|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
14th Meeting (PM)
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INFORMATION’S MISSION ‘CENTRAL TO AND INSEPARABLE
FROM’ OBJECTIVES AND AIMS OF UNITED NATIONS, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
Under-Secretary-General for Communications, Public Information Highlights
Information Department’s Successes, Expanding Mandate, Shrinking Resources
Emphasizing that the Department of Public Information’s mission was “central to and inseparable from the objectives and aims” of the United Nations, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information today spotlighted the myriad new challenges that Department was tackling, particularly as it coped with budget constraints and worked to maintain its essential services during the historic renovation of the world body’s Headquarters complex, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of questions relating to information.
While the Department took steps to address such challenges, Kiyo Akasaka said the Fourth Committee was an important catalyst, serving as a bridge between the Committee on Information and the General Assembly.
During his detailed address, he told delegations that efforts to promote the Organization’s communication concerns included five approaches: setting priorities and early preparation to ensure focused work that achieved the greatest impact -- especially important given the Department’s shrinking resource base but expanding mandate; improving coordination to provide advice and expertise; promoting new and existing creative partnerships with the media, non-governmental organizations, the business community and young people; enhancing multilingualism; and evaluating the Department’s results and impact.
He said that several of the Department’s programmes received positive and comprehensive media coverage in September, namely the high-level events on the Millennium Development Goals and on Meeting Africa’s Development Needs, as well as the International Day of Peace. Despite looming global uncertainties over the financial crisis, both high-level events were considered a significant step forward. As part of its efforts to “put a human face” on the Millennium Goals, the Department had also screened a four-minute video in the Assembly Hall at the opening of the sixty-third session.
Media attention garnered for the International Day of Peace included coverage of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which had convinced warring parties to refrain from offensive activities, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) conducted polio vaccinations. Mr. Akasaka added that, also on that day, the “text 4 peace” campaign displayed more than 100 peace messages in the Assembly Hall as world leaders gathered for the general debate.
Although the 63 United Nations Information Centres played an increasingly important role in the Department’s outreach activities -- particularly through their multilingualism -- their successful implementation would largely depend on marshalling adequate resources. Those offices suffered the direct impact of rising fuel and utility costs, currency fluctuations, and the ever-increasing need for enhanced security, he said. Because the budget was being “stretched to the breaking point”, he feared the scope of the Department’s field operations would have to be reduced in the next biennium, 2010-2011.
Mr. Akasaka also noted that resource constraints might also restrict the ability to make the Human Rights Council’s Geneva sessions available by webcast. Although the General Assembly rejected last year’s proposal for additional funding, the Council has requested the Secretary-General to present to the Assembly during the current session a report with details of the resources required, since it would be impossible to continue the webcasts without them.
He went on to say that implementing the Capital Master Plan for renovating the United Nations New York Headquarters posed no less daunting challenge, and every effort needed to be made to ensure that all of the Department’s essential services continued as that massive project got under way. Public outreach must also be sustained, he added, saying that a modified 45-minute guided tour of Headquarters would be offered at a reduced price, and the Department would work to broaden its outreach to local schools. The Plan would also seriously impact current efforts to preserve the Organization’s “invaluable” audio-visual archives, including a climate-controlled environment for the analogue collection, which would require funding while a solution was being sought.
Following his address, the Under-Secretary-General answered questions from the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Senegal, France, Syria, Japan and Argentina, as well as the observer for Palestine, on a range of topics from the Department’s efforts to enhance multilingualism to the reason for the omission in the Secretary-General’s report on information of any mention of Palestine, and the Department’s plans for transforming the UN Chronicle magazine into the UN Affairs journal.
Responding to these questions, Mr. Akasaka said the UN Chronicle would continue to be published if it was the wish of the Committee’s members, and until a firm decision was made on the publication of UN Affairs, he intended to continue putting out the UN Chronicle. In light of the current budget situation, it was his intention not to ask for additional resources for UN Affairs.
He further said the Secretary-General’s report on information was not a comprehensive overview of the Department’s work, but rather a review of some of its activities. Due to timing, there had not been enough updated information available on the Department’s programme on training journalists from Palestine to be included in this year’s report, but he would be happy to include information on those activities next year.
He said the Information Department had been trying, in its work, to ensure the equal treatment of all official languages, as well as other important languages such as Portuguese and Kiswahili. He also highlighted the newly redesigned UNIC website, which prominently featured publications that had been produced in 130 local languages.
Following the interactive dialogue, the Committee continued its general debate on information with a number of speakers calling for the Department to help narrow the digital divide, with some emphasizing the role of traditional media sources -- print and radio in particular -- while others stressed the importance of keeping pace in a modernizing world.
The representative of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) said that, due to the Department’s efforts, the United Nations website had taken its rightful place as the most reliable source of up-to-date information on the Organization’s activities. However, traditional means of communication such as radio and print media remained the most widely used sources of disseminating information in developing regions such as the Caribbean, and it was especially important to expand partnerships with international broadcasters and to make UN Radio programmes more widely available.
Other speakers drew attention to the need for the Department to hone the Organization’s message, with the representative of Egypt expressing concern that it was not in keeping with the current challenges facing the world -- from the food and energy crises to the current widespread financial turmoil. He hoped that the Information Department would increase the content and quality of its products covering the major thematic issues facing the United Nations and the world.
Wrapping up the debate, Mr. Akasaka thanked delegations for their support, as well as their critical comments. He said that, despite difficulties, the Department was full of motivated staff working to achieve the Organization’s objectives, and it was his hope to ensure that the aims and activities of the United Nations were communicated in an impartial, comprehensive, relevant, coherent and timely manner. He promised that the issues raised in the Committee would be those addressed within the coming months, and looked forward to continuing the dialogue with Member States in the future.
Also speaking during the general debate were representatives of Libya, Myanmar, India, Morocco, Pakistan, China, Russian Federation and Israel.
The Fourth Committee will meet Thursday, 23 October, at 3 p.m. to conclude its general debate on information and begin its comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.
As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of questions relating to information, it had before it two draft resolutions and a draft decision contained in the report on the thirtieth session of the Committee on Information (document A/63/21, Chapter IV). It also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information (document A/63/258). (For a summary of that report, please see Press Release GA/SPD/405 of 17 October).
By the terms of draft resolution A, contained in the report on the Information Committee’s thirtieth session and entitled “Information in the service of humanity”, the General Assembly would urge all countries, organizations of the United Nations system and all others concerned to heed the call for what has been termed a “new world information and communication order”. To this end, it would have them cooperate and interact to reduce existing disparities in information flows at all levels, by increasing assistance for the development of communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries, to enable them to develop their own information and communication policies freely and independently.
Those countries and other entities would also be urged to ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of their professional tasks and condemn resolutely all attacks against them; to provide support for the continuation and strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists from all media in developing countries; to enhance regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, and between developed and developing countries, to strengthen communication capacities and to improve the media infrastructure and communication technology; and to aim at providing all possible support and assistance to the developing countries and their media, with due regard to their needs in the field of information, and to action already adopted within the United Nations system.
By the terms of draft resolution B, also contained in that report, entitled “United Nations public information policies and activities”, the Assembly would reaffirm that the Organization remained the indispensable foundation of a peaceful world, and that its voice should be heard in a clear and effective manner. In that context, it would emphasize the essential role of the Department of Public Information, the activities of which should be organized to promote, to the greatest possible extent, an informed understanding of the work of the United Nations among the peoples of the world.
The Assembly would request the Department to pay particular attention to such major issues as poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, combating terrorism and the needs of the African continent. It would also request that particular attention be paid to implementing the internationally agreed-upon development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, and raising public awareness of climate change, especially in the context of the forthcoming sessions of the Conference of the Parties and of the meetings of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, to be held in Poznan, Poland in December 2008, and in Copenhagen in November and December 2009.
Also by the text, the Assembly would request the Department, acknowledging its commitment to a culture of evaluation, to continue to evaluate its products and activities, with the objective of improving their effectiveness, and to continue to cooperate and coordinate with Member States and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
The Assembly would note both the Department’s continued efforts to publicize the work and decisions of the Assembly, and its efforts in issuing daily press releases, and request it to continue providing that service, both to Member States and media representatives, while continuing to improve their production process and streamline their format, structure and length.
The Committee would also have the Assembly welcome the Department’s ongoing efforts to enhance multilingualism in all its activities, and emphasize the importance of equitable treatment of the six official languages in all of the Department’s activities, to eliminate the disparity between the use of English and the other languages, and request it to continue its endeavours in that regard.
As for bridging the digital divide, the Assembly would call upon the Department to contribute to raising the international community’s awareness of the importance of the implementation of the outcome document of the World Summit on the Information Society.
Further to that draft, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of the network of United Nations Information Centres in enhancing the public image of the United Nations and in disseminating messages on the Organization to local populations, especially in developing countries.
The Assembly would stress the importance of rationalizing the Information Centres’ network, and reaffirm that such rationalization must be carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all Member States concerned, taking into consideration the distinctive characteristics of each region.
By further provisions, the Assembly would reaffirm the role of the strategic communications 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.
The Assembly would, by the text, express appreciation for the Information Department’s work in promoting, through its campaigns, issues of importance to the international community, and stress the need to continue the renewed emphasis in support of Africa’s development, to promote awareness in the international community of the nature of the continent’s critical economic and social situation.
A section of the text on the Department of Public Information’s role in peacekeeping would have the Assembly request the Secretariat to ensure the Information Department’s role in every stage of future peacekeeping operations.
In a related provision, the Assembly would also emphasize the importance of the peacekeeping gateway on the United Nations website, and request the Department to continue its efforts in supporting the peacekeeping missions to further develop their websites. It would also request the Department [of Public Information] and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to continue cooperating in raising awareness of the new realities, successes and challenges faced by peacekeeping operations, and in implementing an effective outreach programme to explain the Organization’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse, and to inform the public on the outcome of all such cases involving peacekeeping personnel.
In a section on the Information Department’s news services, the draft would have the Assembly stress, as their central objective, the timely delivery of accurate, objective, and balanced news and information, emanating from the United Nations system in print, radio, television and the Internet, and reiterate its request to the Department to ensure that all news-breaking stories and news alerts are accurate, impartial and free of bias.
Regarding traditional means of communication, the Assembly would welcome the initiative of United Nations Radio, which remained one of the most effective and far-reaching traditional media available to the Information Department, to enhance its live radio broadcasting service. It would also request the Secretary-General to continue to make every effort to achieve parity in the six official languages in United Nations Radio productions.
The Assembly would reaffirm that the United Nations website remained an essential tool for the media, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, Member States and the general public, and in that regard, reiterate the continued need for the Department to maintain and improve it.
By the text, the Assembly would also urge the Information Technology Services Division of the Department of Management to further collaborate with the Information Department, in efforts to ensure that technological infrastructures and supportive applications in the United Nations fully supported Latin, non-Latin and bidirectional scripts, thereby enhancing all official languages on the website.
In a section on library services, the Assembly would call upon the Information Department to continue leading the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries. The initiative taken by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, to expand the scope of the regional training and knowledge-sharing workshops organized for developing countries’ depository libraries to include outreach activities, would be noted.
Further, the Assembly would reiterate the need to maintain a multilingual collection of books, periodicals and other material in hard copy, and ensure that the library continues to be a broadly accessible resource.
By other terms, the Assembly would acknowledge that the Department’s outreach services continued to work towards promoting awareness of the role and work of the United Nations, and welcome the movement towards educational outreach. It would encourage the UN Chronicle to continue developing co-publishing partnerships, and collaborative educational activities and events. It also would note the Information Department’s intention to have the UN Chronicle magazine evolve into a journal called UN Affairs, and request, for further consideration, a comprehensive and detailed report on the progress of the project.
Further to the text, the Assembly would reaffirm the role that guided tours play, as a means of outreach to the public, and note the Information Department’s efforts to organize exhibitions on important United Nations related issues.
The Committee would have the Assembly request the Information Department to strengthen its role as a focal point for two-way interaction with civil society, relating to those priorities and concerns of the Organization identified by Member States. It would also commend, in a spirit of cooperation, the United Nations Correspondents Association for its ongoing activities and for its Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Scholarship Fund, and further encourages the international community to continue its financial support for the Fund.
By the terms of a draft decision, which is also contained in the report and entitled “Increase in the membership of the Committee on Information”, the Assembly would decide to increase the membership of the Committee on Information, from 110 to 112, and to appoint Antigua and Barbuda, and Zambia as members.
The Fourth Committee played a “catalytic” role by serving as a bridge between the Committee on Information and the regular session of the General Assembly, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, KIYO AKASAKA, said as he introduced the Secretary-General’s report on information (document A/63/258).
The Department “remains committed to providing timely, accurate, impartial, comprehensive and coherent information about the United Nations and its objectives. Its mission is central to, and inseparable from, the objectives and aims of the Organization,” Mr. Akasaka said.
He highlighted five approaches for the Department’s recent efforts to promote the communications priorities of the United Nations, and shared the steps being taken to meet myriad new challenges, particularly with regard to financial constraints and the Capital Master Plan. His first strategic approach emphasized the need to set priorities, and early preparation to ensure focused work that achieved the greatest impact. He said that was particularly important given the Department’s shrinking resource base, but expanding mandate.
Second, he advocated improving coordination by setting communications priorities, to provide advice and expertise on effective ways to inform the public at all levels about specific United Nations initiatives, and to coordinate early action across departments. Coordination across the United Nations system should also be ensured on selected priorities at the global, regional and country levels through the United Nations Communications Group.
Third, he said building support for the United Nations required the forming of new partnerships and the expansion of old ones. The Department had initiated and promoted creative long-term partnerships with the television and film industry, non-governmental organization coalitions, the business community, young people and others. “Youth represent a top priority for my Department, as well as a new generation of support,” he said.
Fourth, he also placed emphasis on multilingualism, saying that, with due consideration to the status of French as one of the two working languages of the Organization, the department continued to make every effort to enhance the multilingual nature of the United Nations in all of its activities.
Finally, he said evaluation represented the fifth overall approach, and said he had underlined to his team the value that was placed on the achievement of results and on understanding the impact of the Department’s work.
Turning to other activities of the Department, he said the opening of each new General Assembly session was an important checkpoint for its communications efforts on the key issues before the Assembly. He highlighted two major campaigns that the Department had successfully implemented in September: the High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals and the High-level Meeting on Africa’s Development Needs.
Although the global uncertainties of the financial crisis loomed over those meetings, both events were projected as a significant step forward. By working closely with its United Nations system partners, the Department had drawn maximum media exposure to these events, which included the launch of major reports on the Millennium Development Goals, and received wide and largely positive media coverage –- from all major wire services and newspapers.
For the High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, the Department redesigned the front page of the Millennium Development Goals website, as a gateway to the Organization’s work –- which received, on average, over 5,000 daily visits in September and over 10,000 visits on the day of the High-level Event. The website itself played an important role in posting updated materials about many of the 50 partnership events, and helped present a cohesive message. A four-minute video was also screened in the General Assembly hall at the opening session, which “put a human face” on the Millennium Development Goals and highlighted the importance of partnerships in their implementation. This event received prominent coverage in such major newspapers as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune.
During the most intensive part of the General Assembly, the Department’s teams worked “practically around the clock” to provide comprehensive coverage and an array of essential services. More than 1,400 members of media were given temporary accreditation, in addition to the 1,500 journalists already accredited to the United Nations. Using United Nations Television footage, a “webcast” was posted which provided 102 hours of live coverage on the United Nations site, and received more than one million video views from 196 countries and territories.
Another major activity that coincided with the opening of the General Assembly was the International Day of Peace. As part of its observance, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) convinced the warring parties there to refrain from offensive activities, while United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) conducted polio vaccinations –- an event that was widely reported by the media. This year’s Peace Day observances also included the use of new technology, including the internet and mobile telephones, through which participants were encouraged to send a “text 4 peace” via mobile phone. More than 100 of these peace messages were displayed on the electronic monitors in the General Assembly hall on 23 and 24 September, as world leaders gathered for the general debate.
Conscious of the need to expand its partnership with civil society, the Department had organized the first DPI/NGO conference away from New York Headquarters, in order to reach out to new constituencies, particularly in developing countries. The conference, funded by the Government of France and supported by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Office of the [United Nations]High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), took place in Paris from 3 to 5 September 2008, under the theme “Reaffirming Human Rights for All--The Universal Declaration at 60”.
The Department also intended to enhance its strong links with the academic community through a programme of engagement, entitled the “Academic Impact”. That would offer a coherent medium, which would allow creative ideas and scholarships to reach substantive United Nations offices and Member States, and create a network of “multipliers” of the United Nations messages in the academic world.
The Department would also seek to broaden its outreach with the planned launch of UN Affairs, a new journal that would be the successor to the Department’s quarterly magazine, UN Chronicle. A new educational outreach initiative, the first-ever Global Model UN student conference, was planned for August 2009 in Geneva, with the theme of “The Millennium Developments Goals –- Lifting the bottom billion out of poverty”.
He said the Department’s training programme for Palestinian media practitioners, and annual media seminar on peace in the Middle East, reflected its commitment to provide assistance to the Palestinian people. The training programme, which began its six-week run earlier in the week, was aimed at strengthening the skills and capacity of 10 Palestinian journalists. Another key element of the Department’s work in that area was its annual international media seminar on peace in the Middle East. This year’s seminar, organized with Austria, was scheduled from 2 to 3 December in Vienna.
The Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme, currently under way and in its twenty-eighthyear, had also brought together eight junior and mid-level journalists, he said. They, who by serving as temporary correspondents for their home media organizations were familiarizing themselves with the Organization’s work, were from Brazil, Gabon, Israel, Jordan, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Somalia, South Africa and Turkey.
The Department had introduced new communications technologies, including Google Earth satellite imaging, at an interactive briefing organized by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme to involve university students in the campaign against mass violence. Due to such outreach efforts to young people, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme had seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of visitors to its website in the past year.
To broaden readership and allow United Nations publications to enter hitherto unexplored markets, he said the Department had introduced a comprehensive three-tier pricing policy that provided price reductions of 50 and 75 per cent, for developing and least developed countries, respectively. The Organization’s first-ever “UN Book Days” event, held two weeks ago at Headquarters, had showcased information products and services from more than 30 United Nations and inter-governmental organizations. It had also marked the launch of the new UN Yearbook website, where the first 59 volumes of that resource were accessible for free.
He said that the network of United Nations Information Centres, currently operating in 63 locations worldwide, played an increasingly important role in the Department’s outreach activities, particularly through their multilingualism. Indeed, they have produced information materials in 130 languages and hosted websites in 30 local languages. On [United Nations] Day later this week, the Department planned to launch its new Information Centres’ website, which would include all six official languages and serve as a portal to the websites of individual United Nations Information Centres. He also noted that more than 116 million people had participated in last week’s campaign, “Stand Up Against Hunger”.
Noting his past emphasis on the need for self-evaluation to be incorporated in all of the Department’s activities and services, he underlined his objective of holding every project manager accountable for his or her area of responsibility. Indeed, user feedback increasingly shaped the Department’s lessons learned and established its future action points. For example, after analyzing how partner radio stations in China used its programmes, the Chinese Unit revamped the format of its 15-minute daily news bulletin. Two shifts had been formed so news could be updated more frequently, and clients provided more in-depth features and analyses. Coverage of late-breaking stories was now possible, as were live link-ups with Chinese partner stations, which had welcomed that increased flexibility.
Continuing, he said that a recent evaluation of the United Nations press releases and meetings coverage website had also assessed clients’ needs and identified priorities for future website improvements, which were currently being acted on. Valuable feedback from roughly 40 delegations had been received and the Department looked forward to working with Member States to further that effort.
The implementation of these new and exciting projects, however, would largely depend on marshalling adequate resources, he said, noting that the Department had faced a chronic financial situation for quite some time, particularly in terms of its Information Centres. Those offices suffered the direct impact of rising fuel and utility costs, currency fluctuations, and the ever-increasing need for enhanced security, all of which had to be covered by existing resources and placed enormous challenges and constraints in fully engaging the audiences they were intended to serve. Because the budget was being stretched to the breaking point, he feared the scope of the Department’s field operations would have to be reduced in the next biennium, 2010-2011. Nevertheless, he expressed gratitude to the many countries that, through voluntary contributions and by providing space, continued to support the work of those Centres.
He said that resource constraints would also restrict the ability to make the Human Rights Council’s Geneva sessions available by webcast. After the General Assembly had rejected a proposal for additional funding last year, the Department had begun a study on establishing a permanent webcasting capacity in Geneva to meet this and other anticipated future webcasting demands. Following the study, those resource requirements would be presented to the Assembly through the Council since it would be impossible to continue the webcasts without them.
Implementing the Capital Master Plan would pose a no less daunting challenge, he went on to say. Every effort would be made to ensure that all of the Department’s essential services continued. Important steps were being taken to maintain some visitor and related services throughout the renovation period. Since August, a modified 45-minute guided tour, at a reduced price, of the Headquarters complex had been offered. A new project –- UN4U –- was also broadening outreach to local schools by dispatching United Nations speakers, and United Nations Country Teams around the world had been encouraged to implement the programme locally.
He further noted that the United Nations Bookshop and exhibitions would be maintained during the renovations. Although some staff of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library would be relocated, the main collections and research support services would be available in the Library building. Outreach to the scattered Secretariat staff and delegations would rely increasingly on online services and a small information centre for delegations would be set up in the temporary conference facility.
Acknowledging that the Capital Master Plan would seriously impact current efforts to preserve the Organization’s invaluable audio-visual archives, he said the process of digitizing the photo collection would be completed in the next few months. But efforts to safeguard the film and video collection faced a much more daunting challenge. According to current plans, the analogue collection would have to be moved several years into the construction period, but those plans included no provisions for a climate-controlled environment on- or off-site at any time during or after the construction period. While a solution was being sought, it would require funding, and he asked for support as efforts to safeguard those invaluable audio-visual archives were made.
In closing, he said that much of what the Department had accomplished had resulted from its partnership with Member States. “Your guidance and support have encouraged us to look for creative solutions and to identify new ways to broaden our reach,” he said, also acknowledging the Fourth Committee’s positive contribution and expressing appreciation for its continued support.
Thanking the Under-Secretary-General for his address, the Committee Chairman JORGE ARGÜELLO of Argentina opened the floor to questions.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group was greatly concerned about the Department’s proposal to transform the UN Chronicle into an academically oriented journal called UN Affairs. He asked if UN Chronicle would be continued and if there were any plans to improve that publication while decisions on the journal were being made. He asked for more information on the UN Chronicle’s editorial policy, and wondered if that policy would be incorporated into UN Affairs if the latter went forward. He also asked if and how UN Affairs would target UN Chronicle’s core audience.
Noting Mr. Akasaka’s appointment by the Secretary-General to head up initiatives to enhance parity among the Organization’s official languages, Senegal’s delegate said there had been an exclusion of languages besides English for too long, and that should definitively be addressed. To that end, he wanted to know what specific measures had been taken to address the inequality between those languages once and for all. The importance of that issue could not be overemphasized, given the need for all delegations to feel at ease during negotiations and in pursuit of the Organization’s work.
Continuing, he noted that the United Nations Information Centre in Senegal had been “hit hard” by the overall reform of those Centres, and asked what its future was and what was being done in terms of system-wide reform.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of France said the identification of the press corps by a “red dot” system during the inaugural ministerial week of the General Assembly had been helpful to many delegations and wondered if that practice was going to continue. Saying consensus was needed among all Member States on what should be included and what excluded from the UN Affairs journal, he also asked if reports that the Department did not intend to request additional sources in the next budget to produce the journal were true.
Pointing to the “blue book” on the Secretary-General’s vision for “Building a Stronger UN for a Better World” at each delegate’s seat, he asked what the future plans were for the book’s publication in all the official languages. Finally, he suggested that the Under-Secretary-General should tell Member States how they could provide aid during future “UN Book Days”.
Responding to the question from Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. AKASAKA said the UN Chronicle would continue to be published if it was the wish of the Committee’s members. Meanwhile, until a firm decision was made on the publication of UN Affairs, he intended to continue putting the UN Chronicle out. It was his wish that the UN Chronicle’s editorial policy ensure that magazine’s quality and even improve it.
He hoped to include articles from a variety of authors, including those whom, it was hoped, could have contributed to the planned UN Affairs, such as Brazil’s President and the leaders of all other Member States. The Department hoped to ensure that the audience of UN Chronicle would continue to be served in the widest possible way. The Department had tried to use all available technologies -- including the Internet -- to do so. Moving forward, steps would be made to ensure that academic audiences could be reached.
Turning to Senegal’s question, he underlined the Department’s focus on multilingualism and said he would have a report on the specific measures that his and other United Nations departments had taken in this area later this year or early next year. He underlined the importance of ensuring the parity of languages, including in the areas of documentation, staff recruitment, and the Information Department’s own products and particularly acknowledged the challenges the Department had faced in recruiting staff in light of the high number of retirements.
He went on to say that Dakar’s Information Centre was quite effective. It had a P-5 staff member and was quite active in French-speaking West Africa. Still, the Department intended to support that Centre in order to enhance its capacities. To that end, the Department would work with Committee members to find more resources for the Dakar Information Centre, among others.
Turning to the questions raised by France’s representative, he said a difficult situation had emerged during the Assembly’s ministerial week due to the lack of information among security personnel about the “red dot” system. Next year, the Information Department planned to hold a number of meetings prior to and during the ministerial week with the Security Department. On the question about funding for UN Affairs, he said that, in light of the current budget situation, it was his intention not to ask for additional resources. He also said there were plans to distribute the “blue book” as widely as possible.
The representative of Syria said, regarding the multiplicity of languages, that Arabic was one of the official languages that had its “own characteristics” and was written in non-Latin letters. He said it had been noted that there were recurrent technical errors in the Arabic language products put forward by he Department, and that the administration had not fully responded to requests to remedy that situation. There were many mistakes, “low quality” and poor design on the United Nations Arabic Language website. He also expressed concerns about the quality of Arabic Language radio broadcasts, as well as a tendency to “write the dates in an inverse manner”. He then asked why there had been a delay in convening the sixteenth annual seminar for information media regarding peace in the Middle East, to be held in Vienna.
The observer for Palestine asked why the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information, while addressing many issues, had completely ignored the activities and efforts undertaken by the Department on the question of Palestine on General Assembly resolution 62/258.
The representative of Japan said that, although his country did not have a language that was an official language at the United Nations, he attached great importance to multilingualism and Japan would continue to support the Department’s efforts. Activities being undertaken were crucial, for example, with respect to the phasing of the UN Chronicle into UN Affairs. He then asked about the financial implications of the transition.
Responding to Syria’s question regarding the sixteenth international media seminar on peace in the Middle East, Mr. AKASAKA said that it had been delayed because the Department had approached several Member States to host the seminar, but it had taken “some time” to receive replies, consult with the host Government, and convene the seminar’s important participants, among other factors. Regrettably, the seminar could not take place before the summer break and, due to the heavy schedule of autumn events, had to be organized in Vienna in early December, with the kind help of the Government of Austria. For next year onwards, however, the Department wished to return to the normal time schedule for this meeting as the middle of the year gave the best timing for the conference.
On the question posed by the observer for Palestine, regarding the information lacking in report 63/258, he said that report concerned activities that had been taking place since the meeting of the Committee on Information, which met each year in May. The report was not a comprehensive overview of the Departments work, but rather a review of some of its activities. He said he mentioned the Department’s programme on training journalists from Palestine, and would be happy to include information on those activities next year. However, due to timing, this year there had not been enough updated information available on activities relating to the Departments programmes on the question of Palestine.
Regarding the quality of the Arabic translation mentioned by the representative of Syria, he said that was not the first he had heard about the “lack of precision”. He noted the comments about the quality and design of the Arabic United Nations website, and said the Department wanted to put forth its best efforts to improve those issues and welcomed the advice of Syria’s representative in that regard.
The representative of Argentina, noting that the Information Department dealt with some multilingualism issues, stressed that it had a wider task than just addressing the Organization’s linguistic inequalities. Further, the practice of pointing fingers only at that Department might not be the most effective way of pursuing parity among the official languages. As a member of the Committee on Information, he underlined his delegation’s commitment to supporting that body’s work.
As a follow-up to the question from the observer for Palestine, Syria’s speaker said his delegation had noted reports elsewhere about the modernization of the Department’s activities regarding Palestine. Yet it still did not understand why the whole section on that topic had disappeared from the Secretary-General’s report on information. Indeed, at least a reference to the booklet on the question of Palestine published by the Department should have been made.
Responding to Argentina’s comment on multilingualism, Mr. AKASAKA said the Information Department had been trying, in its work, to ensure the equal treatment of all official languages, as well as other important languages such as Portuguese and Kiswahili. He asked Member States to visit and use the newly redesigned United Nations Information Centres website, which prominently featured publications that had been produced in 130 local languages. Those publications could be viewed by subject and by their language of publication. He further noted that some errors had been made by the Department in the past and it would try not to repeat them.
Responding to Syria’s question, he said that, even though a section on the question of Palestine had not been included in this year’s report, it did not mean that question was not given the attention it deserved from the Department. Indeed, the Department’s programme to train Palestinian journalists was moving forward. In the future, the Department’s work on the question of Palestine would be included in the Secretary-General’s report.
ANGELLA HAMILTON-BROWNE (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and aligning her remarks with the statements made yesterday on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and the Non-Aligned Movement, commended the Information Department for its ongoing efforts to make the United Nations website more accessible to persons with disabilities. The delegation looked forward to all United Nations webpages becoming fully compliant with the relevant accessibility guidelines produced by the World Wide Web Consortium. It also extended its full support to the United Nations as it continued the annual Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme.
She said the United Nations website had taken its rightful place as the most reliable source of up-to-date information on the Organization’s activities. Yet, CARICOM was cognizant of the fact that, in developing regions such as theirs, the traditional means of communication -- radio and print media in particular -- remained the most widely used sources of disseminating information. The Department’s efforts to expand its partnerships with international broadcasters and to make United Nations Radio programmes more widely available were, therefore, of great importance to CARICOM and should be pursued throughout the developing world.
Continuing, she stressed that for people in the developing world, ownership of a personal computer or a third generation mobile phone or 24-hour access to the Internet remained an elusive goal. Indeed, the digital divide was a persistent feature in the current international information architecture. Benefits from information and communications technology in the fields of health, education, environmental management, security and governance could not be universally realized without greater mobilization of resources to assist developing countries in harnessing those technologies. One notable initiative in that regard was the Digital Solidarity Fund, and she urged all Member States to support it.
Moving forward, she said the Information Department should redouble its efforts to ensure that all United Nations publications, as well as press releases, were published in all six official languages. Noting the Community’s continued concerns about the editorial policy, author selection and target audience of the UN Affairs journal, she said those issues should be addressed in a timely manner so all parties could reach consensus. Further, activities undertaken by the Information Department and the network of Information Centres to mark the sixtieth anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations peacekeeping operations would be critical in informing the public about those important initiatives.
ENTISAR MOHAMED ETOMZINI ( Libya) said that, although she appreciated the efforts of the Department included in the information report, she expressed concern that no mention had been made of the question of Palestine. She said that attention should not only be given to the “holocausts and massacres of the past”, but that today’s massacres should be given the same importance. In that regard, she said that the ongoing violence against Palestinians was a “war crime and a crime against humanity”.
The United Nations played a principle role in finding the right mechanisms through which to end the digital divide. Contributing to raising the standards of information would help prevent the limitation of the right of expression, she said. Furthermore, there must be equal quality among the six United Nations languages. With regards to the proposal to change UN Chronicle to UN Affairs, she said the journal should be issued in all the official languages and that neutrality of its contents should be ensured.
U HLA MYINT ( Myanmar) said the world was confronted by a host of major issues, such as climate change, the food and energy crises, acts of terrorism and the spread of HIV/AIDS, and it was impossible to overemphasize the role the United Nations could play in addressing those issues. Its success in that work would depend on the level of support it received from the international community.
For its part, the Information Department should aim to strengthen that support through outreach activities and accurate, impartial and timely information about the Organization’s work. He commended the innovative and creative methods the Department had already employed to fulfil that role, including the increased integration of its network of Information Centres and the expansion of its media services, but pointed out that those Centres should be provided with the resources that would enable them to accomplish their missions.
He also said that certain negative trends in the field of information and communication continued, furthering imbalances. Events in developing countries often received biased treatment and were reported in a distorted manner. One contributing factor was the growing digital divide between developing and developed countries, and unless that divide was narrowed, the developing world would be denied equal access to the benefits of advanced information infrastructures.
In light of the international media’s overwhelming power, efforts to dispel misconceptions that resulted from their sometimes biased reports should be undertaken in a timely manner. In fact, the Information Department should act as an active bulwark against erroneous reports, by mobilizing civil society and local and international non-governmental organizations to shed light on the issues being reported. Both traditional and non-traditional media should be used in that effort, which should be prompt, accurate and objective.
He highlighted the Department’s initiation of a new pricing policy for United Nations publications, which, in his delegation’s view, was relatively expensive. The Department should also consider outsourcing the production of those publications, especially those that were not time sensitive. Further, the budgetary constraints facing the Department should be addressed through the support of all Member States.
AMR EL SHERBINI ( Egypt) said there was no doubt that, while the ongoing development of information and communications technology and its application was one of the pillars of the modern world, it contributed to the growing divide between the developed and developing nations. The burden imposed on the United Nations to close that divide was increasingly heavy, but was still necessary and had to be undertaken at the same time that outreach efforts were being made to the international community.
Of most concern to his delegation, however, were the shortcomings of the United Nations message, which was not in keeping with the current challenges facing the world – from the food and energy crisis to the current widespread financial turmoil. Such shortcomings were exacerbated by the inequality in the use of the official United Nations languages. He hoped that the Information Department would increase the content and quality of its products covering the major thematic issues facing the Organization and the world.
To that end, messages should be developed that were better targeted and more impartial. The full integration of United Nations Headquarters and the United Nations Information Centres was also required. Further, United Nations staff should be better trained in technology so they could more effectively send, receive and share information. That type of training was also needed in the Information Centres.
While his delegation supported the increasing diversity of its initiatives, he encouraged the Information Department to strengthen its consultations with Member Countries and especially those that hosted the Information Centres. It should also continue to implement outreach programmes on the question of Palestine and continue to make the situation of the Palestinian people known. Indeed, it was regrettable that the Secretary-General’s current report on information had not included any mention of that question, he added.
While paying tribute to the efforts of the Department to prepare the UN Affairs journal, he went on to point out that the publication was currently aimed only at one or two types of audiences. Also, the fact that it was made available in only one language was not in keeping with the Department’s practice. In closing, he stressed the need for parity among the six official languages in all publications and information products, including the website, of the United Nations. He hoped that the Department would make every effort to close the digital divide and promote access to information and communications technology to developing countries.
TARIQ ANWAR ( India) said the Department needed to intensify its efforts to meet the special needs of populations in developing countries that continued to lack the benefits of the information revolution. For that reason, he encouraged the use of traditional media, such as print and radio, along with modern technologies, such as webcasts and podcasts. He also supported the dissemination of information in languages other than United Nations official languages along with programming that was relevant to local communities, which could encourage local talent to involve itself in the work of the Organization.
In addition, he said that adequate budgetary resources must be provided to the Information Centres, which were critical in developing countries. He encouraged the Department to consult closely with countries and regions served by the Centres in its efforts at further innovation. Development of websites in local languages must remain a primary concern. In that context, he welcomed the expansion of partnerships with international broadcasters, as well as the posting of programmes on the United Nations Radio website in Asian languages including Hindi, Bangla and Urdu.
Information should be made interesting for target audiences, highlighting activities that directly impacted on the lives of ordinary people, and the Information Department should work closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support on the dissemination of peacekeeping success stories. In that context, he said the establishment of radio stations in five peacekeeping operations was welcome.
SOUAD EL ALAOUI ( Morocco) said her delegation had closely considered the two reports before the Committee and had noted with satisfaction the work done by the Information Department to promote the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In contrast, it seemed that the efforts made to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of United Nations peacekeeping operations had been somewhat selective. The role played and the sacrifices made by troop-contributing countries should be better recognized. To that end, she recalled that more than 50,000 Moroccan troops had been deployed in those operations and had made many sacrifices.
Moving forward, she suggested the Department should adopt a definitive outreach plan to foster the dialogue of civilizations. That plan should particularly target the problem of “Islamophobia”. Further, efforts to strengthen the United Nations Information Centres should not be based on budget restrictions but on the importance of their work in developing countries. The Information Department’s efforts to narrow the digital divide should be enhanced. Initiatives to boost multilingualism should specifically target the current imbalances among the official languages. While noting that her delegation had been encouraged by the Under-Secretary-General’s remarks on the UN Affairs journal, she said the proposed publication of that journal should be expanded to include all of the official languages.
JALIL SHAFQAT ( Pakistan) said the Department faced enormous challenges and tasks. In a world characterized by polarization and misunderstandings between societies, religions and cultures, the Department was playing an important role at a “critical” time. Information and communication must, therefore, serve as a bridge to promote understanding between those different groups.
Despite financial constraints, the Department had made commendable efforts to increase awareness of the Organization’s achievements and challenges, and he said that the importance of cooperation between the Department and other substantive departments “could not be overemphasized”. The work of the United Nations Information Centres was a high priority in the dissemination of information in and about the Organization. Those Centres played the role of “mini-United Nations” in their respective countries, and resources should be strengthened to meet their financial and staffing needs.
He said he agreed with the Secretary-General that “freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility”. In that regard, Pakistan had granted freedom of speech and expression to every individual as a fundamental right. His country’s newly elected Government was committed to upholding the Constitution and ensuring a free media, and had tabled legislation to reverse laws that impinged on media freedom. Pakistan’s “vibrant” media was passing through a transitional stage, he said, and a surge in private print and televised media was taking place as a result of increased licensing and a growth in dailies, periodicals, magazines and news programmes.
Vast disparities existed in the flow of information between countries and regions, most prominently between developed and developing nations, he continued. Those with “monopolies in technology” influenced world affairs by promoting their own values, which adversely affected the lives of the millions who were unable to put forward their own points of view. He requested an equitable representation of journalists in interviews with the Secretary-General and in placement in the United Nations Press Gallery. Additional Press passes for Member States’ media should also be provided so high-level meetings could be comprehensively covered.
LIU YUTONG (China) said events of the sixty-third General Assembly’s opening session demonstrated that the United Nations remained the most authoritative and representative intergovernmental organization, and played an increasingly important role in major international issues. The Organization’s information activities aimed at publicizing its activities to the entire world, and contributed to the purposes and objectives of the Charter.
Over the past year, the Department had optimized its use of resources, improved efficiency, identified priority projects and tailored its publicizing objectives to the needs of its audiences. Regarding the interrelating and intractable problems concerning financial, energy and food security, he said that no country could stay aloof or try to address the problems alone. The United Nations played a unique role in that regard, and the Department should encourage all countries to meet the challenges through concerted efforts.
In order to better address such concerns, he said the Department should scale up its efforts by attaching great importance to development-related issues such as climate change, terrorism and the energy and food crises; providing impartial, objective and balanced information; and continuing to promote dialogue and exchange among civilizations.
Efforts should also be made to ensure that developing countries benefited from modern communication and dissemination technologies. Although the Internet was now extensively used and communications technologies constantly upgraded, many countries still relied on traditional means of communication. The United Nations should, therefore, help to narrow these existing disparities.
In closing, he said the Department should also develop cooperation and exchanges with the media of developing countries in order to strengthen their information capacity. It should also continue its training and internship programmes for journalists from the developing world, and make greater efforts to accommodate the needs of media from those regions when organizing media pools.
RUSLAN BAKHTIN ( Russian Federation) welcomed the further streamlining of the United Nations Information Centres, which would expand the use of cutting-edge technologies and enhance the reach of the United Nations to local governments, civil society and populations. He noted the fruitful work of the Information Centre located in Moscow, which played a coordinating role in outreach efforts through Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
He said an important component in the Information Department’s work was the practical implementation of multilingualism, and he recommended use of the Russian language in all of the Organization’s radio, television and website initiatives. Turning to the planned transformation of the UN Chronicle into the UN Affairs journal, he said his delegation was prepared to support the Department, but would emphasize the need for parity among all official United Nations languages. His delegation also supported the access of all peoples and cultures to the information society.
Noting that Russia had been one of the co-sponsors of the United Nations efforts to memorialize the Holocaust, he underlined the fact that the Department’s efforts to educate the public about that event and the Second World War should include relevant and correct information on those countries and armies that had been liberating Europe from Nazism. In particular, the efforts of the Russian troops who liberated the Auschwitz camp should be noted. He stressed that efforts to rewrite history should be curbed and the destruction of memorials to those liberating armies should cease.
AVIVA RAZ-SHECHTER (Israel) called the Department of Public Information’s task “nothing short of titanic”; one that required enormous amounts of energy and commitment to its mission of conveying the United Nations message and ideals to the world. That task had become exponentially more difficult as cynicism and disbelief in world institutions became more pervasive, and faith in the role of the United Nations diminished. Information assumed a critically important role in the struggle to balance disbelief with hope, and fight cynicism with confidence.
Israel commended the Department for its superb and tireless efforts in promoting Holocaust remembrance around the world. She said the “Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme”, created after the General Assembly’s adoption of the resolution on Holocaust Remembrance nearly three years ago, served as an effective tool for education and remembrance. The past year’s activities included the unveiling of the permanent exhibition on the Holocaust at United Nations Headquarters in January. Nearly all United Nations Information Centres were able to participate in training seminars held over the past year, and the number of field offices organizing Holocaust Remembrance Day observances had more than doubled from 2007 to 2008.
The Department had launched the Holocaust commemorative stamp earlier this year. The Holocaust Memorial Ceremony and concert held in the General Assembly Hall this past January underscored the responsibility of all States to defend democratic principles that preserved and protected human rights. Israel believed the Department’s work to commemorate and learn from the Holocaust should be further supported by other Member States.
Israel believed that the United Nation’s limited resources, including those of the Information Department, should be used as efficiently as possible. For that reason, despite its confidence in the Department’s admirable work, Israel was disappointed in the Special Information Programme on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That programme published a one-sided, biased and misleading picture of the actual facts in the Middle East, she said. Israel believed that by allowing the existence of the Programme, the United Nations wasn’t addressing more pressing priorities.
In closing remarks, Mr. AKASAKA expressed appreciation to all the delegations for their comments and support, as well as their critical comments on his Department’s activities. Delegations had mentioned many issues that were important to the Department, including the publication of UN Affairs, the question of Palestine, peace in the Middle East, enhancing multilingualism, the role of United Nations Information Centres around the globe, and many others. He appreciated the comments, and hoped to continue the dialogue as the Department’s work was guided by the Member States.
He said that, despite difficulties, the Department was full of motivated staff working to achieve the objectives of the Organization by enhancing peace and security, helping the world’s poor, ensuring that human rights were protected, and addressing environmental issues, among others. With the guidance of the Member States, it was his wish to ensure that the objectives and activities of the United Nations were communicated in an impartial, comprehensive, relevant, coherent and timely manner. He promised that the issues raised in the Committee would be those addressed within the coming months, and looked forward to continuing the dialogue with the Member States in the future.
Vice Chairman AMR EL SHERBINI of Egypt said the Committee would conclude its general debate on questions relating to information tomorrow at 3 p.m., after which it would take up issues relating to its review of peacekeeping.
An amendment to one of the information-related drafts would be issued, and action on all information-related texts would take place next week.
A revised draft resolution on outer space would be issued tomorrow as document A/C.4/63/L.2/Rev1. Action on that text would be taken Friday, 24 October.
* *** *For information media • not an official record