23 April 2012
General Assembly
PI/2023

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

Committee on Information

Thirty-fourth Session

1st Meeting (AM)


Department of Public Information Reaches Out to Audiences ‘Old and New’ to Tell


United Nations Story, Says Acting Head as Committee on Information Opens

 


Says Department’s Focus Sharper, Target Audiences Better Defined,

Tools Falling into Place, as It Adds Human Face to Organization’s Work


Through the strategic use of resources, digital technologies, social media platforms and enhanced partnerships with United Nations system offices and external media outlets, the Department of Public Information was expanding and improving the way it conveyed the United Nations message worldwide, the Organization’s senior communications official told the Committee on Information as it opened its annual session this morning.


“Today, DPI’s focus is sharper, its target audiences better defined, and the tools it needs are falling into place.  In the months and years ahead, we need to remain flexible and keep our options open,” said Maher Nasser, Acting Head of the Department of Public Information, as he introduced the Department’s reports.


From the political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa and multiple crises in the Sahel region to the campaign to end violence against women and girls, and the ongoing peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts worldwide, the Department was reaching out to audiences old and new to explain how the Organization was making a difference, he said.


To get that message out, the Department had woven social media into all its communications campaigns, in order to both complement and drive audiences to traditional media, such as radio, television and print, he said.  Already, more than 6 million social media users had joined the “The Future We Want” global conversation on sustainable development, which set the stage for the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development in June.


United Nations partners were increasingly relying on the Department’s information materials, he said.  For example, the websites and social media accounts of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs, as well as online platforms of news aggregators, independent foundations and civil society groups, were pulling content in all six official languages from the United Nations News Centre.


Indeed, the Department’s commitment to diversifying coverage in the United Nations official languages was steadfast, he said, adding that it was also providing accurate, timely and balanced coverage in those languages, as well as in Portuguese and Kiswahili.  The United Nations channel on Sina Weibo, the popular micro-blogging platform in Chinese, already had attracted more than 1.9 million followers.  UNTV’s flagship programme, 21st Century, would soon be aired in French on TV5, and Deutsche Welle had begun distributing news produced by the Department in Arabic, English and French on its global network.


To boost environmental sustainability and reduce operating costs, materials were increasingly available in digital format.  Within a few weeks of being launched, five new mobile “apps”, including the UN News Reader and UN CountryStat, were downloaded by nearly 15,000 users.  In another development, field offices were increasingly using the system-wide communications platform of the United Nations Communications Group to coordinate media and public outreach activities.


In its ongoing efforts to find creative approaches to tell the United Nations story, the Department was “showcasing features and interviews in new ways, with stories from the field and presentations on the UN behind the scenes — all designed to add a human face to the Organization and its work,” he said, citing a public service announcement in early April, in which United Nations staff with autistic family members had read out the Secretary-General’s message on Autism Awareness Day.


He also pointed to cooperation with partners on a raft of initiatives, such as this year’s International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, and fifth International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  More than 800 institutions of higher learning from 110 countries had signed on to the United Nations Academic Impact, which this year was supporting programmes on such themes as “unlearning intolerance”.


Noting that the global network of 63 United Nations Information Centres was particularly hard-hit by the Department’s resource crunch, he encouraged Member States to provide the Centres with rent-free or subsidized premises and resources for staff, travel and outreach.


Eduardo Ulibarri (Costa Rica), Committee Chairman, lauded the efforts by the Department’s three divisions — strategic communications, news services and outreach services — to innovate, establish alliances, reorganize processes, and use new technologies to make communications services more efficient, accessible and widely available.  During a time of life-changing socio-economic and political events worldwide, the United Nations guidance and creative force was increasingly necessary, and it must be approached with greater vision and effectiveness.  He called on delegates to come to the session with a “constructive and determined attitude” and conclude it with the adoption of resolution that set forth clear, realistic priorities for the United Nations communications policies.


Following those presentations, Member States began outlining their priorities as the Committee began its general debate.  Speaking were representatives of Algeria (on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Chile (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), European Union, Burkina Faso (also on behalf of Mali, Niger and Chad) and Senegal.


Most speakers expressed support for the efforts of the Department to make its work more efficient and reach broader audiences through partnerships and the use of new media.  Some called for more resources to promote multilingual content on the United Nations website, modernize the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, and maintain and expand the network of Information Centres in Africa.


Also today, the Committee Chairperson announced that Oman had applied for membership in the Committee.  He drew members’ attention to the Department’s request that the Committee review its strategic framework for 2014-2015, which the Committee for Programme and Coordination would discuss during its June meeting.  The Committee had accepted the Department’s request to arrange, under its auspices, a specific programme within its regular session.  In that context, it had chosen the First International Day of Jazz, 30 April, to arrange an “unlearning intolerance” symposium and film screening, in cooperation with the United Nations Academic Impact and the Permanent Mission of India.


Additionally, the Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work, and it elected by acclamation Guillaume Dabouis to replace Stephane Crouzat, both of France, as well as Chibaula Sirwamba to replace Moses Walubita, both of Zambia, as Vice Chairs.


The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 April, to continue its general debate.


Background


The Committee on Information, the intergovernmental body charged with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information, began its thirty-fourth annual session today, during which, delegations were expected to undertake a wide-ranging review of the Department of Public Information and its three subprogrammes:  strategic communications; news services; and outreach services.  (For more information, please see Press Release PI/2022 of 20 April).


Opening Statements


EDUARDO ULIBARRI (Costa Rica), Committee Chairman, said promising political transformations, justifiable popular movements, economic realignments and technological innovations had enabled the world to reduce the gap between poverty and development, exclusion and participation, and dictatorship and democracy.  But, such phenomena could also take the opposite direction.  Exacerbated conflicts, climate events, disease and a return to autocracy could undo that progress, as well as further aggravate devastating humanitarian crises.  At this crossroad between improvements and setbacks, the guidance and creative force of the United Nations and of responsible multilateralism were increasingly necessary and they required more visionary responses.  The Organization must become more legitimate, effective, efficient and results-based.  The responsibility to achieve that fell on each and every Member State and office of the Organization.


During the current session, delegates must focus on and examine the relationship between the Committee and the Department, he said, calling on them to approach the meeting with a “constructive and determined attitude”.  As in past years, the Committee must negotiate and adopt a resolution that would establish the basic concepts of the United Nations communications strategies and define the Department’s mandates.  It would also discuss the Secretary-General’s reports on the Department’s activities and its strategies for 2014 and 2015.


“We must approach the resolution with a clear sense of priorities and look for the best synthesis between expectations and resources, aspirations and realities,” he said.  That was the only way to produce a strong road map for the United Nations communications policies and for the programmes of the Department, which was the public voice of the Organization.  He expressed confidence that the Committee would produce a “logical, clear and concise” text.  He noted the efforts by the Department’s three divisions to innovate, establish alliances, make the best use of resources, reorganize processes, and use new technologies to make communications services more efficient, accessible and widely available.  He highlighted, in particular, the initiatives to enhance multilingualism.


At the beginning of his second term, he noted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had set forth a visionary agenda for action during the next five years:  sustainable development; support for transition processes, human rights and democracy; and empowerment of women and youth were set as top priorities.  The speaker expressed confidence that during the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Member States would make commitments to address challenges, and that the Committee and the Department would use communications tools to assist with internal reform and outside projects.


MAHER NASSER, Acting Head of the Department of Public Information, shed light on new initiatives of the Department in the past year, including ones that were not listed in the Secretary-General’s three reports before the Committee.  He said the Department had fulfilled much of the promise made by his predecessor last year to complement the effective use of traditional media with new information and communications technologies, including new media, to maximize outreach and inform and engage new audiences worldwide.  The Department was strengthening its digital media presence and bolstering knowledge-sharing on social media platforms across the United Nations system, weaving it into all communications campaigns.


For example, he said, “The Future We Want” global conversation on sustainable development already had reached more than 6 million social media users, setting the stage for the Rio+20 Conference in June.  The United Nations channel on Sina Weibo, a popular micro-blogging platform in Chinese, had more than 1.9 million followers, and it ranked first in terms of frequency, influence and overall rating among all official Weibo accounts of Governments and organizations.  During a “live conversation” in September 2011 with the Secretary-General, followers had submitted nearly 5,000 questions.


The Department’s materials were increasingly being used by United Nations partners, he said.  For example, content posted on the United Nations News Centre website had received nearly 3.2 million page views in February and March in the six official languages, and was being used daily by website home pages and social media accounts of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs, as well as by online platforms of news aggregators, independent foundations and civil society groups.  Moreover, creative approaches were increasingly used to tell the United Nations story, from priority General Assembly issues to life-saving action of United Nations staff on the frontlines of conflicts and crises.


“We are showcasing features and interviews in new ways, with stories from the field and presentations on the UN ‘behind the scenes’ — all designed to add a human face to the Organization and its work,” he said, citing a public service announcement in early April in which United Nations staff with autistic family members had read out the Secretary-General’s message on Autism Awareness Day.  The Organization was building partnerships to bring information materials to new audiences.  For example, All Nippon Airways was now carrying United Nations Television programmes as part of its in-flight video offerings.  Through a co-production partnership with TV5 Monde, the Organization’s flagship television programme, 21st Century, was now available in French and would be aired on TV5.


While partnerships with media outlets and new media platforms remained a central focus, the Department’s commitment to diversifying coverage in the United Nations official languages remained unwavering, he said, adding that it was also providing accurate, timely and balanced coverage in Portuguese and Kiswahili.  The network of 63 United Nations Information Centres, Offices and Information Services continued to support the Organization’s work globally.  For example, the Centre in Rio de Janeiro was working with the Brazilian Government on a national campaign for “O Futuro que Queremo” in the lead-up to the Rio+20 Conference.


The Department was also taking concrete steps to ensure that the Organization was boosting its environmental sustainability while reducing its operating costs, he said.  Nearly 70 per cent of the Information Centres used computers recycled from United Nations Headquarters.  The Department’s Sales and Marketing Section continued to leverage the digital revolution to help “green” the Organization and maximize the availability of its publications.  In recent months, it used, for the first time, print-on-demand technology in India to supply titles to a local distributor.  The Dag Hammarskjöld Library was developing electronic tools to enhance outreach to United Nations depository libraries and to other libraries and research institutions worldwide. 


Noting the success in recent years of taking the annual DPI/NGO Conference to various international locations, he invited Member States interested in hosting the event in the future to contact the Department.  The outcome at last year’s conference in Bonn represented a major statement by civil society on the goals for Rio+20.  The Department had also steadily expanded its partnership with the academic community and with youth.  More than 800 institutions of higher learning from 110 countries had joined hands with Academic Impact to support the Organization’s agenda.  On 4 May, experts from Member States, academia, and students would participate in a conference on “Creating a Sustainable Future:  Empowering Youth with Better Job Opportunities”, held in association with the Economic and Social Council and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


To better understanding of the universal lessons of the Holocaust, a roundtable discussion would be held this evening in partnership with the Israeli Government to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the trial of the notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann, he said.  The Department continued its efforts to spotlight the dangers faced by journalists in the line of duty.  Last year, more than 60 journalists were killed in action.  That was unacceptable.  On 3 May, the United Nations would honour freedom of expression by celebrating World Press Freedom Day.  This year’s International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, to be held in Geneva, would present an important opportunity to refocus attention on the question of Palestine, against the backdrop of continuing change in the region.


The Department was determined to make the most strategic use of its available resources, he said, warning that the absence of new and additional resources to fund new mandates would result in a reduction of work on existing mandates.  The network of Information Centres was particularly hard-hit by the resource crunch.  “To successfully serve Member States, UNICs need your support,” he said, encouraging them to provide rent-free or subsidized premises and resources for staff, travel and outreach.  While operating under a challenging environment, the Department was aiming to enhance its partnerships with United Nations system organizations.  The United Nations Communications Group, which had emerged as strong system-wide communications platform for coordinating and harmonizing messages on priority issues, was increasingly used by field offices.


The Department’s decision to embrace the digital revolution was a move borne out of necessity, he said, adding that “DPI, like the United Nations, must adjust to changing realities.”  At the same time, the Department remained equally committed to print, radio and television.  From the political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa and the food crisis in the Sahel region to the campaign to end violence against women and girls and the ongoing peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts worldwide, the Department was reaching out to audiences old and new to explain how the United Nations was making a difference.


“Today, DPI’s focus is sharper, its target audiences better defined, and the tools it needs are falling into place.  In the months and years ahead, we need to remain flexible and keep our options open,” he said, adding that “the United Nations itself is an evolving story, always confronting new challenges and crafting new responses.”


MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that the close cooperation and partnership between the Department of Public Information and the Committee on Information had always been the cornerstone of the Department.  He stressed the importance of strengthening that partnership and called for its continued improvement, as the Department served as the primary voice to promote the purposes and image of the United Nations.  Although there had been improvements, he highlighted the challenges that developing countries faced in terms of lack of resources and technical means, which were of primary importance to promote access to information regarding the United Nations activities.  He called on the Department to identify areas of strength and weaknesses, in order to better align products and activities with targeted audience needs.  The Department, therefore, should reach out to the widest possible audience and project the United Nations’ important accomplishments in order to promote greater understanding and goodwill among all nations.


He fully supported the Department’s work in promoting and advancing the Organization’s work through campaigns on issues of importance to the international community, including human rights, disarmament, and conflict resolution, among others.  He highlighted, in particular, the Department’s role in the upcoming Rio+20 Conference and commended its discussion of a common strategy, developing joint communications products and coordinating messaging and activities in connection with the Conference.  He also emphasized the importance of the Department’s Special Information Programme on the question of Palestine in raising the international community’s awareness of the issue and in supporting the efforts to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.


It was important to note the growing use of United Nations websites, owing to the new content in different languages.  However, despite the efforts made by the Department to improve multilingualism on the website, the disparity among the use of the official languages had deepened.  He called for more resources and efforts to be allocated to achieve full language parity of languages on the websites, including for press releases.  He emphasized the ongoing importance of traditional media, including both radio and print, in disseminating the main United Nations messages.  Traditional media had been and still was the primary means of communication in many developing countries.  Furthermore, he stressed the need for the implementation of measures aimed at modernizing the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and improving its operations and services.


OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said he supported the spontaneity and agility of electronic communication, and agreed that it was necessary to capitalize the opportunity to expand the new media platforms and mobile devices.  However, although he considered that the development of websites was a very useful tool to promote, convey and access the United Nations message, he was concerned about the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries.  He considered that traditional media, such as radio, television and written press, should continue to be employed, since those were a major source of information in developing countries.  He commended the work of United Nations Radio and supported its enhanced services in the six official languages and in providing news, features and special programmes on such topics as the Millennium Development Goals, Peacekeeping and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.


He welcomed the parity among the six official languages of the United Nations, and was concerned, therefore, that despite the efforts made to improve the multilingual contents of the United Nations website, the problem had not been resolved.  He supported alternative solutions like the agreements of cooperation reached with several universities to enable volunteers and educational institutions to continue providing services intended to diminish the language gap.  He requested the Secretariat to provide deeper information and design a mechanism to allow for the dissemination of press releases in all official languages.


Furthermore, he called for the distribution of information, at least through traditional media, and particularly, radio, in as many languages as possible, including Portuguese and indigenous tongues.  Multilingualism was inherently associated with the United Nations, due to the nature, reach and goals of the Organization.  In addition, he recognized the result of the effort by the Department to ensure that people with disabilities had access to United Nations services.  He invited the Department to continue its work in that regard.


ANDRAS KOS, representative of the European Union delegation, said that the world witnessed the “dawn of a new information order” where citizens harnessed the power of social media to re-establish connection with the outside world and each other.  That had helped people in the Middle East to break through the barriers of censorship and repression, call for justice and democratic change, and convey unique news to the outside world.  However, although social media had undoubtedly become an important tool for global communication, it could not completely replace traditional journalism, which was essential to present the overwhelming size of data in a meaningful way.


Looking to the Department of Public Information’s recent activities, he highlighted the efforts to catalyse support for the Rio+20 Conference in June.  The Department’s participation in the Secretary-General’s campaign, “UNiTE to End Violence against Women”, was also worth noting.  In addition, the efforts made to translate and make available in all United Nations official languages the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ new website was worth noting, because it contributed to the Department’s overall mission to reach out to the peoples of the world.


Mr. Kos said that new information and communication technologies and social media did not only enable the United Nations to do all those numerous activities in a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner, but also paved the way to connect with new audiences, such as the youth.  In addition, it was paramount that the Department make the most strategic use of the wealth of available resources — including its network of 63 United Nations Information Centres and all other United Nations entities at the national and regional levels — to speak with one strong and clear voice.  The United Nations website had improved through better organization and remained an important asset, delivering messages straight to people’s homes and offices in all United Nations official languages about the Organization’s work.  Enhanced cooperation at regional and local levels, and partnerships with academic institutions, had proven to be an efficient way to increase the number of web pages available in all six official languages.  He commended the efforts to reach all corners of the world, yet he still saw further potential in disseminating United Nations messages and going even farther in the area of multilingualism.


DER KOGDA (Burkina Faso), also speaking on behalf of Mali, Niger and Chad, said the information and communications technology revolution had changed the world and turned it into a global village.  That had contributed to a solid understanding and greater visibility of the United Nations work.  The rapid dissemination of United Nations activities had aided in sensitizing local populations on key global issues of peace, development and human rights.  As traditional information tools, such as radio, television and print, were still often inaccessible in developing countries, there was a need to broaden the use of media through new communications tools.  The United Nations Information Centres played a crucial role in disseminating information, particularly in areas with scarce access to it.  He stressed the need to maintain and strengthen the Centres in Africa, given the continent’s dearth of digital technology, which made it difficult to transmit information across distances.


Despite the difficulties facing the Centres, African countries were making every effort to sustain them, he said.  The Centre in Ouagadougou was no exception.  Its coverage of the Sahel region allowed it to play a role in early warning and advocacy regarding issues of concern to Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, such as combating poverty, food insecurity, drought and other natural disasters, famine and desert locust attacks.  Its strategic role in disseminating information and promoting the Organization’s initiatives to address social, political and humanitarian crises in the region was paramount.  The Centre had developed partnerships with local Governments and civil society to reinforce the Organization’s action in the Sahel region.  Together, they had set up seminars, briefings, exhibits and events to commemorate days proclaimed by the United Nations, as well as supported action to strengthen local communication actors.


In addition, the Ouagadougou Centre translated into local languages United Nations documents related to the Millennium Development Goals, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter and statutes of the International Court of Justice, he said.  To broaden its audience, it had signed a partnership with the Pan-African television network, Africable, to carry its United Nations programming.  The Governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad had made available free-of-charge housing facilities, as well as television and radio broadcast equipment in order to air United Nations programming.  He stressed the need to bolster the Centre’s personnel and funding so that it could widen the scope of its activities to reach more people in the region.


ABDOU SALAM DIALLO (Senegal), aligning himself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that in today’s world, information and communication served to bring people together, and shrink time and distance.  He fully appreciated the Department’s ongoing improvements in serving the United Nations and embodying the particular needs of people worldwide, especially those in developing countries.  Although new media were important, “speed can be a mixed blessing”, and he emphasized the vital role played by traditional forms of journalism, such as radio, print, and television.


He emphasized parity needs of Africa and called on the United Nations to address the digital divide in developing countries.  His Government was aware of its own responsibility in that regard, and was taking steps to address those challenges.  He stressed the important role and remarkable contribution made by the Department on the ground, especially in reaching populations worldwide.  Lastly, he commended the Department’s work on the question of Palestine.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record