7 May 2009
General Assembly
PI/1883

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

Committee on Information

Thirty-first Session

4th Meeting (PM)


UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL PLEDGES TO IMPROVE DEPARTMENT’S IMPACT, PERFORMANCE


AS COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION CONCLUDES GENERAL DEBATE

 


The Committee on Information concluded the general debate of its thirty-first annual session today, with Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka pledging to “build on our achievements” and improve impact and performance.


Responding to comments made by members throughout the three-day general debate, Mr. Akasaka in his closing remarks noted that many delegations had welcomed the strategic communications approach of the Department of Public Information (DPI), which had seen closer integration of its field offices with Headquarters, a focus on priority themes and an ability to adapt quickly to new issues, such as the Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak.


There had been other comments and calls for DPI to modernize the way in which it communicated United Nations priorities to a wider public, he said, assuring the Committee that the Department’s exploration of creative new media options would not be at the expense of traditional media, by far the most widely used in developing countries.


On the provision of resources for the Organization’s 63 information centres –- valued by many nations as a vital link to local populations –- the Under-Secretary-General said that any future decision on reorganizing them would be made in consultation with host countries and take into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characteristics of different regions.


In that context, he thanked the representative of Brazil for having encouraged States hosting information centres to consider offering rent-free premises or voluntary contributions.  Such efforts would allow DPI to concentrate its limited resources on outreach and strengthening the network of United Nations information centres.  While DPI appreciated Angola’s offer to provide rent- and maintenance-free premises, it currently lacked the posts and operating funds to establish a centre in Luanda.


Finally, in response to the Committee’s 2008 request for clarifications on the proposal of a new journal, UN Affairs, he reassured delegates that the publication would be produced within existing resources.  DPI was committed to pursuing multilingual editions and, with the Committee’s approval, it could pursue early contacts with external publishers for editions in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.


In prior debate, speakers commended DPI’s provision of timely, accurate and coherent information, efforts to enhance multilingualism and progress in creating strategic communication campaigns on such priority issues as development, human rights and climate change.  They also continued to highlight challenges, particularly the need for language parity on the United Nations website and its publications, more balance in its use of traditional and new media, better promotion of dialogue among cultures and a narrowing -– if not full closure -– of the digital divide between rich and poor countries.


“The media message of the United Nations still has gaps,” Sri Lanka’s representative said, stressing the importance of filling those quickly by promoting access to information for all peoples.


Congo’s representative cautioned, however, that information and communications technology could exacerbate disparities among countries.  The least privileged people should be informed of their rights and responsibilities, which called for a strengthening of infrastructure in developing countries.


Zambia’s delegate said that to help developing countries disseminate information, much more must be done in the area of capacity-building.  Zambia had worked with DPI against apartheid and colonialism in the region and had provided rent-free facilities for an information centre.  During this year’s launch of World Press Freedom Day, it had held a national stakeholders conference focusing on the media’s potential to foster dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation.


On a similar note, Egypt’s representative supported the continuation of conferences to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.  The Millennium Development Goals and African development were other critical areas for the Department.


Rounding out the discussion, Togo’s representative expressed hope that DPI would strengthen its outreach opportunities for the benefit of developing countries.


Others speakers today were the representatives of Israel, Republic of Korea and Burkina Faso (also on behalf of Mali, Niger and Chad).


Also delivering a statement was the observer for Palestine.


The Committee will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.


Background


The Committee on Information met this afternoon to conclude the general debate of its 2009 session.  (For further information on the session, please see Press Release PI/1876 of 30 April.)


General Debate


AMR KAMAL ELDIN ELSHERBINI (Egypt), supporting the statement made on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said information technology played an increasingly important role in tackling crises around the world.  For that reason, it was important that improved methods of information dissemination at the United Nations reinforced mutual respect between countries and cultures and helped to give developing countries access to information, as well as a voice on such global issues.  In order to reach all people, it was crucial to ensure multilingualism, with a balance in the use of the official United Nations languages.


He underscored the role of the Department of Public Information (DPI) in efforts to bring about a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East through the Arab Peace Initiative and other international efforts.  In that context, Egypt supported the continuation of conferences that encouraged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.  In addition, attaining the Millennium Development Goals as well as African development were other critical areas for the Department.  For that purpose, and in order to help familiarize people around the world with the Organization and its work, the United Nations information centres should be strengthened, as proposed in the Secretary-General’s report.


DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) commended DPI on its accomplishments, particularly its work to reach young audiences, which was critically important and should serve as a model for other departments.  Israel was honoured to contribute to World Autism Awareness Day, which showed how the Department could effectively tackle sensitive thematic issues.  Also commendable were the Department’s “superb” efforts in promoting Holocaust remembrance and awareness of the threat posed by genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as its active engagement of academic institutions, civil society and others to ensure that such an event would never recur.


Unfortunately, such goals were threatened by the proliferation of Holocaust deniers in positions of prominence and the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world, he said.  Israel was concerned about the Palestinian information programme, which was the only thematic issue covered by the Department focusing on a specific conflict and offering a one-sided and misleading narrative of the Middle East region.  Israel would be willing to engage in the formulation of a new, more constructive and more balanced resolution for future DPI activities on the Middle East, which must aim to promote peace education, tolerance, mutual understanding and the prevention of incitement.


BAE BYEONGSOO ( Republic of Korea) commended DPI’s provision of timely, accurate and coherent information, as well as the progress it had made on communications campaigns to draw attention to priority United Nations issues.  Strategic communications had contributed to that progress as the Department developed effective campaigns on development, human rights and climate change.  DPI should also focus on the growing role of peacekeeping operations.


United Nations information centres were important for building relations with civil society, he said, calling on DPI to enhance the network and expand cooperation, both regionally and internationally.  Outreach to the private sector and civil society should be strengthened.  For its part, the Republic of Korea would host the World Federation of United Nations Associations Conference in Seoul.


While welcoming the improvements made to the United Nations website, he also expressed concern about the gap resulting from various uses of information technology among countries.  DPI should maintain the balance between new and traditional means of communication.  The Department continued to enhance the multilingual nature of the United Nations website and improve accessibility for persons with disabilities.


MUDITHA J. HALLIYADDE (Sri Lanka), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said the continuous development of mass media had become central to meeting the challenge of the widening knowledge gap between developing and developed countries.  The United Nations must continue to carry out its duties with a view to deepening international cooperation in the media domain in order to bridge that gap.  At the same time, developing countries must build capacities and upgrade media structures, efforts that should parallel those at the United Nations to develop the media message.  The media message of the United Nations still had gaps and it was important to fill them quickly by promoting access to information for all peoples, as well as parity among the official United Nations languages, in line with cultural and religious diversity.


As a troop-contributing country, Sri Lanka recognized the importance of disseminating information on United Nations peacekeeping operations, and was pleased with DPI’s cooperation with the Peacekeeping Department, she said.  DPI’s widening of the reach of information through different media deserved praise, as did its strengthening of the United Nations information centres and collaboration with local media, the private sector and civil society.  Indeed, new technology would allow the public to gain access to information through various channels, but it was still important to maintain traditional media.


MOSES SAYELA WALUBITA (Zambia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country was a strong beneficiary of DPI services and hosted a United Nations information centre that provided the region with access to essential information.  For that reason, Zambia strongly supported the Under-Secretary-General’s statement that the Department could only carry out its work effectively with the support of Member States.  The Millennium Development Goals, peace and security, disarmament, climate change and the financial crisis were among the priority issues that needed to be communicated.


To assist developing countries in disseminating such information, a lot more must be done in the area of capacity-building, he said.  Zambia had worked with DPI against apartheid and colonialism in the region, and for that reason had provided rent-free facilities for the information centre.  During the launch of the 2009 World Press Freedom Day, Zambia had convened a national stakeholder’s conference focusing on the potential of the media to foster dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation.


KOUESSAN YOVODEVI ( Togo) said his country was pleased to host a United Nations information centre and had heeded the call to provide it with rent and utilities.  The centre played an important role in Togo by improving access to the Internet and providing information on issues of importance to the United Nations.  Hopefully, DPI would strengthen its outreach opportunities for the benefit of developing countries.  For its part, Togo would work with the Department to help bridge the digital divide.


RAPHAËL DIEUDONNÉ MABOUNDOU ( Congo), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said DPI made it possible to understand the work of the United Nations in various areas.  Congo supported the Department’s promotion of human rights protection, the Millennium Development Goals and climate change mitigation, and encouraged DPI to continue raising awareness of the global financial crisis and the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic.  The Government of Congo also supported DPI’s cooperation with various other United Nations departments.


Information and communications technology could exacerbate disparities among countries, he said, stressing that the least privileged people should be informed of their rights and responsibilities.  That required the strengthening of infrastructure in developing countries.  United Nations information centres were crucial for the information flow, and deserved praise for organizing events focusing on peacekeeping, human rights and the training of journalists.  Radio was the most accessible medium and it was important to support the continued use of such traditional media.


While pleased with DPI’s efforts to support multilingualism, he said care should be taken to ensure that information was tailored to local needs through the use of local language.  Congo was concerned that languages other than English were being marginalized.  Parity among the six official United Nations languages was essential and the Department should support and encourage multilingualism.  The Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine was important for raising public awareness of those issues.


MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso), speaking also on behalf of Mali, Niger and Chad, commended DPI’s efforts to increase knowledge about the United Nations and its focus on peace, development, human rights, climate change and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  The Department’s commitment to a more “even handed” use of the six official languages, especially on the United Nations website, was commendable.  It was clear that DPI could not remain outside changes in the information sphere.  While Burkina Faso supported its initiatives, it must be noted that new information and communications technology remained the privilege of a minority of the world’s population.  The digital divide was growing, and the Internet could not be the Department’s main priority.


There should also be a focus on traditional communications channels -- the written press, television and radio -- which were available to the “immense majority” of peoples, he said.  The information centres were the “best pledge of success” in reaching out to the people, but insufficient financial means had undermined their work, including the centre in Ouagadougou, which played an important role in Africa, as it focused on landlocked nations often affected by extreme weather conditions.  Burkina Faso provided free access to radio and television stations through that centre, but DPI must do more to help it, especially by nominating a director.


YUSSEF KANAAN, observer for Palestine, associated himself with the Group of 77 and China, underlining the importance of the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, and stressing the continued responsibility of the United Nations in respect of that issue.  The Section of the Department dealing with that issue played a vital role in that regard, particularly its annual international media seminars.  The Observer Mission also reaffirmed the importance of digitizing materials on the history of the Palestine question.


He expressed regret that Israel had imposed severe restrictions on Palestinians journalists, killing or banning them from entering the Gaza Strip throughout the military assault earlier this year.  During that war, Israel had targeted media facilities and injured scores of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank.  It held many others in detention.  The Observer Mission called on the Committee to step up its efforts to protect Palestinian journalists and hold Israel accountable for war crimes.  Palestinian information technology had been stifled by the Israeli occupation and would not advance until it ended.


Closing Remarks


KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that the confidence expressed in the Department “encourages us to build on our achievements and continue to find ways to improve our impact and performance”.  Many delegations had welcomed DPI’s strategic communications approach, which had seen closer integration of its field offices with Headquarters, a focus on priority themes and an ability to adapt quickly to new issues.


In dealing with the Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak, for example, the Department was working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and a United Nations Communications Group task force to maintain message discipline, he said.  To address the global economic crisis, DPI was working with the Office of the President of the General Assembly to provide full communications support for the upcoming United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development.  As for climate change, DPI was promoting the “Seal the Deal” campaign to highlight its effects throughout the world.


He said he had noted other comments on efforts to broaden the ways in which DPI communicated the Organization’s priorities, including through new media, and pledged that exploring creative ways to inform different audiences would not be at the expense of traditional media, which were important for developing countries.  The Department would continue to exert every effort, within existing resources, to achieve language parity on the United Nations website and had taken significant steps to improve the Arabic page.  Issues involving Palestine and Iraq would continue to have prominence on the site.


Regarding language parity, a subject touched upon by many delegates, he said website content was not produced by DPI but rather posted by various departments.  There was often a lack of resources to post content in all the official languages.  There were similar constraints in balancing resources among all programmes.  To deal with that, DPI had created pro-bono arrangements with universities.  The Department was pleased that delegates had called for the allocation of resources to ensure full linguistic parity.  “We will certainly need your continued support in this endeavour.”


As for calls that DPI play a more vigorous role in promoting dialogue among civilizations, he said DPI had launched a seminar series titled “Putting Intolerance Behind Us” to promote respect and understanding among peoples.  The next seminar, in June, would focus on “Hate on the Internet: The Danger in Cyberspace”.  The department also provided strategic guidelines for response mechanisms of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative.


Regarding the provision of resources for United Nations information centres, another point raised by many delegations, he thanked the representative of Brazil for encouraging hosting States to consider offering rent- and maintenance-free premises.  Such efforts would allow DPI to concentrate its limited resources on outreach and public information activities.  Any future decision on reorganizing the centres would be made in consultation with host countries and take into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characteristics of different regions.


As for establishing a centre in Angola, he said the Department simply lacked the posts and operating funds to establish a centre that would serve the five Portuguese-speaking African countries.  “Resources available to the UNIC network and, indeed, to the Department as a whole, are limited.”  DPI was not in a position to request a budget increase of the size required to operate such a centre, either for the current biennium or for 2010-2011.


Similarly, expanding the information centre in Dakar, Senegal,would not be possible within current or projected human resources, but the Department welcomed the opportunity to do so should more funds be provided, he said.  Regarding the lack of a centre director in Dhaka, Bangladesh, DPI was likely to continue reducing posts in the face of budgetary limits.  On the absence of a director for the centre in Sana’a, Yemen, none of the candidates could be confirmed and the process must begin anew with re-advertising of the post.  In that search, DPI would take account of candidates’ regional knowledge, expertise in information and communications technology, media contacts and management skills.


Finally, in response to the Committee’s request last year for clarifications on the proposal for a new journal, UN Affairs, he called attention to a non-paper containing details of the project, reassuring delegates that the publication would be produced within existing resources.  DPI was committed to pursuing multilingual editions and, with the Committee’s approval, could pursue early contacts with external publishers for editions in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.  The Department welcomed Member States’ willingness to connect it with interested institutions in their countries.  DPI looked forward to the strategic direction the Committee would provide through its recommendations to the General Assembly at its sixty-fourth session.


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For information media • not an official record