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STATEMENT BY MR. MANSOOR SUHAIL, PRESS COUNSELLOR,
PERMANENT MISSION OF PAKISTAN TO THE UNITED NATIONS,
AT THE GENERAL DEBATE
OF THE UN COMMITEE ON INFORMATION
DURING ITS 26TH SESSION
28 APRIL 2004
The United Nations Committee on Information has the primary responsibility of addressing all issues in the domain of information. It had been envisaged as the forum to formulate a cogent and coherent information policy for the world which could bring about harmony, goodwill and greater understanding amongst peoples by building bridges between various societies, cultures, religions and regions. It was also supposed to have served as the vehicle for transforming infrastructural and communication capacities of the media in the developing world by sharing the rewards of technological advancements. It was constituted to play the central and pivotal role of providing a mandate to the Department of Public Information for its programmes, policies and activities. And might I add, that it was this Committee which was instituted as the rallying point for the establishment of a new world information and communication order, which had been envisioned as the framework for removing inequalities in the realm of information by seeking a balanced, objective and judicious flow of information.
It does not require a deep analysis or a thorough research to ascertain as to whether or not we have succeeded. Even a cursory glance at the situation would reveal that we have little gains and few achievements to report. The story of dwindling understanding between religions, cultures and ideologies reflects a less than optimistic picture. Misunderstandings are on the rise. It is becoming more and more difficult to understand and appreciate the concerns and views of one another. The stories about poverty and epidemic afflictions are seen and taken as pieces of fiction in one part of the world. Similarly a reality drama on the television in the developed world can hardly be believed as a reality in most of the developing countries. The gulf in almost all domains of human life is widening. A conscious and concerted campaign is therefore imperative to bridge the widening gulf.
My delegation therefore calls upon the members of the Committee to envision the role of this Committee as it was conceived 26 years ago. Let us not confine its ambit only to providing a mandate to the DPI, although that is equally important. Let us perceive for it the role that was envisioned. Let us remain fully conscious and cognizant of part " A " of the Resolution also which we adopt by consensus every year. Let us optimize the potential of this Committee and avail it for bridging the prevailing gulf.
The United Nations is a universal forum, where the issues and concerns faced by the world community are debated. A faithful coverage of such deliberations can help promote greater understanding and goodwill. In this regard the performance and functioning of the Department of Public Information is of crucial significance in the dissemination of information around the world of not only the deliberations of the member states, but also the policies and activities of the UN Secretariat. The role and performance of the Strategic Communication Services and the News Services Wings of the DPI has been of special significance to us. We have noted the concept of DPI envisaged in the Secretary General's report contained in document A/AC.198/2004/7, providing thematic overview of the DPI's four sub-programmes during 2006-2007. My delegation is convinced however, that the understanding of and support for the work of the UN on priority thematic issues, can go a long way in stepping up the process of developing understanding and goodwill between peoples of the world, through the UN Information Center services and other branches of the Strategic Communication Division.
The UN Information Centers play a pivotal role in reaching out to the people in their subjective countries of accreditation. Pakistan delegation attaches great importance to the work of the UN Information Centers, which can carry out a whole range of activities for a comprehensive dissemination of information about the priorities and objectives of the United Nations system. The network of these United Nations Information Centers has the capacity to reach out to the peoples around the globe through the media in different capitals of the world to effectively communicate the goals of the UN. Dissemination of information can be tailored to the objective requirements of a certain society, and the outreach depends on logistical impediments. Only United Nations Information Centers can do so effectively and comprehensively.
The media in the developed world can have direct access to the UN. Even otherwise it has the resources to cover the UN in a comprehensive manner depending on the will to do so. It is, on the contrary, the media and the people in a country like my own, which would need to be catered to with regard to the news concerning the U.N.. The United Nations Information Centers can do so most effectively. The concept of creating regional hubs has served to affect and hit at the most vital of the information services rendered by the DPI. The objective stated for this exercise in the report of the Secretary General contained in A/AC.198/2004/3, specifies that the concept of regionalization is "to strengthen the flow and exchange of information in developing countries". The report acknowledges that the majority of people of developing countries still do not have direct access, either to delivery services based on information and communication technologies or to the information products they provide. The report further states, that "the Secretary-General is aware that the gap between developed and developing countries regarding access to information and communications technologies has continued to widen, and that vast segments of the populations in developing countries have yet to benefit from the information and technological revolution. The digital divide, especially the lack of connectivity, makes it all the more difficult to overcome the transportation and communications barriers that exist in much of the developing world.
The above evaluation of the Secretary General is pertinent. However, the strategy seems somewhat misplaced. The performance and efficiency of the United Nations Information Centers can be maximized by closer supervision and better coordination. Remote control tactics cannot work in such matters and a regional hub is not the solution for regions like Asia, where three billion peoples live under unique socio-cultural and geo-political conditions.
Therefore, my delegation urges an unequivocal affirmation, that the UN Information Centers in the developing countries will not be affected, and their performance and activities would on the contrary be strengthened through greater coordination with other divisions of the DPI. The concepts enunciated by DPI in its report have obvious flaws and is not conducive for the developing countries. The raison d' etre advanced by the DPI for creating regional hubs is neither convincing nor acceptable. If any Information Center fails to perform at the optimum level, then the solution is not to eliminate it but to identify the problems which afflict it. Please permit me to point out here that in consideration of the useful role being played by the United Nations Information Center in Islamabad, my Government has paid Rs.604,000/- equivalent to approximately $10,500/- to cover the expenditure on its rent during the past year, as in the year before that.
Allow me now to focus on another matter which concerns the coverage of the UN and related activities. My delegation would like to urge equal, if not greater, access to the Secretary General and other sources of information at the United Nations to the media of the developing countries. It is obvious that resource constraints do not permit all the print and electronic media organizations in Pakistan to base their correspondents at the UN. However, those which have managed may be facilitated by the DPI to gain the much desired access. Media organizations from the developing countries have some concerns in this regard. For instance, it would be useful for the Committee to know as to how many interviews were arranged for the Secretary General with the media of the developed world, as against those from the developing world. We would like also to know from the DPI as to haw much office space has been allocated in the UN Press Gallery to the media of the developed. world, as against that of the developing world.
Such information would be useful for the purposes of an equitable and balanced dissemination of information. It is the task of the DPI to keep the peoples of the world fully informed of the collective voice of the UN membership, as reflected in its decisions and resolutions. Because of the limited capacities of the public and private media in the developing countries, it would also be desirable for the DPI to work more aggressively in disseminating information in those countries, particularly, with regard to the social, economic and cultural issues.
From the floor of this Committee, I would like to congratulate the UN Correspondents Association for its Dag Hammerskjold Memorial Scholarship Fund, which sponsors journalists from the developing world to come to the UN headquarters for reporting on its activities during the General Assembly session. We encourage the DPI to extend support to the Fund, enabling it to double the number of such scholarships for the journalists in this context.
My delegation joins others in observing the Freedom of the Press Day every year on May third. We attach great importance to the principle of freedom of information and press. Pakistan has a commendable record of achievements and accomplishments in this field. As a result of policy decision of the Government, the public and private media, both print and electronic, have multiplied and emerged as strong pillars for sustainable democracy in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have access to all the channels and sources of news in the world. We are, however, grappling with the reality of real capacity of our media. The media in developing countries is lagging behind, not because of political will, but because of the lack of resources to build up the information infrastructures.
The enormity of technological superiority and resourcefulness of media in developed countries, presents a sharp contrast to the media in developing countries, where even access to computer technology is still considered a luxury. The journalists in developing countries do not have access to better training facilities. One may assimilate the reasons for a void between the capacities of the media in the developed and the developing world, by studying the resources at , the disposal of any news agency, newspaper or television network in the developed world. We would request the DPI to enhance awareness of this major problem by organizing seminars and symposia worldwide to deliberate upon these aspects. Reports and recommendations based on such seminars would help build consensus on evolving the future course of action to redress serious imbalances.
Pakistan delegation would also like to emphasize the importance it attaches to Urdu Broadcasts for the consumption of hundreds of millions of people in the Asian region. We would request DPI to furnish information about the Urdu Broadcasts. As regards the report on the management of UN libraries contained in document A/AC.198/2004/4, we would like to stress the desirability of enhancing accessibility of libraries to people in countries such as Pakistan.
The International Program for the Development of Communications under the auspices of the UNESCO holds a great hope for the developing countries. It was designed to strengthen the communication capacities of the developing countries. A balanced flow of information from the developed to the developing world and vice versa would only be possible if the media in the developing world could be strengthened in terms of sufficient infrastructural facilities and better training for journalists. Journalists and media persons in the developing world are excellent professionals with commendable achievements to their credit despite inherent handicaps. If the goal of bridging the gulf between peoples, regions, religions and cultures is to be achieved, it can, only be done by a strong will from all sides. The International Program for the Development of Communications, can serve as the best catalyst. It is in this context that a progress with regard to the IPDC by UNESCO is of great significance to us. We therefore, request a report by UNESCO before the Committee on Information in its 27th Substantive Session to enable us to maximize its objectives.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to reiterate that my delegation looks forward to the process of negotiations and would contribute meaningfully under the capable leadership of the distinguished delegation of Qatar as the Chairman of the Group of 77 to the success of our work. We shall work for consensus because that is very important at this stage.
Mr. Chairman, before concluding my statement, I would like to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to the Under Secretary General for Public Information, Mr. Shashi Tharoor, not only for his comprehensive report to the Committee, but also for ably leading his Department. His wisdom and intellectual foresight are indeed, assets for the Secretariat.
My delegation would like also to express our greetings and felicitations to the Chairman of the Committee on Information, the distinguished Permanent Representative of Bangladesh, Ambassador Iftikhar Chaudhry, for guiding the work of the Committee and enabling constructive deliberations. Through you, Mr. Chairman, I would like to congratulate your other colleagues also on the Bureau of the Committee, whose dedicated work has ensured a fruitful conclusion of our work. Finally, I would like to recognize and complement Mrs. Therese Gastaut, the Secretary of the Committee for her diligence and professionalism in assisting the Committee with dedication.
I thank you.***