COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION CALLS FOR ‘WIDE-RANGING, INNOVATIVE PROPOSALS’ BY SECRETARY-GENERAL

2 May 2002
PI/1421

COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION CALLS FOR ‘WIDE-RANGING, INNOVATIVE PROPOSALS’ BY SECRETARY-GENERAL

Committee on Information                                    PI/1421

 Twenty-fourth Session                                      2 May 2002

6th Meeting (PM) and Round-up

COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION CALLS FOR ‘WIDE-RANGING,

INNOVATIVE PROPOSALS’ BY SECRETARY-GENERAL

Draft Resolution Approved by Committee Welcomes Comprehensive

Review of Information Department, Movement towards New ‘Evaluation Culture’

A two-part draft resolution approved this afternoon without a vote by the Committee on Information would have the General Assembly welcome the Secretary-General’s efforts to conduct a comprehensive review of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and encourage him to present wide-ranging innovative proposals based on the issues raised in the current text. 

In that connection, the Assembly would welcome the "movement" of the Department towards a new "evaluation culture" of increased performance management based on, among other things, an annual programme impact review, as well as feedback from Member States.

The 98-member Committee, which makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the policy and activities of DPI, approved the 14-page draft text at the conclusion of its twenty-fourth session.  The first part, Draft A, sought to ensure journalists the free and effective performance of their duties and resolutely condemn all attacks against them.  In the second part, Draft B, repositioning the Department for greater impact was the central theme.

The Committee also adopted its report of its session and decided to convene a meeting of the Bureau to propose the future course of action for the Committee upon finalization of the Secretary-General’s comprehensive review of DPI, due to be submitted at the next session of the General Assembly.

By further terms of draft resolution B on the policies and activities of DPI, the Assembly would emphasize that, through its reorientation, the Department should maintain and improve its activities in the areas of special interest to developing countries and others with special needs, including countries in transition.  The reorientation should contribute to bridging the existing gap between the developing and developed countries in the crucial public information and communications field.

The DPI was asked to pay particular attention to major issues:  eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the battle against international terrorism, and the needs of the African continent.

On multilingualism and public information, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of ensuring the full, equitable treatment of all the official languages of the United Nations in all activities of DPI, reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure that DPI had appropriate staffing capacity in all official languages, and remind him of the need to include, in future programme budget proposals for the Department, the importance of using all six official languages.

Provisions on the United Nations Web site would have the Assembly note with concern that the multilingual development and enrichment of the Web site had been slower than expected because of a lack of resources, and note that content-providing offices had not been making their materials on the Web site available in all official languages.

Under a related term, the Assembly would stress the need to adopt a decision on the multilingual development, maintenance and enrichment of the Web site, considering the possibility of organizational restructuring towards separate language units of each of the six official languages within the Department, in order to achieve full parity among the official languages.

The text also includes provisions on, among other topics, promotional campaigns, bridging the “digital divide”, United Nations information centres, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, press releases and the role of DPI in peacekeeping, and traditional means of communication. 

On DPI's role in peacekeeping, the Assembly would ask the Department to strengthen its capacity to contribute significantly to the functioning of information components in peacekeeping operations, including through the development of a coherent information strategy with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

With respect to traditional communications means, the Assembly would stress that radio remained one of the most cost-effective and far-reaching traditional means available to the Department and an important instrument in United Nations activities, such as development and peacekeeping.

A related term would have the Assembly emphasize that UN radio and Television should take full advantage of the technological infrastructure made available in recent years, and request the Secretary-General, as part of DPI's reorientation, to consider a global strategy for broadcasting, taking into account existing technologies.

Also according to Draft A, the Assembly would be asked to enhance regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, as well as cooperation between developed and developing countries, to strengthen communication capacities and improve the media infrastructure and communication technology in the developing countries, especially in the areas of training and dissemination of information.

Following approval of the draft resolution, Interim Head of the Department Shashi Tharoor recalled that he had told the Committee at its opening meeting that the challenge before it was to give broad guidance to the Secretariat in its endeavour to reform DPI.  Indeed, the draft resolution “has more than fulfilled this expectation”, he said.

In closing remarks, Committee Chairman Milos Alcalay (Venezuela) hailed as a major aspect of the Organization’s new profile a communications policy directed towards change.  The Committee should heed the Secretary-General ’s call for change and give the United Nations a human face directed at remedying prevailing injustices.  Political commitment must be given to all the Organization’s outreach activities -- through radio, television, journalists, the Web sites and an updated Library.

He added that the resolution just approved was not confined to a simple instruction from a Committee, but began a process of change and transformation.  He also welcomed approval of a draft decision to welcome Saudi Arabia to the Committee, bringing to 99 the total number of members. 

Committee Rapporteur Walid A. Haggag (Egypt) introduced the report of the Committee.  The representative of Japan also spoke before action on the text. 

Action on Texts

The Chairman of the Committee, MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela), said that once the Secretary-General’s comprehensive review had been finalized, most likely in early September, the Bureau would then meet during that month to consider the future course of action of the Committee, including the possibility of a resumed session, to consider the report of the Secretary-General and to finalize the Committee’s recommendations to the Assembly at its fifty-seventh session.

The Committee adopted its draft report as contained in documents A/AC.198/2002/L.1 and L.2.

The representative of Japan said that draft resolution B contained some problems as to what the Department of Public Information (DPI) should be and do.  First, some issues raised in the draft should be handled by more appropriate bodies, such as the Fifth Committee and the Committee on Conferences.  Second, some paragraphs presented issues that could be addressed only after the comprehensive review of the management and operation of DPI, which was requested by the General Assembly in paragraph 150 of its resolution 56/253 of 24 December 2001.

Third, he continued, some paragraphs expressed doubts about the efficiency and effectiveness of that resolution, which he viewed as premature, as the programme budget had not yet been fully implemented.  Fourth, the Committee  should provide DPI with overall direction for its activities.  However, in some paragraphs, it seemed that it would actually be engaging in micro-management.  For those reasons, some paragraphs were ill advised and should be discussed again by a more competent body.

He said that Japan respected the status of the six official languages.  However, they were primarily to be used within the United Nations.  For public information activities, it was possible to make excessive use of them.  The activities of DPI were often most effective if local, rather than official, languages were used, as they were likely to have the strongest impact on the  local population.  He hoped DPI would show more flexibility in that area.  In   the spirit of cooperation, his delegation would join the consensus on the text.

The Chairman, Mr. ALCALAY, said that the Committee had taken note of Japan’s comments, and they would be taken into account during the consideration of the comprehensive review. 

He also informed the Committee that Saudi Arabia had formally submitted its wish to become a member.  The draft decision for Saudi Arabia to become the ninety-ninth member of the Committee would be incorporated in the text contained in document L.3.

Following that, the Committee adopted the two-part draft resolution, which was contained in document A/AC.198/2002/L.3.

In his closing remarks, SHASHI THAROOR, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, said that, in the draft resolution just adopted, the Committee had renewed its commitment to the need for enhanced communications in a new information age.  The Committee had provided guidance on what it saw as the core communications functions of DPI, and had given the Department the broad direction and the political support to enable it to strengthen the voice of the United Nations that the world must hear.

It was extraordinarily gratifying that, in the first year of the Secretary-General’s second term, at the beginning of his second round of reform, the Committee had been the first intergovernmental body to convene to consider key elements of his overall reform plan to strengthen and revitalize the Organization, he said.  “By doing so, you have led the way.”  The Committee had inspired the Department to adapt to a changing world by demonstrating its willingness to learn and to change.

He and his staff had taken careful note of all the constructive views and expectations offered, as expressed in the deliberations and within the draft resolution, he said.  The close working relationship between the Committee and the Department had never been more crucial, both to DPI’s work, and to the Organization as a whole.

The CHAIRMAN, in his closing remarks, expressed faith, hope and conviction regarding the achievement of the goals of the Millennium Declaration.  One of the basic changes in that regard had to do with information.  It was through a communication policy directed towards change would it be possible to give guidance to the Secretary-General and the General Assembly, as well as to the Fifth Committee and Fourth Committee.  However, the Committee on Information must first heed the Secretary-General’s call for change and transformation.  Political commitment must be given to everything that was being done.  The resolution just adopted was not confined to a simple instruction from the Committee, but began a process of reform and had made a great contribution to the new DPI.

Summary of Drafts

As the Committee on Information met this afternoon to conclude its current session, it was expected to take action on a two-part draft resolution (document A/AC.198/2002/L.3) to be submitted to the General Assembly’s fifty-seventh session.

By terms of part A of the resolution, entitled "Information in the service of humanity", the Assembly would urge all countries, the United Nations system and all others concerned to cooperate and interact to reduce existing disparities in information flows, by increasing assistance for communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries.  This should be done with due regard to the needs and priorities of those countries, and in order to enable them to develop their own information and communication policies.

The Assembly would also urge all concerned to ensure that journalists have the opportunity to freely and effectively perform their professional tasks, and condemn all attacks against them.  They would also be urged to provide support  for the strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists in developing countries.  Regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries and between developed and developing countries would be sought, to strengthen communication capacities and to improve the media infrastructure and communication technology, especially in training and information dissemination.

Among other things, the Assembly would seek all possible support and assistance for:  the development of human and technical resources indispensable for improvement of information and communication systems in developing countries; the creation of conditions that will enable developing countries to have communication technology suited to their needs; establishing and promoting telecommunication links at the subregional, regional and interregional levels;  and the facilitation of developing countries’ access to advanced communication technology available on the open market.

By part B of the text, on United Nations public information policies and activities, the Assembly would concur with the Secretary-General on the need to enhance the technological infrastructure of DPI to widen its outreach, as well as to improve the United Nations Web site.  The Assembly would also reaffirm that DPI is the focal point for information policies of the United Nations and the primary news centre for information about the Organization and its activities and those of the Secretary-General.

Also by the text, the Assembly would encourage:

-- A closer integration of functions between DPI and those offices providing spokesman services for the Secretary-General;

-- The Secretary-General to strengthen the coordination between DPI and other Secretariat departments, and underline that public information capacities and activities in other departments should function under the guidance of DPI; and

-- DPI to continue to work within the United Nations Communications Group

to coordinate implementation of communications strategies with the heads of information of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.

Further by the text, the Assembly would request the Committee to thoroughly examine the comprehensive review once it had been finalized and to submit its recommendations thereon to the Assembly, and would stress the importance of respecting the principal competence of the Committee to undertake this examination and submit these recommendations prior to the consideration of the review by any other body.  It would call on Member States to ensure that recommendations relating to the programme of work of the Department originate and are considered in the Committee. 

Also, DPI would be urged to continue to exhibit transparency to increase awareness of the impact of its programmes and activities.  The Assembly would, in addition, request the Department to continue consultations with the Committee prior to taking any decision on the possible changing of its title. 

Concerning the issuance of daily press releases, the Assembly would also request the Department to continue providing this service to both Member States and media representatives, while considering possible means of improving their production process and streamlining their format.

In the area of multilingualism, the Assembly would reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure that DPI has appropriate staffing capacity in all official languages of the United Nations to undertake all its activities.  It would remind him of the need to include in future programme budget proposals    for the Department the importance of using all six official languages in its activities.

With regard to the United Nations information centres (UNICs), the Assembly would emphasize that, as the "field voice" of DPI, UNICs should promote public awareness and mobilize support for the work of the United Nations at the local level, bearing in mind that information in the local languages has the strongest impact on the local populations.  It would request the Secretary-General to include in his comprehensive review the results of the ongoing review by the Office of Internal Oversight Services on this matter and information on the involvement of DPI in the United Nations houses initiative. 

Also, the Assembly would recall the appeal made by the Secretary-General to the host governments of UNICs to facilitate the work of the centres in their countries by providing rent-free or rent-subsidized premises, while taking into account the economic condition of the host governments, and bearing in mind that such support should not be a substitute for the full allocation of financial resources for UNICs in the context of the programme budget of the United Nations.

Further, the Assembly would note the possibility of creating regional information centre "hubs" especially but not exclusively in areas where linguistic commonalities facilitate regionalization and stress the need for the Committee to consider a set of proposed guidelines and criteria relating to the advisability of implementing this option.  It would also stress that the creation of any such "hubs", subject to the Assembly endorsing these guidelines and criteria, should take place in a flexible manner, if feasible, on a case-by-case basis and only with the approval of all host countries concerned. 

In other action, the Assembly would request DPI to continue its efforts to strengthen its capacity to contribute significantly to the functioning of information components in United Nations peacekeeping operations, including through the development of a coherent information strategy with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

The Assembly would also stress the importance of enhancing the public information capacity of DPI in the field of peacekeeping operations and its role in the selection process of spokespersons for peacekeeping operations or missions, and encourage DPI to second spokespersons who have the necessary skills to fulfil the tasks of the operations or missions, and to consider views expressed, especially by host countries in that regard.

Regarding traditional means of communication, the Assembly would stress that radio remains one of the most cost-effective and far-reaching traditional media available to DPI and an important instrument in United Nations activities, such as development and peacekeeping.  It would look forward to the report of the Secretary-General to be submitted to the Committee at its twenty-fifth session on the implementation of the United Nations international radio broadcasting capacity, in order for the Committee to decide on the future of this capacity.

In addition, the Assembly would reiterate that all DPI publications should fulfil an identifiable need, not duplicate other publications of the United Nations system and be produced in a cost-effective manner.  In this regard, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to include in his comprehensive review the relevant results of the larger review of United Nations publications and information materials called for by the Assembly in its resolution 56/253. 

Concerning the United Nations Web site, the Assembly would stress the need to adopt a decision on the multilingual development, maintenance and enrichment of the Web site, considering, among other things, the possibility of organizational restructuring towards separate language units of each of the six official languages within DPI to achieve full parity among the official languages of the United Nations. 

It would reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure, until such a decision has been taken and implemented, the equitable distribution of financial and human resources within DPI allocated to the Web site among all official languages on a continuous basis, and to make every possible effort to ensure that all materials contained on the Web site that do not change and do not need regular maintenance are made available in all six official languages. 

In addition, the Assembly would reaffirm the need of achieving full parity among the six official languages on the Web site and, in this regard, take note of the Secretary-General’s proposal to translate all English materials and databases on the Web site by the respective content-providing offices of the Secretariat into all official languages.  It would also request the Secretary-General to report to the Committee at its next session on the most practical, efficient and cost-effective means of implementing this proposal.

Further, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to include in his report to the Committee's next session proposals relating to the designation of a future date by which all supporting arrangements would be in place for the implementation of this concept, and after which parity would continue from that date onwards, as well as to the exemption of specific items from translation on the Web site.

The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to report to the Committee at its next session on the impact on the functioning of the official document system (ODS) following implementation of the full multilingual support function and on the feasibility of providing free, public access to the ODS through a link with the United Nations Web site, and express its intention to take a decision on the ODS subscription policy during the main part of its fifty-eighth session.

Also, the Assembly would take note with interest of the electronic mail-based United Nations News Service distributed worldwide by e-mail by DPI, appreciate the plan by DPI to provide this service in the other four official languages this year, and emphasize that extra care needs to be taken to ensure that news-breaking stories and news alerts are accurate, impartial and free of  any bias.

Committee Highlights

The focus of the Committee's two-week session was on efforts under way to reposition DPI for greater impact.  At the session's opening meeting on 22 April, Interim Head of DPI Shashi Tharoor said that a reformed, transformed DPI would be one that was a stronger, faster and more efficient operation, more in tune with the needs of the United Nations and its Member States.

He said that DPI, which had been the focus of a comprehensive review by the Secretary-General, was "caught in the paradoxical situation" of receiving specific mandates from the Committee, while attempts were being made in other legislative bodies to curtail the resources needed to fulfil them. The report on reorientation set out his vision for the direction he hoped to take a "transformed" DPI -– one with a renewed focus and a greater clarity of purpose.

That exercise, Mr. Tharoor explained, fit into the Organization's overall reform process begun at the start of the Secretary-General’s second term.  Results from the review of DPI would form part of a comprehensive report, which the Secretary-General would submit to the General Assembly at its next session.  It would propose institutional, programmatic, and administrative improvements in DPI’s work, he said.

The comprehensive review had not been conceived as a cost-cutting exercise, but in an attempt to more effectively allocate resources and achieve greater effectiveness in programme delivery, some hard choices and decisions had to be made, he said.  Some activities might need to be discontinued or drastically reduced, and some might be transferred elsewhere in the Secretariat.  Within DPI itself, some consolidation of functions might be necessary, he added.

He asked members to "give us your thoughts on these matters, to tell us what you expect from DPI".  It was now more critical than ever that the Committee provide its expert guidance regarding what it saw as the core communications functions of the Department, he said. 

During the general debate, the United States representative said he supported a careful review, rationalization and prioritization of all United Nations’ activities.  Programme managers must indicate which programmes should be maintained, expanded or eliminated.  He commended DPI for undertaking the task of defining the goal of each activity and developing indicators to evaluate whether they were achieving their goals.  He also agreed with its assessment that to successfully reset its priorities, certain low-impact activities should be discontinued.

On behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, the representative of Venezuela highlighted the "dizzying speed" of technological changes, which had left out some countries.  A major challenge, therefore, was to reduce disparities and reverse the trends that threatened to deepen the divide.  He emphasized developing countries’ reliance on traditional communications means.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Spain expressed full support for the ongoing reform of DPI and welcomed the report on reorientation, which built on ideas put forward in recent years on performance, effectiveness and efficiency.  A culture of public information and communications should permeate all levels and all departments of the Organization.  Among the Union's preliminary ideas, DPI should use the Millennium Declaration as a "crystal clear" guide to orient its work and rely, to a greater degree, on reaching the public through existing external media. 

In the meetings that followed, a debate ensued over reliance on external media.  The representative of the Republic of Korea agreed with the European Union that by concentrating on conveying the United Nations message through various intermediaries with their channels and audiences already in place to disseminate information around the globe, DPI could conserve resources while still reaching a worldwide audience.

Other delegations, including from Tunisia and Syria, expressed concern that the absence of the United Nations’ voice on the international scene would strengthen those who wanted to marginalize it in favour of other forms of world governance.  Information in its broadest dimensions must figure among the Organization’s priorities, and DPI, as the umbilical cord that tied the United Nations to the outside world, must not become hostage to finances, he said.

The importance of multilingualism in the United Nations public information activities was also emphasized.  On the question of linguistic parity on the Web site, the representative of China, noting the disparity in staffing for the six languages and the absence of an official post on the staff of the Chinese language site, asked DPI to devote more regular budget posts for the language pages of the Web site.

Responding in detail to the general debate upon its conclusion on 24 April, Mr. THAROOR said that almost all speakers had commented favourably on the enhanced character of the United Nations Web site.  At the same time, several had addressed the need to more rapidly achieve linguistic parity on the Web site.  Some proposals, including one offered by the Chinese representative, required significant additional resources, which remained a central dilemma.

On the role of DPI in peacekeeping, Mr. Tharoor said that DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had agreed last May to strengthen the Secretariat’s capacity to support peacekeeping, with a view to implementing the Brahimi report.  The DPI was given primary responsibility in 12 areas, mostly in pre-mission planning, and DPKO was given primary responsibility in eight areas, with the two Departments sharing responsibility equally in one area, namely, the facilitation of media coverage.

He said DPKO had requested additional resources, but the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) had recommended that DPI, and not DPKO, should have a dedicated technical unit to support those functions, and two additional posts had been granted, much fewer than DPKO had requested.  The DPI was unable to dedicate staff resources to field information support.  If the two additional posts had not been granted, its ability to provide information support would remain limited and insufficient.

Among the other points he addressed was the need to bridge the “digital divide” and ensure that the global information and technological revolution also benefited the developing countries.  He also recalled the support expressed by many for the vital role played by the UNICs and the call for their strengthening.  He would further explore the possibility of setting up regional hubs, for which some positive interest had been expressed.

Overall, he said the broad endorsement for the reorientation as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report was encouraging.  To the many comments about DPI’s new focus on performance management as a tool to measure and prioritize activities, he said that aspect would be strengthened and developed in the coming months.  It was heartening to hear that a transformed Department was essential to advancing the goals of the Millennium Declaration, and that a clear connection should be established between them and DPI's programmes, he said.

Committee Membership

The Committee on Information consists of 98 Member States:  Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt,    El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, and Kazakhstan.

Members also include Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

The Bureau is composed of the following members:  Milos Alcalay (Venezuela), Chairman; Ivan Matchavariani (Georgia), Tserenpil Dorjsuren (Mongolia), and Peter Mollema (Netherlands), Vice-Chairmen; and Walid A. Haggag (Egypt), Rapporteur.

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For information media. Not an official record.