Committee on Information
4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL SHASHI THAROOR WELCOMES INFORMATION COMMITTEE’S
ENDORSEMENT OF DPI’S RESTRUCTURING
Committee Concludes Three-Day General Debate
On DPI Reform and Activities, Hearing 39 Speakers
Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor this afternoon welcomed the Committee’s formal endorsement of the restructuring of the Department of Public Information (DPI), including its new mission statement, operating model and organizational structure promulgated by the Secretary-General, under his authority, as well as the new subprogrammes underpinning the Department’s 2004-2005 proposed programme budget, which required the Committee’s approval. Mr. Tharoor was responding to comments and questions made by the 99-member Committee on Information in its three-day general debate on information questions.
Mr. Tharoor expressed gratitude for the near universal welcome of the Secretary-General’s report on the reorientation of the Organization’s communications and public information activities, and for the Committee’s support for the reorganized structure of the Department. The reformed structure consists of three Divisions: Strategic Communications; News and Media; and Outreach.
A total of 39 delegations took part in the general debate, including 19 who addressed the Committee at two meetings today.
In his response, Mr. Tharoor noted the calls by practically all speakers to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing countries and ensure that the global information and technology revolution benefited the developing world. Until the digital divide was bridged, he quoted one speaker as saying, there were many other effective means of reaching a greater number of people in developing countries.
In that connection, many had urged the Department’s continued emphasis on traditional means of communication -- print, radio and television – while, at the same time, pursuing the use of new technologies. Mr. Tharoor noted, however, that with traditional media, DPI had to rely on the “redisseminators” or “gatekeepers” -- editors, publishers and broadcasters who had their own information policies.
Regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to rationalize the network of Information Centres around regional hubs, starting with a Western European hub, he said he had heard the words of caution expressed by some about the need to act in a flexible manner and on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the
countries concerned. He would be guided by the Committee’s advice on the way forward.
On the vital role played by the Information Centres as the voice of the United Nations in the field, and the call for that role to be strengthened,
Mr. Tharoor said he had taken careful note of the stress delegates had put on the special communications needs of the developing countries and the importance of strengthening the flow and exchange of information in those countries.
He said that many delegations had commended the Department’s new focus on performance management as an important tool in measuring and prioritizing its activities and in ensuring that it had the instruments needed to evaluate their impact. The DPI had taken steps to ensure that every manager had been trained in evaluation techniques; indeed, DPI had been the first Secretariat Department to instruct its staff in results-based budgeting.
In the preceding debate, delegates discussed both the progress made and the way forward. The United States commended the Department for implementing its new organizational structure, especially the designation of focal points to work with substantive departments to identify target audiences and to develop information programmes and media strategies for priority issues. The performance of DPI’s Web site team was a textbook example of what could be accomplished using existing resources when dedicated professionals applied the knowledge and flexibility needed to get the job done, its representative stated.
Asserting that the present trying times had “put to the test” the Organization’s maintenance of international peace and security, the United Republic of Tanzania said the communication strategies being devised by DPI should now come into play to counter all of the propaganda and misinformation about the role of the United Nations and its credibility. Expressing appreciation for the ongoing review of DPI, its representative urged the Department to be responsive to the changing needs of the times, without detracting from the mandate and priorities set by the Committee and the General Assembly.
Japan cautioned that the decision to coalesce the work of the Information Centres around regional hubs over the next three years should be weighed carefully. Because the United Nations Web site did not provide information in Japanese, the Web site of Tokyo’s Information Centre was a valuable source of information for the Japanese people. The draft guidelines for reorganizing the Centres should be amended to reflect the aspect of support of a host government.
With Internet access available to only about 5 per cent of the world population, the representative of Sri Lanka favoured an expanded United Nations radio capacity, especially given its extensive outreach potential and cost-effectiveness, which he believed would lead to even greater understanding about the Organization. He added that countries maintaining relatively small missions in New York appreciated the daily issuance of press releases.
The representative of Argentina worried that the message of the United Nations and its role in the new international post-cold-war scenario had not been redefined, and that some basic questions had remained unanswered. For instance, did the Organization need a DPI with its present dimension, and to whom did it provide services? Was it cost-efficient, and did it respond to the information
needs of its different audiences, especially in developing countries? Also, did it choose the appropriate means of communication, and was it an agent for the promotion of multilingualism? he asked.
Statements in today’s general debate were also made by the representatives of Yemen, Azerbaijan, Monaco, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Nepal, Cuba, Brazil, Russian Federation and the Sudan. The observers of Switzerland and Canada (on behalf of Australia and New Zealand) also spoke. The former Committee Chairman, Milos Alcalay (Venezuela), thanked delegations for their expressions of support and appreciation.
The representatives of Cuba and the United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
It was announced that Paraguay had requested to observe the work of the Committee.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 1 May, to consider the following reports of the Secretary-General: on the reorientation of DPI; programmatic aspects of the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005; the United Nations international radio broadcasting capacity; United Nations libraries; and the activities of the United Nations Communications Group, as well as the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the review of United Nations Information Centres’ structure and operations, which will be introduced by the head of that Office, Under-Secretary-General Dileep Nair.
The Committee on Information, which began its 2003 session on 28 April, met today to continue its general debate. It was also expected to hear replies from Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor.
FUMIKO SAIGA (Japan) said she appreciated the concrete initiatives taken in recent months to restructure the Department of Public Information (DPI). Regarding the Information Centres, the concept of regional hubs was valid from the viewpoint of improving efficiency and cutting expenses. At the same time, in considering a system of regional hubs, it was important to weigh what would be lost by closing some, against the merits that would be created through the reinforced activities of a “hub” approach.
In Tokyo, she said, the Information Centre played a crucial role in furthering public understanding among the Japanese people of United Nations’ activities. Because the United Nations Web site did not provide information in Japanese, the Web site of Tokyo’s Information Centre was a valuable source of information for the Japanese people. Japan was the second largest contributor to the Organization’s regular budget, which was made possible only through the support of the Japanese taxpayers. The public information role played by the Information Centre in Tokyo, therefore, was of great significance to the United Nations.
The importance Japan attached to the Centre in Tokyo was reflected in the assistance it extended to DPI for the Centre’s activities, she added. In recent years, it had made annual contributions of approximately $200,000 for those public information activities. Moreover, Japan’s assistance to DPI over the past five years, including for the Centre, amounted to well over $2 million. It was not only the element of rent-free premises that should be reflected in the guidelines and criteria for the reorganization of those Centres, but also the overall support of a host government. Her delegation, thus, proposed amending the draft guidelines.
Touching upon related issues, she commended the United Nations Web site. Prior to this session, her delegation had asked Japanese journalists and broadcasters residing her in New York for their opinions about the news services provided by DPI. Many of them cited the need for improving the information services on the English Web site, particularly with respect to the timely delivery of information and news of interest to the public, an enhanced search function, and the prompt availability of comments made by the Secretary-General on his visits outside the United Nations. Hopefully, efforts to reform the Organization would render its public information activities more effective and efficient.
MOHAMAD ALI SALEH ALNAJAR (Yemen) said the Department, under the Under-Secretary-General’s leadership, had made a great deal of progress. Information was one of mankind’s noblest tasks. In the context of globalization and the revolution in information and communications technology, information must be clear, neutral and objective. The opposite was most often the case, however. There was a lack of objective information today. Information should occupy an important place in the Organization’s priorities. It should be comprehensive and clear and in the service of humanity. Thanks to the Under-Secretary-General’s leadership, the Department had made progress. The DPI had been able to meet its challenges and promises.
He said the restructuring of the Centres was merely a reflection of the Under-Secretary-General’s abilities. The United Nations Information Centre in Sana’a played an important role in providing information on United Nations activities. Yemen was going through a significant period in its history. Only two days ago, Yemen held democratic free elections. There had been a great deal of democratic reform in Yemen. All of Yemen’s representative bodies were elected directly by the people, and there was great openness and freedom of the press. Yemen had some 90 newspapers, which reflected the belief that people must be able to express themselves. It was important that the developing countries be able to develop their potential by means of training programmes for journalists. While he was grateful for efforts to restructure DPI, he hoped it would not be at the expense of other equally important activities. He also hoped that information would be provided in the six official United Nations languages.
JALAL MIRZAYEV (Azerbaijan) expressed full support for the new organizational structure of DPI, which was launched last November. The recently established divisions would help DPI pursue its activities in the areas of poverty eradication, sustainable development, HIV/AIDS, the needs of the African continent, and the battle against international terrorism. Also important was the retention of parity in the use of the six official languages and the attainment of multilingualism in DPI’s work. Since its outreach was extensive, it was of paramount importance to ensure that its publications were correct and precise.
He said he also attached importance to access to information and communication technologies. The United Nations should take an active part in bridging the digital divide. Azerbaijan was interested in cooperating with the most developed countries in that regard, and it was also interested in setting up information and telecommunication centres. Because of radio’s universal reach, it remained an essential communications means for the United Nations. More than
133 million people listened to United Nations radio, at least once a week, in one of the official United Nations languages and Portuguese. More attention, however, should be given to regional voices.
The newly established steering committee for the modernization and integrated management of the library would definitely improve library services and give them a more demographic spread, he said. Noting the importance of peacekeeping, DPI should ensure coordination in the field, in order to avoid any duplication of functions. Since members were preparing to commemorate World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, he reaffirmed his commitment to free press and to the crucial role it played in modern society.
VALERIE SANDRA BRUELL-MELCHIOR (Monaco) thanked the Under-Secretary-General for his comprehensive report on the objectives and refinements of the Department of Public Information. Thanks to the Department’s dissemination activities, the goals of the Millennium Declaration were being communicated to the public. The reorganization of the United Nations Information Centres would contribute to diminishing certain inequalities, and Monaco would be closely following the reorientation. The creation of a regional hub for Western Europe was a concern, and the closure of nine Centres gave rise to some confusion. She hoped to receive clarification on the future of the information office at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris.
The coordination efforts of the Strategic Communication Division were both effective and important, she said. The images of meetings held at Headquarters should be included with other activities of broad interest to the public. She encouraged initiatives such as the creation of a regional press centre in Amman, Jordan. Monaco also welcomed the success of the United Nations Radio. The care with which the libraries were being modernized was of real value. Civil society and education were important areas that deserved a fitting place in the Department’s structure. She was confident that, with multilingualism and an emphasis on results-based budgeting, the new initiatives taken by DPI would bear fruit.
CHITHAMBARANATHAN MAHENDRAN (Sri Lanka) said that, although wide access to information had played a substantial role in economic and social development, he had witnessed a deepening digital divide between the developed and developing countries. For any knowledge-based economy, a universally accessible and efficient information technology and communication infrastructure was essential. That would facilitate economic development by providing new opportunities, enhancing the productive capacity of the economy, reducing the cost of production, ensuring efficient delivery of public services, and reducing poverty. It was imperative, therefore, that information technology was harnessed in such a way that it would benefit all humanity.
To address information and communication technology in a holistic manner and speed up the implementation process of new initiatives, his Government had already set up a steering committee, comprising constituents of both the public and private sectors, to address issues such as human resources development, infrastructure, policy reform on e-governance, and legal issues. The Government would also be taking steps to define and designate concerted means of acquiring, adopting and implementing information and communications development, he said. Those efforts were aimed at providing access to information resources across the nation and avoiding the manifestation of the digital divide.
In the new information age, the latest technology should be used to disseminate information in a way that built a broad base of support for United Nations’ programmes, he said. It should not be forgotten, however, that only about 5 per cent of the world population had Internet access and the majority of them were concentrated in industrialized countries. A vast majority of the world population lived in abject poverty in the outreach areas of the developing and least developed countries. All possible support should be given to those countries to develop infrastructure and to achieve greater access to information and communication technologies, without retarding development programmes.
He welcomed the continued development of the United Nations’ international radio broadcasting capacity. Considering the extensive outreach potential in all regions, as well as the cost effectiveness, an expanded radio capacity would lead to an even greater understanding about the United Nations and its activities. For countries maintaining relatively small missions in New York, he appreciated the Department’s issuance of daily press releases, which were very useful. He also appreciated the contribution made by the Information Centres, which were considered the “field voice” of the Department and were very important for disseminating information about the Organization’s work. Any restructuring should be done in a way that did not deprive the developing world of the Centres’ services.
KIM CHANG GUK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said the Committee’s twenty-fifth session was taking place in the midst of ever more complex and intricate world situation. Certain countries were trying at international forums to trample international justice and the principle of impartiality through the use of modern means of information and communications, attempting to apply a double standard in dealing with the nuclear issue, human rights and terrorism. The establishment of an equitable international information and communications order should be a top objective of public information activities.
While developing countries had long made every effort to establish a fair and international order, considerable disparity still existed between the developed and developing countries in the field of information and communications, he said. Developing countries remained marginalized from the main stream of information and communications technology development. Mass media used psychological warfare to impose ideas and cultural values on developing countries, while ignoring issues of peace and development. For that reason, correcting the present inequitable information system had become an urgent task. Information should not be used as a tool of interference in the internal affairs of others. Some countries took advantage of their monopoly of modern communication to continue distorting the reality of developing countries.
It was also important to ensure impartiality and objectivity in United Nations information activities, he said. Such impartiality was essential for promoting public awareness of the United Nations, thereby improving its image. United Nations public information should be distinct from that of news agencies of individual countries and should conform to the Organization’s universal character. The United Nations should provide the developing countries with more opportunities to participate in international public information activities.
IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) said DPI was of primary importance in eliminating ignorance about the United Nations and helping the world learn about its primary role in international politics. Certain countries, including his own, even considered information the “fourth power”. Among the principles governing the Committee’s work was the promotion of just causes, quality, and language parity on the United Nations Web site. In an ever increasingly globalized world, the question of sharing information, rather than just processing it, was also critically important.
Turning to library services, he stressed the need to increase the amount of information it contained, as well as to organize it in a way that allowed all missions to benefit from its functions. Several missions had not made use of obtaining information from their offices, through the electronic use of United Nations’ outputs. In order that everyone could benefit, perhaps DPI could distribute detailed information to the missions containing a list of information sources available at the library, as well as specific e-mail addresses and symbols.
MADINA B. JARBUSSYNOVA (Kazakhstan) said that under the leadership of Under-Secretary-General Tharoor, DPI was entering a new phase in fulfilling the United Nations substantive purposes by strategically communicating its activities and concerns. Reform was necessary to ensure that the Organization possessed the most effective communications mechanisms to meet global challenges facing the international community. Significant progress had been made in repositioning the Department to meet the Organization’s communication challenges. The DPI played a central coordinating role in conveying a consistent message on the United Nations role in maintaining international peace and security and promoting socio-economic development.
She said her delegation was encouraged by the Department’s new organizational structure. With the creation of the Strategic Communications Division, the News and Media Division and the Outreach Division, DPI now had all necessary instruments to carry out its mandate. A renewed DPI, as the voice of the Organization, would contribute to bridging the gap between developed and developing countries. The activities of the United Nations Information Centres deserved serious consideration, as well as a proposal to regionalize the Information Centres. The envisaged restructuring must be undertaken through a step-by-step approach and in consultation with the countries concerned.
She said the Department had made significant progress in the area of multilingualism within existing resources. She supported the plan to expand the United Nations News Centre into all official languages. It was the most popular United Nations site, serving as a gateway to other information sources systemwide. The Department must continue its efforts to enhance parity among the official languages on the United Nations Web site. The responsibility for achieving greater language parity should not fall to DPI alone, however.
Radio broadcasting was the most cost-effective and far-reaching traditional means of communications, she said. It was extremely important to continue the international broadcasting capacity to generate understanding of the United Nations on its priority issues. The Department’s reform must continue, but not at the expense of programmes related to poverty eradication, dialogue among civilizations, sustainable development and needs of developing countries.
TATANG B. RAZAK (Indonesia) said the serious challenges confronting the United Nations should not diminish the role of DPI in any way, nor, for that matter, the role of the Committee. If anything, the present times called for greater efforts to inform the world of the broader dimensions of the Organization’s work. The Department must be at the forefront of that effort to enhance global awareness that one issue alone was not capable of determining the destiny of Organization.
He said he applauded the emerging structure of DPI. Of special interest was the Strategic Communications Division, which was responsible for devising and disseminating United Nations messages and engaging in issue-driven promotional campaigns. In a welcome arrangement, the network of Information Centres would now function under that Division. Bridging the digital divide was of significant interest to his delegation. In that regard, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s expressed new vision of DPI’s mission, which was “to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest impact”.
The proposed restructuring of the Information Centres network highlighted the need for Centres in developing nations to be managed differently from those located in developed countries. He supported the ongoing review, aimed at deploying resources where those were best required, geographically and politically. A restructuring would also enable the Centres to focus on the technologies best suited for their immediate environments. Also important was the Centres’ development of their own Web pages in the appropriate languages, to serve as the “field voice” of their localities. In his region, he had no doubt that a Web page of the Information Centre in the Bahasa language would be both suitable and cost effective.
ARJUN BAHADUR THAPA (Nepal) said DPI served as the “linchpin” of the United Nations in creating public awareness about the Organization’s myriad activities. Thanks to the extensive United Nations information network, people around the world had daily access to reliable means of information. Measures to rationalize DPI were showing results. The DPI, with the welcome addition of the Strategic Communications Division, the News and Media Division and the Outreach Division, had been successful in repositioning itself as a refurbished Department.
The Department’s new mission statement was encouraging, he said. Nepal supported the new operating concept for the United Nations Information Centres, which were an effective medium to promote public awareness around the world. In developing countries, especially in the least developed and low-income countries, the Centres were a vital source of information. The need to strengthen them in developing countries could not be overemphasized.
Traditional means of communications, such as radio, had the most impressive outreach to the vast majority of peoples in developing countries, he said. Given the persistent digital divide, there was no better cost-effective and convenient alternative to radio broadcasting. The ongoing reform of the United Nations library service to upgrade its services was a welcome initiative, and the creation of the Steering Committee was a significant step. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library, in its capacity as focal point, should take necessary measures to strengthen the depository libraries by providing them with training and other assistance.
The United Nations must foster closer partnerships with media personnel by providing them with improved access, he said. Journalists from developing nations should be given greater opportunities for internships and training. They must be able to take advantage of the revolution in communications technology. In that regard, the DPI Training Programme for Broadcasters and Journalists from developing countries played a meaningful role.
ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said that, despite all of the efforts made to bring the advances in science and technology, and communications and information, to the remotest corners of the world, the existing imbalance intensified “before our eyes”. There seemed to be an insurmountable and intrinsic contradiction of the globalization process: the more technologies that were developed, the larger the gap between developed and developing countries. On the one hand, he had witnessed the Internet boom and the appearance of technologies unthinkable only a few months ago, while, on the other hand, hunger, poverty, disease, wars and conflicts persisted. There seemed to be two different planets.
He said that those who manipulated most of the information globally kept on trying to persuade the others about the impossibility of struggling against what was well established, with submissive consent. They intended for the developing world to digest, as passive spectators, the bombardment of messages and stereotypes, tailor-made to respond to the interests of political, economic and ideological domination. Thus, the focus should be on the possibilities offered by the United Nations to develop concerted, concrete actions, in order to enable the developing world to claim an active role in the use of media resources.
An essential component of DPI’s reform had been the development of Web sites, which should multiply in the official languages of the Organization, he said. The increasing quality of radio programmes was evident, as those sought immediacy and coordination with national radio stations to broadcast the work and peace messages of the United Nations, in extremely complex moments. Despite those advances, however, a great schism persisted between what happened at the United Nations and what the main international, or transnational, media reported. Disinformation was ignored, but that was still a “mental genocide”, as it sought to deprive audiences of ideas and arguments on issues critical to their very existence.
He said the world had recently witnessed highly intensive information wars, in which the crowd had been turned into a silent spectator. That had constituted psychological warfare and covert operations, which had been designed by military intelligence experts, in order to implement the mixture of “black propaganda”, or intended lies, with “white propaganda”, or truthful information, and influence international public opinion under the guise of an alleged counter-terrorism war. Such intelligence and psychological tactics, including “cybernetic attacks” against computer nets, aimed at distorting information, had become classic military instruments.
Illegal broadcasts from the United States, totalling 2,221 radio and television hours weekly, besides violating Cuba’s sovereignty, were a flagrant violation of international law and the regulations established by the International Frequency Registration Board of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), he said. The use of information specifically aimed at subverting the domestic order of certain States, violating their sovereignty and interfering in their internal affairs, was illegal. Unfortunately, the United States Government paid no attention to the widespread rejection of the misuse of information or its exploitation, with criminal or terrorist purposes. Instead, it persisted in its efforts to direct, finance, stimulate and facilitate those illegal broadcasts.
TATIANA ROSITO (Brazil), on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, said recent global developments reinforced the perception of the Organization’s unique role in matters related to international peace and security and the promotion of development. The DPI could offer a crucial contribution, both in raising awareness and in keeping up with the increased demand for real time information in strenuous situations, such as those resulting from armed conflict. The reform agenda embraced by Member States in recent years must work in tandem with a renewed perception of the United Nations role in ensuring peace and development. She welcomed steps taken by the Department to streamline and increase the efficiency of its operations.
The Portuguese-speaking community attached great importance to the maintenance of an adequate structure in DPI to disseminate information in Portuguese, she said. The Portuguese-speaking community, which spread out over five continents, had benefited from the international radio broadcasting project. The Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the radio pilot project had revealed the results of a survey carried out with partner stations in the six official languages and Portuguese. According to that survey, more than 27 million people listened to daily five-minute news bulletins in Portuguese. Given its universal reach and cost-effectiveness, radio remained one of the most powerful means of communicating the United Nations message to diverse cultures. She commended the dedication of the Portuguese radio broadcasting staff and emphasized the importance of maintaining Portuguese services in the regional hub to be created in Europe.
DAVID A. TRAYSTMAN (United States) said a cornerstone of American democracy was freedom of the press. A free press was fundamental for true democracy. While he fully supported the relevant proposals in the Secretary-General’s reform report, he noted that the reform report contained recommendations on only three aspects of the Department’s activities, namely, the network of United Nations Information Centres, United Nations system libraries and United Nations publications. It also set out the Department’s new organizational structure and anticipated the results of the three-year evaluation of the impact and cost-effectiveness of all the Department’s activities.
The United States commended the Department for implementing its new organizational structure, he said, especially the designation of focal points to work with substantive departments to identify target audiences and to develop information programmes and media strategies for priority issues. He was pleased to note that DPI’s Strategic Communications Division served as the secretariat of the United Nations Communications Group, which was chaired by Under-Secretary-General Tharoor. He commended the Under-Secretary-General for recognizing the potential of the Communications Group and for guiding the Group in developing joint communication strategies with other United Nations agencies.
He said the United States fully supported the integration of United Nations system libraries. His delegation would introduce language during negotiations calling on the Committee to recommend that the General Assembly decide that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library would assume responsibility for setting policy and coordinating the work of all United Nations libraries. While he supported the establishment of the Steering Committee for Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, the report did not address the Secretary-General’s recommendation for central management of United Nations system libraries by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library. He called on the Secretariat to expand on reasons given in the Secretary-General’s reform report underlying that recommendation. Regarding the reference to an “in-depth review” of all United Nations libraries in the reorientation report, he called on the Department to make the complete report of the in-depth review available to the Committee prior to convening the open-ended working group during the session.
The performance of DPI’s Web site team was a textbook example of what could be accomplished using existing resources when dedicated professionals applied the knowledge and flexibility needed to get the job done, he said. He commended the Web site team for its live webcasting of United Nations meetings and its timely posting of items on the News Centre page. It was incumbent upon programme managers to identify activities that should be eliminated and to shift resources, both staff and funds, to high-priority areas. Working towards parity in the use of the six official languages on the Web site was a priority activity. Programme managers and Member States must make difficult decisions to reprioritize the Department’s activities and reprogramme staff and financial resources. With that in mind, he was pleased to note that the Department planned to redeploy posts to its Web Site Section to enhance that Section’s language capacity, although the redeployment was predicated on the creation of a regional hub in Western Europe.
He commended the Department for the continued development of its international radio broadcasting capacity. Radio was an important means of communication for the United Nations, particularly in developing countries. While the Committee did not deal directly with finances, it did not operate in a vacuum and must be aware of its cost implications. With the sustained prioritization of activities required by programme managers, no additional resources should be required for the continued implementation of the project. DPI’s managers must make the case for eliminating low priority activities that would free up funding for continuation of the radio project. Barring the Department’s success in shifting resources to support the priority activity, he called on DPI to circulate a statement of financial implications. A breakdown of the estimated costs was a necessary prerequisite for the Committee to decide whether to recommend that the radio project be continued during the 2004-2005 biennium.
Integrating the Official Document System (ODS) with the United Nations Web site would significantly enhance the multilingual nature of the United Nations Web site by providing free, public access to all United Nations parliamentary documents in the six official languages, he continued. He commended the Information Technology Services Division, the Office of Central Support Services and DPI for the continued development of the ODS. He commended also the Department for assuming a leadership role in the High-Level Committee on Management on establishing a United Nations portal, an inter-agency search facility encompassing the public Web sites of all United Nations system organizations. He looked forward to the implementation of the search pilot project and encouraged the Department to continue to guide the High-Level Committee in that endeavour.
The United States supported the Secretary-General’s effort to rationalize the current ad hoc arrangement of United Nations Information Centres and offices, he said. United Nations system offices were maintained in over 170 countries, and several United Nations agencies maintained offices in more than 120 countries. An integrated system of all United Nations system offices would better meet the needs of all involved. He would present language calling on the Department to revise the fifth criteria in its guidelines for establishment of regional hubs to emphasize that the existence of United Nations houses, other United Nations offices and regional organizations would be an important factor in deciding on the optimum location of a regional hub. The overriding consideration should be to improve the Organization’s ability to communicate its activities to achieve the greatest public impact. The perceived impact on the autonomy of any particular organizational unit should have little bearing on the regional hub decision-making process.
Regarding the report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the operations of the Information Centres, he said a considerable amount of work was necessary to make the information centre programme a fully functioning and effective element of the United Nations public information campaign. The success of establishing a regional hub in Western Europe would have a direct impact on DPI’s ability to shift resources to priorities. The DPI should not, however, “place all of its eggs in one basket”, but seek additional methods by which it could support new priorities. Regarding the United Nations Chronicle, resources used to produce the publication would be better spent, for example, in enhancing the United Nations Web site in the six official languages. The Department’s Photo Unit had done excellent work especially its timely distribution of digital images of United Nations meetings and events.
Regarding the statement made by the representative of Cuba, he said it had been his hope that the dialogue would have been limited to matters listed on the Committee’s agenda. The Cuban delegate, however, had chosen to politicize the Committee. The United States Government had steadfastly observed its international obligations, particularly those of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), concerning avoidance of harmful interference to the services of other countries. For some 44 years, the Cuban people had been denied the right to choose their own representatives, to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal and to organize freely. The Cuban Government’s opposition to Radio and TV Marti was driven solely by an underlying fear of the consequences of the Cuban people having full knowledge of their own country and the world around them, a freedom to which all humankind was entitled.
Quoting from a recent statement by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, he said nearly 80 representatives of a growing civil society had been arrested, convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in summary, secret trials. Their only crime was to seek basic human rights and freedoms. Also in a recent statement, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello had referred to the recent summary executions of three Cubans accused of hijacking a boat and had said that the accused must benefit from due process, including the right to an adequate defence. The UNESCO Director-General had also recently expressed concern about the situation of freedom of expression and press freedom in Cuba, urging Cuban authorities to respect the fundamental rights of journalists.
LIBERATA MULAMULA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that the session was taking place during very trying times for the Organization, which had been “put to the test” in its maintenance of international peace and security. That was a time when the communication strategies being devised by DPI should come into play, aimed at countering all the propaganda and misinformation about the role of the United Nations, as well as its credibility. Some had referred to the recent negative trends in international relations as a “deficit of faith” in multilateral diplomacy. Those fears could be allayed through the effective communication of United Nations best practices across the globe.
Expressing appreciation for the ongoing review of DPI, she said that the Department had to be responsive to the changing needs of the times, without detracting from the mandate and priorities set by the Committee and the General Assembly. The citizens of the world were eager to hear about United Nations’ activities, which specifically affected their lives. For the poor countries, the overarching demand was the eradication of poverty and all its resulting ills. The Africa Section of DPI should focus its communication content on the priority issues outlined by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
Despite the advances in information technology, she said the use of radio was the most effective means of communication for reaching a wide audience in most of the developing and least developing countries, like her own. Her delegation could not hide its excitement when DPI broadcast, as a “demo”, its informal briefing in Kiswahili. In that regard, she strongly endorsed the Secretary-General’s proposal to evolve the pilot radio project into an integral part of the Department’s activities. The proposed programme budget should take into account the ardent need to ensure that the programme received the necessary financial and human resources.
She welcomed the proposals for enhancing the role of the Information Centres, as those were the “eyes, ears and voices” of the Organization in the field. Towards restructuring their operations, issues still needed to be adequately addressed, including allocation of resources and the managerial approach, for which one size did not fit all. For example, the Centres in developing countries required a different managerial approach. Criteria should be established to allow national information officers to serve as heads of the Centres, not only as a cross-cutting measure, but also to ensure effective communication with the nationals in a language they understood. The creation of regional hubs should consider the specifics of the countries in the region, and be approached on a case-by-case basis.
BORIS MALAKHOV (Russian Federation) said information was an important tool in shaping national and international public opinion. The United Nations was continuing to strengthen its role in the area of public information. He was pleased that the Committee’s discussion of public information issues was becoming more productive. He welcomed the steps DPI had taken to reorient its activities. He also thanked the Under-Secretary-General for his comprehensive statement, which provided up-to-date information on the Department. The Committee’s current session would examine several documents, including detailed information on DPI’s planned subprogrammes and indicators of achievement. He hoped the new operating model would lead to the effective implementation of DPI’s strategic goals.
The Department must focus on disseminating information essential for the Organization, he said. Priorities should be planned in a way that was appropriate to the goals of the Organization, including the maintenance of international peace and security, conflict prevention and peacekeeping. DPI’s activities should be tied to the agenda of the central body tasked with maintaining international peace and security, namely, the Security Council. He welcomed efforts to consolidate the Organization’s communications potential, ensuring that all United Nations organizations spoke in unison.
One of the important aspects of a modernized DPI was transparency and ongoing contact with other Secretariat departments, he said. Those functions were the responsibility of the Strategic Communications Division. A special office to coordinate that work, providing regular information on planned events by DPI, would be useful. He agreed with the need to regroup Information Centres into regional hubs to free up significant resources. The guiding principles for the formation of regional hubs were in line with his delegation’s position. Implementing such a plan, however, should be carried out on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the needs of the different regions and the principle of multilingualism.
The office for the United Nations organizations in Moscow coordinated the public information campaigns of the United Nations offices in the Russian Federation, he said. The Centre had strengthened its partnership with other United Nations institutions, including in connection with holding international conferences. Regarding the consolidation of the Western European Information Centres, the best approach would be to place a single regional hub in Geneva using the facilities of the already existing Information Centre. On the issue of United Nations libraries, he hoped that the work of the Steering Committee would resolve earlier concerns about unrealistic proposals to transmit to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library the functions of libraries in other locations, including Geneva and Nairobi.
The time-tested principle of language parity should be confirmed by the General Assembly, he said. Equal services in terms of the quantity and quality of language services must be provided to Member States. The Department was taking specific steps to implement language parity on the Web site. An effective example of the commitment to multilingualism was the international radio project. Some
40 million people heard weekly broadcasts of United Nations Radio in Russian. He was certain the high marks given to the project would lead to a final decision on a permanent radio service.
LUIS E. CAPPAGLI (Argentina) said that, in recent years, the Committee had been paying more attention to the means of transmitting information than to the ends. Thus, the message of the United Nations and its role in the new international post-cold war scenario had not been redefined. Moreover, favouring the Internet over traditional communication means was a “false alternative”. Further, under the Secretary-General’s report on an agenda for change, issued in October 2002, 21 DPI posts were reassigned to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Yet, some basic questions had remained unanswered.
For instance, he said, did the Organization need a DPI with its present dimension, and to whom did it provide services? Was it cost-efficient, and did it respond to the information needs of its different audiences, especially in developing countries? Also, did it choose the appropriate means of communication, and was it an agent for the promotion of multilingualism? He was gravely concerned that the basic message of DPI, apparently inspired by the Millennium Declaration, had been based on seven of the eight Development Goals and had disregarded the one referring to international cooperation, the transfer of technology, and transparency in international trade.
If DPI did not contribute to raising awareness about the need to ensure the necessary human, technical and financial resources to attain those Goals, the present negative trends would continue, he said. Among them was the reduction of development assistance, increasing barriers to international markets for the exports of developing countries, and the persistence of the technological gap between rich and poor nations. He acknowledged the increased quantity and improved quality of the information materials provided by DPI, particularly the Web site, as well as the progress in news production in English, French and Arabic. Regrettably, however, the production of news in Spanish had to wait.
He still believed that the definition of the Organization’s strategic communications must be done mainly by Member States, and not only by the Secretary-General. He understood that DPI’s role was not to “engage in strategic communication”, but to “produce informative materials”, in different formats and languages. Regarding the subprogramme, “Strategic Communications Services”, its task should be carried out efficiently and effectively, and in no way should it become a “bureaucratic superstructure”, which meant more resources spent on high-level posts at Headquarters and, consequently, less resources for information activities in the field.
The Secretary-General’s proposal causing him the most concern was the restructuring of the Information Centres around regional hubs, he said. The proposed regionalization “is not a good idea”. In Latin America, the geographical distances and the transportation costs made it unfeasible for a certain centre to have clients beyond the borders of the host country. The differences in the provision of Internet services and in access to high-level information and communication technology made still less practical the idea of regionalizing the Centres. He sought the continuation of the Buenos Aires Information Centre, established in 1948. Its outreach, which had contributed to raising the awareness of the Argentine public about the United Nations, largely compensated for the costs that it entailed. A digital hub could not replace it.
HASSAN HAMID HASSAN (Sudan) said the session was taking place at a difficult time, a turning point in the Organization’s history. The United Nations had been tested in its efforts to bridge the widening gap between the rich and the poor. He counted on the Committee to strengthen dialogue between cultures so that the priorities of peace would prevail. He praised the work already carried out to restructure the Department, including the creation of three new structures. The DPI must diversify the means of communications available to it to bring together the various segments of its target audiences.
While the Sudan supported the need to modernize the Department’s work and keep up with the information and communications technology revolution, that did not mean eliminating the traditional means of communication, including radio and television, he said. The problem of the ever-widening digital divide was having dangerous and negative consequences. In that regard, stepping up the capacity of the developing countries in the area of training was important.
RUDOLF CHRISTEN (Switzerland), speaking as an observer, said he was pleased that the Millennium Declaration had guided the reformulation of DPI’s mission. The Department’s new structure, with its three new divisions, would be able to respond appropriately to today’s communications needs. Efforts to enhance United Nations Internet sites and expand multilingualism had been significant. Also commendable had been the creation of the electronic dissemination system, which he hoped would soon be accessible to the public. He also appreciated that he had been able to participate in the work of the Committee, which was the most important instrument for defining the overall direction of United Nations communications.
He said his country was particularly aware of the importance of public information. Four times a year, its population had an opportunity to express its opinion, at the national and regional level, about political issues. His Government had carried out a long-term public information campaign, which had included explaining the role of the United Nations, in a manner that was both transparent and easily understood by its population. Switzerland would support United Nations’ efforts to improve its image and raise awareness of its mission.
Switzerland was also interested in strengthening Geneva’s United Nations headquarters, not only as a world centre, but also as an information centre, he said. Of much interest was the improvement of the libraries, as a first step towards reform. Geneva would host the World Summit on the Information Society in December. While the development of new information technologies over the last decade had provided new opportunities, a great majority still had not reaped the benefits of the digital revolution. The purpose of the Summit was to devise a joint vision and understanding of the information society and adopt a plan to bridge the digital divide.
JERRY KRAMER (Canada), speaking as an observer, also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ), said the United Nations had an important story to tell that must be told well. Canada shared the Secretary-General’s vision of effective communications as a key element in the reform of the United Nations. A unifying thread among the various documents before the Committee was the emphasis on reform. The Secretariat had been innovative in developing organizational arrangements and substantive tools for the more effective discharge of its mandates. He was impressed with the progress made during the pilot project on radio broadcasting. A persuasive case could be made to continue and further develop that activity. The question of how the relevant resources should be provided for that was a separate matter. He applauded the great progress in expanding the Web site as a medium for the dissemination of information, as well as for reflecting multilingualism within the United Nations. Demands on the Web site had been growing exponentially.
His delegation appreciated the reasons underlying the Department’s new operating model, including the emphasis on partnership with substantive departments, he said. To achieve its intended results, the reorganization needed to be backed up by consistent efforts to more clearly define specific objectives, to define measures of success and to assess results achieved. Canada appreciated the proposal to rationalize the network of United Nations Information Centres around regional hubs, starting with the creation of a Western European hub. He saw little alternative to the regional approach. As presently operated, the Information Centres did not produce results commensurate with their cost. Starting in high cost areas, such as Western Europe, was a good idea. It was not obvious, however, that redeployment to country level Information Centres would be a good use of resources, if that strengthening was not linked to the regionalization strategy.
He questioned the link between resource savings in Europe and enhanced evaluation activity. Evaluation was a core responsibility and did not hinge on new resources becoming available. The scope of reprioritization seemed too closely linked to savings on Western European operations. The comprehensive review of DPI’s management and operations requested in the budget resolution had not been provided. The results approach to budgeting -- relatively young in the United Nations -- was particularly challenging in the area of public information. The presentation of the programmatic elements of the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget could, perhaps, be improved.
MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela), former Committee Chairman, thanked the Committee for its expressions of support for his leadership of the Committee’s deliberations. He also thanked the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) for having put his name forward. Confronting the communications needs of the United Nations, especially during times of crisis, was a noble challenge. Despite the difficulty of the task before the Committee, he was convinced that it would be able to construct a sound basis for future action.
Statements in Right of Reply
Mr. REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba), speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, said his delegation was not trying to politicize the debate, but to denounce the aggression directed at his country. The science-fiction type topics referred to by the United States representative were not tackled by the Committee. In his precooked statement, the United States representative had not responded to any of his comments, but had resorted to shopworn arguments to indict the social system of the Cuban people. The Cuban people were 100 per cent literate and had access to the press and international radio.
Why did Cuba have to interfere with Radio Marti when it did not have to do so with other international broadcast stations? he asked. Why was United Nations Radio not blocked? The United States had produced the same line of messages. No one in Cuba was arrested or tried as a result of his or her religious beliefs or for expressing an opinion.
The aim of the United States Government and Cuban-American right-wing groups on American soil was to restore the situation of dependence and subordination, from which Cuba had suffered for a half of century. The United States representative must know that the persons who had committed crimes were brought before regular courts with every guarantee of due process, he continued. The persons he had mentioned had every right to choose a lawyer and were able to say whatever they wished during open debates. They were able to summon witnesses and had the right to make a final declaration. Cuban courts were not star chambers. The punishment for those sentenced was set out in the Cuban penal code. They had the right to appeal.
He expressed surprise that the United States representative was not interested in the sentencing of five Cubans in Miami in an irregular trial because they combated terrorism against Cuba carried out from United States bases. The United States delegate had quoted two statements, including one by the UNESCO Director-General, which had been made on the basis of deceptive information. The Director-General, had, in fact, apologized twice.
DAVID A. TRAYSTMAN (United States), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that had the dialogue taken place in Havana, the Cuban delegate would not have had the right to make statement in right of reply.
Summary of Under-Secretary-General’s Response
(It was announced that a transcript of his remarks would be made available to delegations tomorrow).
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the debate had been rich and illuminating. He was very encouraged that so many speakers had expressed their support for the progress made thus far and for the new mission statement, and the operating concept and organizational structure that had been put in place. Their endorsement of the broad thrust of the Secretary-General’s report on reorientation in the field of public information and communications had inspired him and his colleagues to continue their efforts to enhance United Nations public information and communications work.
He said the debate had provided him with a good understanding of their thinking on the direction being taken by the Department. He had heard many delegations commend the Department’s new focus on performance management as an important tool in measuring and prioritizing its activities and in ensuring that it had the instruments needed to evaluate their impact. The DPI had taken steps to ensure that every manager in the Department had been trained in evaluation techniques; indeed, DPI was the first Secretariat department to instruct its staff in results-based budgeting.
The Department would conduct evaluations of the impact of its programme performance as part of its management culture, whether or not additional resources were freed up from elsewhere in the programme, he said. Responding to a call for programme managers to identify activities of low impact for elimination, he said the Department, as reflected in the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005, had reviewed all its products and activities to ensure that only such outputs were carried forward which helped DPI achieve the greatest public impact. The use of new technologies had allowed DPI to discontinue several low-impact print materials, including the publication “Image and Reality” and the General Assembly press kit.
Highlighting a range of programmes that had been formed from existing resources, he said he intended to use “fully and flexibly” his authority as a programme manager to redeploy staff resources, where necessary and whenever possible. But, one must avoid the fallacy of assuming that every new and worthwhile activity could be funded or staffed by finding something of comparable size to discontinue. That simply could not work. If the delegations that believed otherwise had specific suggestions, his door was always open to them.
As to definitions of satisfaction and efficiency in any given project or activity, he said the criteria were determined in accordance with the specific product or service being evaluated. Some concrete indicators of the impact of DPI activities included nearly 20 million listeners a day for United Nations radio,
10 million page views of the United Nations Web site, and 15,500 subscribers to the United Nations News Centre. Success was one of the most difficult things to define in the field of communications and public information, however, and surveys of that nature were very expensive to conduct for a wider target audience.
Many delegations, including those speaking on behalf of developing countries, had stressed the vital role played by the Information Centres as the voice of the United Nations in the field and called for that role to be strengthened, he said. That strong support for United Nations field activities was very encouraging. He had taken careful note of the stress delegates had put on the special communications needs of the countries of the developing world and the importance of strengthening the flow and exchange of information in those countries.
He said that several delegates had referred to the Secretary-General’s proposals to rationalize the network of United Nations Information Centres around regional hubs, starting with the creation of a Western European hub. He had heard the words of caution expressed by some regarding the process of rationalization and the need to act in a flexible manner, on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the countries’ concerns. He would be guided by the Committee’s advice on the way to advance the rationalization of the structure of the Centres.
Responding to requests for additional information on the extent to which the Information Centres were located in existing United Nations Houses and on future steps in that direction, he informed delegations that the Centres were co-located in United Nations Houses or de facto United Nations Houses in a total of
18 locations around the world. There were only six locations where an information centre had not joined an established United Nations House, mainly for reasons of accessibility, cost-effectiveness and a lack of space.
Replying to the suggestion that the regional hub in Western Europe should be located in Geneva, he said the United Nations presence in Geneva had traditionally a very distinct character that separated it from the Information Centres in the region, in view of the mandate to also provide public information support to the United Nations offices based in that location. The role of the information capacity in Geneva, therefore, was somewhat different from that of the current Information Centres and the proposed hub. In addition, there was a strong case for anchoring the regional presence in the European Union, to which Switzerland did not belong.
Regarding concern expressed about the draft guidelines and criteria for the regionalization of the network of Information Centres, he said the Secretary-General had been guided in its preparation by the relevant provisions of resolutions A/57/130 B on Questions relating to information, and on provisions of paragraph 15 of resolution A/57/300. Several Committee members had made excellent proposals to render those guidelines and criteria more comprehensive. He also replied to several additional comments made by delegations on the work and staffing of the Centres.
He noted the emphasis on the importance of using local languages in Information Centre Web sites and outreach activities. Wherever possible, the Centres had endeavoured to address that need, and he was pleased that a number of delegates had recognized the innovative efforts made by them in that regard, despite limited resources. Regarding the importance of developing Web pages in local languages, the Centres, services and offices currently maintained 50 Web sites in 25 local languages, in addition to the official languages.
Practically all delegations, particularly representatives of developing countries, stressed that the United Nations should work to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing countries and contribute to ensuring that the global information and technology revolution benefited the developing world. Some delegations underscored the importance of the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society and called on DPI to play a role in promoting it. The Department was deeply engaged in the preparatory work for that event, as well as in organizing the World Electronic Media Forum, in parallel with the first phase of the Summit.
As one delegate pointed out, until the digital divide was bridged, there were many other effective means of reaching a greater number of people in developing countries, he continued. A number of speakers had indicated the importance they attached to the Department’s continued emphasis on the traditional means of communication –- print, radio, and television – while, at the same time, pursuing the use of new technologies. In the case of traditional media, he had to rely on “redisseminators” or “gatekeepers” –- editors, publishers and broadcasters who had their own information policies.
As such, he said, the final shape of the information was “beyond our control”. In the case of the Internet, access to the user was direct, with no intermediary involved. That was why the Internet was sometimes seen as much more than a convergence of the three traditional media formats. “But we do appreciate the importance of the traditional media, which, after all, were new media once upon a time”, he said. The DPI would keep on top of the trends and attempt to reallocate resources whenever possible, with the guidance of Member States.
He said he had taken note of the suggestion to explore ways to establish cooperative partnerships with large commercial television networks to produce television programmes. A beginning was already under way with the Showtime network under the United Nations Works programme, whose film on child soldiers in Sierra Leone had been screened on Monday. The overall idea should be explored and further developed. The enthusiastic support expressed for the Department’s radio project was particularly gratifying.
Seeking to clarify the proposal for that project in 2004-2005, he said that was a continuation of what was already being carried out under the current programme budget. The Budget Director would be available to answer questions tomorrow on future budget proposals.
The appreciation expressed by many delegations for the progress made to enhance the Web site, including its multilingual character, was welcome, he said. He took note of the comment that the objective of greater language parity on the Web site should not fall to DPI alone. He agreed that that responsibility should be shared with other programme managers in the Organization. He also noted the many suggestions that the issue of multilingualism be pursued with equal vigour in all languages, which was exactly what was being planned.
He noted that a number of speakers had expressed support for the News Centre, but had also stressed the need for language parity. He assured Member States that DPI would, before the end of the year, create News Centres in the three remaining languages. That was being achieved through a combination of redeploying resources and maximizing the synergies provided by the creation of the Internet Service in the News and Media Division.
A high priority for the News Centre was the speedy posting of important developments, he said. Significant gains had been made, including the posting of important new items overnight and weekends, but DPI was constantly seeking to improve the speed of posting news, including the Secretary-General’s statements when travelling. Today’s news media had no interest in information that was not immediately relevant.
Regarding the “basic message” of DPI, he noted that concern had been expressed that it would be based on only seven of the eight Millennium Development Goals. The seven major priorities of DPI were the ones laid down by the General Assembly, using the Millennium Declaration as a guide. The Committee had actually proposed that at its last session. Those major issues were poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, the battle against international terrorism, and the needs of the African continent.
He said the importance placed on the Department’s advocacy role in support of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was very encouraging. The next annual session of the United Nations Communications Group, to be held in June in New York, would consider the formulation of a common information strategy for the United Nations system for the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD III).
Several delegates had referred to the Outreach Division, he said. Regarding the suggestion that some of the Division’s activities were being performed elsewhere and that its functions required review and rationalization, he said outreach was not merely geographical, but was aimed at different sectors of society, wherever they were located. While the core components of the Outreach Division had previously existed within the Department, their present configuration and emphasis was new.
The Outreach Division’s primary challenge was to involve non-State actors in addressing United Nations activities and concerns, he said. The Civil Society Service retained constituents of an earlier service that dealt with non-governmental organizations with activities geared to the general public and with special events and exhibits. What it had lacked was a clear focus on educational outreach and on vigorous partnerships with the private sector. Both functions were now a focus of the new Service, and the Department’s experience over the past few months had been positive.
Three sections of the Service were already working together to enlarge the target audience reach of videoconferences from the United Nations, he said. Special events were consciously being moved out of Headquarters. The most recent issue of the United Nations Chronicle, with a special focus on freshwater, had been produced in time for distribution at the Kyoto Conference. Requests for specific exhibits received from institutions outside were met as best as possible within existing resources. The Service’s vast array of partners ensured not only that many hands would share the challenge of outreach, but also that those hands would stretch much farther. A concurrent responsibility of the Civil Society Service, along with “outreach” to the non-State community, was “inreach” from them. The Organization needed to know what practical solutions civil society could offer to the many challenges inherent in the United Nations agenda.
Regarding the concern that DPI inform the international community on the SARS epidemic, he said the Department followed and helped to disseminate information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) on SARS at its daily press briefing. The Secretary-General’s Spokesman repeated key elements from that briefing and United Nations Radio followed and reported on developments on a daily basis.
He said DPI had begun discussing with the substantive secretariat the elements of a communications strategy for the 10-year review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the sustainable development of small island developing States to take place in August 2004.
Regarding efforts to incorporate gender mainstreaming into public information products and activities, he said DPI continued its ongoing multimedia communications activities to support the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action both at Headquarters and in the field. Examples of DPI’s ongoing public information activities on gender mainstreaming included the United Nations Radio Programme “Women”, which had been instrumental in getting women’s issues on the air across the world for more than two decades. The subject was also carried on the United Nations Web site and news service and was covered in various programmes such as NGO briefings.
Regarding the availability of materials to disabled persons, he said DPI continued to work with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in promoting the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons and the International Day of Disabled Persons, as well as more current initiatives, such as negotiations for a possible international convention on persons with disabilities. The Department did not produce materials in Braille, as technology had made it no longer necessary. Anyone with the right software and a computer could print in Braille.
He said a number of delegations had noted the importance of DPI’s work in the area of peace and security. The DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had agreed on a formal structure for the division of responsibilities concerning public information tasks in support of peacekeeping operations. Such tasks included the facilitation of coverage by the media of peacekeeping operations and identifying qualified personnel to serve in field operations. The DPI and DPKO were in the process of redefining their working relationship, however, in light of the reform of both departments. The DPI and DPKO maintained close working relations at the Headquarters level. The DPI was regularly included in DPKO meetings, and DPKO regularly attended a number of
meetings chaired by DPI. The DPI and DPKO focal point regularly consult on a wide range of matters, from events planning to information strategy to Web site maintenance. There was little or no duplication of effort in that regard.
The DPI also participated in assessment missions organized by DPKO to plan new or expanding missions and collaborated with DPKO in preparing recommendations on mission structure and parameters, he said. The DPI had closely cooperated with DPKO in developing draft standard operating procedures for information components in field operations. Regular contact took place with field missions through Headquarters-field videoconferencing.
In closing, he said he looked forward to the outcome of the Committee’s deliberations, which would provide the necessary guidance to carry the comprehensive review of DPI to a successful conclusion. A number of issues before the Committee required its explicit endorsement or approval in order to facilitate their adoption in the appropriate budgetary committees. He would welcome, in particular, the Committee’s general endorsement of the Department’s restructuring, including its new mission statement, operating model and organizational structure, promulgated by the Secretary-General under his authority, as well as the new subprogrammes underpinning the Department’s 2004-2005 proposed programme budget.
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