SECOND COMMITTEE EXPLORES POTENTIAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AS EMPOWERING TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT

3 October 2001
GA/EF/2957

SECOND COMMITTEE EXPLORES POTENTIAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AS EMPOWERING TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT

03/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/EF/2957

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Second Committee

8th Meeting (PM)  

SECOND COMMITTEE EXPLORES POTENTIAL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

AS EMPOWERING TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT

With General Debate Concluded,

Committee Considers Science, Technology for Development

Transfer alone was not sufficient to resolve technological imbalance, the representative of Belgium told the Second Committee this afternoon as it began consideration of science and technology for development.  The right environment was needed to engender creativity, individual competition and the freedom to think.

The intellectual and cognitive foundations of society had to be consolidated in order to gain from the explosion in access to knowledge, said the representative, who was speaking on behalf of the European Union.  Reducing the technology gap was not a panacea, but if measures to that end were applied correctly, with priority given to poverty reduction, it could become an empowering tool for development.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, the representative of Iran said the immense potential of technology needed to be harnessed if the world was to avoid further marginalizing developing countries.  He urged the United Nations to focus the system's work on issues central to technology transfer and on the building of domestic technologies to promote the competitiveness of developing countries.

The resources available to the United Nations system to bridge the technology gap between North and South were inadequate, he added.  The Commission on Science and Technology for Development had continuously suffered from a lack of adequate resources to finance and further promote its activities.  Urgent action should be taken to provide extrabudgetary resources to strengthen the Commission and its activities.

Information technology should make a difference in raising education levels, promoting health services and enhancing the efficiency of government, said the representative of Brazil.  She also highlighted the need for nations to develop local information content to preserve diverse cultural, ethnic and linguistic identities.  In order to address local needs, different cultural backgrounds and diverse economic realities, efforts should be directed towards the generation of local production.

The countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), like other developing countries, continued to suffer from the dearth of capacity-building in science and engineering, said the representative of Barbados.  The situation was further exacerbated by the continued and debilitating brain drain of their scientists to the developed world.  There was an urgent need to develop and strengthen the science and technology infrastructure in the Caribbean.

Statements were also made this afternoon by the representatives of Romania, Russian Federation, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Central American countries, Belize and the Dominican Republic), Pakistan, Morocco and the Republic of Korea.  The Officer-in-Charge of the New York Office of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) introduced the Secretary-General's report on the item.

Also this afternoon, the Committee concluded its general debate with statements by the representatives of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Myanmar, Namibia, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as the representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 October, to discuss migration and development.

Background

The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this afternoon to conclude its general debate.

The Committee was also expected to begin consideration of science and technology for development, for which it had before it the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordinating role of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development in support of efforts by developing countries to benefit from science and technology (document A/56/96-E/2001/87). 

The report states that in response to a call for a comprehensive and coordinated system-wide approach to building an effective knowledge acquisition and dissemination capacity, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) initiated the establishment of the Science and Technology for Development Network.  Among its objectives are to identify and disseminate best practices in the development, assessment, transfer, adaptation and diffusion of technology.  Another important decision recently taken is the creation by the Secretary-General of the Information and Communication Technologies Task Force and the appointment of the advisory group, which formulated recommendations for its establishment.

According to the report, the main objective of coordination should be to improve the exchange of information, to promote joint programming and common action and to avoid duplication as much as possible.  Among the proposals is to establish a mechanism, such as a subcommittee, to monitor the implementation of and follow-up to the recommendations of the Commission's regular sessions.  This would require the establishment of a new trust fund to enable the Commission to implement its recommendations.

The report adds that, in its capacity as science and technology coordinator, the Commission could play an important role by helping countries to formulate national science and technology policies, strategies, assessments and activities.

Statements in General Debate

GARETH HOWELL, Director a.i., International Labour Organization (ILO) Liaison Office with the United Nations, said that a healthy global economy certainly could offer important stimulus for new types of business and economic activity.  Yet globalization still worked for too few people.  Inequality had grown, as many were excluded by lack of knowledge, of assets and of opportunities. 

The ILO believed that the testing ground for the global economy was its capacity to deliver decent work for all, he said.  Work was the lens through which peopled viewed how the economy was faring.  The information revolution, trade and the global economy were, for many, abstract concepts whose importance was gauged by their effect in the workplace, and by whether they expanded opportunities for work and income.

Faced with that challenge, he said that the ILO believed that the limits of sectoral solutions to integrated global problems had been reached.  The relationship between economic, environmental and social aspects of development should inspire and guide the policies and action of the system as a whole.  Within such a framework, the ILO was committed to promoting strategic means for reducing poverty, enhancing social integration and seeking a global economy that offered decent and productive work for all.  That could be done through creating jobs, promoting rights at work, improving social protection and promoting social dialogue.

DIMCE NIKOLOV (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said that during the last decade his country’s economy had faced serious problems, both internal and external, which had a negative impact on development.  The debt problem was one of particular importance to his economy.  International development cooperation in the form of either official development assistance (ODA), or other forms of assistance, could play an important role in attracting investments and domestic funding in developing countries.  The United Nations system, and particularly UNCTAD initiatives and operational activities, could encourage the development of economies in transition.

He added that the high level of foreign indebtedness weakened efforts to fight poverty in the developing countries, particularly in the least developed countries (LDCs).  A comprehensive approach and new initiatives were required to find a durable solution to the debt problem, especially for the heavily indebted poor countries.  Debt cancellation should be seen not only as a fair solution, but also as the best investment in the elimination of poverty.

Landlocked countries, he said, had been faced with many obstacles in international trade.  The lack of territorial access to the sea was a great disadvantage for developing countries.  Those countries depended heavily on export-based products for their economic and social growth.  High transport costs made their exports expensive and less competitive.  Special attention should be given to the interests of those countries at the next round of trade negotiations.

KYAW TINT SWE (Myanmar) said that debt relief should be considered an integral part of a comprehensive concept for poverty reduction.  He was encouraged to see that the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative had already provided $25 billion in debt relief to 19 countries in Africa, and urged the international community to take more effective measures so that other eligible countries could also benefit from the Initiative.  He welcomed the decision of some donor countries to cancel their debt claims in the context of the Initiative and encouraged other countries to do the same.  Only then could the developing countries, caught in the debt trap, overcome their plight and move forward in their endeavour to achieve sustainable development.

The ODA, he said, must also be considered an important tool for development cooperation and partnership.  Helping the developing countries was not only a good investment for the developed countries but would also prevent costly expenditure arising out of the outbreak of conflicts.  Therefore, declining ODA trends should be reversed and every effort should be made to meet the targets agreed to in the Millennium Declaration. 

From the point of view of developing countries, the report card for global capital flow in 2001 was not very impressive, he said.  Most of the international capital flows headed towards developed countries.  The international community would have the opportunity to discuss wide-ranging issues affecting development, such as resource mobilization, trade and the ODA, at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey in 2002.  That Conference would be the test for the new cooperation and partnership between developed and developing countries, as well as all stakeholders in the global economy.

GERHARD THERON (Namibia) said that as nations appraised the global economy, efforts should be geared towards addressing the imbalances in the world market to enable the poor to fish for themselves.  Developing countries needed the assistance of the developed countries to redesign their own development paradigm; eradicate poverty; enhance meaningful participation through capacity and institution-building; establish a political and economic system favourable to individual freedom; and strengthen international cooperation through partnership.

The fact that the Bretton Woods institutions were now paying particular attention to Africa’s extreme poverty was a positive development.  In that effort, his country was ready to work with all relevant actors to reverse declining commodity prices, illuminate regional conflicts and civil strife, and replace misdirected structural adjustment programmes, which were introduced with the purpose of servicing external debt.

Namibia, he said, would continue to cooperate with all major stakeholders to enhance international cooperation through partnership.  As a member of the African Union, it would endeavour to rally the international community to build a consensus on coordinating assistance for Africa’s development priorities in the context of the New African Initiative.

ERWIN ORTIZ GANDARILLAS (Bolivia) said the conditions that had arisen in the global economy, which were not favourable to the developing countries, were exacerbated by inequitable trade and investment patterns.  The gap between developed and developing countries with regard to living conditions, technological progress, telecommunications and knowledge, among other areas, was growing.  In addition, foreign direct investment was concentrated in the developed countries. From 1994 to 2001, foreign direct investment received by developing countries decreased from 41 per cent to 19 per cent. Those realities meant that globalization spelt growth and prosperity for some while it brought marginalization to others.

The Millennium Declaration, he said, had referred to the almost 1 billion people living in poverty.  World leaders had committed to halving the number of those living on less than $1 a day by 2015.  That challenge was even greater today, considering the state of the world economy.  Present economic conditions were not responding to the needs of developing countries, particularly the poorest among them.  He hoped that the Conference on Financing for Development would help achieve genuine cooperation in the area of financing to support the development efforts of developing countries.

It would be interesting, he said, to explore the possibility of building bridges in various areas -- political, economic and financial.  In the area of trade, the international community must build bridges to allow free access of products from developing countries to the markets of developed countries.  Also, it was imperative that the international community design policies that would universalize technology and information.  The greatest responsibility in that transformation was incumbent on those who had the greatest impact on the present system.

SERBINI ALI (Brunei Darussalam) said the world community was faced with a new and demanding environment as it began the twenty-first century.  There were rapid economic and structural changes as it took up the opportunities from open trade and investments.  Swift innovations in information and communication technology were so widespread that those technologies were affecting the way everyone lived and did business.

Globalization was a large and complex subject with economic, political, social and environmental dimensions, he added.  It brought with it challenges and opportunities.  It created wide disparities in wealth and knowledge among regions, countries and even among people within a country.  Globalization highlighted increasing interdependence, especially in trade and investment.  Economic success in that new economy would depend very much on the capacity to acquire and use knowledge and on adaptability in the face of change.

He said the recent UNCTAD report on the status of world foreign direct investment flows to developing countries was quite discouraging.  But trade alone was not sufficient to lift developing countries out of poverty.  The developing countries needed to bolster their capacity if they were to partake in today’s highly interdependent economic activities.  There must be readily available software and hardware so that those countries were able to reap the benefits of information technology.  To achieve that, governments needed the cooperation of international organizations, the private sector and academic institutions.

S. SHAHID HUSAIN, Senior Adviser, Organization of the Islamic Conference, said a number of important issues on the Committee's agenda -- notably, macroeconomic and sectoral policy questions, environment, migration, and the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources -- were matters of concern to the Conference and would be followed with keen interest.

In his statement, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs had drawn attention to the deeper than expected slowdown in the global economy, he said.  The Chairman of the Group of 77 had attributed that to the significant decline in the growth of global output and trade, led by a slowdown and retrenchment of economic activities in the developed economies.  In addition, the representative of the World Bank had stated that the impact of the recent terrorist attacks would further hurt economic growth worldwide, with harsher repercussions for the developing countries.  All of that called for a global resolve to seek remedial measures for which the Committee provided an appropriate platform for reflection, consultations and action.

In seeking the desired solutions, he added, it would be highly prudent to examine not only the symptoms but also the root causes of the planet's economic and social ills, including poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, prolonged foreign occupation and inequitable trading patterns.  Those causes needed to be identified and remedied by resolute national and international action.

DAUDI MWAKAWAGO (United Republic of Tanzania) said the slowdown in the major economies of the world would have serious repercussions on the flow of assistance (whether from ODA or foreign direct investment) to many developing countries, and to LDCs in particular.  In that context, it was imperative that urgent measures be undertaken by the international community to avoid a financial meltdown in those countries.  Furthermore, prospects for sustained economic growth would be dampened by developing countries’ increased vulnerability to an unfavourable external economic environment and other challenges arising from the processes of globalization.

The future of developing countries was further jeopardized by the high rate of poverty prevalent in the developing world, he said.  As of today, one fifth of humankind still lived in abject poverty.  Poverty was counter to development, as it made affected countries unattractive to foreign capital.  As a result, foreign investments in many of those countries had become unpredictable.

That situation, he said, had created a big disparity in terms of development and wealth between the developed and developing countries.  It had widened the gap between the rich North and the poor South, and in the process exacerbated the poor-rich divide within individual countries.  In order to address that problem, concerted efforts by the international community were required.  Above all, there was a need to fulfil commitments entered into earlier by developed countries at major conferences and summits of the past decade.

Science and Technology

The Committee, having concluded its general debate, SUSAN BRANDWAYN,

Officer-in-Charge, New York Office of UNCTAD, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordinating role of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, which addressed the issues in separate sections.  Section III was devoted to the interaction between the Economic and Social Council and the Commission.  Section V provided action-oriented proposals to improve the interaction and coordination of science and technology activities in the United Nations system.

Those proposals, she said, were aimed at:  providing adequate resources through a trust fund; establishing an inter-agency network for science and technology; coordinating science and technology at the national level; undertaking joint studies with different agencies; coordinating technical cooperation; and follow-up to conferences and collaboration with other functional commissions.

To improve coordination in science and technology, efforts had been made to ensure broader participation by United Nations agencies in the work of the Commission's panels, she said.  Their reports and outcomes over the past two years had been more widely disseminated, especially through greater use of the Internet.  In addition, there was an increase in the level of cooperation between the Commission and its secretariat and other bodies of the United Nations system, especially the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Commission on the Status of Women and their secretariats.

BAGHER ASADI (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that technology was advancing at a very rapid pace, thus providing an immense potential for development through leapfrogging stages of technological development.  However, the fact that such an immense potential was not being adequately harnessed threatened to further marginalize the economies and peoples of the majority of developing countries.  He urged the United Nations to focus the system's work on issues central to technology transfer and to the building of domestic technology supply capacity to promote the competitiveness of developing countries. 

The Commission, he continued, should formulate proposals to ensure that the TRIPS Agreement [Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] served to promote the development of developing countries, including the possibility of a code of conduct for all countries which facilitated access to and dissemination and transfer of technologies on concessional and preferential terms from developed to developing countries.  He also believed in the feasibility of the establishment of an international mechanism within the Commission, to promote research in areas of critical importance to the developing countries, especially in the fields of health and agriculture.

The resources available to the United Nations system to meet the challenges faced by developing countries in designing the policies and strategies required to bridge the technology gap between North and South were inadequate and needed to be enhanced, he said.  The Commission had suffered continuously from the lack of adequate resources to finance and further promote its activities.  Urgent action should be taken to provide extrabudgetary resources to strengthen the Commission and its activities.

Noting the growing importance of the work on science and technology for development to be implemented within the Commission, he strongly recommended that a special trust fund be established within UNCTAD to assist the Commission in implementing its various mandates.

MICHEL GOFFIN (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Iceland, said the somewhat antagonistic picture of the debate surrounding technology for development should be transcended in order to build a true partnership between technology and sustainable development.  That could be accomplished by fully integrating the technological dimension in development strategies, programmes and projects, with a view to strengthening institutional capacity.

He added that discussions of technology should not be restricted to information technology alone.  Concentrating only on information technology left aside a whole range of new technologies in the molecular, genetic and non-technological fields, which were equally revolutionary.  Those new technologies would change development strategies irreversibly, in particular in the medical and food sectors.  There was, therefore, a need for a broader vision of the real impact which all those new technologies would have on lives and development prospects.

The European Union recognized the urgent need to bridge what might be considered a technology gap between rich countries and the poorest of developing countries, he said.  That divide was exacerbated by shortcomings in basic infrastructure, and by the absence of knowledge-related structures sufficiently developed to derive maximum benefit from access to information.  The creation of an environment which was favourable to human intellectual development could contribute to redressing the technological balance.  Necessary material infrastructure, the intellectual and cognitive foundation of society, had to be consolidated in order to gain from the explosion in access to knowledge.

Reducing the technology gap was not a panacea, but if measures to that end were applied correctly, with priority given to poverty reduction, they could become an empowering tool for development, he said.  In the debate on technology for development, it was evident that favourable policies at the national level were a keystone of any sensible policy on the subject.  Transfer alone, however, was not sufficient.  The right environment was needed to engender creativity, individual competition, the freedom to think, to work, to dedicate oneself to a subject, in peace and security.

OVIDIU IERULESCU (Romania) said that the last years had offered substantive developments in the area of new and innovative technologies within the United Nations system.  The year 2001 saw the creation of two main initiatives, the Information and Communication Technologies Task Force and the Science and Technology for Development Network, at the fifth session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development.  The success of the future activities of those bodies would depend on coordination.

Among other initiatives, he said, Romania was working to develop innovative partnerships between its public institutions and private companies specializing in information and communication technologies.  It had also created an Information and Communication Technologies Promotion Group to facilitate and integrate all

e-developments for the benefit of all citizens and the business community.

The World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in two phases in 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis), should result in specific outcomes underlining the role of governments, the private sector and civil society in promoting and disseminating the benefits of information technology and bridging the digital divide, he said.  The willingness of his Government to organize a preparatory regional conference in Bucharest in 2002 for the Summit would complement Romanian initiatives in building an information society for all.

EVGENY STANISLAVOV (Russian Federation) said the Commission on Science and Technology for Development should design its broad-scale agenda encompassing scientific, technological, economic, commercial, ethical, social and educational aspects of the issue.  Furthermore, current initiatives aimed at bridging the digital divide should incorporate the Commission’s previous conclusions with respect to information and communication technologies.

In that context, he added, the Commission should intensify its activities aimed at developing science and technology partnerships and networks, including those between the public and private sectors.  It should also aim its efforts at assisting developing States and countries with economies in transition in gaining access to new technologies by using the recently established science and technology networks.

With respect to national capacity-building in biotechnology, he said governments should design and implement comprehensive and consistent policies aimed at developing biotechnology within the framework of their national strategies.  They should also create the necessary institutional mechanisms for coordinating activities in that field.  The international community should coordinate its efforts to assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition in capacity-building, particularly in respect to formulating frameworks for legal and regulatory regimes relevant to biotechnology.

BERND NIEHAUS (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Central American countries, Belize and the Dominican Republic, said that in recent years the world had witnessed a revolution in information technology and information management, which greatly impacted global economic and social relations.  Information and knowledge were increasingly available and becoming the main component in production.  The world was witnessing the dawn of a new society based on ideas, creativity and capability.  At present, the process of globalization was being led by technology, which accelerated the spread of information across borders.

While the new technologies held much potential for developing countries, those countries had difficulties in employing the new technology adequately, he noted.  The world map of technological achievement revealed immense inequalities.  Limited infrastructure, high costs and human resources hindered the utilization of the new technology by developing countries, especially in rural areas.  The new technology must be channelled for the urgent needs of the poorest populations of the world.  Technological progress must be put at the service of development, so it would become an instrument for growth.

The experience of some countries, he said, had revealed that the role of the State was indispensable for creating an environment that would foster a society based on knowledge.  Limitations of infrastructure could be overcome by using facilities collectively.  The Commission should see how it could improve coordination among the various bodies of the United Nations system.  The private sector was a significant resource, which must be harnessed, in the area of new technologies.  In the modern world, only those countries that adopted the new technologies enthusiastically would progress.

MOHAMMAD HASSAN (Pakistan) said technology concentrated in the hands of a few countries exposed the world to monopolistic pricing.  With the decline in economic growth, the ODA and other forms of financing, technology remained the only hope of the future for developing countries.  It could serve as the engine for economic growth and development.  There was a need to develop a holistic and participatory approach to sharing technology that took into account the needs of developing countries.

Access to technology was the most important problem facing the developing nations, he said.  It contributed to their lack of access to world markets and the level of competitiveness of their goods.  In that regard, the position of the Commission should be strengthened, and he supported the proposal to establish a trust fund for activities in that area.  There had been a positive response from the private and other sectors in helping nations bridge the digital divide and other gaps in technology.  There was also a need for a skilled information technology workforce, as well as sufficient infrastructure to develop information technology networks.  In that regard, Pakistan was working to share its technologies with other developing countries.

JUNE CLARKE (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that CARICOM States, like other developing countries, continued to suffer from the dearth of capacity-building in science and engineering.  The situation was further exacerbated by the continued and debilitating brain drain of developing country scientists to the developed world. 

The action-oriented proposals of the Commission compared favourably with the objectives of the Caribbean Council on Science and Technology, she said.  Established in July 2000, the Council was charged with, among other things, implementing CARICOM policies and programmes in science and technology and initiating actions to enhance cooperation, coordination and rationalization of science and technology in its member States. 

She said that there was an urgent need to develop and strengthen the science and technology infrastructure in the Caribbean.  She reiterated the call made during last year's debate for the Commission to meet with a representative of the Caribbean Council to discuss cooperation.  The proposals for coordinating science and technology at the national level were timely, and should allow the Commission to play a more dynamic and direct role in assisting developing countries to improve and develop their capacities in science and technology.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil) said that capacity-building became even more important in the context of a globalized world, where information and communication technologies were increasingly relevant.  In order to promote development, information technology should be able to make a difference in disseminating education opportunities and raising education levels, promoting health services and enhancing the efficiency of public administration.

She said the development of local content was crucial, as it ensured not only wider access but also the preservation of diverse cultural, ethnic and linguistic identities.  In that process, individuals should become more than the recipients of foreign content.  Improving and augmenting content in local languages was not just a matter of translation.  It was more than that.  In order to address local needs, different cultural backgrounds and diverse economic realities, efforts should be directed towards the generation of local production.

Allowing developing countries to develop knowledge more suitable to their environment opened the possibility for South-South cooperation, she added.  When it came to science and technology, the usual reaction was to look North.  In doing so, exclusively, developing countries might lose the opportunity to cooperate among each other in an area where they faced similar challenges.

ABDELLAH BENMELLOUK (Morocco) said that during the second high-level dialogue on strengthening cooperation for development, participants had reaffirmed the strategic importance of information and communication technologies for economic and social development.  They also agreed that one of the present challenges was to ensure that developing countries could access those technologies in order to bridge the technological gap between them and the developed countries, and to integrate themselves in the global economy.  However, their efforts had been hindered by structural limitations, the most important among those being lack of resources.

The United Nations, he said, should play a lead role in identifying strategies to use information and communication technologies for development.  He supported the strengthening of the Commission, which should be provided with the necessary resources to assist developing countries in the area of science and technology.  The United Nations could help developing countries to assess their needs in order to take the required measures.  A partnership with the private sector could also contribute to developing action programmes to strengthen institutional capacity and human resources.

HO-JIN LEE (Republic of Korea) said that in recent decades, the world had witnessed many breakthroughs in the area of science and technology.  The development and diffusion of new technology had opened up a wide window for developing countries to realize their development goals.  At the same time, it had presented new hurdles for those unable to harness its potential.  Due support should be given to the promotion of multilateral cooperation to science and

technology.  Public and private partnerships were crucial to that cooperation.  The recommendations contained in the Secretary-General's report were relevant for the most part.

His country's rapid economic growth could be attributed to its utilization of the new technologies, he said.  It had been pursuing a 14-year programme, beginning in 1994, to raise its biotechnology capacity to an international level.  He hoped that the deliberations in the Committee would lead to a fruitful result that reflected the needs of developing countries.

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For information media. Not an official record.