Fifty-eighth General Assembly
14th Meeting (PM)
STRATEGIC USE OF PUBLIC INFORMATION TO BECOME EVER-MORE CRITICAL IN BUILDING
SUPPORT FOR UNITED NATIONS, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS FOURTH COMMITTEE
War in Iraq Was Foremost of Mounting Challenges Facing
Organization, He Says, Outlining Department’s New Structure, Operational Model
At a time of mounting challenges, such as those posed by the Iraq crisis, the strategic use of public information would become increasingly critical in building public support for the United Nations, Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as he introduced the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information.
Outlining the changes in the Department of Public Information resulting from the Secretary-General’s reform of the United Nations, Mr. Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said the foremost public information challenge facing the Organization was to address the lapse in confidence following the war in Iraq. Responding to that challenge, the Department had used every means at its disposal to increase global awareness and understanding of the multiple roles the United Nations had played in the crisis, while ensuring that important United Nations activities in other critical areas were not forgotten.
As the United Nations collectively attempted to determine which fork in the road would lead it to where it wanted to go, he said, there had been growing consensus among Member States that the Organization was the common house best suited to find, in the words of the Secretary-General, “collective answers to our common problems and challenges”. A new emphasis had been placed on developing strategic communications partnerships and programmes to give louder voice to key United Nations messages and a new focus, in the Department’s Outreach Division, on educators and academics as a primary audience.
Key to the Secretary-General’s reform proposals was his call to refocus the Department’s message, refine its structure and retool its operational outlets, he said. Having gone through a major restructuring, the Department now had a new operating model and a new organizational structure that divided its core work among three divisions -- Strategic Communications, incorporating the United Nations information centres; News and Media; and Outreach, which included the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
The restructuring of the information centres through a three-year regionalization process was well under way, he said. Nine centres in Western Europe were set to close on 31 December to be replaced on 1 January 2004 by a regional United Nations Information Centre, or RUNIC, in Brussels. In addition to concentrating the Department’s Western European assets to create a critical mass of expertise and resources that would help it deliver strategic and consistent messages, the regional hub would also strengthen the partnership between the United Nations and the European Union.
However, regionalization could not and would not be a “one size fits all” process, he emphasized. The Department’s approach would vary according to regional and national needs. To that end, consultations with concerned Member States on further regionalization would commence shortly and would take into account the special circumstances prevailing in developing countries.
Noting the excellence of the media coverage of the opening of the fifty-eighth General Assembly session and general debate, he said the wide coverage given to the Secretary-General’s call for unity of purpose around the common security agenda -- contained in his report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration -- had helped revive the search for a fresh look at how the United Nations should address the major threats of the twenty-first century.
Delegates, who spoke following the Under-Secretary-General’s statement, welcomed the Department’s new organizational structure and operating model, noting that the reform had occurred at a time of profound global transformation. They also welcomed efforts to create synergies between new and traditional media and emphasized the importance of using new communications technologies to fulfil the Department’s mandate while preserving such traditional means of communications as radio.
Italy’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that the regionalization of the United Nations information centres in Western Europe, with Brussels as the hub, had involved an intense process of consultation between the Department and the European Union. The United Nations should ensure that the level of information in European Union member States would not be affected by the closure of information centres, but, rather, benefit from the reform.
Iran’s representative expressed the hope that departmental staff and financial resources, freed up as a result of the closures, could be transferred to information centres in developing countries, where information activities needed strengthening. In that regard, Morocco’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, added that the restructuring of the information centres should be approached on a case-by-case basis and in due consultation with the concerned countries.
Peru’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, noted that not all regions were comparable with respect to distance and access to technology. Consultations with Member States must not exclude those countries that did not have information centres but who would be affected by the regionalization plan.
Speakers also agreed on the need to ensure multilingualism in the Department’s communication activities and welcomed the fact that the United Nations News Centre Web site was available in all official languages.
Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Venezuela, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Tunisia and Ecuador.
Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (Bangladesh), Chairman of the Committee on Information, made an opening statement and Janice Miller (Jamaica), Rapporteur, introduced that body’s report.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Tuesday, 28 October to continue its discussion of questions relating to information.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin its consideration of questions relating to information.
Before the Committee was the report of the Committee on Information (document A/58/21) covering its twenty-fifth session, held from 28 April to 9 May 2003 and during which that body, considered a number of reports of the Secretary-General, including one on the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications (document A/AC.198/2003/2) and the review of the structure and operations of United Nations information centres (document A/57/747).
During the Information Committee’s general debate, most speakers emphasized the central role of the United Nations and of the Department of Public Information (DPI) as its public voice, the report says. In the process of revitalization, the Department had a dynamic role as it helped to create the Organization’s international image and show its actions on international relations.
Addressing the growing digital divide between developed and developing countries, speakers called for greater efforts to close that gap, the report continues. Many developing countries lacked the necessary infrastructure and resources to benefit from the rapid advance of information and communications technologies. Until the digital divide was narrowed, radio broadcasting remained the most cost-effective and universal means of communications in many developing countries. Given the challenging nature of the times, the Information Committee played a key role in reversing the growing polarization between countries and regions.
Most delegates welcomed the Department’s new mission statement, the report says. The Department’s goals and purposes had been better formulated and its overall efficiency enhanced. In welcoming the new direction, many speakers felt that the new operating model and organizational structure introduced under the second phase of the Secretary-General’s reform process would provide the Department with renewed focus and vigour. While noting the progressive restructuring of the Department, one speaker said the process should not be conducted at the expense of programmes relating to priority development issues, such as conflict prevention, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, dialogue among civilizations and cultures, sustainable development, the battle against international terrorism and the needs of Africa.
The report says that several speakers addressed the question of the regionalization of United Nations information centres, noting the Secretary-General’s proposal to rationalize and consolidate the information centres located in Western Europe into a hub. Some welcomed the proposal as it would achieve a better distribution of resources to information centres in developing countries and lead to the redeployment of resources to other high-priority areas. One speaker stressed the importance of the information centres for developing countries as valuable sources of information and means of communication with host countries. Regional hubs should be established on a case-by-case basis with sensitivity to the unique needs of each region.
Disagreeing with the proposal for regional hubs, however, another speaker argued that critically important activities and functions of an information centre could not be performed through a “remote control” method from a regional hub. Describing the proposal as “not a good idea”, another delegate said that for Latin American countries, geographical distances and transportation costs made it unfeasible for an information centre to have clients beyond the borders of the host country.
Also during the debate, many speakers described the Department’s Web site as a “real success story”, the report states. Calling it a textbook example of what could be accomplished within existing resources, one speaker commended the Web site team for its live webcasting of United Nations meetings and timely posting of items on the News Centre page.
The report says that the issues of multilingualism in the Organization’s work and the importance of traditional means of communication were also discussed, especially radio for reaching out to audiences in developing countries. Several speakers welcomed the pilot project on the development of international radio broadcasting as a cost-effective way of spreading the United Nations message. The results of a survey on worldwide audiences for United Nations radio programmes, an estimated 133 million people around the world listened to United Nations Radio in the six official languages.
Several speakers noted the activities of the Outreach Division, which were aimed at firming the Department’s partnership with civil society, the academic community, the media and library services, the report says. Speakers also welcomed the Department’s initiative to integrate United Nations libraries and the establishment of the Steering Committee for their modernization and integrated management, noting the strategic partnerships within the United Nations system developed through the newly created United Nations Communications Group.
The officers of the Committee on Information for the 2002-2003 period are Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (Bangladesh), Chairman; Larbi Djacta (Algeria), Sebastiao Filipe Coelho Ferreira (Portugal) and Marius Ioan Dragolea (Romania), Vice-Chairmen; and Janice Miller (Jamaica), Rapporteur.
Also before the Fourth Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information (document A/58/175), which covers recent activities of the Department of Public Information and its implementation of recommendations contained in General Assembly resolution 57/130 B of 11 December 2002. The report recalls the Department’s new mission statement, which is its guiding precept, as well as its revised operating model. It explains the Department’s new organizational structure, which is aligned to a proposed new four-part subprogramme structure: strategic communications services (subprogramme 1); news services (subprogramme 2); library services (subprogramme 3); and outreach services (subprogramme 4).
As part of its strategic communications services, the Department has developed thematic communications campaigns using its multimedia outlets, outreach to civil society, private sector partnerships and, at the local level, the United Nations information centres. The Department has continued to provide support for the information components of peacekeeping, peace-building and other political missions. The network of United Nations information centres, services and offices around the world developed annual work plans for 2003 and promoted the Organization’s work at the country level, using traditional and modern means of communication to strengthen their outreach to larger segments of the public.
The report says that as part of the Department’s news services, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General has continued to be the conduit for the Organization’s official position on matters in the headlines. The United Nations Web site, which is expected to receive nearly 2.5 billion accesses in 2003, is enhancing the Department’s ability to communicate with media around the world on important news developments in the United Nations system. Traditional means of communication continue to be a focus of the Department's outreach, with the live radio project now firmly established and its worldwide reach confirmed. The Department has continued to provide coverage through United Nations Television, as well as in press releases, of meetings, conferences and special events at Headquarters and to produce television magazine programmes.
According to the report, the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, established in February 2003, is developing a special initiative to create a dynamic, synergistic and fully functional network of library services throughout the Organization. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library has continued to improve its Web site and has increased its outreach to and through the depository library system. It has continued its emphasis on training and has enhanced multilingualism in its outputs.
Outreach services have a new focus on educational outreach, the report says, with the UN Chronicle establishing its home page as a portal for that purpose. The “UN Works” programme continues to put a human face on the work of the United Nations. The annual training programme for broadcasters from developing countries and the United Nations Cyberschoolbus Web site are also important features of the Department’s work in that area. Outreach to non-governmental organizations was strengthened during the reporting period, especially to those in developing countries. The Department has also undertaken a wide range of promotional campaigns for United Nations publications.
The report also describes progress in the implementation of the proposal for the regionalization of United Nations information centres, as requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 57/300 of 20 December 2002. It provides, in particular, details on the implementation phase of the plan for Western Europe. Furthermore, the Department is continuing to give priority to the establishment of a culture of performance management through a process of regular evaluation aimed at ensuring that United Nations information products and services are effective and targeted and that they achieve the greatest possible public impact.
Also before the Committee was the report of the Committee for Programme and Coordination on its forty-third session, held from 9 June to 3 July and on 9 July 2003 (document A/58/16). During the Committee’s consideration of proposed revisions to the 2002-2005 medium-term plan, support was expressed for the Department’s revised operating model, which aims to improve its ability to deliver effective and targeted information programmes. The view was expressed that the Secretary-General should be encouraged to implement expeditiously those elements of reform under his sole authority. In that regard, support was expressed for the concrete initiatives taken in recent months concerning the Department’s restructuring and the improvement of the United Nations library services.
Significant interest was shown in the rationalization of the United Nations information centres around regional hubs, the report says. Some delegations strongly supported the initiative and urged that the momentum be maintained for progress in other regions. Concern had also been expressed, however, that decisions had been taken without prior consultations with the concerned Member States. Some expressed doubt that the rationalization of the information centres could be implemented before the prior approval of the Department’s 2004-2005 proposed programme budget. The view was expressed that regionalization should not result in people in the developing countries being denied access to United Nations information.
The report notes that clarification was sought on the interpretation of resolution 57/300, in which the Assembly took note of the Secretary-General’s proposal to rationalize the network of information centres around regional hubs. The Committee was informed that the Assembly’s request for a progress report on the implementation of the proposal constituted authority to proceed. That was the basis for the proposal contained in the proposed revision to the medium-term plan for 2002-2005 and the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget. Regionalization in Western Europe would be applied and the objective of applying that initiative in other regions had been set out in resolution 57/300.
Some noted that the concept of regional hubs was valid from the viewpoint of improving efficiency, the report states. Concerns were also expressed about the negative implications of the regionalizing process as it could worsen the delivery of adequate information in regions where distances and difficulties in accessing new technologies necessitated the presence of information centres.
Speakers also discussed the management of library operations, revitalization of the Publications Board, multilingualism and guided tours, the report says. The importance of ensuring equal treatment of public information activities in all United Nations offices was stressed and concerns were expressed that the Department’s intentions for activities at the United Nations Office in Nairobi were not reflected in the revised medium-term plan.
The report notes the Committee’s recommendation that the General Assembly request the Secretary-General to make proposals, as a matter of priority, to its fifty-ninth session, through the Committee on Information, in order to ensure the application of common principles and criteria for the provision of guided tours and briefing programmes at all United Nations duty stations, to ensure a common approach that places all duty stations on the same footing.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General on proposed revisions to the 2002-2005 medium-term plan, programme 23, Public Information (document A/58/90). [Approved and revised by the General Assembly, the medium-term plan serves as the framework for the formulation of the biennial programme budget.] In it, the Secretary-General notes that the Assembly conducted a comprehensive review of the Department pursuant to Assembly resolution 56/253 of December 2001 and the Secretary-General’s reform efforts. The Assembly, in its resolution 57/300 of December 2002, welcomed the proposal to improve the effective and targeted delivery of public information activities, including the Department’s restructuring. The Committee on Information, at its 2003 session, reviewed the Secretary-General’s report on the reorientation of the United Nations public information and communications activities, which detailed the Department’s new structure and operating concepts. An annex to the note contains the proposed revision of the medium-term plan, which replaces programme 23 of the 2002-2005 medium-term plan, as revised by the Assembly in resolution 57/282 of December 2002. The proposed programme budget for 2004-2005 takes into account the new subprogramme structure, which is different from that of programme 23 of the medium-term plan for 2002-2005.
The Secretary-General recommends that the Assembly approve the revised medium-term plan.
Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said the world was living in interesting times, when opportunities and challenges were colliding. The Secretary-General, in his opening address to the fifty-eight session of the General Assembly, had compared that situation to a “fork in the road”. Public information would become even more important as the international community collectively attempted to determine which fork of the road would lead to where it wanted to go. A great deal of what “we the peoples” of the world knew about the work of the Organization, which was created for their benefit and which urgently needed their understanding and support to succeed, they learned through the activities of the DPI.
Providing an overview of the Department’s work, he listed several of its activities, including television footage of Security Council meetings, radio programmes, the United Nations Web site, daily e-mail news bulletins, the issuance of guidance for senior United Nations officials, media campaigns, editorials, library services, civil society meetings, guided tours and educational programmes.
The Department had undergone a major restructuring following the Secretary-General’s comprehensive review of its management and structure, called for by the Assembly in resolution 56/253, he said. The process had been steered by the Assembly through its resolutions 57/130 B and 57/300, both of which welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposals to improve public information activities.
He said the key to the Secretary-General’s reform proposals, presented to the Committee in September 2002, was his call to refocus the DPI’s message, to refine its structure and to retool its operational outlets. The Department had developed a more strategic orientation and a more focused work programme. It now had a strong new mission statement, a new operating model and new organizational structure that divided the DPI’s core work among three divisions, namely, the Strategic Communications Division, which incorporated the Information Centres Services and network of United Nations Information Centres and Services, the News and Media Division, and the Outreach Division, which included the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
To translate the renewed DPI model into programmatic terms, he said the subprogramme structure of “Section 28, public information” of the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget had been changed, he said. The new subprogramme structure enabled the Department to meet the request of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that it align its organizational structure with its subprogrammes. Strategic communications services now correlated to the work of the Strategic Communications Division, news services correlated to the work of the News and Media Division and both library and outreach services related to the work of the Outreach Division. The budget allocations for each of the Department’s programmes would be easier to identify from January 2004.
The Secretary-General’s report, he noted, did not contain a comprehensive list of all of the DPI’s products and activities, but rather focused on the steps the Department had taken in the period July 2002 to July 2003.
In the past 12 months, the foremost public information challenge facing the United Nations had been to address the lapse in confidence in the Organization following the Iraq war, he said. The political action at the United Nations during the Iraq crisis had resulted in intense and critical media and public scrutiny of the Organization. In May, a poll conducted in 20 countries by the Pew Organization had found that the United Nations credibility was down everywhere -– in the United States because the United Nations had not supported the war and in other countries because it had failed to prevent the war.
In response, the Department had used every means at its disposal to increase global awareness and understanding of the multiple roles the United Nations had played in the Iraq crisis, and at the same time to ensure that important United Nations activities in other critical areas were not forgotten. He said he had participated in the Deputy Secretary-General’s Steering Group on Iraq, offering advice about levels of public support for the United Nations role and ways to increase it. Also, the Department had established an Inter-Agency Task Force on Iraq, where information professionals from across the United Nations system met to share information and coordinate public outreach activities.
From that Task Force, the DPI had provided regular press guidance to senior United Nations staff on the evolving role of the United Nations, which had served as the underpinning for media interviews and responses to journalists’ questions provided by senior United Nations staff around the world, he said. The DPI had also established a briefing centre in Amman, Jordan. Such actions had ensured that all the public information that the United Nations system had provided, even at the most difficult moments, was strategic, accurate and consistent. It had also served as the basis for the hundreds of media engagements senior staff had undertaken in and around the Council’s discussions on Iraq.
While the role of the Task Force had now been subsumed into the weekly United Nations Communications Group meetings chaired by the DPI, guidance was still produced and disseminated globally to United Nations staff, he added. The response to the evolving political and media environment had been the subject of a three-day workshop organized by the DPI at Headquarters in September 2003, that had brought together communications specialists of the United Nations system posted in the Middle East and Arab region. Efforts had also been redoubled to ensure that development issues and critical peacekeeping in other parts of the world received the attention they merited.
During this year’s General Debate, Mr. Tharoor went on, there had been growing consensus among Member States that every effort should be made to strengthen the United Nations as the common house best suited to find, as the Secretary-General said, “collective answers to our common problems and challenges”.
The Under-Secretary-General noted that media coverage of the opening of the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly and the General Debate had been excellent. The wide coverage given to the Secretary-General’s call for unity of purpose around the common security agenda, contained in his report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, had helped revive the search for a fresh look at how the United Nations should address the major threats of the twenty-first century.
The newly created Strategic Communications Division had led the synergy efforts, allowing the department to use all of its assets to press home the United Nations story, he said. A good example of this partnership was DPI’s work on the World Summit on the Information Society and with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) for the United Nations Mission in Liberia.
He said the United Nations Web site was an extremely efficient and cost-effective medium for dissemination of information and called attention to the fact that on 23 September 2003, it had reached another milestone by recording more than 11.69 million hits during a 24-hour period, more than the total number of hits it received in 1996. Based on usage to date, he continued, DPI expected the Web site to top the 2 billion mark before the end of 2003.
He reiterated his commitment to multilingualism and said he was honoured by the Secretary-General’s request that he assume the role of Secretariat Coordinator for Questions related to Multilingualism. In this regard, he said that the recent linking of the Official Documents System to the web site was an important step towards realizing the goal of parity, among the official languages on the Web. On the same topic, he added that the United Nations News Centre was now available in all official languages.
He noted that live radio broadcast was available, almost immediately on the United Nations Web site, which also allowed people with access to the Internet to listen to United Nations news at any time of the day. In view of its proven success and cost-effectiveness, the Department had asked for the authority to make the live radio project, a permanent feature of its activities and would seek regular budget funding for it.
Turning to the work of the Outreach Division, he said it was maximizing the “multiplier effect” that civil society organizations provided. In this context, the new civil society service of the Outreach Division offered exciting opportunities for the Department to initiate new partnerships with this vital constituency and invigorate old ones.
He said the process of restructuring the United Nations information centres (UNICs) through a three-year regionalization process was well under way, with nine UNICs in Western Europe set to close on 31 December, to be replaced on 1 January 2004, by a regional United Nations Information Centre in Brussels. In addition to concentrating DPI’s Western European assets to create a critical mass of expertise and resources that would help it deliver strategic and consistent messages for the region, the regional hub would also strengthen the partnership between the United Nations and the European Union. It would also centralize administrative and support functions, free up assets for redeployment to priority areas and enhance multilingualism on the DPI’s Web site.
He highlighted the fact that regionalization could not and would not be a “one size fits all” process. Instead, the DPI’s approach would vary according to regional and national needs. To this end, he announced that consultations with concerned Member States on further regionalization would begin shortly. These consultations would take into account the special circumstances prevailing in developing countries and be part of a report on the possible establishment of other regional information centres that would be presented to the Committee on Information during its twenty-sixth session. The DPI, he said, was also stepping up efforts to evaluate its own activities through an intense consultative process with staff, and with the assistance of the Office of Internal Oversight Services.
Change, he said, was always difficult. To get things right, some risks had to be taken and time had to be set aside to evaluate the results. In this regard, he thanked all of the members of the Fourth Committee for the tremendous support and cooperation they had extended to the DPI during its reform process, and said the Department was working hard to ensure that the reasoned voice of the United Nations was heard loudly and clearly.
JANICE MILLER (Jamaica), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced its report. Describing the contents, she said the first chapter was an introduction, the second dealt with organizational questions, the third centred on the general debate during the Committee’s two-week session and the fourth focused on consideration of the Secretary-General’s reports. The fifth chapter dealt with the preparation and adoption of the Committee’s report to the General Assembly at its fifty-eighth session.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY, (Bangladesh), Chairman of the Committee on Information, said the past two years had been a period of metamorphosis and renewal for the DPI. A new strategic orientation had given the Department a sharpened focus and empowered it with innovative tools. While the introduction of new technologies had made the Department more effective and nimble, the changes had not come at the expense of traditional means of communications. Radio remained, as useful a medium as ever, and concerns over linguistic parity were also being addressed. It was heartening that the United Nations News Centre was now available in all six official languages.
While the Department’s gains were praiseworthy, much remained to be done, he said. The Department had become -– and was in the process of becoming -– the Organization’s public voice. Meeting that goal required a good plan and sound leadership. It also demanded Member States’ support, both political and material. While the Department’s performance would depend largely on how it organized itself, it would also depend on a resource allocation that responded to its programmatic needs. The Committee should equip the Department appropriately so it could go a long way towards bringing the United Nations closer to the peoples of the world in trying times.
ALDO MANTOVANI (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said new technologies had created new challenges for the Department and that there was a need to strengthen its effectiveness and capabilities to keep up with the latest technologies. The European Union was very pleased to see that the Department’s new mission statement reflected the guidelines set forth in the Millennium Declaration by focusing on poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the battle against HIV/AIDS, the fight against international terrorism, and the needs of the African continent.
He said that even though the European Union was convinced that the United Nations Web site would continue to grow in the future, its further development could not be separated from the Department’s other activities. The European Union’s appreciation for the Department’s efforts to prioritize its resources to ensure that the United Nations message was delivered with the appropriate technology, making use of the appropriate mix of communication tools to reach the correct audience. Italy and the European Union welcomed the Department’s efforts to put a range of valuable information on the Web in the six official United Nations languages, and the fact that the United Nations News Centre was now available in the six official languages.
He said the regionalization of the UNICs in a Western European hub in Brussels had involved an intense process of consultation between the European Union member States and the Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information. The European Union intended to follow up the process until the regionalization plan was accomplished. The United Nations should ensure that in all European Union member States, the level of information would not be affected by the closure of centres but, rather, would benefit from the reform.
MOHAMMED ARROUCHI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, welcomed the DPI’s new structure and operating methods, and he said he wished to congratulate the Under-Secretary-General and his staff in that regard. The ongoing reform of the DPI was a crucial and necessary step towards the strengthening of the United Nations system. As the public voice of the United Nations, the DPI should ensure wider dissemination of United Nations activities, thereby leading to real dialogue between the different global actors.
The challenge facing the new DPI was not only to ensure wider outreach of its communication strategies, but also to ensure that those strategies contributed to the goals and objectives of the Organization. He said the DPI’s new mission statement should be viewed as a new reinforced and action-oriented communication strategy that should be guided by the priorities set by intergovernmental processes, in particular the Millennium Declaration. Poverty eradication remained the greatest challenge facing the world today. The DPI’s contribution to building an effective global strategy of partnership for a real and effective sustainable development was, therefore, of paramount importance.
Continuing, he said that next year the Commission on Sustainable Development would hold a review session to evaluate progress made in the implementation of activities related to water, sanitation and human settlement. The African continent was most affected by the scourge of poverty, famine, disease and armed conflict. While welcoming the range of the DPI’s activities to enhance the United Nations activities in support of Africa’s sustainable development, the DPI’s new communication strategy should ensure concrete responses to the special needs of the African populations.
He said the tragic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories called for a permanent outreach communication strategy to stimulate strong international action, to end the long suffering of the Palestinian people. Dialogue among civilizations was a theme which required special attention within the framework of the DPI’s communication strategy.
On the restructuring of the United Nations information centres, he reiterated the importance of the centres for developing countries as valuable sources of information and interaction with host countries. The restructuring, therefore, should be taken on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the concerned countries.
It was also important to preserve and consolidate the traditional means of communication, such as radio broadcasting. The fulfilment of the DPI’s new mission statement depended to a great extent on ensuring multilingualism in the Department’s communications activities. Given the world’s linguistic diversity, wider outreach of the DPI’s new communication strategies could only be realized through a balanced and equitable use of the six official languages. He hoped that financial constraints would not continue to hinder multilingualism in the DPI’s new mission statement.
MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela) said that given the profound transformations of modern times, it was crucial to design comprehensive public information policies that would inform the world about the main priorities of the United Nations and the strides made by the Organization to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the implementation of summit resolutions.
He noted that the United Nations could achieve wide-ranging social, political and economic transformations but if those achievements were not conveyed to the global media, it would be as if nothing had been accomplished.
Highlighting the importance of United Nations radio broadcasts, he said they were especially relevant in underdeveloped countries. The gap between rich and poor countries was growing in terms of access to information technologies, he said, calling for strengthened cooperation between North and South. Venezuela hoped that during the World Summit on the Information Society, clear priorities and objectives would be agreed upon regarding information technology. The work of the Committee on Information and that of the Department required broad cooperation from other United Nations bodies, departments and agencies.
MARCO BALAREZO (Peru), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the effective dissemination of public information to build international support for United Nations activities continued to be important for strengthening the Organization’s ability to respond to the challenges and demands facing it. Strengthening the United Nations system was an event, not a process and must provide for rapidly changing international relations. An efficient information role should be an important agent in the current reform process, promoting a global understanding of the Organization’s objectives and principles.
The Rio Group welcomed the Department’s new structure, in which the other departments of the Secretariat were considered clients. Hopefully, the pragmatic focus would increase the Department’s capacity to disseminate impartial information. Regarding the proposal to rationalize the United Nations information centres around hubs, he noted that not all regions were comparable. For example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, distance and access to technology were a problem as compared to Western Europe. Consultations with Member States must not exclude those countries that did not have information centres but who would be affected by the regionalization plan.
Stressing the importance of the equitable treatment of the official languages, including the contents of Organization’s Web sites, he urged the Department to continue its efforts to achieve linguistic parity. In that regard, he welcomed the Under-Secretary-General’s appointment as coordinator of questions relating to multilingualism in the Secretariat.
He said it was crucial that the Organization continue to maintain the traditional means of information dissemination. It was gratifying that the Department was working to create synergies between the new technologies and traditional means. Measures to improve the management and integration of United Nations libraries were also welcome.
IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) said the Department was a mirror reflecting the image of the United Nations to people around the world. In a world in which knowledge was a yardstick of growth, the DPI was taking action and educating the public in many areas such as gender equality, conflict prevention and the war on terrorism.
He said Lebanon expected a cartography division to be added to the DPI, and said there was a need to assess the results of the latest restructuring efforts in order to identify flaws.
Describing the United Nations Web site as a success story, he called for resources to be distributed equally among the various language versions of the site.
The information and communication technology revolution had a major impact on globalization, he said, but the digital divide remained great. It was up to the United Nations to narrow the divide and enable all States to take advantage of those technologies.
He called on the DPI to revitalize radio broadcasting, which he said was one of the most effective media for reaching people living in developing countries.
SALEM AL-DHANHANI (United Arab Emirates) said the outcomes of the reforms of the DPI had been positively reflected in numerous information and media facilities of the United Nations, and they highlighted the achievements of multilingualism, enhanced media services and activities for development.
He called for redoubled efforts to close the digital gap between developed and developing countries and to ensure that the use of information promoted understanding and tolerance, and was not used to disseminate hatred and prejudice. In this context, he commended the DPI for its role in transmitting the message regarding the role of the United Nations in Iraq and spreading awareness of the political and humanitarian aspects of the crisis.
He expressed appreciation for the role of the DPI in enhancing public awareness of all aspects of the Palestinian problem and the situation in the Middle East, and he called for further strengthening media activities related to the issue.
NADJEH BAAZIZ (Algeria) called on the Department to ensure that all countries had equal access to the benefits of information technologies, in order to help bridge the gap separating developed and developing countries. Algeria, she added, hoped that the Summit on the information society to take place in December would help remedy this situation.
Noting that the dissemination of information had made important progress, as attested by the growing number of visitors to the United Nations Web site, she said respect for diversity in the ways of available expression continued to be a concern. In this regard, she called for further efforts to encourage multilingualism. She also renewed Algeria’s appeal that the six languages receive equal treatment in terms of the allocation of resources.
She welcomed the efforts of the DPI in disseminating information pertaining to decolonization, and called for the training of journalists from developing countries.
KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) said that, given the ever-widening digital gap, steps must be taken to ensure that all countries benefited from the revolution in information and communications technologies. Aware of the importance of the matter, Tunisia had called for the holding of the World Summit on the Information Society. While making every effort to participate in the first stage of the Summit in Geneva this year, Tunisia would spare no efforts to ensure the Summit’s success in 2005. He hailed the Under-Secretary-General’s statement on the Department’s preparations in that regard.
He said the world had witnessed profound transformations and tragic events. Member States had to redouble their support for the DPI to chart a clear and strong information policy. It was only natural that the Committee on Information would take the lead in considering how such a development could take place, and in ensuring that the Secretary-General’s measures would enjoy wide support. He supported the new approach for the Department’s reform and the strengthening of its mandate. The reform should take place in an atmosphere of transparency and coordination with Member States. The DPI must have a clear mandate and its priorities must be in concert with the goals of the United Nations.
He welcomed the fact that the United Nations Web site was now available in Arabic and hailed achievements in ensuring language parity on the Web site, as well as the continuation of United Nations radio broadcasts. He stressed the importance the United Nations information centres in the developing countries, and he hoped that their capacities would be expanded with the savings released by the closure of information centres in other regions.
MOHAMMAD HASSAN FADAIFARD (Iran) highlighted the need for a strong Department of Public Information and reiterated his support for its restructuring. There was a need for the Department to take into account the recommendations contained in the resolution of the twenty-fifth session of the Committee on Information.
He said his country attached the utmost importance to the role of the UNICs and was following with special interest the Secretary-General’s proposal to restructure and rationalize the network of information centres around regional hubs. Iran hoped that freed staff and financial resources from high-cost developed nations could be transferred to information centres in developing countries, where information activities needed strengthening. At the same time, it was a matter of concern that the restructuring process would disrupt the current flow of information to developing countries.
Encouraging the Department to provide resources and technical facilities to countries whose languages were not official United Nations languages, he called for the development and expansion of Web pages in local languages. Hopefully, the current restructuring process would strengthen the role and activities of the Department in areas of special interest to developing countries.
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) said the United Nations had an overarching obligation to the international community regarding its supply of public information. At the same time, Member States needed timely information about the Organization’s activities. Recent developments in the field of information technology made the Department’s work a complex task, but it had been able to rise to the challenge. Ecuador welcomed the use of different tools, such as the electronic transmission of documents and the e-Conveyor.
He said the content of the United Nations Web sites was very useful, timely and accessible since they appeared in all the official languages. The Department’s efforts in that regard would strengthen the work of the United Nations as a whole and add legitimacy to its actions. However, Ecuador was concerned that developing countries had limited access to information technologies and called on the United Nations to take into account the disparities among Member States in the field of information and communications technology. In order to bridge the technology gap, awareness must be raised among developed countries and international cooperation increased to provide greater capacity and improved access for poor countries to the latest technologies.
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