIC NATURE OF MEDIA CAMPAIGNS
IN TELLING ORGANIZATION’S STORY, AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE OPENS SESSION
The new head of the United Nations Department of Public Information highlighted the strategic nature of the Department’s media campaigns in telling the Organization’s story to the world, as the Committee on Information opened its two-week session at Headquarters today.
Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka, who assumed his post on 3 April, told delegations that, in his diplomatic career over the past 20 years, he had admired the dedicated unsung heroes who stood guard between enemy combatants, built tents for refugees, vaccinated children against disease and brought food and water to the needy. Now, he had been given the chance to tell that story, and it was “an amazing opportunity and a remarkable challenge”.
The Department of Public Information had reoriented itself structurally and programmatically to better reach its global audience, he continued. In the future, like the United Nations itself, it would be guided by a policy of “reform with continuity”. Its strategic approach encompassed traditional media, new information technology, targeted delivery of information products, greater system-wide coordination and increased integration of the 63 United Nations information centres -- where the global message was given “a local accent” and the United Nations was brought closer to the people it served.
He said that all the elements of that approach had been brought together in recent thematic communication campaigns, such as the 2006 High-Level Dialogue on Migration in the General Assembly and “Stand Up against Poverty”, which had succeeded in mobilizing some 2.3 million people to express their support for the Millennium Development Goals. The Department was now working to promote the upcoming debate in the Assembly on “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace”.
Further, he added, the capacity to tell the United Nations story had been expanded through the use of new information and communications technology. For example, the United Nations website receives more than 50 million unique visits annually; the Department’s daily video satellite feed, UNifeed, now sent video material to some 600 broadcasters worldwide, six days a week; and the number of people who had access to United Nations Radio had been doubled to well over 300 million.
That use of technology was further enhanced by the Department’s outreach to civil society, he said. The UN Works programme had teamed up with the MTV network and affiliates in 179 countries to create multimedia content in order to engage young people on global issues. The “Water for Life” multimedia campaign featured a documentary about water and sanitation in Africa, and a complementary website with educational resources and ways for young people to get involved. Also, the Holocaust and the United Nations was one of several new outreach programmes and had a related website, film screenings and an observance in the General Assembly Hall.
In 2007, he said, the Department would be bringing its strategic approach to four priority themes: peace and security; climate change; development and the Millennium Development Goals; and human rights. Climate change, for example, would be the subject of the annual DPI/NGO Conference and a special issue of the UN Chronicle, the focus of the Student Observance on World Environment Day and a highlight of briefings provided as part of the fellowship programme for journalists from developing countries.
“I am still learning and observing,” Mr. Akasaka told delegates, saying he was keenly aware of the important role the Committee played in guiding the Department’s work. “Together with you, and with the support of our UN system colleagues -- including DPI’s staff here at Headquarters and in the field -- I will strive to ensure the voice of the UN is heard loud and clear.”
Committee Chairman Rudolf Christen of Switzerland said that today’s meeting coincided with a “new phase” at the United Nations, under the leadership of a new Under-Secretary-General, marked by an optimistic spirit. The Department of Public Information was the Organization’s “loudspeaker”, but that loudspeaker must be used with skill and care, or else the Organization would risk emitting nothing but noise. The Department’s task, therefore, was to communicate a message that was clear and coherent, and without exaggeration. Fortunately, it was better equipped and technologically prepared than ever before, and it knew “which way to proceed”.
The representative of Germany, on behalf of the European Union, began the general debate by commending the Department of Public Information’s efforts to develop a more strategic approach in promoting greater understanding of the work of the United Nations. He also welcomed the new communications strategy built on a closer relationship between the Department and its network of information centres and other departments, as well as the global network of more than 1,500 civil society organizations. The Union had supported the proposals for regional hubs in 2002. That decision had forced several European countries to take the tough decision to close offices in their capitals. Today, those efforts were bearing fruit, and he encouraged other Member States and regional groups to consider similar decisions.
On behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Pakistan’s speaker said the information centres were vital to the flow of information and helped bridge gaps between developed and developing countries. He supported the call for adequate resources for their effective functioning, underlining that any decision about their reorganization should be made in consultation with the host countries. The digital divide between developed and developing countries meant that traditional means of communication must continue to be used, particularly radio, especially for reaching far-flung areas. He welcomed the creation of a joint public information working group focused on increasing awareness of United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Peacekeepers often produced “huge success stories” and it was important to tell their stories globally and locally.
The growing disparity between developed and developing countries deserved special attention, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea asserted. Towards that goal, the United Nations should strengthen its training programme for broadcasters, journalists and experts, and measures should be taken to transfer advanced technology and funds to improve the information structure of developing countries. The Committee should direct special attention to the establishment of “new and just international information”. Information was being used by some countries to interfere in the internal affairs of others, and as a form of socio-political subversion.
Also today, the Committee adopted its provisional agenda and programme of work for the session (document A/AC.198/2007/1).
In addition to the election of the new Chair, the following Vice-Chairs and a Rapporteur were elected by acclamation to serve during 2007 and 2008, respectively, as follows: Estevão Umba Alberto ( Angola); Marcelo Suárez Salvia ( Argentina); Marc Emillian Morar ( Romania); and Hossein Maleki ( Iran).
Two new members were admitted to the Committee, namely the Dominican Republic and Thailand, bringing the total number of members to 110. The Holy See and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will participate in the current session as observers.
Also speaking in the general debate were the representatives of the Dominican Republic( on behalf of the Rio Group) Romania and Thailand.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 1 May, to continue its general debate.
The Committee on Information met this morning to open its twenty-ninth annual session. For background, please see Press Release PI/1768 issued on 27 April.
Opening Statement by Chairman of the Committee
RUDOLF CHRISTEN ( Switzerland) assured members of the Committee that he would work closely with the Bureau to ensure a fruitful session consistent with the Department of Public Information’s objectives, and he hoped he could count on the Committee’s support, in turn. He thanked the former Chairman for the exemplary manner in which he had conducted his work during the last session.
Mr. Christen noted a new impetus towards cooperation and partnership between the Committee and the Department in recent years, made possible under the creative and open leadership of the former Under-Secretary-General, Shashi Tharoor. He expressed hopes for a continued strong collaboration with the Department under the present Under-Secretary-General, Kiyo Akasaka, who he knew to be a skilled diplomat.
Having served last year as the Committee’s Vice-Chair, and having participated in its deliberations over the years, Mr. Christen said he was familiar with its work and the important guiding role it played in the life of the Department, whose work could, at times, be difficult.
He remarked that today’s meeting coincided with a “new phase” at the United Nations, under the leadership of a new Under-Secretary-General, marked by an optimistic spirit. Furthermore, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself had stressed, reform was needed to further strengthen the Organization and to render it more efficient. The Department of Public Information was the Organization’s “loudspeaker”, but that loudspeaker must be used with skill and care, or else the Organization would risk emitting nothing but noise. The Department’s task, therefore, was to communicate a message that was clear and coherent, and without exaggeration.
He said the Department was better equipped and technologically prepared than ever before, and “knew which way to proceed”. Its Internet site, for example, was of high quality, with a presentation of information that was creative and rich. In addition, considerable progress had been made to increase multilingualism on the website. The Department was further encouraged to work towards establishing a “true” multilingual website.
He added, however, that the best websites would never replace human contact. For its part, the Committee had played a key role in helping the Department to strengthen the United Nations information centres. For example, numerous Member States had helped the Department pinpoint national resources for use by the centres, to translate information into their own languages and the six official United Nations languages. Next year, the United Nations would celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and he hoped that the Department would do its part to promote that cause. In the current session’s eventual final document, the Committee would do its best to provide the Department with a good guide to promote that, and related, ends.
Statement by Under-Secretary-General
Addressing the Committee for the first time, KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that, having joined the United Nations only a few weeks ago, he was still learning and observing, but he was keenly aware of the important role the Committee played in guiding the Department of Public Information in its work, and helping it to become more effective.
He said that the Secretary-General’s report provided a comprehensive picture of a Department that had reoriented itself, both structurally and programmatically. “We must build on the gains made in the past, while remaining attentive to the demands of the media, to changes in the Organization’s priorities and to new and revised mandates given to us by Member States,” he said. The Department’s future course, like that of the Organization itself, would be guided by a policy of “reform with continuity”.
The Department’s mission was to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact, he said. As the reports of the Secretary-General to the Committee demonstrated, the Department had made steady progress in meeting its mission.
Sharing some of the highlights and conclusions, he went on to explain how Department’s activities were now more strategic and how it was working more effectively with media. He also spoke about the outreach to opinion leaders, young people and civil society.
He said that being strategic meant setting priorities in a manner that enabled the Department not only to do what was most pressing, but also what was most achievable and where it could have the greatest impact. That strategic approach had four basic components: use of both traditional means of communications and new information and communications technology; targeted delivery of public information products and the systematic collection of user feedback; increased integration of the network of United Nations information centres in the implementation of communications strategies; and greater system-wide coordination.
An integral part of the strategic approach was evaluation, he said. The “Annual Programme Impact Review” -- or APIR -- had been introduced four years ago as an evaluation tool. It set out clearly measurable indicators of achievement for each of the Department’s major activities. That tool allowed the Department’s programme managers to better determine the effectiveness of their activities. It also served as a basis for greater accountability from programme managers.
All the elements of the strategic approach had been brought together in the recent thematic communications campaigns, with positive results, he continued. For example, for the High-Level Dialogue on Migration of the General Assembly in September 2006, the Department had collaborated with the Office of the President of the General Assembly, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Migration and Development, and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That had resulted in the production of a 10-part press kit, including separate fact-sheets on regions and subregions. An analysis of the media coverage showed that the key messages on the United Nations role on migration framed by the Department of Public Information had been picked up by journalists more than 90 per cent of the time.
Another illustration was the very successful “Stand Up against Poverty” campaign in October 2006, he said. Working with the Millennium Campaign Office, the Department had contributed, through its United Nations information centres, to that global campaign, which had succeeded in mobilizing some 2.3 million people to express their support for the Millennium Development Goals.
He noted that the Department was also working with the General Assembly President’s Office to promote the upcoming informal debate in the Assembly on “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace”. The meeting would provide an opportunity to highlight the General Assembly as an ideal venue for promoting tolerance and respect for diversity across cultures.
The Department’s integrated approach was also having an impact on how the United Nations story was told, he said. For example, following a public information training workshop for peacekeeping missions organized by the Department and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Television had started taking raw video footage from peacekeeping missions and transforming that material into feature stories for dissemination to broadcasters worldwide. UNifeed, the Departments satellite-based distribution service, now distributed at least two feature stories on peacekeeping every week.
Regarding the second of his highlights -- the Department’s service to the media -- he said that, thanks to the integration of new information and communications technology at all levels of the Department’s work, the capacity to tell the United Nations story had greatly expanded. Offering a few facts and figures, he said that, with more than 50 million unique visits annually, the United Nations website was now the principal gateway to information about the United Nations on the Internet. It provided a wide range of news and information in multiple forms -- audio, video and photo, as well as text -- in multiple languages to users around the world. On a typical weekday, users now viewed more than a million pages of material in the six official languages, and more than 15,000 video clips.
Continuing, he said that the United Nations News Centre portal, which was being redesigned, remained one of the most popular destinations on the United Nations website. Some 5,000 journalists now received web-based “media alerts”. Through the Department’s daily video satellite feed, UNifeed now sent video material to some 600 broadcasters worldwide, six days a week. As a result of the Department’s increased ability for webcasting, in 2006, some 8.3 million viewers from around the world had been able to view events at United Nations Headquarters in New York and Geneva.
In addition, he said that the number of people who had access to United Nations Radio programmes had doubled to well over 300 million, and much of the programming was now available on the Internet. The web-based accreditation system had reduced unnecessary delays in issuing accreditation to journalists who wished to cover United Nations events. In 2006, more than 5000 journalists had taken advantage of that on-line delivery system.
The third of his highlights -- the Department’s outreach to civil society, opinion leaders and youth -- had also benefited from innovation and targeted programmes, he noted. Conscious of the need to connect with new audiences and target groups, the Department had made some organizational changes and developed several new outreach activities initiated by the General Assembly. The Department had forged new partnerships with public and private groups that targeted young people, who increasingly used the Internet to obtain information. For example, the UN Works programme had teamed up with the MTV network and its affiliates in 179 countries to create multimedia content. That had created new opportunities to educate and engage young people on global issues.
He said that one concrete result of that partnership had been the “Water for Life” multimedia campaign, featuring a documentary about water and sanitation in Africa and a complementary website with educational resources and ways for young people to get involved. The site had received more than 2 million dedicated page views in the first month. Inspired by the documentary, a group of young students in a school in the Bronx in New York City had raised $1,500 in one month for a school in Angola.
One of several new outreach programmes was the programme on the Holocaust and the United Nations, which the General Assembly had mandated in November of 2005, he said. The programme’s website, which included discussion papers and information about film screenings and briefings, had received some 30,000 page views around Holocaust Remembrance Day. The observance in the General Assembly Hall this year had included representatives of various communities who had been targeted during the Holocaust, as well as students who would carry their message of tolerance and hope to future generations.
The newly created Advocacy Unit, which was responsible for that outreach programme, was also exploring new ways to involve prominent individuals of talent and ability, such as the United Nations Messengers of Peace and Goodwill Ambassadors, in the promotion of the work of the United Nations around the world.
Looking ahead, in the area of strategic communications, he said the focus was on four priority themes in 2007: peace and security; climate change; development and the Millennium Development Goals; and human rights.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had also outlined some of key issues for the year, he said. Chief among them was the continuation of United Nations reform. That topic, along with issues relating to the Middle East and Africa, as well as General Assembly-mandated activities or unforeseen developments, such as humanitarian emergencies or political crises, would be covered by the Department’s communication network. Most of those developments would fall under the umbrella of one or more of the four priority communication themes. It would be the Department’s collective challenge to present the actions of the United Nations coherently and show how they were relevant to people’s lives -- to the lives of ordinary men and women.
In the area of news and media services, the immediate task was to maintain the current level of quality coverage and to eliminate gaps, he said. That would be done by building on existing strengths and finding ways to further engage with external partners and other United Nations system entities. There were a number of other operational objectives as well, such as plans to put United Nations audio and video on the web to provide broadcasters with around-the-clock material on demand. That would finally put the United Nations at par, technologically speaking, with major international networks.
Another area needing improvement was in closing the multilingualism gap on the web and enhancing access to the website for people with disabilities, he said. Significant progress had been made in those areas, but more needed to be done. He was fully aware of the importance that the Member States attached to the traditional means of communication, such as print products and radio programmes. He assured them of the Department’s commitment to attaining the right balance between web-based programmes and products, and traditional methods of conveying information.
He said that developing new products while strengthening traditional media required resources, both human and financial. That was always a challenge. Website enhancements and maintenance had also become increasingly demanding and costly, especially given the important new mandate asking the Department to make the web pages accessible to the disabled in all official languages.
In the area of outreach service to civil society, the general public and the media, the thematic priority for the upcoming year would be climate change and the role of the United Nation in that critical issue, he continued. It was the major theme of the 2007 DPI/NGO Conference and would also feature in resources and multimedia content developed by the Educational Outreach Section, as well as in a special issue of the UN Chronicle. Climate change would also be the focus of the Student Observance on World Environment Day, and would be a highlight of the briefings provided as part of the Reham Al Farra Fellowship Programme for journalists from developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
He said that the year 2007 would also mark the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the first volume of the Yearbook of the United Nations. A seminar was being planned for November to commemorate that landmark event, with a focus on coverage in the Yearbook on how the United Nations dealt with environmental and climate change issues.
Climate change would also be a major theme of video-conferences with university students. The tour guides, who were the public faces of the Organization for the half a million or so people who took the tour of the Headquarters building annually, would also draw visitors’ attention to United Nations action on climate change. The approximately 1 million visitors entering the General Assembly lobby each year had the opportunity to view the Department’s changing display of exhibits, and in the next twelve months, at least two of those exhibits already scheduled would be on aspects of climate change and the environment.
Efforts were also under way to strengthen the educational outreach programmes, he said. Those programmes had been designed to take the United Nations outside the hallowed halls of the building into schools and classrooms, and ways were now being considered to deliver on their promise. The Academic Initiative and Educational Outreach Section, of which the very popular Cyberschoolbus website was an integral part, was building structured relationships between the Department and educational institutions, including elementary and secondary schools and centres of higher learning.
Another area where positive changes were taking place was in the information services offered by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge-Sharing Centre (DHLink), he said. DHLink had already undergone a fundamental change, shifting away from the traditional role of a library as a collection of publications, to a knowledge centre that connected stakeholders with tools and resources available globally. As part of that new outreach focus, DHLink was working with partner institutions and the more than 400 depository libraries worldwide to identify new innovative approaches to disseminate information and knowledge.
Last year, DHLink had launched a consulting service called Personal Knowledge Management, he noted. Its aim was to help staff and permanent missions of Member States to take advantage of the array of information resources available to them. That service assisted individuals or groups through personalized coaching and training sessions on how to access information and other knowledge-management issues. In the coming months, it would be expanded and diversified. He encouraged Member States to contact DHLink staff and to find out more about how they might benefit.
Drawing attention to a major concern that would affect many outreach activities, he said that the Capital Master Plan would have a serious impact on those services, especially on the Library, the Guided Tours, the organized group programmes and the United Nations Bookshop. Activities would be drastically reduced during the renovation of the Headquarters complex. He would follow up with the managers on those issues and seek to uncover ways to minimize the damage.
Turning to the future direction of the network of United Nations information centres, he said that a good communications strategy by itself was of limited value unless it reached the audience for whom it was intended. When the United Nations talked about a global audience, it was really referring to a collection of local audiences. The network of information centres was one of the main vehicles through which it was possible to reach those local audiences, including schools with few educational tools, civil society groups that served underprivileged groups, and media outlets that had limited resources and sometimes no access to the Internet. They gave the global messages a local accent and, as a result, they brought the United Nations closer to the people it served.
As outlined in the report of the Secretary-General, measures had been taken to further strengthen the United Nations information centres and to integrate them within the overall communications strategy of the Department, he said. Those measures included the realignment of resources; upgrading of the use of information and communications technology; building partnerships at local and regional levels; and the provision of regular guidance from Headquarters on key thematic issues.
He said that every information centre now had a fully functional website, and those websites meant that information was available in 31 languages. A new work plan template for the centres had also been developed. That template, a working tool that would help the field staff plan and monitor their progress, as well as evaluate programmes and derive lessons from them, was available on a new internal digital network called StratCom.
The presence in major media hubs, such as Cairo, Mexico City and Pretoria, had also been strengthened, with the aim of maximizing the impact of their limited resources, he said. Those centres -- now better staffed and better resourced -- had been given a coordinating role at the regional level. For example, the centres in Cairo and Mexico City had taken the lead in creating regional United Nations Communications Groups, bringing together existing communications resources in their respective regions.
In Europe, he said, the offices in Brussels, Geneva and Vienna were using innovative networking tools to join hands and coordinate their communications tasks. They were now talking to each other more often, sharing their resources whenever possible and undertaking joint exercises. The United Nations Information Service in Vienna had also assumed the responsibility of providing strategic guidance to the information centres in Bucharest, Prague and Warsaw. It was still early, but already, the benefits of the new synergies were evident. Whether in Africa, Latin America or Europe, by working together at the regional level, the United Nations information centres were better able to provide information and inspire discussion on United Nations issues that resonated in their respective regions.
That had also encouraged exploration of the possibility of strengthening information centres in other regions or subregions, he said. The Department placed great importance on the role of the information centres at the country level, as key members of the United Nations country teams. As discussions relating to system-wide coherence continued, and with “One UN” pilots under way in a number of countries, he was very aware of the need to ensure the viability and effectiveness of the information centres, and to ensure that they added value to the efforts of the United Nations system at the country level.
Speaking of the United Nations system, he said that the experience at the global level showed that the United Nations system was at its best when it spoke coherently. The United Nations Communications Group, which, at the global level, brought the communications focal points of the entire United Nations system under one umbrella, could also be an effective tool at the local level. With United Nations information centres in the lead, local chapters of the Communications Group had already been created in some 60 countries. Hopefully, in the next 12 months, communications groups would be created in every country where United Nations system organizations function.
Although he had been with the Department only for a few weeks, he said his association with the United Nations and multinational bodies spanned well over 20 years. His work with the World Health Organization (WHO), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Trade Organization and, recently, with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), had taken him to places far and near. At each place, he had discovered amazing stories of people striving to make lives better. Behind those stories often lay the light footprint of the United Nations and its staff. He always admired the commitment and dedication of those people -- the unsung heroes -- who stood guard between enemy combatants, built tents for refugees, vaccinated children against deadly diseases and brought food and water to the needy.
Now, the Under-Secretary-General said, “I have the opportunity to tell the story of the United Nations to the whole world. It is an amazing opportunity and a remarkable challenge. Together with you, and with the support of our UN system colleagues -- including DPI’s staff here at Headquarters and in the field -- I will strive to ensure the voice of the UN is heard loud and clear.”
On behalf of the European Union, KATHARINA AHRENDTS ( Germany) commended the Department of Public Information for its efforts in developing a more strategic approach to promoting global awareness and greater understanding of the work of the United Nations in priority areas. She welcomed the new communications strategy, which was built on a closer relationship between the Department and its network of information centres and the other departments and offices, as well as the global network of more than 1,500 civil society organizations. “Client orientation” was the right term to describe the strategy needed to achieve the Department’s mission, namely to fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact.
She said that successful communication rested on ever deeper knowledge of audiences and their expectations. Systematic impact reviews, as conducted by the Department since 2002, were an important instrument to find out whether United Nations information met the demands of the users. She commended the Department for its effort to target its products, services and activities even better at interested audiences, both in terms of relevance and quality, and she encouraged it to pursue and intensify its evaluation efforts and make it a common feature of its activities.
The Department’s reform efforts over the past five years had resulted in a more strategic approach to the United Nations information centre’s work, she said. Particularly welcome had been the promotion of model United Nations programmes, in cooperation with local educational non-governmental organizations. She also welcomed the regionalization efforts of the Department, a process that should take into account the circumstances in each region. The European Union had lent its support to the Secretary-General’s proposals for regional hubs in 2002, hoping for real medium- to long-term benefits to the United Nations and to the peoples of the world. That decision had forced several European countries to take the tough decision to close offices in their capitals. Today, those efforts were bearing fruit, and she encouraged other Member States and regional groups to consider similar decisions.
Stressing that the United Nations website was a primary source of information for the United Nations family, she said that the Union also found that the United Nations webcast was a valuable service that provided instant information to Member States and the general public, and promoted transparency on the work of the Organization. She encouraged all efforts aimed at improving visual and functional coherence among the numerous websites. Particularly welcome had been the increasing compliance with the requirements for persons with disabilities. All new web projects should be designed to meet accessibility requirements, and older pages should, where possible, be corrected.
She expressed the Union’s support for the Department’s approach to make use of all facets of the Internet’s growing multimedia capability by including more webcasts and radio files, in numerous languages, in its online offer. Reaching a global audience also implied making full use of the United Nations linguistic diversity, and she commended the Department for the efforts to accelerate the pace of moving towards parity among official languages on the website and to enhance the language capacity of the website section. She urged the Department to continue its concrete work in favour of multilingualism on the website, as well as in all activities.
SARUKH AMIL (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, congratulated Mr. Akasaka on his appointment as Under-Secretary-General and paid tribute to Mr. Tharoor for having worked “diligently and energetically” in building up the Organization’s image. He congratulated the new Chairman, and welcomed two new Committee members, the Dominican Republic and Thailand.
Noting the Secretary-General’s report on activities of the Department of Public Information, he said the Department’s most “daunting task” was to reach out to the widest possible audience, since the United Nations was a forum where the entire world’s concerns were being debated. Because of the media’s tendency to sensationalize bad news, it was critical to continuously project the United Nations ideals and accomplishments, intensify outreach and transmit its message to peoples in all Member States.
He said the Group of 77 appreciated the Department’s efforts, so far, to promote such issues as United Nations reform, climate change, immigration and development, World Information Society Day and the training of journalists. The Department had also done well in promoting new partnerships for Africa’s development, genocide prevention, the Alliance of Civilizations, violence against children, the Millennium Development Goals, peacekeeping operations, counter-terrorism and the launching of the report of the High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence. However, he hoped for a balanced communication campaign on the reform that fully reflected the positions and perspective of Member States, alongside those of senior United Nations officials.
He said the Group of 77 had taken note of the Secretary-General’s report on the network of United Nations information centres, saying they were vital to the flow of information and helped bridge gaps between developed and developing countries. He supported the call for adequate resources for their effective functioning, but underlined that any decision pertaining to the reorganization of those centres be made in close consultation with the host countries. Also, the digital divide between developed and developing countries meant that traditional means of communication must continue to be used, particularly radio, especially for reaching far-flung areas.
He welcomed the creation of a joint public information working group focused on increasing awareness of United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Peacekeepers often produced “huge success stories” and it was important to tell their stories globally and locally. The Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations should work together towards that aim.
ERASMO LARA-PENA ( Dominican Republic), on behalf of the Rio Group, stressed that the message of the United Nations should be disseminated not only in the official languages of the Organization, but in as many languages as possible. For that purpose, the Department of Public Information would require staff from other regions familiar with all populations, cultures and languages. The Rio Group, meanwhile, acknowledged the Department’s work in promoting the message of the Organization in such areas as peace and security; respect for human rights; fighting crime and illicit weapons trafficking; terrorism; and disease. The revitalization and reform of the General Assembly had been an important part of the agenda, and the Department had a major role to play in disseminating public appreciation of the Assembly, which was the most representative and deeply deliberative body of the Organization.
He noted the Department’s efforts to ensure parity between the official United Nations languages, but, as the Secretary-General recognized in his report, more resources should be allocated for the purpose of ensuring such parity on the website and the publications of all United Nations departments. Efforts should also continue in modernizing information and communications technology. In that respect, special mention should be made of the United Nations intranet, known as ISeek. That was a useful tool for United Nations staff and permanent missions, and he sought greater access for all Member States of the Organization. The General Assembly’s decision to facilitate access to the web pages for all persons with disabilities had not been fully implemented, and achieving that goal must be a priority. Positive consideration should be given to supply the 63 information centres and offices with operational websites, and the e-mail system could be improved.
He hailed the close cooperation and coordination between the libraries of the United Nations system, particularly the work of the inter-agency group on the exchange of information and management. The Department should continue to receive the necessary resources in that regard. As for the existing gap between the developed and developing world in terms of access to communication technologies, the Rio Group reiterated the importance of continued reliance on traditional communication means, including radio and print, to disseminate the key United Nations message. He encouraged the Department to seek greater diversity with its regional, national and local media partners, in order to spread the message of the United Nations to every corner of the world in a precise, impartial and effective manner. He also encouraged continued coordination between the Department and other departments and offices, particularly the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Office of the General Assembly President and the Office of the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson.
MIHNEA IOAN MOTOC (Romania), aligning himself with the European Union, said that his tenure as Committee Chairman in the past two years had provided an opportunity to witness first-hand a “leading United Nations Department” working to deliver on what was a delicate and complex mandate. In that period, the Department had taken steps towards reform, while continuing to speak out on the United Nations, which was not always an easy task. The rapport between the Committee on Information and the Department was one of “sheer partnership”, enabling the two to overcome challenges encountered while forming the network of United Nations information centres.
He said his work had been built on a strong foundation established by his predecessor from Bangladesh, and now buttressed by a strong Bureau. In addition, the dedicated staff of the Department of Public Information had been effective in dispensing their Secretariat functions, and had demonstrated a remarkable sense of teamwork, for which he was grateful. Meanwhile, the former Under-Secretary-General, Shashi Tharoor, had been more than simply the Committee’s “foremost interlocutor” -- he had also been a source of professional and personal inspiration to the Committee’s work. Also, during his own tenure, he had met with interested members of the media and had gotten valuable, inspiring and, at times, sobering feedback, which he valued.
He said it was important for the new Bureau to capitalize on the collegial approach taken in the past. He congratulated Committee Chair Christen on his assumption of the Chairmanship, who promised to promote a sense of continuity combined with a “fresh spirit”. Although he was no longer Chair, his country, Romania, would continue to serve on the Bureau as a Vice-Chair.
He said the new Under-Secretary-General, Kiyo Akasaka, was a “top diplomat” and a serious civil servant who had covered many subjects in his career so far, which boded well for the Committee’s current session. He expressed confidence that the Committee would endeavour to facilitate the Department’s tasks, the most daunting of which -- and against which its performance was ultimately measured -- was telling the “United Nations story” to a world that was more hurried and less prone to hearing it.
PRAVIT CHAIMONGKOL (Thailand), participating in the meeting for the first time as a Committee member, said he had witnessed the growing and changing of the Department of Public Information and the world. The Department should be commended for taking up the Committee’s recommendations to improve its performance and reform itself, and he thanked its officers and staff for their vigorous work to make the Department a “faithful public voice” of the United Nations in better service of the global community. Sending its message was perhaps the most important task of the United Nations, as the success of the Organization’s work could be “crushingly overshadowed by bad news, rumours and scandals”. The general public needed to have an understanding about the United Nations and how its work impacted on their lives. To reach the widest possible audiences, not only did the United Nations need to eliminate the language disparity, it should also reach out to areas where official languages might not operate. Partnership with the media, local media in particular, would benefit the delivery of accurate and up-to-date news and information in local languages.
He said that the Internet could help the United Nations accomplish its outreach objective. The United Nations website was an essential tool, and the Department should maintain and improve it with full parity among its official languages. However, gaps in information remained striking among population segments, and that should be resolved. Furthermore, traditional mediums -- such as radio, television and print -- remained the most accessible form of communication. It would be imprudent to rely entirely on modern technology, when simple and affordable means could also be employed in a cost-effective manner. Thailand would like the Department to ensure that international radio broadcasting remained an integral part of its activities.
He also emphasized the importance of the United Nations information centres and services, which had helped bridge the information gap. He appreciated the Department’s efforts to promote issues of importance to the international community, such as the Millennium Development Goals, poverty eradication and conflict prevention, and he encouraged it to work closely with the Peacekeeping Department, especially from the planning stage of peacekeeping operations. His delegation also sought added steps to reach educators and young people.
YUN YONG IL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said his country believed the Committee should direct special attention to the establishment of “new and just international information”, as a priority. Information was being used by some countries to interfere in the internal affairs of others, in addition to being used as a form of socio-political subversion. Such countries used their superior technologies to spread their “democratic values and life styles” and to create social disorder and an anti-Government atmosphere in other countries. One example was the United States’ “Radio Free” programming, which targeted mainly developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
He said Radio Free Asia slandered the socio-political system of specific Asian countries, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, broadcasting in their national languages. The United States had allocated $2 million to Radio Free Asia in 1998, extending its programme against his country, and had decided to increase that expenditure in its federal budget for 2008. More propaganda was being spread against “countries disobedient to it”, through “Radio Marti”. It constituted an open war of information and psychology against other countries, thereby raising serious international problems, and was a wanton violation of the United Nations Charter.
He said the growing disparity between developed and developing countries deserved attention, and it was important to provide more opportunity to developing countries to enhance their communications capacity. To that end, the United Nations should strengthen its training programme for broadcasters, journalists and experts. Measures should also be taken to transfer advanced technology and funds to improve the information structure of developing countries. The Committee should also conduct its information activities in a manner that helped to solve the economic and social problems of developing countries, and to bring about a fair development of international information activities.
* *** *For information media • not an official record