Committee on Information PI/1478*
Twenty-fifth Session 1 May 2003
6th Meeting (AM)
COMMITTEE HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH INFORMATION DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS
Discussion Focuses on Radio Project, UN Libraries,
Activities of Communications Group, Information Centres
The Committee on Information this morning held an interactive discussion with the Department of Public Information (DPI) on the reports submitted by the Secretary-General and by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
The five reports examined dealt with the programmatic aspects of the Department’s proposed programme budget for 2004-2005; implementation of the pilot project on an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations; modernization and integrated management of United Nations libraries; activities of the United Nations Communications Group in 2002; and an OIOS review of the structure and operations of United Nations Information Centres.
Introducing the reports and responding to questions were the Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, Department of Management; DPI’s Directors of Outreach, News and Media, and Strategic Communications; and OIOS’ Director of the Internal Audit Divisions.
At the outset of the meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said he hoped that the interactive dialogue would help provide answers to any remaining questions on the Secretary-General’s report on the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications.
The new subprogrammes underpinning the budget required the explicit endorsement or approval of the Information Committee, he said. A majority of speakers had expressed their support for that change; nonetheless, it was important, for official reasons, that that was reflected in the draft resolution to be adopted next Friday.
Probing discussions followed each of the presentations, in which delegations sought clarification on certain key points. Responding to questions on the budget report, Warren Sach, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, took
* Press Release ECOSOC/6048-PI/1478 of 30 April should have been
note of the observation that the Department’s overall mandate had not matched fully the relevant language in the Millennium Declaration, explaining that DPI’s mandate was broadly summarized in the report. On questions concerning the use of resources freed up by the creation of regional hubs, the resources would “in part” be directed towards strengthening the multilingual capacity of the Web site. The balance of resources would stay in the Information Centres operation, he said.
In response to questions on the management of United Nations libraries, Raymond Sommereyns, Director of DPI’s Outreach Division, said it had been decided, as a first approach, to devise a collaborative mechanism to implement a very ambitious library reform programme. That approach had been enthusiastically welcomed by the different heads of the United Nations offices to which all the libraries reported. The Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries was a first formal forum, through which all United Nations libraries could coordinate their activities.
Describing the pilot project to develop an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations, Salim Lone, Director of DPI’s News and Media Division, said it was gratifying to have heard the near universal support for the project from Committee members, and that it was this kind of support from Member States which contributed to so many major broadcasters around the world carrying UN Radio programmes daily. There was intense competition for what was aired by these broadcasters, so the decision of broadcasters to use United Nations Radio newscasts was a reflection of their perception of the reports’ impartiality and objectivity, as well as their belief in their audiences’ interest in the United Nations.
Thérèse Gastaut, Director of DPI’s Strategic Communications Division, introducing the report on the activities of the United Nations Communications Group, said that the Group’s goal was to ensure that the numerous voices of the United Nations system spoke in unison. It sought to strengthen the United Nations system’s image as a vital actor in creating a better world for all. During a discussion of various issues concerning the United Nations Information Centres, she pointed out that a goal of the reform was to better define the messages being disseminated at the local level. In that regard, the Centres were continually updated on the “message of the day”.
Presenting the OIOS report on the review of the structure and operations of United Nations Information Centres, Esther Stern, Director of its Internal Audit Division, said the comprehensive audit of the Centres had highlighted the urgent need for rethinking their usefulness and continued relevance. The OIOS had highlighted the need for DPI to carry out an in-depth evaluation of various options, including restructuring the Information Centres on a regional basis, and integrating more Centres with local United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offices or with the lead United Nations agency in the host country or region. She was pleased to note that DPI had accepted all of the report’s 15 recommendations.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the Committee will join in commemorating World Press Freedom Day. This year’s observance will feature addresses by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Chairman of the Committee on Information, and will include a panel discussion on “The Media and Armed Conflict”.
Before the Committee on Information for its meeting today were the following reports of the Secretary-General on: programmatic aspects of the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget for the Department of Public Information (DPI); implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations; modernization and integrated management of the libraries; activities of the United Nations Communications Group in 2002; and review of the structure and operations of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs).
The report on the programmatic aspects of the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget for DPI (document A/AC.198/2003/3) provides an overview and covers executive direction and management, as well as the four subprogrammes: strategic communications services, news services, library services and outreach services.
Also before the Committee is the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations (document A/AC.198/2003/4). The report states that, given its universal reach and cost-effectiveness, radio remains the most potent means of communication for the United Nations, particularly in developing countries. A firm mandate from Member States to continue this international broadcasting capacity will ensure that radio continues to contribute, cost-effectively, to the overall goal of DPI, namely, to generate understanding about the Organization and all the priority issues and concerns that Member States have said the world must be informed about.
As requested by the General Assembly, DPI commissioned a survey on the estimated worldwide audience for United Nations Radio programmes in all six official languages, plus Portuguese, the results of which are broken down in the present report by language and region. The survey, carried out from September to November 2002 through partner stations worldwide, has revealed a number of encouraging trends.
The survey estimates, conservatively, that more than 133 million people listen to United Nations Radio at least once a week in the six official languages or Portuguese. The actual weekly audience is, in fact, higher than the survey figure, which does not cover affiliate radio stations of partner broadcasters, nor stations transmitting by short wave or satellite. Such extensive outreach was possible only because of the universality and cost-effectiveness of the medium of radio. The international broadcasting capacity that made this possible is achieved with the relatively small investment of the additional $2.4 million provided to DPI by Member States per biennium.
Also, responses from client stations indicate that the daily United Nations Radio feeds provide a valuable service, supplying material not available from other sources. For example, many radio stations -– including national broadcasters -– find it difficult to cover some crucial international stories with the authority and scope the stories require. United Nations Radio provides range and depth of coverage, including regional focus and regional voices.
The report also covers efforts to ensure continued expansion of United Nations Radio outreach. Among other activities, United Nations Radio is building a higher profile on the Internet through active cooperation with the United Nations News Centre, the third most visited page on the United Nations Web site, supplying interviews and linking to the News Centre’s page. In turn, the News Centre links to specific audio stories on the United Nations Radio pages, as appropriate. The expansion of the News Centre into more of the official languages will increase the synergy between it and the United Nations Radio.
Also noted in the report is the comprehensive geographical and linguistic spread of the daily United Nations Radio programmes. The survey confirmed, however, that this reach would be greater were it not for the digital divide, which severely hampers distribution in some regions. In this regard, continued efforts by Member States to help close the digital divide are directly relevant to the Department’s efforts to improve and expand its radio services to clients in many regions of the world.
The report on modernization and integrated management of United Nations libraries (document A/AC.198/2003/5) states that the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries was established in January 2003 as a measure to improve the provision of library services, as called for in the Secretary-General’s report on United Nations reform (documents A/57/387 and Corr.1).
Chaired by the Department of Public Information, and working through coordinated management and collaborative policy-making, the Committee will aim to facilitate interdependency and foster initiative to create a dynamic, synergistic and fully functional network of library services throughout the Organization. Furthermore, in order to expand existing cooperative strategies for collection development and resource sharing, and to develop new strategies, the Committee will encourage a shift from a culture of “ownership” to one of access, says the report.
The work of the Committee will concentrate on several areas, among them, inter-library management initiatives promoting collaborative and coordinated activities, products and services; optimization of financial resources; sharing best practices and lessons learned; expanded technical assistance programmes for the small, field and depository libraries; production of multilingual Web pages and portals; database management and maintenance; staff training and development; and staff mobility. The Steering Committee will also play a leading role in ensuring that all libraries of the Organization bring their specialized expertise in information management to bear in the development of all knowledge-sharing initiatives of the Organization.
The report states that the Steering Committee will work to leverage existing investments in human, financial, technological and information resources in the system of library services in the United Nations and to blend traditional library functions with advanced technologies. Through coordinated management, it is expected that economies and efficiencies will be achieved and services optimized to strengthen the outreach of the Organization. It concludes that a primary aim of the Committee will be to promote and expedite projects that will provide instantaneous, electronic access to a seamlessly integrated, coordinated and interdependent global repository of intellectual resources for users, widely distributed around the world.
According to the report on activities of the United Nations Communications Group in 2002 (document A/AC.198/2003/6), the Group, which replaced the Joint United Nations Information Committee, was formed in January 2002 at the initiative of the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information as a flexible and substance-driven mechanism for inter-agency coordination in the field of public information and communications.
In addition to holding an annual session, the Group has set up several issue-specific task forces to coordinate the planning and implementation of joint communications strategies on priority issues. It is also responsible for coordinating the joint participation of the United Nations system in the 2005 World Exposition (Expo 2005) in Japan. The Group holds weekly meetings at Headquarters to discuss issues of current interest.
At its first annual session in Rome, on 27 and 28 June 2002, the Group identified two major communications challenges: developing a flexible and task-oriented approach to coordinating their information work; and finding new, more effective tools to tell their story in an increasingly competitive media environment. It also identified several key elements to formulating an information strategy for the United Nations system. In addition, the Group decided that it was necessary for the organizations of the United Nations system to ensure their common response without losing their separate voices.
By evolving into a flexible but task-oriented common information and communications platform of the United Nations system, the United Nations Communications Group has been able to put more focus on substance and to achieve greater effectiveness in policy harmonization and programme cooperation in areas of system-wide concern. This format has allowed the communications experts within the system to coordinate messages, share ideas, exchange experiences and assess their performance. It has also contributed to the achievement of a much-needed goal, which is for the United Nations system to speak with one voice.
The Committee also has before it a note by the Secretary-General, transmitting the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the review of the structure and operations of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) (document A/57/747). The Secretary-General takes note of the findings and concurs with the thrust of the recommendations made, which will serve to streamline and revitalize the operation of Information Centres by the DPI and optimize the benefit of the Organization’s financial and human resource investment in that activity. He is pleased to note that DPI is already taking steps to address the issues highlighted in the report, submitted by the Oversight Office on 14 October 2002, through implementation of its recommendations.
In 2002, there were 65 UNICs, 62 of which were operational. In addition, there were five information services and eight United Nations offices. The allocation for 2002-2003 for the Department’s work at the field level amounted to $46.5 million, or approximately 30 per cent of DPI’s total budget.
The Centres in developing countries require a different managerial approach from those located in developed countries, which have easy public access to the Internet and library facilities. The Department should assess the need for centres in developed countries and review their current number, particularly because those Centres are absorbing the bulk of available staff and funding resources, the Oversight Office recommended.
To address the foregoing issues, DPI should immediately undertake an
in-depth evaluation of the options available, such as: restructuring Centres on a region-by-region basis with a view to consolidation, merger or liquidation; proposing to integrate more Centres with local United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offices; studying the feasibility of integrating Centres with the lead United Nations agency in the host country or region; and transferring certain responsibilities currently assigned to Centres in developed countries to civil society partners, such as United Nations Associations, on a case-by-case basis.
The Department also needs to review the rationale for resource allocations to centres and evaluate options for cost savings by seeking to obtain: funding from Member States in the region through the provision of rent-free premises or a subsidy for rent and maintenance costs, with the establishment of new Centres being conditional on such funding; and savings through cost-sharing with other United Nations entities in the host country or region.
Any restructuring exercise arising from the Department’s comprehensive review should also focus on rationalizing the number of posts and the levels of heads and staff of the Centres. The Office believes that the successful implementation of those measures will facilitate the reallocation of funds to UNICs in locations where they can play a more important role in the Organization’s information outreach programmes.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), Committee Chairman, said that as the Secretary-General’s report on the reorientation of United Nations public information activities had already been presented by the Under-Secretary-General -- and was the basis of the general debate -- he proposed that the Committee not discuss that report further. It was incumbent on the Committee, however, to discuss the programmatic aspects of the Department’s 2004-2005 proposed programme budget.
The Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, SHASHI THAROOR, said, regarding the Committee’s consideration of the Secretary-General’s report on the programmatic aspects of the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget, that programmatic aspects had been translated into programme budget terms. The Committee was mandated to make recommendations on the narrative portion of the Department’s proposed programme budget. He hoped the interactive dialogue would answer any remaining questions delegations might have, and would provide the means for including positive language in the draft resolution to be adopted by the Committee on 9 May.
The Department had changed the subprogramme structure as contained in the 2002-2005 medium-term plan and had given programmatic effect to its new operating model. New subprogammes had been aligned with the Department’s organizational structure. Those new subprogrammes, the underpinning of the 2004-2005 proposed programme budget, required the Committee’s explicit approval. He looked forward to the exchange of views. Many speakers had expressed their support for the change. Indeed, no one had explicitly opposed it. For official reasons, however, it was important that the Committee’s approval was reflected in the draft resolution.
Introduction of Report
WARREN SACH, Director of Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the programmatic aspects of DPI’s 2004-2005 proposed programme budget. In the process of putting together the proposals for 2004-2005 proposed programme budget, it had been necessary to take into account initiatives under way in the context of reform, not only for DPI but also for a range of other Secretariat Departments. It was necessary to ensure congruence in what was going on in the substantive committees.
The report before the Committee was the same text that would be going to the Committee for Programme Coordination (CPC) and eventually to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), except without resource information, which was reserved for the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Fifth Committee. The reformulation of the subprogramme of work into four subprogrammes, differently structured in the current biennium, was before the Committee in the same way that it would be before the CPC. It presented objectives, expected accomplishments and indicators of achievement in line with the new results-based budgeting style.
The format used followed a standard format used for the budget, he said, excluding resource information. In the programmatic material, there was a new innovation regarding performance measures. Within each subprogramme and expected accomplishment, predesigned performance measures took the form of an estimated baseline and target level, which would allow for better ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the Department’s work. As it was the first time the Organization had used the technique, it would be subject to review by the CPC. He hoped that the new restructuring of the Department, with its organizational structure congruent with the revised sub-programmes, would allow an improvement in the Department’s performance.
The representative of Argentina said that paragraph 28.4 of the report, which contained the Department’s core message, followed the wording of paragraph 5 of Assembly resolution 57/130B. However, that paragraph did not follow the wording of resolution 55/2, which contained the Millennium Declaration. It made no reference to the need to promote the establishment of a global strategy of partnership for development.
Regarding the paragraph on the regionalization of Information Centres into hubs, she felt that the wording went beyond of Assembly resolution 57/300, in which the Assembly confined itself to taking note of the Secretary-General’s proposal. The paragraph should be revised to be more consistent with what the Assembly had stated.
On progress indicators and expected accomplishments, she said she was sorry that the report did not refer to the need to receive the views of Member States on the Department’s information materials. A system to assess the views of Member States would surely have a cost and would need to be funded. She also questioned the paragraph, which noted how the resources freed from the regionalization of hubs would be used. Paragraph 28.23 said the resources would be devoted to Information Centres in the developing countries. Paragraph 28.31 said that savings would go towards improving multilingualism on the Web site. More precision was needed in that regard. Paragraph 28.2 should be more consistent with the Department’s mandate.
Mr. SACH, responding to delegates’ queries, said that paragraph 28.4 was a highly summarized reflection of the Department’s overall mandate. The point that it was not complete was well taken. It would be possible to make modifications concerning the Millennium Declaration. On questions concerning paragraph 28.11, on Information Centres and the freeing up of resources by creating a hub, that paragraph noted that resources would “in part” be directed to strengthening the multilingual capacity of the Web site. It was not precise at the current stage because not all elements for the arrangements for the hub concept were fully in place. At the current stage in the ongoing process, it was not possible to have each element firmly reflected. The key concept was better use of resources of that section of the budget. Some improvements would result in funding the Web site. There had been constant requests for improving multilingual aspect of the web site. Only some of the resources freed up from a hub in Western Europe would be in principal available for strengthening the web site. The balance of resources would stay in the information centre operation.
Turning to the report on the modernization and integrated management of United Nations libraries (document A/AC.198/2003/5), RAYMOND SOMMEREYNS, Director of the Outreach Division, DPI, recalled that, in its resolution 56/253, the General Assembly had asked the Secretary-General to conduct a review of library services throughout the Organization and to implement, as soon as possible, new and more efficient ways of providing library services. That review was conducted last year, and the results had been incorporated in the Secretary-General’s report on an agenda for further change, dated 9 September 2002 (document A/57/387).
He said that, under Action 9 of that report, the Secretary-General presented his reforms for United Nations libraries under three aspects: that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library would assume responsibility for setting policy and coordinating the work of all United Nations libraries; that DPI, in conjunction with the Department of Management, would prepare a comprehensive plan for the integration of library services at various locations through the use of information and communication technologies; and that DPI would formulate and implement a plan to improve electronic access to those services, facilitate the transfer of paper collections to electronic files, and provide training to the depository librarians. The mechanism to achieve those ends, as proposed by the Deputy Secretary-General in 2003 and endorsed unanimously by senior officials responsible for libraries at duty stations worldwide, was the establishment of the Steering Committee on the integrated management of the libraries.
That committee was chaired by DPI, through the Director of the Outreach Division, to which the Dag Hammarskjöld Library reported, he said, adding that its members were mainly the heads of each of the libraries in the system. Its primary purpose was to foster innovative collaboration among United Nations libraries, enabling them to, among other things, leverage resources and enhance services. Apart from an indexing network, there had been no formal collaboration between those libraries.
He then outlined briefly the mandate of each subcommittee under the Steering Committee, as well as the results they were expected to achieve: on archival collections of United Nations documentation, a subcommittee would ensure that there was at least one complete archive of documentation in all formats, and suggest initiatives that would allow some libraries to reduce their collections of print documents; and on bibliographic control of United Nations documentation, that subcommittee would develop standards for indexing and study methods to streamline indexing operations, and expedite the creation of a single, all inclusive, publicly accessible multilingual gateway for accessing all documentation.
He said that another subcommittee on collaborative reference services would take advantage of the different time zones and linguistic talent pool of librarians, and implement a global, collaborative, round-the-clock live reference service. It would also create a virtual reference service for those conducting independent research. Another would be concerned with collection development and resource sharing, with an emphasis on access versus ownership. That subcommittee would seek to increase resource-sharing, thus, providing greater access to resources, despite shrinking budgets.
Another subcommittee on Internet products, Web pages and new information technologies would deal with the separate, but interdependent areas of content and processes, and identify solutions for retrieval, management, storage and delivery, he explained. That was aimed at creating a single portal to United Nations resources and at offering large variety of web-based products for delegations, staff and the public at large. A subcommittee on public relations and marketing would strive to increase awareness of the library services, thereby increasing the Organization’s return on investment.
He said that a further subcommittee would seek to expand and integrate training programmes for small and field libraries, depository libraries and Information Centres, and jointly produce tools and products for that audience. Without the full participation and collaboration of all members of the Committee, it would be difficult for it to move forward with its work. Hopefully, appropriate funding could be found for that initiative.
The representative of Greece thanked him for that excellent presentation.
The United States representative said the Steering Committee was “a good first step”, but it did not go far enough. A recommendation had been made that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library should be the central manager, in order to enforce real change. He then asked what actions the libraries had taken to streamline
their indexing and cataloguing operations. He also asked about efforts under way to ensure that all bodies of the United Nations system would participate in the central cataloguing project, in which United Nations entities were currently participating. He asked the same question about the portal project. Also, was it foreseen that the catalogue and portal projects would be placed within the same interface?
Noting that Mr. Sommereyns had said that the Steering Committee had been established to help consider how to implement actions, the representative of Canada said that in the text of the document before him, no specific reference had been made to the question of the leadership of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, nor had he seen much specific reference to the question of integration of library services. As a footnote to the question posed by the United States representative, how were those dimensions to be acted upon in the context of the Steering Committee? he asked.
Also, given the orientation set out by the Secretary-General in his reform report, he wondered why the programmatic aspect of the budget, with respect to library services, had not set out, as the objective, the integration of those services, or a clear mandate of leadership, in a way that would have reflected what the Secretary-General had said last year that he had wished to accomplish. There was a “bit of a disconnect” between budgetary presentation and the ambitious agenda set out in the reform report, he said.
Responding to those comments and questions, Mr. SOMMEREYNS said it had been decided, as a first approach, to devise a collaborative mechanism. The thinking was that that would be a better way to implement a very ambitious programme, with regard to reforming the libraries. That approach had been enthusiastically welcomed by the different heads of the United Nations offices, to which all the libraries reported. The Steering Committee was a first formal forum, through which representatives of all United Nations libraries could coordinate their activities.
Regarding some of the more technical questions, he said he needed to seek advice and reply at a later stage, especially with respect to the questions posed by the United States representative concerning the United Nations Bibliographic Information System (UNBISNet), and the United Nations System Shared Cataloguing and Public Access System (UNCAPS) which was an inter-agency project. He added that, in the context of one subcommittee, indexing throughout the United Nations would be greatly streamlined. He hoped to confirm that the road taken was, indeed, the right choice.
Responding to the points raised by the Canadian representative, he said that, as far as the budget aspect was concerned for the Steering Committee and its subcommittees, reference had been made so far in the 2004-2005 budget at the level of each of the libraries. In the budget request for the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, for instance, there had been a more detailed request for a modest amount of funds, in order to make that system work properly. Those funds would enable librarians to attend meetings or participate in the videoconferences.
He added that the portal project was not the responsibility of the library, but of the Web site section.
The representative of Canada said the reform report had set forth a sense of change, including a stronger vision of leadership and the idea of a comparative advantage, in which some libraries would take on specialized functions. Why were those goals not reflected in the budget? he asked. Also, he asked whether the Assembly’s endorsement of the concept of “global management” of conference services and General Assembly affairs “makes sense” for library functions.
Replying, Mr. THAROOR acknowledged that the Canadian representative had a vision of the way in which the libraries could be organized, which might be further advanced than things were at this stage. The Secretary-General, in his proposal, had wanted both to have the advantages of leadership coming from the principal library, while avoiding the pitfalls of sparking off resistance from other libraries, which might have felt that their efficiencies were being threatened by a takeover from elsewhere.
He added that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library chaired the Steering Committee, while relying on each of the other libraries to play their part. It was too early to draw any conclusions from the Steering Committee exercise, but the benefits of synergy should be able to be accomplished through a process that brought everyone together. Should that prove inadequate, he was prepared to revisit the issue.
The language in the budget was sufficiently general because the end result of a more coordinated Steering Committee process would be to update the library services, he said. He would convey the query to the budget division, and if
Mr. Sach felt it was possible or necessary to add that element, he could certainly do so. In terms of what could be accomplished in the library area, that was not a closed chapter. As he had said before, reform was a process and not an event.
The United States representative said the report on the libraries “took a step back” from the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s reform report, which had specifically stated that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library would assume responsibility for setting policy. That was a very specific recommendation. The report of the library Steering Committee had not indicated that but had talked about collaborative policy making. There was a difference.
He wanted to know the basis of the Secretary-General’s report, which had asked Dag Hammarskjöld Library to set policy that involved management. Collaborative policy-making could take place under any circumstances, but the idea of central management was a different question, he added.
Mr. THAROOR said the Secretary-General had put forth a recommendation. That effort had been translated by the Deputy Secretary-General into a report on the library services. The mechanism integrated around one table, through videoconferencing, all of the key library managers in the system. He did not think he could resolve the speaker’s concern right now in the present format, but that would be conveyed to the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General, in order to evolve effective policy-making.
The United States representative said that if he endorsed the language in the Secretary-General’s reform report, he needed to know what that meant. Was there to be central or collaborative management of the libraries? He still believed that central management had been the intent. He sought clarification on that question prior to the deliberations next week.
Mr. THAROOR said that, following publication of the Secretary-General’s reform report last year, concerns had been expressed by some delegations about the meaning of that recommendation, and some had made it clear that the interpretation provided by the United States would not be welcome by those delegations. In taking into account that debate, the approach adopted by the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General to take forward the Steering Committee process had been deemed the best way to take that recommendation forward. That process should be given some time to work. It was possible that, through a collegial process, the decisive improvement being sought could be found.
The representative of Canada asked how it was possible to implement central policy direction if accountability was diffuse. From a managerial point of view, one could not go much further than collaborative policy-making, given how the budget was structured. Perhaps, a more central approach should be taken in the budget for library operations.
SALIM LONE, Director of DPI’s News and Media Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations. He said it was gratifying to have heard the near universal support for the project from Committee members, and that it was this kind of support from Member States which contributed to so many major broadcasters around the world carrying UN Radio programmes daily. There was intense competition for what was aired by these broadcasters, so the fact the broadcasters had chosen to use UN Radio newscasts was a reflection of the fact that they perceived the reports to be impartial and objective. It also testified to the interest they believed their audiences had in the United Nations.
The total listenership figure of 133 million listeners per week for UN Radio programmes was an astonishing one, but not surprising given the reach of the broadcasters who carried our programmes. It is only such partnerships that make it possible for DPI to reach the Organization’s vast global and local constituencies.
The representative of Argentina congratulated the Department on the success of United Nations Radio. Latin America was a greater user of its broadcasts. She asked whether there were any prospects to increase human resources in the Spanish radio section, given its very large audience.
The representative of Portugal asked why the Portuguese Radio programme was not considered, in the report, an “official” programme.
Responding, Mr. LONE said the allocation of resources to language units was not dependent on their audiences. The DPI had four professionals working in each language on the radio project. That was not expected to change. As the Division was able to deploy more usable communications technology, it would be able to enhance what was already a good listenership figure. Regarding the Portuguese programme, the United Nations had six official languages. He did not want to convey the impression that it was able to take on other languages. Portuguese radio was very much part of the project and had a huge listenership.
Regarding the Web site and the United Nations portal, he said DPI now had Google as a search engine. The Department was monitoring usage to see whether current capacity could enable DPI to take on additional databases from the wider United Nations system. In the second half of the year, the United Nations Chief Executives Board would oversee a pilot project involving a number of specialized agencies which had expressed an interest in participating in the project, including the World Bank, UNDP, International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), etc.
THÉRÈSE GASTAUT, Director of DPI’s Strategic Communications Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the United Nations Communications Group. The Group had already shown its energy and value in its first year of existence. It held an annual session, as well as weekly meetings. Its secretariat was in the Strategic Communications Division. A Web site provided an ongoing exchange of information between the Group’s annual and weekly meetings. The Group’s goal was to ensure that the numerous voices of the United Nations system spoke in unison, thereby strengthening the United Nations system’s image as a vital actor in creating a better world for all. The Group’s priority was to publicize the work of the United Nations to improve the daily lives of ordinary people.
She said the Group’s annual session was presided over by the head of a different organization within the United Nations system. That rotation strengthened the feeling that the Group was at the service of the entire system and not only the Secretariat. Weekly meetings, presided over by Mr. Tharoor, considered pressing subjects. Task forces on important subjects, such as the World Summit for Sustainable Development, were also held. A task force had also been created for the World Summit on the Information Society, to take place in Geneva and Tunis. On the Iraq issue, the Under-Secretary-General oversaw an interorganizational team to ensure that the United Nations worked in a coherent fashion on the matter. The new coordination system had contributed to the production of clearly heard messages. The Group’s end goal was to strengthen the United Nations image as a vital actor in building a better world.
Introducing the report of the OIOS on the review of the structure and operations of United Nations Information Centres, ESTHER STERN, Director of the Internal Audit Division, OIOS, said the report summarized the results of a comprehensive audit of the information centres. The UNICS were primarily responsible for disseminating relevant information about the United Nations and its activities. The DPI administered the financial and operational aspects of the Organization’s worldwide information activities, including those of the 62 Information Centres operating in 2002. The 2002-2003 programme budget for those information activities totalled some $46.5 million.
The OIOS audit highlighted the need for an urgent rethinking of the Information Centre concept in terms of its usefulness and continued relevance, she said. The DPI needed to update the goals, strategies and objectives of its Information Centre operation and assess the extent to which Information Centres were needed in developed countries. The audit had identified a number of resource allocation issues. The number and level of posts, for example, favoured Information Centres located in developed countries. A significant portion of rent and office maintenance funds, which constituted some 40 per cent of non-staff operating costs, were expended on centres located in the capital cities of developed countries. Other Centres, however, were under-resourced. In that regard, the report called for a different approach and a reorientation towards Centres in developing countries, where the public had less access to the Internet and public libraries.
In OIOS’ view, DPI needed to carry out an in-depth evaluation of various options to address the issues highlighted in its report, she said. Those options included restructuring information centres on a regional basis, integrating more Centres with local UNDP offices or with the lead United Nations agency in the host country or region. She said she was pleased to note that DPI had accepted all of the report’s 15 recommendations, as well as a number of other more technical recommendations, which were included in the OIOS comprehensive audit report. The DPI had already begun to act on the recommendations, and the OIOS would monitor their implementation.
Mr. THAROOR said he was aware that delegates had been particularly struck by the OIOS report. The DPI had cooperated with OIOS in the review and had welcomed the candour of the report, as well as its recommendations. The OIOS report was an important part of the reorientation. The underpinning of that report was an integral part of the new operating concept for UNICs. The DPI had taken immediate note of the report’s recommendations, which had already been essential tools to streamlining and vitalizing the operation of the centres.
Regarding the implementation status of the recommendations, he said information centres were part of the subprogramme of the Strategic Communications services. The structure to support the centres had been overhauled and was staffed by competent and professional staff. The Department had requested the Centres to use the Millennium Declaration as their guide in submitting annual work plans. A majority of Centres had submitted their plans. With emphasis on programme evaluation, the Department was working on new performance criteria, in addition to the monthly activity and the quarterly overview reports. It was still a work in progress, and he hoped to have more to report next year. The overall objective was to optimize the benefit of the centres. He was confident that with the implementation of the OIOS’ recommendations, DPI would have taken a step in the right direction.
Questions and Comments
The representative of Portugal said the OIOS audit would be taken into account in the ongoing process of establishing a guideline for the centres’ activities. While he was not undermining the work already done, it seemed that the OIOS had only studied four Information Centres in Latin America and one in Europe. He wondered how Member States could obtain more information so as to better evaluate the management process.
Japan’s representative agreed that the concept of regional hubs was vital for cutting expenses. The overall support of host country should be reflected in constructing the guidelines for the regional hub concept.
Mexico’s representative asked whether the views of local populations, including civil society, would be considered in creating the Centre’s work plans so that they were consistent with regional realities. Regarding performance criteria, Centres should provide not only statistical but also analytical reports. The Information Centres should serve as a window of the Organization. The fact that the United Nations image had deteriorated should be monitored.
The representative of India strongly supported the regionalization of the Information Centres. Were there timelines for the regionalization and what system would be in place once the regionalization concept was under way?
Brazil’s delegated asked for information on the impact of the regional concept for Portuguese-speaking countries, specifically African Portuguese- speaking countries.
The representative of Senegal asked if French speaking African countries would be taken into account in establishing guidelines for a regional hub concept.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that to solve the problem of budget constraints, extra financial resources, perhaps from host countries, must be found.
Argentina’s representative asked if OIOS had taken into account indicators regarding the impact of the Information Centres work and the level of voluntary contributions of host countries, civil society and the private sector.
The representative of the United States asked how DPI intended to proceed with the redeployment of resources and possible shifting of existing resources to centres that could be closed.
Responding to queries from the floor, Ms. STERN said OIOS had only been able to provide in-depth analysis of five Centres. In terms of the audit methodology used, OIOS could not claim that it had reviewed all Centres. OIOS’ focus had been on the strategic, operational, political direction that Headquarters was giving to the Centres on the ground. The direction given by headquarters to the heads of the Centres had been an ongoing concern. As OIOS could only afford in depth analysis in only one region of the world, data from other Centres had not been included in the report. OIOS’ main recommendation was a rethinking of the Centres’ concept. That rethinking was now taking place. The regional hub concept was one option stemming from the rethinking.
Over the last few years, OIOS had been surprised by the anachronistic image of the Information Centres, she said. Most of the Centres were quite antiquated. During the audit, it had been difficult to arrive at an opinion that the Centres were either irrelevant or relevant. Statistical data was needed to determine the relevance of the Centres. The OIOS had not pushed for timelines. What had been important was to see that the rethinking was taking place. She agreed that the criteria for any action plan, whether mergers or closures, must be clear and based on consultations with the Committee.
On redeployment and whether it should take place before determining the criteria, she said it was best to let the Department spell out how it would approach the area. OIOS’ first recommendation was a strategic rethinking.
Regarding the criteria for the regionalization concept, Ms. GASTAUT said the Secretariat had presented guidelines at the Committee’s request of last year. It had noted the recommendation to include in the criteria the will of governments to serve as host countries, as well as the will to provide support, including financial support. Linguistic considerations were also essential.
Regarding the images portrayed by the Centres, she said the goal of the reform was to better define the messages the Centres were disseminating at the local level. In that regard, for instance on the situation in Iraq, the Centres were continually updated on the “message of the day”. Another aspect of the issue, the resources available to the Centres, was more difficult as there was often a lack of resources. It was expected that the regionalization process would allow DPI to concentrate greater resources in a smaller number of strategically located Centres.
On the process, she said the Secretary-General had proposed that the restructuring process take place over three years. The goal was to have a regional hub in Western Europe during 2003. The process would continue throughout the 2004-2005 biennium and be completed in 2005. The Department would try to minimize gaps in information during the transformation process. The closure of Centres would be accompanied by the strengthening of regional hubs. Regarding the production of information material in Portuguese, the Lisbon Centre was doing vital work. It was an important issue and there would probably be a Centre working in Portuguese in a developing country.
Canada’s representative asked if OIOS had come across any particular successes. If there were 62 operating Centres, that meant some 125 member countries that did not have a Centre. How did the current arrangement serve the countries that did not have a Centre? Also, what had OIOS found out about libraries and reading rooms? Regarding the finding that too much money was being spent in the richer countries, what was wrong with spending a chunk of the DPI’s field resources in countries that did not have much direct access to insight on what the United Nations was doing?
The United Nations was active in many developing countries, he said. If it was part of the Centres’ function to advocate, why not advocate among those populations that did not have much other access to the Organization’s work? The reason he supported the regional approach was not for its internal logic, but because it was hard to see what other options existed. It might be better to achieve good results in a small universe than poorer results using a more spread-out approach.
The representative of Costa Rica said that if there was a lack of data on the Centres, how could one decide whether or not they were relevant. Once the data was available, a decision on the regional concept could be determined.
Ms. STERN said that in the sampling of various Centres, it had been the aim of OIOS to rate the relevance and impact of the Centres. It had tried a “top down” approach to get crisp indicators of what UNICs should do, regionally or locally. Directors of the centres were given much latitude. The image of an information centre was often the vision of its director. That was not good enough. There had not been enough information to make an overall assessment. Much had been done to address the strategic objectives of the Information Centre population as a whole. Much thinking would have to go into resource allocation. Regarding library and reading rooms, the issue was too complex to be included in the audit’s scope. The report did indicate that traffic was not good, and that the data provided on libraries was unreliable. The whole concept had to be rethought.
Benin’s representative asked about the possible closure of certain Centres. What would the impact of regionalization be on the African francophone countries?
The delegate from Senegal asked if DPI would think of creating a special group responsible for the needs of the African continent, in particular to promote the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
Ms. GASTAUT said that regarding the precise nature of a regional hub and its mandate, DPI had already studied the issue of a Western European hub in detail. Delegates had emphasized the need for a flexible approach. Regarding assessment of the Centres’ activities, DPI was in the same situation as the rest of the Secretariat, as there was a tradition of reporting on activities, but not their impact. While there was much information on the centres, including on their programmes, they had not been as successful in assessing their impact on public opinion. The DPI was trying to develop a new model to assess the impact of the Centres on the ground. Regarding the francophone countries, French was one of the six official languages and information materials were available in that language. In addition, the special needs of the French-language countries will be kept into account.
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