11 May 2007
General Assembly
PI/1774

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

Committee on Information

Twenty-ninth Session

5th Meeting (PM)


INFORMATION COMMITTEE EMPHASIZES ESSENTIAL ROLE OF DPI IN ENSURING United Nations


VOICE HEARD CLEARLY, EFFECTIVELY, AS TWO-WEEK SESSION CONCLUDES


Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka Says Partnership with Committee

Fundamental to Success in Communicating Organization’s Story to the World


The Committee on Information today, emphasizing that public information and communications should be placed at the heart of the United Nations strategic management, reaffirmed that the United Nations was the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world and emphasized the essential role of the Department of Public Information in ensuring that its voice was heard clearly and effectively.


The Committee adopted a wide-ranging, two-part text upon the conclusion of its annual two-week session.  Draft resolution B, entitled “United Nations Public Information Policies and Activities”, would have the General Assembly stress that the primary mission of the Department of Public Information was to provide, through its outreach activities, accurate, impartial, comprehensive, timely and relevant information on the United Nations, in order to strengthen international support for its activities with the greatest transparency.


The Assembly would reaffirm the central role of the Committee on Information in United Nations public information policies and activities, including the prioritization of those activities, and decide that recommendations relating to the Public Information Department should originate, to the extent possible, in the Committee and be considered by the Committee.


While acknowledging the Department’s commitment to a culture of evaluation, the Department would be asked to continue to evaluate its products and activities, with the aim of improving their effectiveness, as well as continue to cooperate and coordinate with Member States and the Office of Internal Oversight Services.


Further, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to exert all efforts to ensure that publications and other information services of the Secretariat, including the United Nations website and News Service, contained comprehensive, objective and equitable information about the issues before the Organization and that they maintained editorial independence, impartiality and accuracy and full consistency with the resolutions of the General Assembly.


It would emphasize that the Department should improve its activities in the areas of special interest to developing countries and contribute to bridging the existing gap between the developing and developed countries in the crucial field of public information and communications.


The Assembly would note with appreciation the Department’s continued efforts in issuing daily press releases, and would request it to continue providing that service to both Member States and media representatives, while continuing to improve their production process and streamlining their format, structure and length, keeping in mind the views of Member States.


In the area of multilingualism, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of ensuring the full, equitable treatment of all official languages of the United Nations in all activities of the Department and, in that regard, reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure that the Department had appropriate staffing capacity in all the official languages to undertake all its activities.


By a related provision, the Assembly would welcome the work done by the network of United Nations information centres in favour of the publication of United Nations information materials and the translation of important documents in languages other than the United Nations official languages, with a view to reaching the widest spectrum of audiences and extending the United Nations message to all corners of the world, in order to strengthen international support for the Organization.


The Assembly would stress the importance of rationalizing the network of information centres and request the Secretary-General to continue to make proposals in that direction.  It would reaffirm that the rationalization process be carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all concerned Member States in which existing information centres were located, the countries served by those centres and other interested countries in the region.


It would also stress the importance of taking into account the special needs and requirements of developing countries in the field of information and communications technology, and also stress that the Public Information Department should continue to review the allocation of both staff and financial resources to the information centres in those countries, emphasizing the needs of least developed countries.


In the area of strategic communications, the Assembly would reaffirm the role of those services in devising and disseminating United Nations messages by developing communications strategies in close collaboration with the substantive departments, United Nations funds and programmes and the specialized agencies.


Recognizing that promotional campaigns were part of the Public Information Department’s core responsibility, the Assembly would express appreciation for the Department’s work in promoting issues of importance to the international community through its campaigns, such as United Nations reform, poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, disarmament, human rights, HIV/AIDS, Africa’s needs, combating terrorism, and dialogue among civilizations.  It would ask the Department to enhance world public awareness of those important global issues.


The Assembly would request the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to continue their cooperation in raising awareness of the new realities, successes and challenges faced by peacekeeping operations, especially multidimensional and complex ones, and of the recent surge in peacekeeping activities.  It would emphasize the importance of the peacekeeping gateway on the United Nations website, and ask the Public Information Department to continue to support the peacekeeping missions to further develop websites.


Turning to traditional communication means, the Assembly would stress that radio remains one of the most cost effective and far-reaching traditional media available to the Department and an important instrument in United Nations activities.  It would ask the Secretary-General to continue to make every effort to achieve parity in the six official languages in United Nations radio production, and it would note the Department’s efforts to disseminate programmes directly to broadcasting stations around the world in the six official languages, with the addition of Portuguese, as well as in other languages where possible.


Regarding the website, the Assembly would reaffirm that it was an essential tool and reiterate the need for the Department to continue to maintain and improve it.  It would recognize that the multilingual development and enrichment of the website had improved and, in that regard, ask the Department to further improve the actions taken to achieve parity among the six official languages.  It would request the Secretary-General to ensure the adequate distribution of financial and human resources for that purpose.


Concerning the library services, the Assembly would acknowledge the role of the Dag Hammarskjold Library, as part of the Department’s Outreach Division, in enhancing knowledge-sharing and networking activities to ensure access to the vast store of United Nations knowledge by delegates, permanent missions, the Secretariat, researchers and depository libraries worldwide, and take note of the proposal to rename the library the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge-Sharing Centre (DHLink), reflecting its new direction.


As for the Department’s outreach services, the Assembly would welcome the movement towards educational outreach and the orientation of the UN Chronicle, both print and online editions, and to that end, encourage the UN Chronicle to continue to develop co-publishing partnerships, collaborative educational activities and events, including the “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar series, with civil society organizations and institutions of higher learning.


By the terms of draft resolution A, entitled “Information in the Service of Humanity”, the Assembly, deeply concerned by the disparities between developed and developing countries and the consequences arising from those disparities, would urge all countries and the United Nations system to step up assistance for the development of communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries to develop their own information and communications policies freely and increase the participation of media and individuals in the communication process.


Countries and the United Nations system would also be urged to, among other things, ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of their professional tasks and condemn resolutely all attacks against them; provide support for the continuation and strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists in developing countries; and provide full support for the International Programme for the Development of Communication of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which should support both public and private media.


Prior to action on the text, the Committee also approved the draft report of its 2007 session (documents A/AC.198/2007/L.1, L.2, L.3), as orally amended.  Rapporteur Hossein Maleki ( Iran) introduced the Committee’s draft report.  The full text of the draft resolution is contained in document A/AC.198/2007/L.3.


Commenting on the Committee’s work, Costa Rica’s representative noted that important aspects of the Committee’s work were frequently overlooked, and that underscored the necessity of self-analysis.  Costa Rica had already expressed its determination to participate in such an evaluation process.  The Secretary-General had shared his concern about the limits resulting from the legal definition of a mandate, and the undesirable effects of interchangeably using such unspecific terms as “requests”, “invites” or “urges”.  More clarity was needed, even though such ambiguous language was sometimes useful in facilitating the broadest possible agreement.


Cuba’s representative expressed concern over the use of the United Nations during the 3 May commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, as a sort of “tribune” that allowed delegations to disseminate distorted portrayals of events in certain countries.  During that event, which had been described as informal despite the provision of all services, some speakers had made negative statements with regard to other Member States.  Such unacceptable actions distorted the friendly relations that should prevail among States.  The United Nations should continue to be a place for promoting peace, understanding and good relations, rather than selectivity, double standards and confrontation.


The United States’ representative said he hoped the resolution just adopted would be of help to the Public Information Department under its new leadership.  He specifically acknowledged the hard work of the Department team.  Everyone here had played a constructive role, never losing sight that the objective was not to reach agreement for the sake of reaching agreement, but to provide the best guidance to the Department, so that it could tell the world the story of this important institution.


He said he remained committed to the idea that a streamlined resolution must be presented next year, for which work might have to start earlier.  He was not suggesting cutting here and there for the sake of cutting, but the Committee should review the present text with “a fresh set of eyes”.  It was still too unwieldy, and streamlining it would go a long way towards providing DPI with the guidance it needed.  A “Christmas tree approach” -- adding a little here and there -- was not sustainable.


Finally, he cautioned delegations that he had heard clearly and consistently about the ongoing resource constraints that were a reality for the Public Information Department, so the Committee could not and should not ask it to duplicate or replicate what could clearly be undertaken by the press.


In closing remarks, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, thanked all members of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the European Union and other Committee members for having reached consensus and stressed the importance of partnership between the Department and the Committee.  That partnership was fundamental to the Department’s success in communicating the United Nations story, of which the whole world was the audience.  The interactive dialogue held on the opening day of this year’s session was a good example of how useful the Committee’s input was to the Department’s work.  Members had not only spoken candidly about what the Department did, but had also provided useful benchmarks and suggestions for progress.


He noted that almost all those present had completed the survey circulated by the Public Information Department -- a clear sign of their interest in, and commitment to, the Department’s work.  Some 40 per cent of respondents had described the Department as either “effective” or “very effective” in raising awareness about the United Nations in their respective countries.  About half the members, therefore, still thought the Department was only “somewhat effective” or “not sufficiently effective”.  It was essential that the Department continue to improve its working methods, particularly at the country level.


The survey had also revealed that the United Nations information centres and the question of multilingualism were among the Committee’s major concerns.  Many delegations had expressed their interest in the retention of the centres, especially those with regional functions.  In addition, the United Nations website had received very high marks from members and 93 per cent of members confirmed they used the Department’s press releases.  It was also pleasing to note that 90 per cent of Committee members had found the interactive dialogue very useful.


Committee Chairman Rudolf Christen ( Switzerland) said that, during the past two weeks, delegations had called for a stronger, more effective and more united world body.  They had also expressed support for a Department of Public Information that was stronger, more effective and more focused than ever before, to make the voice of the United Nations heard better and clearer.  Through adoption of the resolution today, Member States had agreed to forward those views to the General Assembly.  They had also emphasized the essential role of the Department, thereby reiterating strong confidence in Mr. Akasaka’s leadership.


He said he had taken note of the agreement reached by the two coordinating groups, the Group of 77 and the European Union, to create a working group towards streamlining the resolution and presenting a new consensus draft resolution before the 2008 session.  That was an excellent initiative, and he remained committed to helping the group in any way possible.  He would convene a meeting of the Bureau sometime in June to discuss ways to move that process forward.


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For information media • not an official record