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26th Session (2004)

General Debate: United States of America

Statement by Mr. David A. Traystman, Advisor, Representative of the Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations (27 April 2004)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States extends its appreciation to the Chairman of the Committee and the other members of the bureau for their continuing efforts. The United States welcomes Mr. Tharoor's informative statement of April 26th and would like to thank him for his able leadership of the Department. My delegation also commends all members of DPI for their hard work during this past very busy year. I pledge United States support for the Department's efforts. My delegation looks forward to working with all members of this committee in a constructive manner as we consider the important issues before us.

My delegation would like to recognize Madame Therese Gastaut, the Director of DPI's Strategic Communications Division and the Secretary of this committee and Ms. Phyllis Dickstein, the Head Librarian at the Dag Hammarskjold Library, for their dedication and untiring efforts in support of the noble goals of this Organization. We wish them well in their retirements.

Mr. Chairman,

On Monday, May 3rd, we will commemorate World Press Freedom Day. A cornerstone of American democracy is freedom of the press, enshrined in our Constitution's Bill of Rights. We strongly believe that a free press is fundamental for true democracy. For this particular body — the Committee on Information — it is important that we recall the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' affirmation in Article 19 that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." I commend all members of this committee, the statement delivered by Under-Secretary-General Tharoor in the Second Committee on October 23rd of last year in which he said that "Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed his confidence that the Summit [World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)] will reaffirm the universality of press freedom through all media, as envisioned in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." The United States is very gratified to note that the international community, in the Declaration of Principles adopted at the Summit in December, reaffirmed Article 19 as an "essential foundation of the Information Society" and the international community's "commitment to the principles of freedom of the press and freedom of information, as well as those of the independence, pluralism and diversity of media, which are essential to the Information Society."

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to comment on several of the issues before us.

My delegation commends DPI for assuming a leadership role in the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries and for leading the way towards improving coordination of UN libraries. Now that the Steering Committee has completed its organizational phase, we look forward to the achievement of concrete results which will enable UN system libraries to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of their diverse clientele. Although we are impressed with the wide range of subjects being considered by the Steering Committee and its subcommittees, we note that the report does not refer to the setting of deadlines or to the establishment of timeframes. My delegation would like to ask how the Steering Committee will ensure that its program of work will be pursued in a timely manner.

On the question of the regionalization of the UN Information Centre (UNIC) system, we commend Mr. Tharoor and the States members of the European Union for reaching an agreement to close nine information centers in Western Europe and to consolidate them in a new Regional UN Information Centre (RUNIC) in Brussels. UN system offices are maintained in over 170 countries. Several UN agencies each maintain offices in more than 120 countries worldwide. My delegation would like to ask the Department to circulate a paper listing the existing UN houses and UN system offices in the countries curretly hosting information centres.

The Secretariat, in three reports: "Strengthening of the United Nations: an agenda for further change" A/57/387 and Corr.1), "Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the review of the structure and operations of United Nations information centres" A/57/747 and Corr.1), and this year's progress report on the "Rationalization of the network of United Nations information centres" (A/AC.198/2004/3) has comprehensively and convincingly explained the need to reorganize the information centre system. Please allow me, Mr. Chairman, to quote from the progress report:

In short, the Secretary-General, as the Chief Administrative Officer of this Organization, and the experts in the Department, have decided that reorganizing the information center system is a priority activitity. My delegation believes we should not tie their hands but work with them to effect this long-overdue reorganization. As we enter the next phase, my delegation looks forward to completion of the process within the three-year timeframe set out in the Secretary-General's reform report with the end result being creation of an information system which will better meet the needs of the people in all Member States.

Mr. Chairman,

My delegation commends the Department for adopting a client-oriented approach in its interactions with other Secretariat departments. We are especially pleased to note that formal working relationships have been established with 24 clients and that 30 communications strategies were concluded with other Secretariat departments.

My delegation is also pleased to note that the Department completed its first annual program impact review earlier this year and that it has formulated 170 performance indicators to enable program managers to assess all their activities. It appears from the reorientation report that performance indicators pertaining to the the Dag Hamarskjold Library only cover user services. My delegation would like to ask whether performance indicators have been developed which will aid in the assessment of the library's technical operations, such as indexing and cataloging? Have such indicators been developed to assist in the evaluation of the library's involvement in the Steering Committee?

Mr. Chairman,

My delegation notes that the Official Document System (ODS) will be made freely available to the public during the fourth quarter of this year through its integration with the UN website. We commend the Department and the Information Technology Services Division (ITSD) of the Office of Central Support Services for diligently working towards this important goal and especially for enabling searches of the ODS to be conducted in the six official languages. While commending DPI for endeavoring to achieve parity in the use of the six official languages on the UN website, especially the enhancement of the multilingual News Centre web portal and its efforts to expand its capacity to provide webcasts simultaneously in official languages, my delegation must note that multilingualism, as defined in this context, does not equate with universality. The six official languages are spoken by approximately 40% of first-language speakers worldwide. The UN website is a tool, not an electronic official document. Considering the imminent linkage of the ODS with the UN website, my delegation questions whether the use of the Secretariat's human and financial resources to try to achieve language parity on the website is justified in light of other priorities as decided by all Member States. My delegation suggests that in order to better carry out the basic mandate of the Department - to inform the peoples of the world of the important work being undertaken on their behalf - it would be more beneficial and equitable to post on the UN website the texts of important UN materials in languages additional to the official six.

I would also like to commend the Department: My delegation also commends DPI for its active leadership of the UN Communications Group, especially its role in formulating and implementing joint public information campaigns with other UN system organizations. We would like to highlight the Group's recognition of the importance of global public opinion polls in evaluating the impact of the Organization's communication efforts. We are pleased to note that the Group's task force on the World Summit on the Information Society, led by the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU), worked towards engaging the media as stakeholders of the information society and emphasized the role of freedom of opinion and expression and of the press.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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