28 April 2010
General Assembly
PI/1933

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

Committee on Information

Thirty-second Session

3rd Meeting (PM)


Planned United Nations Information Centre in Angola to Become Reality Soon,


Communications Chief Tells Information Committee as Debate Concludes


Public Information Department to Promote Climate Change Awareness, Encourage

Linguistic Parity, Continue Programme on Palestine in Ways That Support Peace


The Department of Public Information would continue to work with the Government of Angola to soon make the planned United Nations Information Centre in Luanda for Portuguese-speaking African countries a reality, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said this afternoon as the Committee on Information concluded the general debate of its thirty-second session.


Mr. Akasaka assured the Committee ‑‑ the intergovernmental body charged with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information ‑‑ that any future decisions to reorganize the Organization’s global network of Information Centres would be made in close consultation with host countries, taking into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characters and needs of the different regions.


The Information Centres must be adequately funded, he said, thanking Member States that were supporting them, either through rent-free premises or voluntary contributions, and pressing others to follow suit.


The Public Information Department, he said, would also continue to promote awareness of climate change, correct misperceptions of the science involved and produce reports on its impact, similar to UNTV programme 21st Century’s reports on melting glaciers in Bolivia and the consequences of climate change on Bangladesh, Viet Nam and Indonesia.


On linguistic parity in the United Nations ‑‑ a major concern for many Committee members ‑‑ he said multilingualism was a cornerstone of the Department’s work.  He was encouraging the Organization’s various units to reproduce everything in all official languages, but he acknowledged that many lacked the resources to do so, also making it difficult for the website to post information in other languages.


Mr. Akasaka said the Department’s Special Information Programme on Palestine ‑‑ which was hailed by the representatives of Lebanon and Egypt as necessary and informative ‑‑ would continue in such a way as to support the peace process.  Preparations for the media seminar on peace in Middle East and the 2010 training programmes for Palestinian journalists were already under way.


A representative for the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine said that the annual training programme was essential to prepare Palestinian broadcasters and journalists in a high-tech world.  He also called on the Committee and relevant organizations to bolster efforts to protect Palestinian and foreign journalists and ensure their ability to work without censorship or the threat of Israeli military force.


Other speakers focused on development and information access in developing countries.  For example, China’s representative said the Department must steer the media and public to fully appreciate the importance of development, and it must press the international community to forge consensus and help developing countries tackle challenges to development.  Furthermore, developing countries, which had special needs, must have better access to information.  The United Nations could help in that regard by giving them greater human resources and technical assistance.


Also speaking were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, Benin and Tunisia.


The representative of Israel made a statement in exercise of the right of reply.


The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 7 May, to adopt its report.


Background


The Committee on Information, the intergovernmental body charged with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information, concluded the general debate of its thirty-second annual session this afternoon and heard responses from Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.  (For more information, please see Press Release PI/1928 of 23 April.) 


MOHAMED FATHI EDREES (Egypt), endorsing the statement delivered by Yemen on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, called on the Department of Public Information to intensify its efforts to address current challenges.  While efforts to expand and spread the Organization’s message globally were appreciated, the focus should be enhanced on important issues such as multilingualism and the balance between the Organization’s six official languages.  In order to achieve parity in that regard, the Arabic section should be placed on equal footing with the others, through a strengthening of its work.  He was deeply concerned about the decline in the use of Arabic, particularly in radio broadcasts, as those were an important tool in disseminating the Organization’s media messages in villages, communities and regions that did not have access to complex technical media.


In addition, he encouraged the Department to continue focusing on programmes and activities related to the economic and social development of Member States, particularly in Africa.  He also urged continuation of the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, as well as other informative projects on the suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation and violations of international law, international humanitarian law, and United Nations resolutions by the Israeli occupying Power.


IGOR EVDOKIMOV ( Russian Federation) gave a generally positive evaluation of the Department’s work, particularly its efforts to develop strategic communications and news services, as well as its dynamic advocacy.  He expected the Department to maintain the effective redistribution of its resources, including the strengthening of its use of new technologies to expand its target audience, as long as such media was balanced with traditional media.  He welcomed, in addition, the setting of priorities for media campaigns on topics of international interest, from peace and security to fighting racism and xenophobia, including such important issues as Middle East peace, climate change, non-proliferation and dialogue between religions, in which the Russian Federation was very active, among other areas.


He also welcomed special events that would be held to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe and victory over fascism.  He objected, however, to those who would continue to revise history and “give Nazi collaborators an aura of heroism and image of national patriots”, and he reiterated that that policy was incompatible with the United Nations Charter.  He appreciated events commemorating the Holocaust, particularly those that marked the role of the liberators and the relevant events that took place on the territory of the former Soviet Union, saying that the Holocaust was not just a Jewish tragedy but a human tragedy. 


He welcomed the global model United Nations, describing Russian activity in that area.  He also noted progress in multilingualism on the website and expressed interest in a speedy translation into Russian of other United Nations system Internet portals.  He proposed 6 June, the birthday of the poet Alexander Pushkin, as the day to celebrate the Russian language.  Expressing overall satisfaction with United Nations radio broadcasts, he looked forward to a resumption of Russian programming, which had recently ended.  In order to maximize the effectiveness of the Committee, he suggested that a subcommittee finalize the draft resolutions.  The freed-up time could then be used for dialogues on public information involving the entire United Nations system.


SONG MIYOUNG ( Republic of Korea) acknowledged that the Department had made significant progress in communications campaigns on priority issues and its partnership with civil society and the private sector, using new technologies.  She hoped that it would continue to develop strategies to engage and educate the global community on the ideals and activities of the United Nations.  That was particularly important in the field of development, where the challenges to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, owing to the financial crisis, needed to be highlighted.  She also called for a sustained focus on peacekeeping operations, noting that increased communications capability had helped to inform Member States of Haiti’s needs after the earthquake and guided her country’s participation in the response.


Saying it was important for the Department to keep up with the latest technologies, she expressed concern, however, over the widening digital divide, which prevented marginalized peoples from benefiting.  The United Nations Information Centres played an important role in giving those people access to necessary information.  In that light, she welcomed the decision to establish an Information Centre in Luanda, Angola.


LIU YUTONG ( China) stressed the need to further strengthen the Department’s role in publicizing United Nations activities.  The Department worked closely with relevant organs last year to provide timely information and promote the summit on climate change, the Security Council summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and the coordinated response to the Haiti earthquake.  Its effective work merited applause.  He hoped that it would continue exploring ways to provide timely, accurate, impartial and comprehensive information to global audiences.  He called for strengthening the United Nations information centres as a bond between the Organization and the world.  The Department must also steer the media and public to fully appreciate the importance of development, and it must press the international community to forge consensus and help developing countries tackle challenges to development.  He stressed the importance of giving developing countries, which had special needs, better access to information. 


In recent years, he noted, the Department had taken many steps to use new information and communications technology, such as social networking tools, to expand information services to young people.  Many developing countries, including China, still depended heavily on radio, television, books, newspapers and other traditional methods of information dissemination.  The Department must increase its input to expand cooperation and exchange with media in developing countries and give them more human resources and technical assistance.  Because most international mainstream media outlets were controlled by western industrialized countries, the voice of developing countries was often neglected or drowned out.  The United Nations should foster a more balanced, equitable communications order, explicitly oppose bias and prejudice, and encourage media practitioners to honour their professional ethics and communicate information in an objective, balanced way.  The Department should provide objective, accurate and timely information to global audiences and play an exemplary role for western media.


AONI AHDAB ( Lebanon) said the success of the Department’s advocacy role required a strong partnership with the Committee to review United Nations public information policies.  It depended on the ability to reach out to the widest possible audience, including in developing countries that lacked information resources for activities such as conflict resolution, peacekeeping, disarmament, sustainable development and human rights, among others.  He commended the Department’s Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine for its role in raising awareness about the Palestinian people’s plight, as well as about issues concerning the resolution to the Arab conflict.


He stressed the importance of promoting multilingualism, calling for full parity on United Nations websites.  Information dissemination of United Nations activities, as much as possible, should be made available in local languages where United Nations Information Centres existed.  He emphasized the need to strengthen the role and outreach activities of those Centres in terms of access to information and communications technology.  He praised them for disseminating information in more than 30 languages and lauded the decision to establish a Centre in Luanda for Portuguese-speaking African countries.  He called for bridging the digital divide and strengthening the United Nations role in that regard by providing it with the necessary resources.  Media freedom should be enhanced and protected, and he stressed the value of Beirut’s Information Centre.


JEAN-FRANCIS RÉGIS ZINSOU ( Benin) said that communications and information were excellent tools to increase peace, cooperation and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  The right to information and communications, in fact, was enshrined in Benin’s legal system.  Press freedom was particularly valued; Benin was ranked twenty-third in the world in that area in 2008 by the organization Reporters without Borders.  Press, radio and television were flourishing as a result.


The dialogue between cultures was also very important to his country, he said, and for that reason the Government had promoted literacy in the national languages as well as international languages.  He called on the Public Information Department to support his Government in promoting multilingualism and to continue making the United Nations a model of multilingualism.  Noting progress in achieving parity in the six official languages, he said, however, that much remained to be done.  Distribution of documents in all languages, for example, should be accelerated, with important documents distributed to universities in the developing world.


GHAZI JOMAA (Tunisia), associating himself with the statement made by Yemen on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, expressed appreciation for the General Assembly’s support for his country’s initiative to make 2010 the International Year of Youth.  Addressing the question of the digital divide, he said that despite the results of the related 2005 World Summit in Tunis, much remained to be done to give developing countries the technological tools they needed to advance.


In that regard, he requested more detailed reporting by the Department in its annual reports.  He also called for more progress in parity between the official United Nations languages.  In closing, he noted the spirit of cooperation in the Committee and expressed hope that its efforts would help to raise the efficiency and the effectiveness of the Department in pursuing its difficult tasks.


YUSSEF F. KANAAN, of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, stressed the importance of the Department’s Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, which was instrumental in raising and promoting international awareness about the issue, and supporting the rights of Palestinians and their efforts to achieve a just, lasting, comprehensive and peaceful settlement to the conflict.  He commended the Department’s related activities last year, among them, the seventeenth International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, the permanent Headquarters exhibit on the Question of Palestine and the event commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  The “Question of Palestine” had been a distinct link on the United Nations home page, but it had been removed and replaced by the “Situation in the Middle East” on the home page, news pages and news focus pages.  He hoped the Department would consider restoring the original link to the United Nations home page. 


He also hoped that the wide range of human rights-related issues that were under the mandate of the Palestine, Decolonization and Human Rights Section, and the increase in that Section’s responsibilities, would not interfere with the effective implementation of the Department’s mandate with respect to the Palestine programme.  Thus far, the mandate had not been fully implemented, including the General Assembly’s request for the Department to organize and promote fact-finding news missions for journalists to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel and to expand its collection of audio-visual material on the question of Palestine.


It was crucial for the Department to continue to support the annual training programme for Palestinian broadcasters and journalists, he said.  Israel continued to target journalists working to convey the grim daily reality and truth and Israel’s illegal and destructive policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He commended the United Nations for producing the “Walled Horizons” documentary about Israel’s continued illegal construction of the separation wall.  Such visual media illustrated the harsh reality and inhumane situation imposed on the Palestinians.  Palestinian and foreign journalists and peace activists would be affected by the latest Israeli military order, which threatened to deport so-called “infiltrators”.  He reiterated his call on the Committee and relevant organizations to bolster efforts to protect Palestinian and foreign journalists and ensure that they could work without censorship or the threat of military force.  Israelis should be held accountable for all war crimes they committed against Palestinians, including journalists and media personnel.


Right of Reply


The representative of Israel regretted that certain delegations had taken the opportunity to engage in hateful political dialogue while the Committee was meeting to engage in the work of the Department of Public Information.


Mr. AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, thanked Committee members for their positive comments and encouraging statements.  Replying to specific questions and comments, he said that the proposals for intersessional conversations with Member States were welcome and he pledged to discuss the matter further with the Committee’s Bureau to determine the arrangements for such an event, as well as for a discussion forum that would include various United Nations agencies and programmes.


In response to other comments, he assured Committee members that the special programmes on Palestine and the situation in the Middle East would continue in such a way as to support the peace process.  Preparations for the media seminar on peace in Middle East and the 2010 training programmes for Palestinian journalists were already under way. 


The Department, he said, would also continue to promote awareness of climate change, working closely with the rest of the United Nations system, cognizant of the connections to other issues, including the Millennium Development Goals.  While the Department, along with its partners across the United Nations systems, had adopted a “markedly different” communications approach to climate change, it had not cooled in its efforts to promote awareness of the issue.  It would continue to correct misperceptions of the science involved and continue to produce reports on the impact of climate change, following on reports already done for the UNTV programme 21st Century on melting glaciers in Bolivia and the consequences of climate change on Bangladesh, Viet Nam and Indonesia.


He also assured Committee members that the Department continued to look for partners to help produce other language versions of the magazine UN Chronicle, welcoming further suggestions from Committee members in that regard.  To delegations that had stressed the importance of working closely with the Departments of Peacekeeping and Field Support, he noted work under way, including the observance of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on 29 May, along with a special exhibition on Haiti, to open at Headquarters on 28 May, and related materials produced in Chinese for the World Expo in Shanghai.  He further noted that Department media had featured Indian and Pakistani contributions to peacekeeping.


He assured the Minister of Information of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that he had been advised by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that the peacekeeping mission in his country, known as MONUC, was not lobbying politicians there, in order to influence decisions by Congolese authorities regarding the future of MONUC.  He had also been advised that when MONUC released information it did so in line with the principles and guidelines regarding relations with the media and made every effort to verify the accuracy of such information and to indicate its sources, as appropriate, if MONUC was not the primary source.  With regard to the incident of 4 April, to which the Minister had referred, he said he understood that MONUC’s investigation was continuing.


Concerning linguistic parity, he said he regarded multilingualism as a cornerstone of the Department’s work.  However, he pointed out that much of the content on the website came from other units that did not have sufficient resources to reproduce and post everything in all official languages.  However, the Department was encouraging them to work towards language parity.  In that regard, he listed projects to extend outreach in Russian, Spanish and Arabic and efforts to provide regular guided tours in all official languages under specific conditions, as well as new audio tours in all languages that allowed for more flexibility. 


He thanked all the delegates who had spoken highly about the United Nations Information Centres and affirmed the need to ensure that they were provided with adequate financial support.  He also thanked Member States that were providing support to the Centres, either through rent-free premises or voluntary contributions, hoping that others would follow suit.  He would continue to press that issue.  He also pledged to continue to work with the Government of Angola to make the Information Centre in Luanda a reality soon.  He reaffirmed that any future decisions regarding a reorganization of the Centres would be made in close consultation with host countries, taking into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characters and needs of the different regions.


In closing, he pledged to continue to implement the mandates provided by the Committee and the General Assembly.  That included the important promotion of the freedom of the press.  In that regard, he announced events to be held to mark World Press Freedom Day, which would be observed on 3 May.


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For information media • not an official record