COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION DISCUSSES SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF PILOT UN RADIO PROJECT

5 September 2001
PI/1372

COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION DISCUSSES SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF PILOT UN RADIO PROJECT

05/09/2001
Press ReleasePI/1372

Committee on Information

Resumed Twenty-third Session

7th Meeting (AM)

COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION DISCUSSES SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT

ON IMPLEMENTATION OF PILOT UN RADIO PROJECT

New Wording Proposed for Draft Text

On Establishment of Permanent Broadcasting Capacity

United Nations Radio’s daily 15-minute newscasts in each of the six official languages had proved a revolutionary innovation in the efforts of the Department of Public Information (DPI) to more effectively communicate its message to a global audience, the Department’s Interim Head, Shashi Tharoor, told the Committee on Information this morning as it began its three-day resumed twenty-third session. 

He was introducing the final report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations.  He said using a universally accessible medium had enabled the United Nations to broadcast news of its developments to every region of the world.

United Nations Radio programmes, he continued, had brought a new energy to the work of the Department, and had also served “to open up” the Organization, make its work more transparent, and to give it a “local voice”.  That was the aim of all United Nations information activities, of which the radio project was a key component.  The radio project and the United Nations News Service, to be launched later in the month, would bridge the gap in the ability of the media in the industrialized and developing countries to obtain immediate access to United Nations news developments. 

The Department, he noted, had no mandate to continue live radio programming beyond the current year and there were no budgeted resources for the upcoming biennium.  The estimated required resources to continue the project in the biennium 2002-2003 were approximately $3.5 million.  Member States must now decide if the Department was to build upon its success, and convert a pilot project into a permanent international radio broadcasting capacity.  

Radio today, noted Committee Chairman Milos Alcalay (Venezuela), was the most widespread medium in the world both in developing and industrialized countries.  Although there was still a digital divide, the Committee should take into account that radio was something that unified the planet – that united the world and helped bridge the digital divide.  In close to 100 countries around the

world, the voice of the Organization was being heard by millions, in the six official languages of the United Nations. 

It was up to the Committee, he continued, to decide whether that voice would continue to be heard.  The main objective of the resumed session was to enable the General Assembly to take a definitive decision to provide the mandate and resources to create a permanent radio broadcasting capacity at the United Nations.

Also this morning, the representative of Iran, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, presented new wording for paragraphs 46 and

47 of resolution B (included in the report of the Committee on Information [A/56/21]) on the establishment of a permanent radio broadcasting capacity, to be presented for consideration to the General Assembly at its fifty-sixth session.  The Committee will consider the revised text over its three-day session. 

Statements were also made by the representatives of Netherlands, India and Algeria.

The Committee will continue its resumed session at a time to be announced in the Journal.

Background

The Committee on Information met this morning to resume its twenty-third session, in the first of three meetings it is expected to hold in considering the Secretary-General’s final report on developing an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations.  The Committee expects to hear addresses by its Chairman, the Interim Head of the Department of Public Information (DPI), and the Director of Budget.  (For background on the Committee’s current session, see Press Release PI/1336 of 27 April.)

The Committee has before it the Secretary-General’s final report on implementing the pilot project on developing an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations (document A/AC.198/2001/10).  In that report, the Secretary-General recalls the launch of the programme in August 2000.  It was targeted at audiences in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, with a view to developing a permanent capacity with a mandate and resources to be decided during the present year’s General Assembly session.

The report states that the pilot radio project had brought the Organization closer to the people that the popular medium served.  The principal vehicle was a daily 15-minute live broadcast of international news from a United Nations perspective.  In the year since launch, the brisk coverage of breaking developments and in-depth treatment of feature stories had established United Nations Radio as an important international broadcaster.  Most importantly, the project promoted the Departmental goal of generating understanding about the United Nations among millions across the globe.  It did that by raising awareness of the Organization’s work, first as a channel for United Nations officials and second by giving a voice to ordinary citizens who had benefited from United Nations programmes and activities.  Further, with daily broadcasts in each of the six official languages, the pilot project was a striking response to the call by Member States for respecting multilingualism.  Finally, the high quality of the daily broadcast had led to broadcast partnerships in both developing and developed countries.

The report goes on to detail those partnerships and other aspects of the pilot project, including the development of programming and content, feedback received from around the world and avenues for programme distribution.  It contains a section on promotion activities and on reinforcing cost-effectiveness as part of upgrading the radio and television facilities.  Finally, a section on resources indicates that costs of the pilot project are absorbed by the Department of Public Information until 31 December.  Without a legislative mandate, the programme cannot continue into the next phase for 2002-2003.  The estimated resource need for that period is $3.5 million.

Statements

Committee Chairman MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela) highlighted some of the main points to be covered during the resumed session.  At the end of the regular session, the Committee had decided on a resumption in order to take up the final report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations, and to decide on the recommendations to be presented to the General Assembly at its fifty-sixth session.  The final report was tabled by the Secretariat and given to Committee members well in advance of the resumed session.

Since May, he said, he had visited the various units of the Department and gained a clear view of the many positive activities of the Department.  He was impressed by the excellent work accomplished by the Department, especially since it was being done in difficult conditions with limited resources.  The wise management of Mr. Shashi Tharoor, the Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, had enabled him to get the best results out of the personnel at his disposal.  He also acknowledged the enthusiasm of the dedicated staff of the Department.

Radio today, he noted, was the most widespread media in the world, both in developing and developed countries.  Radio was omnipresent.  Although there was still a digital divide, the Committee should take into account that radio was something that unified the planet and helped bridge the digital divide.  In the field of radio broadcasting, the United Nations, in 1986, had decided to broadcast using the dispatch of tapes to radio stations.  The pilot project revolutionized that approach. 

In close to 100 countries around the world, he said, the voice of the Organization was being heard by millions, in the six official languages of the United Nations.  It was up to the Committee to decide whether that voice would continue to be heard around the world.  The main objective of the resumed session was to enable the Assembly to take a definitive decision to provide the mandate and resources to create a permanent radio broadcasting capacity at the United Nations.  Also, the Committee would have to look at paragraphs 46 and 47 of draft resolution b of the report of the Committee on Information (A/56/21) with a view to amending the text as desired. 

SHASHI THAROOR, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, introduced the Secretary-General’s “Final report on the implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations” (A/AC.198/2001/10). 

United Nations Radio’s daily 15-minute newscasts in each of the six official languages had proved a revolutionary innovation in the efforts of the Department to more effectively communicate its message to a global audience, he said.  Using a medium that was more universally accessible than any other, the United Nations had been able through the pilot project to broadcast news of United Nations developments to hundreds of partner stations in every region of the world.  There were literally tens of millions of listeners around the world who were daily hearing what their Organization was doing to improve their lives and bring security to troubled regions.

United Nations Radio programmes, he continued, had brought a new energy to the work of the Department, and had also served “to open up” the Organization, make its work more transparent, and to give it a “local voice”, which was the aim of all United Nations information activities.  The radio project was the key component, along with the United Nations News Service, to be launched later in the month, of the Department’s efforts to bridge the gap in the ability of the media in the industrialized and developing countries to obtain immediate access to United Nations news developments. 

Media in most developing countries, he noted, did not have the resources to send correspondents to United Nations Headquarters.  No less important, with daily broadcasts in each of the Organization’s six official languages, the radio project represented a striking example of the Department’s commitment to multilingualism, and to achieving full parity among the official languages of the United Nations. 

The Committee, he said, had always understood the importance of radio as a cost-effective and far-reaching means of United Nations outreach, particularly for developing countries.  However, the moment of truth had arrived.  The Department had no mandate to continue live radio programming beyond the current year.  Consequently, there were no budgeted resources for the upcoming biennium.  As stated in the report, should the Assembly so decide, the estimated required resources to continue the project in the biennium 2002-2003 would be approximately $3.5 million. 

So far, he continued, it was estimated that the total cost of the project through 31 December would amount to $1.9 million, covered through the reallocation of the Department’s existing resources and at the expense of some of the Department’s regular activities.  No extra-budgetary resources to support the project had been forthcoming, nor was there any realistic prospect of those materializing. 

He added that United Nations Radio had the potential to transform the way in which the United Nations message reached its international audience.  Member States must now decide if the Department was to build upon its success, and convert a “pilot” project into a “permanent” international radio broadcasting capacity.  

His statement was followed by an audio-visual presentation on United Nations Radio.

WARREN SACH, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, outlined the implications of continuing the project.  He emphasized that the omission of a budget for its continuance was not an oversight but arose from the need of a mandate for continuing before a budget could be allocated.  The Committee on Information should decide whether to continue the project, and then it would be up to the financial committees to decide whether and how to allocate the funds.

Alluding to the Secretary-General’s statement in his report that a legislative mandate was needed to continue the project and that approximately

$3.5 million in additional resources would be required, he reviewed the budgetary process.  If the Committee decided to recommend to the General Assembly that the project be continued as part of DPI’s regular activities, a statement of programme budget implications would be presented to the Fourth (Special Political and Decolonization) Committee.  If that Committee endorsed the recommendation to continue, the programme budget implications would be submitted to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), which would make its decision based on the advice of the ACABQ and make its recommendation to the General Assembly at its upcoming session. 

Statements

MEHDI MOLLA HOSSEINI (Iran), speaking as Coordinator of the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the Secretary-General’s report and said it had been introduced to the Committee in a very concise manner.  Both the report and the presentation emphasized the importance of traditional media for developing countries, for whom radio was still the most available medium.  The radio project needed to be continued because it would provide information on the work of the Organization that was otherwise unavailable to people.  Further, the 15-minute daily presentations contributed to the multilingualism of concern to Member States.  The G-77 and China would cooperate on paragraphs 46 and 47.  It had drafted a new proposed version, which would be circulated.

PETER MOLLEMA (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the Western Group, said there was no question about political agreement.  Everyone agreed the radio project should be continued.  The question was how to do it.  “The devil is often in the detail,” he said.  The report was disappointing in that it provided largely anecdotal evidence for the success of the pilot project.  More specific detail was required, such as who listened at what time and when.  Such a study would be costly, but it should be undertaken and shared, because that kind of useful information made it possible to evaluate how important radio was.  Regardless of a project’s merits, the members of the Fifth Committee were always looking over shoulders.  It was difficult to make decisions on how to do things without the financial implications.  How would the project be financed?  How much would be allocated to what parts and from where would the money be taken?

Therefore, he said, the Committee’s work must be mandated in a way that made the Fifth Committee’s task easier.  Questions needed to be answered.  Could smaller amounts be dedicated to continuing the project?  Where would the money come from?  Would it take away from print projects, for example?  That kind of information should inform the decision, and he needed it before making a final determination.

Mr. ALCALAY, Committee Chairman, summed up the statements by pointing out that everyone was on the same wavelength with regard to continuing the project.  The budget was an important consideration, but a decision about continuing the project had to be made during the present deliberations of the Committee on Information. 

YASHVARDHAN KUMAR SINHA (India) said that radio was an important medium not only for his own country but for all developing countries.  He was pleased to hear consensus on the importance of radio and it was important for the Committee to build on that consensus.  He fully supported the establishment of a permanent radio broadcasting capacity. 

It was important to remember the mandate of the Committee, he noted.  It was up to the Committee to take a substantive decision.  While that decision would be influenced by financial considerations that should not be of paramount importance.  The budget of the Department had already been stretched considerably.  It was important to find resources to implement the pilot project on a permanent basis.  It was important not only for countries in which radio was the primary medium, but also for the United Nations as a whole.

LARBI DJACTA (Algeria) said that in his view, the Committee was being called on to take a decision with regard to continuing the radio project, not the budget.  He supported moving from the pilot programme towards the establishment of a permanent broadcasting capacity.

In response to questions, Mr. THAROOR stated that more specific data, such as a list of broadcasters, would be provided during the informal consultations.  As to who was listening, that required audience research the Department was not able to conduct.  As for the timetable, one 15-minute live broadcast a day was  envisioned.  However, it took much more time to gather the material, produce and edit it for such a broadcast. 

On costs, he said there had been a ruling that a breakdown of the costs would not be circulated within a non-budgetary committee.  However, such a breakdown would be presented in the form of a non-paper during the informal consultations.  On further cuts within the Department, he said that based on his intense examination of the Department, its resources had been “cut to the bone”.  For each activity of the Department, there were not enough people and not enough resources.  He could not find further room for cuts.  For example, significant resources had already been cut in relation to the Dag Hammarskjold Library’s capacity to purchase new material.

MEHDI MOLLA HOSSEINI (Iran), on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, presented new wording for paragraphs 46 and 47 of resolution B.  The new paragraph 46 would read:  “welcomes the final report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations (A/AC.198/2001/10), and also welcomes the extensive network of partnerships established with local, national and regional broadcasters in Member States, and concurs with the Secretary-General that the project has contributed to the Department’s overall goal of generating understanding about the United Nations among millions of listeners across the globe”.

The new paragraph 47 would read: “decides, building upon the success of the pilot project as well as the scope of its programme distribution and established partnerships, to establish a permanent international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations in all six official languages, and requests the Secretary-General to take the necessary measures for this purpose and to ensure that this capacity be provided with the necessary resources for its continued operation, and further requests him to report thereon to the Committee at its twenty-fourth session”.

Mr. MOLLEMA (Netherlands) thanked Mr. Tharoor for the answers provided to the questions he had posed.  On listener profiles, he realized that it was not within the Department’s capability to determine who the listeners were, but he hoped some of the broadcasters would be able to provide some information about their audiences.  On the timetable, he was interested in the schedule of the broadcasts.  He also thanked Mr. Tharoor for the non-paper that would be provided with regard to the breakdown of costs.

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For information media. Not an official record.