MEDIA COVERAGE OF TERRORIST ATTACKS, UN RADIO PROJECT AMONG ISSUES DISCUSSED AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INFORMATION QUESTIONS

20 November 2001
GA/SPD/227

MEDIA COVERAGE OF TERRORIST ATTACKS, UN RADIO PROJECT AMONG ISSUES DISCUSSED AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INFORMATION QUESTIONS

20/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/227

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

19th Meeting (AM)

MEDIA COVERAGE OF TERRORIST ATTACKS, UN RADIO PROJECT AMONG ISSUES DISCUSSED

AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INFORMATION QUESTIONS

The role of the media in reporting the 11 September terrorist attacks and the war against international terrorism was one of several key topics discussed this morning, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on questions relating to information.

Singapore's representative said governments had been facing a dilemma over media coverage since September.  Journalists had grumbled when the United States Government warned about the dangers of inadvertently spreading propaganda or terrorist messages by airing Osama bin Laden's videotapes.  But, they had complied with the nation's security needs in a healthy, guided form of censorship.  The media must strike a balance between press freedom and responsibility.  It was equally important to avoid stereotyping, which led to discrimination and then to scapegoating and abuse, he added.

Malaysia's representative stressed that the media, with its global reach, must not let preconceived views affect their work.  While they had largely reported the 11 September events and the subsequent developments in an objective and unbiased manner, not all media had passed the test.  Not only would fallacious or biased reporting on developments relating to those events be a breach of professional ethics, but the stereotyping of particular religious or ethnic groups would stir up latent racial and religious prejudices. 

With 20 speakers, the morning's discussion also included a wide range of information topics, among them the pilot project for an international radio broadcast capacity for the United Nations, the need to bridge the digital divide between the developed and developing countries and the importance of United Nations information centres.

Canada's representative, speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said the pilot radio project's relative merits should be compared with other activities of the Department of Public Information, in the context of the United Nations as an “e” organization.  Some traditional activities would make way for the new, as with some traditional paper-based publishing activities or tape communications whose value was becoming increasingly marginal in a competitive world that often overtook slower formats.  

The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, however, said the United Nations should have a permanent live broadcast capacity and called for priority allocation of budgetary resources for the pilot project.  She emphasized that in most countries, radio remained the most accessible and highly dependable

medium of communication for the majority of the population, particularly in the rural areas.  Establishing a permanent radio broadcast capacity called for United Nations technical support in enhancing and developing national broadcasting facilities and capability.

Regarding the information centres, the representative of the United States said that housing them in United Nations system offices would allow system-wide public information and lead to savings that could be transferred to other priorities.  Duplication of effort must be avoided, and publications must be re-evaluated for impact.  Video conferencing could make journalist training cost-effective for more participants and paper materials should be transferred into electronic versions, where applicable, he added. 

Jamaica's representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), emphasized that the information centres played a vital role in organizing events and disseminating information in local languages that demonstrated the relevance of the Organization's work to the daily lives of people everywhere.  Strengthening the Organization's capacity to communicate at the country level remained a critical goal.  She noted that the Caribbean currently had only one information centre that served 14 member States and 7 non-self-governing territories spread over some 2,000 miles and separated by sea.

Also, a representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference expressed concerns about the possible damaging effects of information, such as impairment of sovereignty, cultural depredation and the spreading of misinformation. For purposes of disseminating information from the perspective of the Islamic world, particularly about the conflict in the Middle East, members of the Islamic Conference were modernizing their information tools, creating broadcast capability and a news agency, he said.

The Committee also heard from the representatives of Ghana, Myanmar, Kuwait, Mongolia, Thailand (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Belarus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Syria, Nepal and Yemen.

Portugal's representative made a statement in exercise of the right of reply.

Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, spoke in response to issues raised by delegates.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today, when it will conclude its consideration of questions relating to information by taking action on the relevant draft resolution.  It is also expected to begin considering the comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information.  It was also expected to take action on two related draft resolutions and a draft decision.

The draft texts are contained in the report on the twenty-third session of the Committee on Information (document A/56/21 and Add.1).

Draft resolution A -- Information in the service of humanity -– would have the General Assembly urge all countries, the United Nations system and all others concerned to help to reduce disparities in information flows at all levels by increasing assistance for the development of communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries.  That should be done with due regard for their needs and priorities, and in order to enable them and all their media to develop their own information and communication policies.

The Assembly would also urge all concerned to:  ensure that journalists were able to perform their professional tasks freely and effectively and to condemn resolutely all attacks against them; support the strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists from all media in developing countries; and enhance regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, as well as cooperation between developed and developing countries, to strengthen communication capacities and to improve the media infrastructure and communication technology in the developing countries, especially in training and dissemination of information.

Also by the draft, the Assembly would urge all concerned to aim at providing all possible support and assistance to the developing countries and their media, with due regard to their interests and needs in the information field and to action already adopted within the United Nations system, including:

-- the development of the human and technical resources that are indispensable for the improvement of information and communications systems in developing countries;

-- the creation of conditions that will enable the developing countries and all their media to have, by using their national and regional resources, the communication technology suited to their national needs, as well as the necessary programme material, especially for radio and television broadcasting;

-- assistance in establishing and promoting telecommunication links at the subregional, regional and interregional levels, especially among developing countries; and

-- the facilitation of access by the developing countries to advanced communication technology available on the open market.

The Assembly would, finally, urge full support for the International Programme for the Development of Communication of Developing Countries of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which should support both public and private media.

By draft resolution B of the text -- United Nations public information policies and activities –- the General Assembly would welcome the Millennium Declaration, which clearly indicates hope and concern in the field of information and communications.  It would call upon States, in accordance with their laws, to make every effort to prevent the use of traditional media and new technologies to incite hatred and contribute to extremism.

While taking note of the Secretary-General's report on the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications, the Assembly would encourage him to continue the exercise, while stressing the need to take into account the views of Member States.  It would emphasize that, through its reorientation, the Department of Public Information (DPI) should improve its activities in the areas of special interest to developing countries and other countries with special needs, including those in transition.  Such reorientation should contribute to bridging the existing gap between the developing and developed countries in the crucial field of public information and communications.

Also by the text, the Assembly would encourage the Secretary-General to continue to take full advantage of recent developments in information technologies, including the Internet, to improve, in a cost-effective manner, the dissemination of information about the Organization, taking into account its linguistic diversity.  It would request the Secretary-General, until a decision had been taken on proposals for multilingual enrichment of the Web site, to ensure, to the extent possible, the equitable distribution of financial and human resources within DPI allocated to the Web site among all official languages on a continuous basis.

The Assembly would also emphasize the importance of ensuring the full equitable treatment of all the official languages in all DPI activities.

By further terms, the General Assembly would welcome the Secretary-General's progress report and the final report on the implementation of the pilot project for the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations.  It would concur with the Secretary-General that the project was one of the more successful examples of the reorientation of DPI.  The Assembly would decide, building upon the pilot programme’s success, to expand the international radio broadcasting capacity in all six official languages and request the Secretary-General to convey the justification of the resource requirements, including the possibility of extra budgetary financing and/or redeployment of resources, for such expansion for the 2002-2003 biennium.

By further terms, the Assembly would encourage the Department to continue to include in its radio and television programming specific programmes addressing the needs of developing nations.  It would emphasize that all publications of the Department should fill an identifiable need, not duplicate other publications of the United Nations system and should be produced in a cost-efficient manner.

The Assembly would, by further terms of the draft, welcome the development of the United Nations News Service and request the Secretary-General to continue to exert all efforts to ensure that the Secretariat's publications and other information services, including the Web site and the News Service, contain comprehensive, objective and equitable information about the issues before the Organization and that they maintain editorial independence, impartiality, accuracy and full consistency with General Assembly resolutions and decisions.

The Assembly would also take note of the report of the Secretary-General entitled “Integration of the United Nations information centres with field offices of the United Nations Development Programme”, welcome the action taken by DPI to implement the views of those host governments as expressed in their replies to the questionnaire provided by the Secretariat, and requests the Secretary-General to take the necessary steps for the continued implementation of those views and report thereon.

By the terms of a draft decision, the General Assembly would decide to increase the membership of the Committee on Information from 96 to 98 and to appoint Azerbaijan and Monaco as members of the Committee on Information.

Also before the Committee were the programme budget implications of draft resolution B (document A/C.4/56/L.19).  Should the General Assembly adopt draft resolution B, an estimated additional appropriation of $2.7 million would be required in the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2002-2003 for expansion of the international radio broadcasting capacity.

[For further background, see Press Release GA/SPD/226 of 19 November 2001.]

Statements

ERNEST JOHNSON (United States) said that the overarching challenge to the Department of Public Information was adapting to new technologies, while addressing current requirements.  The United States, therefore, continued to be impressed by enhancement of the United Nations Web site, especially the “Action against Terrorism” page, the webcasting of the general debate and the redesigned News Centre.  Those represented, he said, a textbook example of what could be accomplished within existing resources when dedicated professionals applied their talents to getting a job done.  In all areas, the best technologies and the best management practices could achieve the overall goal of making sure all United Nations activities were rationalized and prioritized. 

United Nations activities, he said, should be continuously evaluated for those purposes.  In that regard, he noted the progress in the ongoing “United Nations Houses” initiative.  Housing United Nations Information Centres in centralized United Nations systems offices would allow system-wide public information, wherever there were such offices, and also lead to savings that could be transferred to other priorities.  The current, ad hoc arrangement should be further rationalized.

Similarly, he said, duplication of efforts must be avoided in all areas of public information.  Publications must be re-evaluated for impact.  Video conferencing for journalist training could make it cost-effective and allow for more participants.  He encouraged the continuation of the transfer of paper materials into electronic versions available on the Official Document System (ODS); the CD-ROM version of the United Nations yearbook was also welcomed and should be extended.

As a frank exchange of views would lead to more such efficiencies and added effectiveness, he welcomed the straightforward evaluative section of the Secretary-General’s report.  He hoped member States would be increasingly informed about needed improvements.  Finally, in response to a question posed by the Secretary-General’s report, he pointed out that there was much evidence that the United States cared about people affected by underdevelopment and crisis; it was the largest contributor to the United Nations system and humanitarian programmes.  He pledged United States support to the efforts of Department staff, and its Interim Head, to make the Department increasingly more efficient, effective and modern.

YAW OSEI (Ghana), aligning himself with the statement of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it was necessary to consider how best to harness the benefits of globalization for social and economic transformation.  Information technology had been a critical component of growing interdependence and interconnectivity in the global village.  But, while the digital revolution had been transforming social and economic life, that development had been lopsided and was not evident in the lives of the majority of people.

Bridging the digital divide to make globalization a positive force for the world's people should be the primary task, he said.  Ghana welcomed the Secretary-General's initiative in assigning a major role to communication and information activities, particularly in establishing the United Nations Information Technology Service, the Health Internet and the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Task Force to address the problems facing developing countries in accelerating broad-based growth and sustainable development, and to reduce poverty.

He said the new communication policy being formulated in Ghana, where there was a high level of functional illiteracy, would take into account the need for the free flow of knowledge, information and ideas for national development, recognizing the country's values and aspirations in a global context.  Ghana expected that the Department would demonstrate sensitivity to such needs as it adapted its programmes, furnished through its information centres at the national level.

DAW KHIN THANDAR (Myanmar) said she would add her voice to the many delegations calling for the continuation of the United Nations pilot radio project with a view to establishing a permanent international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations.  Radio technology was a media source that could reach the global audience, including those unreachable by other media sources.  In the modern day of sophisticated technology, those who owned the communication technology influenced international opinion.  It was difficult for small States, who were behind in technology, to dilute the distorted image painted of them by some Member States.

She said that in her own country, many positive developments had been achieved in recent years.  In his reports, the Secretary-General had recognized the country's consistent efforts to build a peaceful, prosperous and democratic country.  The United Nations International Drug Control Programme had portrayed the country's relentless and effective fight against narcotic drugs in its report.  Those important developments were not reflected in the media of Member States, who continued to distort the true situation in Myanmar and thereby influenced public opinion in their countries.

United Nations radio would continue to be a source of insight for the world's people into the work of the United Nations, she said.  It would also give people a reliable and direct source of information to world events.  Although continuing the project would mean the allocation of resources, the cause was worth the expenditure.

TALAL AL-HAJERI (Kuwait) saluted the work of the Department, which had made people more aware of all the spheres of United Nations activities.  It had also worked to bridge the information gap between developed and developing countries.  Information policies, he said, must be adapted to the rapid changes of the modern world, which had become a global village.  It was particularly important to expand live radio broadcasting in all official languages.  He thanked UNESCO for their cooperation in dissemination of information.  Cooperation between the Department and other United Nations bodies should be strengthened.  

Equal treatment should be given to all official languages of the United Nations, he said.  In particular, Arabic should receive parity in all areas, including the Web site and simultaneous translation.  To enhance all the programmes of the United Nations, Member States should pay their contributions on time.  He hoped that the Department would pay more attention to matters of interest of the Arab world and to humanitarian problems, such as prisoners of war, detainees and missing persons, in the interest of easing suffering and rapid solutions.  More Department attention should also be devoted to peacekeeping operations.  Kuwait pledged its support to the Department, particularly in the exchange of information and in the enhancement of the freedom of the press and information, which was compatible with Islamic values.

TSERENPIL DORJSUREN (Mongolia), associating himself with the statement of the Group of 77 and China, underlined the pressing need to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries in the field of public information and communications.  That crucial task was necessary to promote education, knowledge and informative ability among the people, as well as sustainable development, particularly in developing countries.

He pointed out that only 227 million of the world's 6 billion people were Internet users and that the developing countries hosted less than 7 per cent of them.  That left the overwhelming majority of the world's population lagging behind the rapid technological advances in the information and communication technology field.  Much remained to be done in reversing that situation.

The world had witnessed the importance of objective information in current international affairs, he said, especially following the tragic events of 11 September.  Objective information was instrumental in building counter-terrorist psychology worldwide.  Mongolia wished to underscore the importance of objective information, especially in regions of tension where United Nations peacekeeping missions were operating.

KULKUMUT SINGHARA NA AYUDHAYA (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that in the present global circumstances, the United Nations had taken on an increasingly relevant role in tackling issues of concern to the region's people.  Undoubtedly, the Department of Public Information played an important part in disseminating information as widely as possible.

He said the Internet offered significant opportunities for United Nations communication, particularly in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the United Nations Information Centres.  To take advantage of massive advances in communication technology, the Centres should be repositioned on a case-by-case basis in line with host country views.  In light of the increased relevance of information activities to local populations and the need to overcome linguistic barriers, more resources should be allocated to the Centres.  Priority should be given to developing country Centres experiencing financial difficulties due to economic crises, since the Centers could strengthen efforts to bridge the digital divide.

In addition, he continued, the growth of modern technology should not obscure the fact that much of the world's population at large had no access to such information.  While enhancing non-traditional means of communication, the Department should continue to reach out through the traditional print, radio and television media, especially through local languages.  That would alleviate the shortcomings of promoting United Nations activities at the ground level.  Integrating multi-media operations for disseminating news about United Nations activities directly to media organizations globally would help improve access to information by all nations and peoples.

He said an important form of information activity was that which gave location populations access to impartial, reliable and objective information about the goals of a peace-restoration mission or a post-conflict peace-building process.  Objective information had always been constructive to a peace process between warring parties.  The principles of impartiality, reliability and objectivity should apply in covering peacekeeping operations, to enhance both the success of the operations and the security of personnel.  There should be closer cooperation between the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at both planning and implementation levels, with the information department playing a central role in selecting mission spokespersons.

OLEG SERDYUKOV (Belarus) thanked the Department for the successful work of the past year.  His country was firmly committed to the further development of the information activities of the United Nations, along with the enhancements recommended by the Secretary-General in his report.  The Organization must certainly not reduce information activities.  Work must continue on an organization-wide strategy for communications, the best utilization of the newest information technology, as well as expansion of live radio broadcasts.  Most important was the use of new technologies in the interest of developing countries and bridging the information technology gap.

The expansion of bilateral information flow between Belarus and the United Nations was particularly important, he said.  Programmes for the training of journalists were particularly valuable.  Further expansion of partner connections, as with the Russian Federation, in national broadcast campaigns was also important.  The Department's role in peacekeeping missions should be strengthened, and information dissemination regarding the Chernobyl disaster should continue.  Belarus pledged its continued support to the Department and its activities.

JON YONG RYONG (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said public information played an ever-greater role in advancing social and economic development and promoting the well-being of people in all countries.  It was deeply regrettable however, that the rapid development of information based on science and technology was increasing the gap between the developed and developing countries in the field of information and communication.

Public information should not be abused as a tool for infringement upon the sovereignty of others and interference in their internal affairs, he stressed.  Some countries took advantage of their monopoly on modern communication systems to impose their own values upon others.  They abused the mass media as a means for intervening in political crises and distorting the reality of developing countries.

He said the world should not tolerate the double standard whereby the missiles of a big country were for peace, whereas those of a small country were for breaking the peace.  The United Nations should direct its attention to a new information and communication order, so as to deepen understanding among nations, strengthen cooperation and support sustainable development, ultimately based on respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

JOAN THOMAS (Jamaica) spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and aligned herself with yesterday's statement by Iran on behalf of the Group of 77.  She expressed condolences to the families of the journalists killed in Afghanistan yesterday.

Calling for priority allocation of the necessary resources to establish a permanent international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations, she expressed concern at the reduction of radio programmes to the region.  In addition, the Department continued to distribute telephone feeds in the six official languages, as well as Portuguese and Kiswahili, to stations that lacked the capacity to receive live broadcasts.  Despite that, the request to introduce full French and Creole programming in Haiti had yet to be fulfilled.

She said CARICOM was pleased with this year's coverage of the United Nations conferences on the least developed countries, small arms, Habitat, HIV/AIDS and the World Conference against racism.  She looked forward to a similar focus on next year's Second World Assembly on Ageing and the General Assembly Special Session on Children.  She was concerned, however, at the lack of budgetary provision for the International Conference on Financing for Development next March and the World Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled for September.  She underscored the need for adequate funding of public information programming within the regular budget to that end.

She said the public information capacity of peacekeeping and other field missions must be improved.  Information through radio was essential in promoting awareness and understanding of peace accords and the United Nations mandate.  She commended the Department for establishing United Nations radio stations in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and looked forward to the implementation of other specific projects.

She said the strengthening the Organization's capacity to communicate at the country level remained a critical goal.  United Nations information centres played a vital role in organizing events and disseminating information in local languages that demonstrated the relevance of the Organization's work to the daily lives of people everywhere.  The CARICOM delegations had stressed the need to strengthen the information component in the Caribbean given the region's peculiar circumstances.  It currently had one information centre in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, that served 14 member States and seven non-self-governing territories spread over some 2,000 miles and separated by sea.

CHARLES AZUBIKE ONONYE (Nigeria) endorsed the statement of Iran on behalf of the Group of 77, and expressed satisfaction with the activities of the Department, urging the expansion of the United Nations radio project.  That project had been one of the more successful examples of the reorientation of the Department; he hoped adequate funds would be made available for its continuation and consolidation.  He also commended efforts to make the Dag Hammarskjold Library   “a virtual library with world outreach.”  Further efforts should be made to enrich, on a multilingual basis, the stock of books and journals in that library.

United Nations information centres served, he said, as the local voice of the Organization throughout the world, and he commended their outreach activities.  He endorsed the Secretary-General’s reform proposals designed to strengthen the centres and more effectively promote health, poverty eradication, debt relief, education, children’s rights, and environmental issues, as well as general information dissemination.  He also appreciated practical training programmes established for journalists and broadcasters from developing countries.  He urged that the programme be strengthened to cope with the increased responsibilities it faced in efforts to close the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds.

KIM GIRTEL (Canada), speaking on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said that there were virtually countless ways for the Department of Public Information to define, contact and influence its audience, setting priorities was essential.  A judgment about the United Nations radio project should be informed by two considerations:  the merits of the activity; and its relative merits in relation to other activities.  While initial information about both aspects showed it to be a useful tool, more specific information was required about the numbers of people reached without any other access, and about the impact of the programmes.  That information would allow a more informed judgment about the overall effectiveness of the broadcasts.

The interim conclusion was that the project should be evaluated as part of the larger Department refocussing effort with reoriented priorities, she continued.  The question then could be asked, if radio programming was a priority, what activity did it displace?  Further, the electronic news service fit well with efforts to ensure the United Nations was an “e” organization.  Placing more emphasis on electronic development and delivery should dovetail with other public information initiatives, such as the thematic campaigns to advance the core priorities of the organization as a whole.

Thus, as the Department rethought its priorities and reoriented itself, some traditional activities would be expected to make way for the new, she said.  That process should encompass the integration and streamlining of Headquarters services with those of the Information Centers to insure that value was added to information products in a way that didn't duplicate or recreate work being done elsewhere, or work that could be done electronically.  The Department should revisit some traditional paper-based publishing activities, including some institutional publications whose value was becoming increasingly marginal.

The paper-based edition of the Chronicle was an example, she added.  It was a professional-quality publication with a limited distribution, struggling to define itself in a competitive market, while its format and content were increasingly overtaken by events.  That situation was also true of some traditional video and audio cassettes.  In short, low priority activities should be discontinued in favor of newer, more effective ways to fulfil the Department's broad mandate.

SYED HASRIN TENGKU HUSSIN (Malaysia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that while it was encouraging that 410 million people throughout the world were connected to cyberspace, only 5 per cent of them resided in the developing countries.  It was hoped that the launch of the ICT Task Force would change that undesirable situation and bridge the digital divide by fostering digital opportunity and putting ICT at the service of development for all.

He said that promoting the establishment of a new, more just and more effective world information and communication order -- based on free circulation, as well as wider and more balanced dissemination of information -- was an important goal.  The media, with its global reach, had become an enormously powerful institution.  They had a responsibility to report events in a balanced, fair and factual manner, especially those occurring in the developing countries.  They must not let preconceived views affect their work.

While the 11 September events and the subsequent developments had largely been reported in an objective and unbiased manner, not all media had passed the test, he said.  Fallacious or biased reporting on developments relating to those events would not only be a breach of professional ethics, but also a great disservice to the international community.  The stereotyping of particular religious or ethnic groups would only stir up latent racial and religious prejudices, creating mistrust or outright hatred.  The media could be a tool for good or evil.  They could help promote peace and goodwill among peoples and nations, or create misunderstanding or confrontation.

FOO SHYANG PIAU (Singapore) said governments have been facing a dilemma over media coverage since the terrorist attacks in September.  The United States government had warned about the dangers of television networks inadvertently spreading propaganda or terrorist messages by airing Osama bin Laden's tapes.  Journalists had grumbled, but the American television networks had complied with the nation's security needs in a healthy, guided form of censorship.  All over the world, the media had to strike a balance between press freedom and responsibility, in which the balance varied from country to country and was determined by each nation.  Singapore struck the balance by allowing unimpeded access to information coming from around the world but placing a cap on foreign ownership of the domestic media to ensure that the Government could convey its views in a timely and accurate manner.

An equally important responsibility of the media, he said, was to avoid stereotyping in either times of crisis or peace.  The problem had long plagued minorities, and not just Muslims.  It went hand in hand with other criticisms of the media in the developed world, such as that they covered only coups, earthquakes, rebellions or disasters, while providing very little information about the developing world overall.  As a result of insufficient substance and quality of news, ignorance about the developing world was high, while an unrelenting focus on violence, corruption and devastation demonized societies.

All must address that problem, he said.  Stereotyping led to discrimination and then to scapegoating and abuse.  In extreme cases it led to State-sponsored genocide, as had happened in Rwanda.  The media also had a duty to reflect on its coverage to ensure it avoided typecasting and promoted positive portrayals of people.  The news media, in particular, must educate journalists in the complexities and subtleties of the issues they covered.  In a positive trend, in recent years regional all-news television stations had begun to provide the comprehensive coverage to which global media networks did not devote resources. 

A case in point was the recent granting of interviews by leading world figures to the Al-Jazeera news station, he said.  Another organization based in Singapore, Channel NewsAsia, had been established in 1999 in response to the growing demand for real-time news from an Asian viewpoint.  In short, because the war on terrorism would be protracted, the media must be part of the solution, rather than the problem.  The media could divide, but it could also unite.  It must do all it could to promote unity and avoid adding a new “clash of the media” to the already dangerous possibility of a “class of civilizations”.

SERGEY TREPELKOV (Russian Federation) pointed out his country’s concern over the threats posed by the misuse of information technology, as well as its draft resolution adopted in the First Committee to ensure legal regulation of the information sphere and create conditions for safe, equal information exchange.  In general, Russia shared the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report and supported the efforts of the Department to spread information related to peacekeeping operations, human rights, development, social and economic activities and gender equality

Electronic enhancements in various areas were useful, he said; it should be feasible to introduce free access to the ODS for partners among non-governmental organizations and academic organizations.  Further use of such new technologies was a key to more effective information dissemination, and enhancements of the Web site were commendable.  The increase of information presented in the Russian language had resulted in an overall increase of visitors to the Russian page and proved the need for more progress in that regard.  Parity of official languages was progressing far too slowly.

The Russian Federation was committed to the goal of universal access to information, freedom of expression and equal participation for all, he said.  He commended the efforts of DPI to bridge the digital divide, such as through journalist training, which should be made available to representatives of the transitional economies, as well.  He noted the increasing importance of the Moscow Information Centre in spreading United Nations messages and pointed to a need for increased resources for staffing.  Overall, the use of traditional media should be combined with the latest technologies, to achieve the Department’s goals.  In that regard, he supported the further expansion of the international radio broadcasting capacity of the United Nations in all official languages.

LIBERATA MULAMULA (United Republic of Tanzania), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her delegation was pleased to note that the Department had continued its annual training programme for journalists and broadcasters from developing countries.  However, much more could be done in extending the availability of those programmes to include many more recipients, especially from the least developed countries, and Africa in particular.

She said it was gratifying that the Committee on Information had reached consensus on continuation of the United Nations live radio broadcasting pilot project.  For most countries, radio remained the most accessible and highly dependable medium of communication for the majority of the population, particularly in the rural areas.  The live broadcast capacity should be made permanent and given priority in the allocation of budgetary resources.  Inevitably, that called for United Nations technical support in enhancing and developing national broadcasting facilities and capability, to go hand in hand with the Department's use of new communications technologies.

Regarding the United Nations information centres, she said their role in disseminating information and raising awareness on economic and social development, poverty eradication, debt relief, environment and sustainable development could not be overemphasized.  The centres, as the Department's “field voice”, required adequate training and staffing levels commensurate with the increased tasks and challenges of information technologies.  Regarding the integration of the centres with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) field offices, he favoured a case-by-case integration, rather than a wholesale process that could hamper their effectiveness.

YURIY KHOMENKO (Ukraine) said it was impossible to visualize progress and development today without information systems.  The United Nations must insure that ICT was turned into a factor for development.  The Department had an important role to play in informing the peoples of the world about the vast array of issues within the Organization's mandate.

Turning to specifics, he commended the launch of the updated central United Nations Web site in line with the equality of all six official languages.  However, the principle of parity in all languages was taking shape too slowly, despite the support of a Member State majority.  To cover a growing gap in the volume of information available on each site, due to limited resources, a technical and economic survey should be carried out to determine the needs for achieving parity.  The technical basis of the Web sites should be strengthened and equipped with modern search engines to achieve that parity, which was of growing importance.  Overall, however, the site was professional, well-structured, user-friendly and appropriate for both outside visitors and those in the United Nations system.

Further, he called attention to the importance of the information centers and said they should be fully integrated with the other United Nations missions to achieve closer coordination, efficacy and cost-effectiveness.  The centers should also be provided with the resources to function effectively, particularly in countries where the local mass media were less developed.  All activities of particular interest to developing countries and those in transition should be maintained, such as the radio pilot project in six official languages, which was a most successful example of the Department’s reoriented commitment to multilingualism.  The project should be extended for the next biennium.  Also, the information capacity of peacekeeping operations should be strengthened and the Department should have a stronger role in selecting spokespersons for missions.

LOUAY FALLOUH (Syria), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country attached great importance to the need for a more equitable new world information order, reflecting international legitimacy, equality and mutual respect.  Syria looked forward to the bridging of the digital divide, in a manner that would provide a truthful voice that reflected reality, as well as the aspirations of the developing world.

He said the United Nations, in general, and the Department, in particular, had a tremendous responsibility in making the Organization's voice heard by all people in every region.  It was expected to reflect the positions and wishes of the majority of the membership on major issues affecting the world.  The Department's mission also included disseminating information on the position of the Security Council, the General Assembly and other bodies in mobilizing the international community to resist occupation and bring about just and comprehensive solutions everywhere, particularly in the Middle East.

He had noted the section of the Secretary-General's report dealing with the growth of the United Nations Web sites, he said.  He emphasized the need for full, equal and equitable parity between all the official languages.  He had also noted major problems in issuing documents and other United Nations publications and emphasized the importance of issuing them in all languages at the same time.  It was also important to promote the training of journalists and broadcasters from developing countries.

AJAY PRATAP SHAH (Nepal) said that the United Nations had played an effective role in providing information on responses to the tragedy of September 11.  The changed international security scenario, prompted by the recent incidents, underlined the importance of information technologies.  Their importance for development was equally pressing.  Poor developing countries were still lagging far behind in their utilization of new information technologies; in fact, the digital divide was widening.

The launching of the ICT Task Force, he said, was therefore a welcome step to narrow the gap.  At the same time, traditional media, including print, radio and television, remained as important as ever for the developing world.  The Government of Nepal had been adopting a liberal approach towards all media and a number of daily newspapers had appeared, along with privately-owned radio stations.  Nepal welcomed the journalist-training programmes and hoped, in the future, that Nepalese journalists would be given the opportunity to participate.

ABDUL AZIZ KAID (Yemen), endorsing the statement of the Group of 77, said there was a lack of neutral information, as the fourth estate was influenced by certain Powers.  The United Nations should acquaint the world with the issues it faced and provide objective and unbiased information that was not subject to political influences.

All peoples had the right to be familiar with United Nations resolutions and to know which countries were violating international legitimacy, he said.  The establishment of a new world information order should help bring about justice and access by all peoples to information.  The principles of the United Nations could not be supported or realized without information to impart that knowledge to the people.  Calling for equality and parity among all six official United Nations languages, he expressed concern that the Arabic language had not been treated on an equal footing with the others in terms of the publication of documents and other publications.

YUSSEF FAEK KANAAN, of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), thanked the Department staff and its Interim Head for their efforts of the past year.  He also reiterated concerns about the possible damaging effects of information, such as impairment of sovereignty, cultural depredation and the spread of misinformation.  After the events of 11 September, Muslims were subject to a violent misinformation campaign.  On 10 October, a meeting of the Islamic Conference strongly condemned the acts of terrorism, made clear the position of Islam regarding such violence, and called on countries to protect the Muslims in their territories.

For purpose of disseminating information from the perspective of the Islamic world, particularly about the conflict in the Middle East, members of the Islamic Conference were modernizing their information tools, creating broadcast capability and a news agency.  An Islamic ethics code for information had been developed, and other joint Islamic information efforts would continue.  The dialogue among civilizations was also important in that regard; its dissemination through the United Nations Web site was part of a new model for international relations.  Recent efforts of the Department promoted such understanding, helping to promote a solution to the Middle East problem by spreading awareness of the situation of Palestinians.

     The representative of Portugal, in exercise of the right of reply in response to a remark made by Jamaica’s representative, said that the Portuguese language programmes of the United Nations were essential, serving a population of 230 million Portuguese-speaking people all over the world.  Information in non-official languages was an important element in the dissemination of the United Nations message.

SHASHI THAROOR, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, assured delegates that he had taken note of their concerns and constructive suggestions for the future direction of the Department's work.

He said that, from what they had said, speakers were satisfied with the Department's rapid response to the 11 September terrorist attacks, an event for which it had pulled out all the stops.  The Department was also helping to promote the International Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, which many now realized was more important than ever.

Many delegates had singled out the Department's work on the United Nations Web site, he said.  Those strides were being balanced with the continued use of the traditional media.  The Department was also gratified by delegations' support for the continuation of the radio broadcasting pilot project.

Noting that many delegations had stressed the importance of multilingualism, he said the Department now produced electronic information in Portuguese, Kiswahili and other non-official languages.  Regarding training, the Department would try to pay special attention to journalists from Africa in the future.

Recalling that some delegates had referred to the United Nations information centres as the Department's “field voice” and “a precious window”, he reiterated that the Department had, in the past few years, substantially enhanced their capabilities and facilities, as well as training for their staff.

With regard to the reordering of the Department's priorities, he said that was easier said than done in view of its mandate and resources.  However, each andevery speaker had made valuable contributions, which would guide the Department's future work.

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For information media. Not an official record.