New UN communications chief outlines priorities for 2007

Kiyotaka Akasaka

30 April 2007 – Delivering his first major policy address since assuming the top United Nations communications post earlier this year, Under-Secretary-General Kiyotaka Akasaka today described efforts to reorient the Department for Public Information (DPI) both structurally and programmatically, and said priority attention would be paid to peace and security, climate change, development and human rights.

Mr. Akasaka told the UN Committee on Information, meeting in New York, that DPI aims to reform in a stable manner. “We must build on the gains made in the past, while remaining attentive to the demands of the media, to changes in the Organization’s priorities, and to new and revised mandates given to us by Member States,” he said.

The Committee, which began its 2007 session today, examines the UN’s public information policies and activities in light of international relations concerns. Consisting of 110 member States, it is also tasked with the promotion of a more equitable world communications order to strengthen peace and international understanding.

Opening the session today, Committee Chairman Rudolf Christen of Switzerland said that the meeting coincided with a “new phase” at the UN, under the leadership of the new Under-Secretary-General. The Department of Public Information was the Organization’s “loudspeaker,” he said, but that loudspeaker must be used to create a clear and coherent message.

Under-Secretary-General Akasaka said DPI has made steady progress in meeting its mission and explained that its activities would continue to become more strategic, echoing the directive put in place by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he took office in January.

Citing the example of the General Assembly’s 2006 High-level Dialogue on Migration, he said an analysis of the media coverage of that event showed that the key messages on the UN’s role on migration framed by DPI were picked up by journalists more than 90 per cent of the time.

He also pointed to the wide reach of the UN’s website, which receives over 50 million unique visits annually. In addition, over 300 million people now have access to UN Radio programmes, many of which are now available on the Internet.

Mr. Akasaka also described several new outreach programmes, including one on the Holocaust. “The observance in the General Assembly Hall this year included representatives of various communities who were targeted during the Holocaust, as well as students who will carry their message of tolerance and hope to future generations.”

The Department is now focusing on four priority themes: peace and security; climate change; development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of global antipoverty targets; and human rights, he said.

Drawing attention to the work of the UN Information Centres (UNICs) operating in various countries, he said: “They give our global messages a local accent – and as a result they bring the UN closer to the people it serves.”

Reflecting on his own career path, which included work at several international organizations and led to his appointment in March as Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Mr. Akasaka said he had long been familiar with the UN’s work through his travels.

“At each place, I discovered amazing stories of people striving to make lives better. Behind those stories often lay the light footprint of the United Nations and its staff. I always admired the commitment and dedication of those people – the unsung heroes – who stood guard between enemy combatants, built tents for refugees, vaccinated children against deadly diseases, and brought food and water to the needy,” he said.

“Now I have the opportunity to tell the story of the United Nations to the whole world. It is an amazing opportunity and a remarkable challenge.”

Following Mr. Akasaka’s presentation, delegations began their discussion of UN information issues. Katharina Ahrendts of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, began the debate by commending DPI’s efforts to develop a more strategic approach in spreading the Organization’s message, welcoming the new system of regional hubs within the network of information centres.

On behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Pakistan’s Sarukh Amil said the information centres were vital to the flow of information and helped bridge gaps between developed and developing countries and called for adequate funding for them. He also welcomed efforts to increase awareness of UN peacekeeping efforts. Peacekeepers often produced “huge success stories” and it was important to tell their stories globally and locally.

Related Stories