UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL APPEALS FOR CONTINUED SUPPORT OF COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION, AS IT OPENS CURRENT SESSION

26 April 2004
PI/1573

UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL APPEALS FOR CONTINUED SUPPORT OF COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION, AS IT OPENS CURRENT SESSION

26/04/2004
Press ReleasePI/1573

Committee on Information                                   

Twenty-sixth Session                                       

1st Meeting (AM)

under-secretary-general appeals for continued support of committee

on information, as it opens current session

Two years into the reform of United Nations public information activities, and with the Organization slowly but surely being perceived as indispensable in global affairs, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor appealed for the continued support of the Committee on Information, as it took a “hard look” at the issues on its agenda.  The Committee, which makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the policy and activities of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), is scheduled to meet through Friday, 7 May.

Opening the Committee’s 2004 session, Mr. Tharoor said that one year after the tragic events of 2003, there were growing signs thattheOrganization’s standing was “rebounding”.  While spirits at the United Nations had at times been low, its vitalwork continued around the world.  Any attempt to reduce the United Nationsrelevance toits conduct on any one issue was completely misconceived, he stated.  The DPI had no choice but to respond to the insistent demands of the news stories of the day normallyin the world’s “hot spots”,including Iraq.  It could not, however, afford merely to echo the media’s priorities.  Constantly striving to keep the “big picture” on the media’s agenda, DPI was challenged to remind the world that there were other critical areas that needed equal, if not more, attention.

With the implementation of the September 2002 reform proposals of the Secretary-General, a comprehensive and broad-based restructuring of the DPI had now been implemented, he said.  As a result of the reform process, DPI had undergone a transformation, complete with a new mission statement, a new operating model and a new organizational structure.  It had developed a new strategic approach at the core of which lay a new client-oriented service, greater system-wide coordination and a new culture of evaluation embedded into the work of the Department.

A new element in the Department’s work was the systematic evaluation of its products and activities based on well defined and measurable indicators of achievement, he said.  The DPI had also been greatly helped by the establishment of formal client relationships with Secretariat departments and strengthened efforts to bring the members of the United Nations system within a common communications framework.  Planning for the rapid and effective deployment of new peacekeeping missions was another key area of the Department’s cooperation with other Secretariat departments.

During the past year, DPI had continued to implement the Secretary-General’s proposals for rationalizing information centresby consolidating its network around “regional hubs”, he added.  By pooling scarce available resources in a smaller number of strategically located regional centres, the Department aimed to make more efficient use of those resources,while increasing the effectivenessof its information work.

In an opening statement, Committee Chairman Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (Bangladesh) noted that the current session would provide an opportunity to review the state of United Nations reform as it affected DPI.  In the past two years, major changes had taken place in the Department, and there had been both structural and operational overhauls.  He added that the report on the continuing reorientation of the Department provided clear yardsticks to measure the success of those changes.

In the discussion that followed, speakers welcomed the positive steps the Department had taken in the past year as part of the continuing reform process.  Among the issues highlighted during the debate were the development of the widely popular United Nations Web site and the Department’s coverage of major international events.  Speakers also stressed the need for the Department to continue its efforts to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing countries and to strengthen multilingualism.

Qatar’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the challenge of the DPI was not only to ensure a wider outreach of the communication strategies, but also to contribute to the concretization of the United Nations goals and objectives as set out in the Millennium Declaration and in the Medium-Term Plan.  Regarding the regionalization of the information centres, he said it was premature to present proposals on further regionalization.  Enough time should be given to examining the possible added value of the creation of the Western European hub before presenting any new proposals.

Commending DPI for its efforts to meet the challenges that it faced in 2003, Ireland’s representative, on behalf of the European Union, urged the Department to continue the ongoing process of reform to enhance the effectiveness of its work.  She welcomed the development of an annual programme impact review to systematically evaluate DPI’s products and activities.  She also welcomed the proposed new model for the regionalization of United Nations Information Centres and expressed support for the implementation of that process to successfully meet the Secretary-General’s deadline for completing regionalization in 2006.

The representative of Tunisia, noting the Department’s exceptional efforts in the last year, stressed that the rationalization of the Department should not obey mere accounting exigencies, as the Department should be the “umbilical cord” linking the Organization to the outside world.  The Organization’s credibility lied in its capacity to be close to the peoples.  The information centres played a “primordial role” for the developing countries, and he rejected the proposal to close the Tunis Centre, noting its particular relevance in the Maghreb subregion.

Also making statements today were the representatives of Egypt, Algeria and Ecuador.

In other business, the Committee elected Kais Kabatani (Tunisia) as Committee Vice-Chairman representing the African Group to replace Larbi Djacta (Algeria) for the remainder of his term.

The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work for the twenty-sixth session.  In addition, it also welcomed Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Switzerland to the membership of the Committee, bringing to 102 the total number of members, and was informed that Iceland, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Qatar were seeking membership.

Participating in the Committee’s work, along with its members, during the current session were Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Cameroon, Canada, Holy See, Iceland, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nauru, Panama, Qatar and Samoa.  The International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) would also participate as observers.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue its general debate.

Background

The Committee on Information met this morning to begin its twenty-sixth session, which will focus on the continuing reorientation of the Department of Public Information (DPI).  For background on the two-week session, see Press Release PI/1572 issued on 22 April.

Statement by Chairman

IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), Committee Chairman, said that the close relationship between the Department and the Committee, forged at the time of the twenty-fifth session, had continued throughout the year.  A good example of that rapport was his participation, at DPI’s invitation, in the World Electronic Media Forum in December 2003 in Geneva.  The overall objective of that parallel event organized by DPI at the time of the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society was to engage the media as stakeholders in the information society and to emphasize the principle of freedom of opinion and expression, and its corollary, press freedom.

He pointed out that he wore a second hat as Chairman of the Second Committee.  He saw a lot of complementarities between the two Committees, especially in terms of prioritization and focus.  At the last Committee on Information session, as well as at the Second Committee, a lot of time had been devoted to discussing the crisis in Iraq and its implications.  While the situation today was not radically different from that of last year, it was necessary to look beyond Iraq.  Indeed, Iraq continued to remain on top of the global agenda, but there were other issues that also needed to be addressed.

The Secretary-General had drawn attention to some of the more pressing and more immediate threats facing the vast majority of the world’s population:  threats of extreme poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation and endemic or infectious diseases.  He said those challenges were collectively addressed in the 2000 Millennium Declaration.  He hoped the current session of the Committee would have more time to focus on the Millennium Development Goals, which provided precise and time-bound targets to address those challenges.

The observance next year of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, he said, would provide an opportunity to take stock of what the Organization had done and how the Member States had helped to accomplish its goals.  To millions of people affected by poverty, environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, the United Nations remained the best hope –- often the only hope -– for survival and for a better future.  Of course, the United Nations had not solved all problems the world faced.  But to solve problems such as the turmoil in the Middle East and the question of Palestine, the United Nations was needed more than ever.

The observance of the anniversary, he continued, would be an occasion to reaffirm commitment to the ideals of the Organization.  It must also be an occasion for energizing global public opinion about the evolving role of the world body.  The anniversary would not be truly meaningful unless the people of the world came to know about it and become part of the observance.  The Committee should reflect on that and provide policy guidelines to DPI so that it took the lead in promoting the observance in every way possible.

Regarding the Committee’s current session, he said it would provide an opportunity to review the state of United Nations reform as it affected DPI.  In the past two years, major changes had taken place in the Department.  There had been both structural and operational overhauls.  The report on the continuing reorientation of the Department provided clear yardsticks to measure the success of those changes.  He was glad to note that in preparing the reports, the Department had taken advantage of the guidelines given by the Committee in the area of public information.

Lastly, he drew the Committee’s attention to the note by the Secretary-General on the proposed strategic framework for the biennium 2006-2007, which would replace the current four-year medium-term plan.  The framework provided an overall orientation of DPI and included the proposed biennial programme plan for the biennium 2006-2007.  That was the key to understanding what the four subprogrammes of the Department expected to accomplish and what indicators of achievement they would use during that period.  It was important for the Committee to carefully consider the note and convey its views to the General Assembly.

Opening Statement by Under-Secretary-General

The Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, SHASHI THAROOR, said that when he had addressed the Committee last year, the United Nations had faced serious challenges posed by the events relating to Iraq.  The year 2003 had been a difficult and tragic year for the Organization, in which many greatly valued colleagues had lost their lives in Baghdad.  The institution itself had suffered collateral damage, with some openly talking about the United Nations becoming irrelevant.  One year later, there were growing signs thatthestanding of the Organization was rebounding, and slowly, but surely, the United Nations was being perceived asregaining its indispensable role in global affairs.

Spirits at the United Nations had at times been low, yet its vitalwork continued around the world, he said.  Any attempt to reduce the United Nationsrelevance toits conduct on one issue was completely misconceived.  The media preferred to focus on “hard threats”, such as terrorism, while the “soft threats”, such as extreme poverty and hunger, that afflicted millions of people, rarely made the headlines.  Hard and soft problems without passports were challenges that no one country, however powerful, could confront alone.  The only way to tackle them was together, through common endeavours inpursuit of common goals, ideally using the mechanisms of the United Nations.

For the Department of Public Information, the options were never simply“either/or”, he noted.  The Department had no choice but to respond to the demands of the media on the world’s “hot spots”,but it could not afford to merely echo the media’s priorities.  It had to constantly strive to keep the “big picture” on the media’s agenda, reminding the world that there were other critical areas that needed equal, if not more, attention.

As part of its continuing efforts to highlight the United Nations’ priorities, the DPI planned to focus at the observance of World Press Freedom Day on what was missing from the media headlines, he continued.  The theme for the panel discussion titled “Reporting and Under-Reporting:  Who Decides?" related to a list of 10 stories of global importance that the world should hear more about.  The Department had deliberately chosen the timing of the release of this list to highlight the Committee’s work and responsibilities.

He explained that, in consultation with the Committee’s Bureau, it had been decided that information requested in resolution 58/101 B, as well as in resolutions 58/126 of 19 December 2003 and 58/270 of 23 December 2003, would be grouped into six reports.  The most comprehensive would be the report dealing with the continuing reorientation of DPI.  The others would be an in-depth review on library activities, a report on the rationalization of the network of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs), one on the activities of the United Nations Communications Group in 2003and, for the first time, a report on better publicizing the work and decisions of the General Assembly.

With the implementation of the Secretary-General’s 2002 reform proposals, the DPI had now been comprehensively restructured, he said.  That process, which involved a comprehensive review of DPI’s management and operations, had been essentially steered by the Committee.  As a result of the reform process, DPI had undergone a transformation, complete with a new mission statement, a new operating model and a new organizational structure.  It had developed a new strategic approach at the core of which lay a new client-oriented service, greater system-wide coordination and a new culture of evaluation embedded into the work of the Department.

The DPI had acquired the tools needed to deliver on the challenges set by the Secretary-General, he said.  Although there had been a few “teething problems”, initially, after 12 months of client meetings, communications strategies and system-wide coordination in planning and implementation, he could say with confidence that the measures taken were right and necessary.

He emphasised the importance of new processes to systematically evaluate the Department’s products and activities based on well defined indicators of achievement, which were being developed in cooperation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) over three years as pilots for the Secretariat.  The first year had witnessed the introduction of an “annual programme impact review”, or APIR. 

The APIR allowed programme managers to identify performance indicators and collect baseline data to evaluate the effectiveness of DPI products and activities over time, he explained.  Much of that data was incorporated in the reorientation report.  For example, feedback from visitors who took guided tours indicated that, in nine of 10 cases, visitor left with a better understanding of the Organization’s work and more support for it.  He also noted that the established target of issuing 65 per cent of all press releases within two hours of the end of a meeting had been exceeded.  The Under-Secretary-General also noted that a Dag Hammarskjöld Library user survey that revealed high-user satisfaction also showed that many users were not aware of some Library services, and that this information had allowed managers to establish activities to remedy this.

The Department had been greatly helped by the establishment of formal client relationships with Secretariat departments and the strengthened efforts to bring the members of the United Nations system within a common communications framework, he said.  The DPI now worked with 24 client departments and was developing communications strategies for priority they established.  In addition, the United Nations Communications Group, through its weekly meetings and working groups, now helped the entire United Nations system speak with one voice on priority issues.

The World Summit on the Information Society had posed special challenges for the Department, he admitted.  The Department had worked closely with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and had played a vital strategic role in shaping the communications agenda and, with it, the Summit’s political agenda.  The Department had emphasised the importance of press freedom and had generated coverage by more mainstream media, rather than just technology publications and outlets.  As a result, media coverage had been extensive and largely positive, an outcome he hoped would be replicated at the second phase next year in Tunis.

He also outlined a media blitz that the Department had coordinated for World AIDS Day in 2003, which had proven highly successful and would serve as a model for short-term, concentrated campaigns which would include placement of op-eds and organization of interviews for senior officials.  The “blitz” had made use of United Nations Information Centres’ capacity for local outreach and had generated better-targeted media coverage than previously garnered for any World AIDS Day.

Another good example of collaboration with a client department was the Department’s work with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), he said.  The Department had discussed with DPKO ways to draw public attention to the dramatic new surge in peacekeeping demands.  Generating support among Member States for new and expanding operations was a major challenge.  The two Departments had collaborated on an up-to-date brochure on multidimensional complex peacekeeping operations, which had been cast to explain the issue.  The DPI had also placed op-eds prepared by the DPKO that highlighted that challenge.  Both Departments would continue to seek ways to achieve that goal, including through the outreach capacities of UNICs.

Planning for the rapid and effective deployment of new missions was another key area of cooperation, he added.  In the last year, DPI had joined DPKO-led assessment missions to Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Haiti and had conducted a media needs-assessment mission to Iraq.  In Liberia, DPI had seconded staff to help with mission start-up, and it had also contributed significantly to planning for expected missions in Burundi and the Sudan, and for UNAMI in anticipation of its return to Iraq.

The DPI remained in close contact with information components of peacekeeping missions, supporting them as they faced evolving challenge, he continued.  In December 2003, the Department organized and funded a two-day workshop in Dakar on public information for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes.  Currently, DPI, in cooperation with DPKO, was preparing a week-long rapid deployment training course scheduled for June 2004, with the aid of funding from the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom.

The DPI had also expanded the scope and quality of information on peacekeeping available on the United Nations Web site and maintained pages for all 57 current and past peacekeeping operations, he said.  To improve the timeliness of this information, many of those pages were updated with the latest headlines from the UN News Centre Web site. 

He noted that one of the greatest challenges facing the Department over the past year had been to improve the United Nations’ ability to communicate effectively with people in the Middle East, where the Organization’s standing has in fallen in recent years.  In June 2003, DPI had worked with colleagues in other United Nations departments and agencies to develop a strategic communications framework for the Middle East and Arab region.  The strategy, adopted in September 2003, would provide the basis for sustained efforts to improve the understanding of the Organization in the Arab region.  In May, DPI would meet with United Nations system colleagues in Beirut to devise a programme of activities.

A particular focus of the Department’s work had been its contribution to ongoing discussions with the Office of the Special Adviser for Africa on a “global communications and advocacy strategy for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)”, he said.  The Special Adviser had been invited to present a draft plan to the United Nations Communications Group in June.  DPI’s Africa Section was working on two projects that were basic to any strategy.  One would make available a highly readable, print version of the actual NEPAD programme, in languages used by large numbers of Africans.  The second was a short publication which would explain the details of the programme in lay-person’s terms, giving examples of projects under way to bring NEPAD to fruition.

Eight years and 10 months ago, the United Nations had stepped into the Internet age with the launch of the United Nations Web site, he said.  It had been uncharted territory, and the Organization had had little expertise, no resources and no precedent to follow.  Yet, in eight short years, the Organization’s presence on the web had grown to a point where the United Nations Web site was one of the world’s premier information sites.  Visitors were now viewing more than    1million pages every day, not only in the six official languages of the Organization, but also in 27 other languages.  Last year, the Web site received some 2 billion hits.  This year, it was expected to cross the 3 billion mark.

DPI’s venture into the world of the web had opened new vistas of integration within the Department, as well as between DPI and other departments, he said.  The Sales and Marketing Section, for example, was now finalizing the e-commerce site, through which DPI would make its sales materials available for online purchase.

He said that, as a manager of the United Nations Web site, the Department had continued its efforts to enhance parity among the official languages, within existing resources.  One such approach, detailed in the reorientation report, had been the decision to expand the News Centre site into all six official languages.  A new database platform for the News Centre, developed in-house, enabled the latest news items on any specific topic to be automatically available on other interested web sites, as well.

Another innovative step had been the Department’s arrangements with universities for pro bono translation of content for the Web site, he said.  In addition to the arrangement with the University of Salamanca, in Spain, agreements were now in place with ShaoxinUniversity in China and MinskStateLinguisticUniversity in Belarus for translation of material for posting on the Web site.

The Department had also encouraged and assisted other departments to make their information materials available on the United Nations Web site in all official languages.  Today, non-English language sites were growing at a much faster pace than the English site, though progress had not been as speedy as hoped for many reasons, including resource limitations.  He added that opening up of the Official Documents System (ODS) later this year would greatly enhance the availability of material in all official languages on the Web site.

Another area where the Department had introduced changes in response to growing needs was knowledge management, he continued.  The in-depth review of library activities submitted for the Committee’s consideration (document A/AC.198/2004/4) discussed the leadership role of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library in that area.  With the establishment of the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, a mechanism had been created through which all the major libraries of the Organization were working together to share resources, minimize duplication of effort and develop common products, common services and common policies.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library also provided consultancy expertise to the United Nations Office in Nairobi, to evaluate the feasibility of the establishment of a common library at that Office, he said.  Since then, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Library had undertaken to operate as a de facto United Nations library in Nairobi, with support from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  The next logical step towards giving it a secure administrative footing would be for the General Assembly to recognize it as a United Nations Library.

As the “public voice” of the Organization, DPI was connecting with the public at large and building partnerships with civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), educators, students and the private sector in an increasingly integrated fashion.  The successes of outreach efforts over the past year had not simply been successes in getting the Organization’s "message" out to a larger world, but of intimately involving those who constituted that larger world in an informed, passionate debate about the United Nations, its achievements and its failures, as well asits past, its present and its promise. 

The Department’s outreach to civil society partners, particularly NGOs, provided opportunities for partnerships and information-sharing with the 1,400 DPI-associated NGOs, as well as those in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.  The DPI continued to reach out to the educational community at all levels, expanding and strengthening relationships with what he called the "educable" world.  Through the UN Teaching and Learning Project, with its online Cyberschoolbus, DPI sought to provide exceptional educational resources online and in print to students around the world.  And through the UN Works project, DPI had created a multi-media platform that put a human face on critical global issues and showed how the United Nations worked to change peoples’ lives.

Turning to the question of regionalization of the network of United Nations Information Centres, he said that during the past year, DPI had continued to implement the Secretary-General’s proposals for rationalizing Information Centresby consolidating its network around “regional hubs”.  His proposals were based on two points.  First, that now, perhaps more than ever before, it was essential to create a better understanding of the Organization and to build public support for its work in all parts of the world.  At the same time, there were no longer sufficient resources to accomplish that using the existing field arrangements. 

While each UNIC was expected to provide services to several countries, resource constraints often restricted that service to the capital city of the host country, he said.  Moreover, as a result of the Assembly-mandated abolition of posts in the 1990s, too many Centres were unable to perform even essential programme functions and were reduced to little more than administering themselves.

In the current budgetary climate, there was simply no option for the Organization but to rationalize the network of information centres around regional hubs, he stated.  He emphasized that the goal was not to reduce the information capacity in the countries currently served by UNICs, but rather to reduce administrative costs to operate the network, both in terms of staff and basic operating costs, such as rent and maintenance of premises, utilities and security. 

By pooling the scarce resources available in a smaller number of strategically located regional centres, the Department aimed to better use resources,while increasing the effectivenessof its information work.  To maintain information capacity in each country where UNICs were closed, national information officers would be attached to the United Nations country teams.  The Department had, in other words, opted for a more strategic approach to its communications in the field.  In the current budgetary climate, he did not believe it could do otherwise.

In resolution 58/101 B, the Assembly had set out a clear sequence of steps to be taken, and the Department had followed them, he said.  In the resolution, Member States identified the Western European hub as the first step.  He informed the Committee that the new Regional United Nations Information Centre in Brussels began operation on 1 January 2004, immediately after the region’s nine information centres were closed on 31 December 2003.  That modern and fully resourced regional centre, when fully functional, would implement a more robust, coherent and coordinated public information outreach programme in the region.  Its impact would be evaluated and shared with the Committee.

The second step identified in the resolution was to take a similar cost-cutting approach in other high-cost developed countries –- namely, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., he continued.  The Department had negotiated an agreement with the Australian Government whereby the Sydney Centre was expected to move to rent-free premises in Canberrain the fall of this year.  That would release funds to allow the Centre to better fulfil its role as a regional hub coveringthe South Pacific.

He said the Government of Japan, in addition to its generous annual voluntary contribution in support of theprogramme activitiesof UNIC Tokyo, had also agreed to cover the Centre’s substantial annual maintenance costs and service charges, in 2005,through extrabudgetary funding.  UNIC Tokyo was locatedin rent-free premises in the UnitedNationsUniversity building.  In Washington, D.C., where the Centre was responsible for important liaison work with various institutions of the host country, DPI was exploring means of economizing, including the possibility of occupying smaller and less costly premises in 2005, when the current lease came up for renewal.

The third step set out in resolution 58/101 B was the submission of a progress report on the implementation of regionalization with the objective of applying that initiative in other parts of the world, he said.  The Secretary-General’s report on therationalization of the network of United Nations Information Centres (document A/AC.198/2004/3) set out the proposed strategy and modalities for implementing the initiative in other regions.

In considering the proposals to regionalize UNICs in developing countries, it was important to keep in mind, he explained, that the objective was not to reduce resources, but to strengthen the flow and exchange of information.  In fact, as a result of theestablishment ofthe regional centrein Brussels, there would be a modest increase in the staff resources available for centres in developing countries, including three D-1 posts and a number of General Service posts.  Regrettably, that good news had been more thanoffset by a seriousreduction in operational resources following the decision of the Assembly in paragraph 30 of its resolution 58/271, to reduce the budgetaryallocation to UNICs by $2 million.

The DPI, he said, had consistently taken the view that regionalization was not a cost-cutting exercise but an exercise in improving efficiency.  It could not have effective regional hubs if they were not provided with the necessary operational funds, particularly for travel and communications.  Therefore, he asked the Committee to urge the Assembly to support DPI’s reform efforts by providing its field offices, especially the regional hubs, with adequate operational resources, rather than reducing them.  The objective was tostrengthen and improve access to information on the United Nations around the world, particularly in developing countries. 

The Department recognized the existing lack of access to information and communications technologies in many parts of the developing world, andso the model it was proposing retained, wherever possible, a physical presence in countries serviced by the hubs through posting information staff in the offices of Resident Coordinators.  He had initiated discussions with Mark Malloch Brown, the Chairman of the United Nations Development Group and UNDP Administrator, on details of how the new DPI field presence could take full advantage of the Resident Coordinator system.

Unlike the model employed in Western Europe, the developing country model would not consist of one large hub, but rather several smaller hubs, he pointed out.  To illustrate how the new model could work, DPI had indicated in a very preliminary way where regional information centres could be located.  The final choice of the locations would be influenced by the views of the Committee and finalized following consultations with Member States.  He encouraged Committee members to bear in mind the guidelines and criteria for regionalization contained in Annex II of the report, when considering the proposed location of the regional hubs.

The Department was committed to delivering effective and targeted information programmes, he stated.  Thus, it had developed -– and had submitted for the Committee’s consideration -– the proposed strategic framework for the biennium 2006–2007 (document A/AC.198/2004/7), which provided an overall orientation for the Department.  On the basis of four subprogrammes, it identified the expected accomplishments, as well as indicators of achievement.  It was consistent with the culture of evaluation and performance management now instituted throughout the Department.  It presented a vision and a road map, whose sole purpose was to help make the relevance of the work of the United Nations resonate in the lives and daily concerns of people everywhere.

He invited the Committee to review the proposed biennial programme plan and to provide its comments to the Secretary-General.  The proposed plan, modified as appropriate, would be first submitted to the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC), whose recommendations would be transmitted to the Assembly at its fifty-ninth session, when it would consider the proposed strategic framework for the biennium 2006-2007.

According to an old African proverb, he said, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time to plant a tree is today”.  While reform was not, strictly speaking, a tree-planting exercise, the care and attention it required were no less demanding.  “The ‘tree’ that we have planted is now two years old; its growth and longevity will depend not only on the care we provide but also on the support you give us.” 

The Committee’s recommendations, he said, would be critical for the Secretary-General’s reform process to continue and ultimately reach its goals.  He believed that the Committee would draw the right conclusions, however difficult or politically challenging they might be.  After all, as the great Roman philosopher-writer Seneca once said, “it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult”.

Statements by Delegations

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing nations and China, said the Department had assumed the important task of projecting the United Nations image to the public, of explaining its role and showing the impact of its actions.  The Committee was crucial to ensuring the dissemination of information on a wider scale and in a balanced way.  The Group hoped that the restructured and reactivated DPI would be able to elaborate coherent communication strategies to that effect.

He said the challenge of DPI was not only to ensure a wider outreach of the communication strategies, but also to contribute to the concretization of the United Nations goals and objectives as set out in the Millennium Declaration and in the Medium-Term Plan.  The work of DPI would, therefore, be guided to achieving those goals, including promoting priority development issues, such as poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, dialogue among civilizations and cultures and the needs of the African countries.

The United Nations Information Centres played a significant role in disseminating information and in promoting public awareness of and mobilizing support for the Organization’s work, he stressed.  The Group had taken note of the Secretary-General’s report on the rationalization of the network of UNICs and believed that it was premature to present proposals on further regionalization.  Enough time should be given to examining the results and possible added value of the creation of the Western European hub before presenting any new proposals, which should take into account, among other things, the existing differences in information technology and communications between Western Europe and other regions of the developing world.  He emphasized the need to allocate adequate resources for the effective functioning and strengthening of the UNICs of developing countries.

He said the Group welcomed the holding of the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society and looked forward to the second phase in Tunis to be held from 16 to 18 November 2005.  The Tunis phase should come up with concrete initiatives at all levels to bridge the digital divide and to place information and communications technologies (ICTs) at the service of development.  He hoped that all stakeholders would be represented at the highest level.  The United Nations should play a central role in the Summit’s preparatory process and in the Summit itself.  He called on DPI to contribute to raising the international community’s awareness of the Summit’s importance and the need to join efforts to make it a success.

The Group expressed its support for the work to strengthen the United Nations Web sites in all official languages, he said.  The main goal should be the achievement of equality in presenting information on the Web sites in all other languages.  In that regard, the Group was deeply concerned at the increasing gap among Web sites in different official languages.  More resources should be allocated to achieving equality among all official languages in order to bridge the gap, taking into account the specificity of some official languages which used non-Latin and bi-directional scripts.  In that context, he reaffirmed Assembly resolution 58/270, which requested the Secretary-General to strengthen its Web sites through further redeployment for the language posts required.

He noted the Department’s recommendations for developing a communications strategy on publicizing the Assembly’s work and decisions and encouraged DPI to establish a closer working relationship with the Office of the Assembly President.  The Group also welcomed the progress achieved since the commencement of the reorientation exercise in enhancing the Department’s effectiveness.  The Group noted the result reflected in the first annual programme impact review and requested the Secretary-General to continue to present such reports to the Committee. 

The Group attached the utmost importance to the information policies and communication strategies regarding peacekeeping operations, he said.  The Group was gravely concerned about the “information gap” that existed between the new realities and success of peacekeeping operations and the perceptions the public had.  Closing the gap was one of the ways to “concretize the United Nations goals and objectives” and a measure of DPI’s success.  Coordination between DPI and other departments, especially the DPKO, was essential for maximizing the Organization’s efficiency and efficacy.

PHILOMENA MURNAGHAN (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, commended DPI for its efforts to meet the various challenges that it faced in 2003, as well as its efforts to develop a more strategic approach to promoting global awareness and greater understanding of the work of the United Nations in priority areas.  She urged the Department to continue the ongoing process of reform to enhance the effectiveness of its work.

With a new organizational structure, mission statement and operating model, the Department had the tools needed to carry out its activities in a focused and effective manner.  In that regard, she welcomed the proposed programme plan for DPI’s activities for the biennium 2006-2007.  That should be an important tool in helping DPI fulfil the substantive aims of the United Nations in its task of strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest impact.

She was pleased to see that the DPI’s mission statement echoed the guiding orientation set out in the Millennium Declaration and focused on key priorities such as poverty and conflict prevention.  She also welcomed the Department’s focus on a new client-oriented approach; greater system-wide coordination and the embedding of a culture of evaluation into the work of the Department.  Those three reference points brought a new focus to DPI’s work.

The introduction of a concept of Secretariat departments as clients and DPI as a service provider should make the work of the Department more responsive and targeted.  Also, effective system-wide coordination was essential to develop a coherent approach to the delivery of the United Nations message.  Better coordination also needed to extend to the Organization’s field presence.  In addition, the activities of the Communications Group remained central to having a more coordinated approach. 

She also welcomed the development of an annual programme impact review to systematically evaluate DPI’s products and activities.  The continuing promotion and refinement of a culture of evaluation and performance management should be an integral part of DPI’s reorientation.  They were essential for the success of a large and complex organization such as DPI. 

Regarding the ODS, she encouraged the efforts under way to identify and fill gaps in the System to ensure that it became a more complete multilingual repository of United Nations documentation, and looked forward to hearing more details from DPI on progress in that regard.

She welcomed DPI’s efforts to make the United Nations Web site more relevant, through the use of innovations such as live webcasts of important debates and meetings.  She also welcomed the Department’s efforts to improve the accessibility of the Web site, through the equitable redeployment of a number of posts to enhance the language capacity of the Web site section and to consolidate design, programming and presentation.  She urged DPI to continue work in expanding the Organization’s language capacity.  Recognizing that the responsibility for achieving greater language parity on the Web site should not fall to DPI alone, she urged all programme managers within the United Nations to intensify their efforts in that regard.

In addition, she believed DPI should play a central role in enhancing public awareness of United Nations peacekeeping activities.  She welcomed DPI’s efforts to develop a strategy to publicize new peacekeeping missions, particularly in Africa.  She also welcomed the efforts under way to effectively deploy public information components in new peacekeeping missions, and encouraged DPI and DPKO to further enhance their coordination in that regard. 

She noted that the establishment of the Regional United Nations Information Centre in Brussels was of particular importance to member States of the European Union, as it served as the principal source of information on the United Nations for the countries of Western Europe.  She welcomed the proposed new model for the regionalization of UNICs and expressed support for the implementation of that process to successfully meet the Secretary-General’s deadline for completing regionalization in 2006.  She wanted to see a firm timetable in due course for the various stages of implementation in different regions.  The reform should also be an opportunity to reinforce multilingualism in the communications activities of the United Nations.

The DPI, she said, should continue to build partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to extend the message of the United Nations to all parts of the world.  It should also continue to focus on enhancing the treatment of all six official languages, as well as Portuguese, to meet the needs of an ever-increasing listenership.  Turning to library activities, she looked forward to hearing more details of progress in the areas of developing a common web site for United Nations libraries, further collection development and inter-agency collaboration. 

Reiterating the European Union’s commitment to a free press and its important role in a free society, she strongly condemned the use of violence to hinder the activities of journalists, and attempts to control or influence the media by distorting or suppressing information or opinions.  Freedom of the press was essential for a democratic and open society.  It was also one of the indicators of the transition from conflict to a post-conflict society.  Indeed, it was a crucial tool in preventing the resurgence of conflict.

It was fitting, she added, that the Department’s training programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries was renamed in honour of Reham al-Farra, who was killed along with 21 others in the attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad last year.  Her death, and the loss of so many other talented media personnel and journalists, was a sobering reminder of the cost of freedom of expression.

KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) said there was no doubt that DPI and the means available to the United Nations in the media field were of crucial importance, both for Member States in carrying out their daily business and the world public in the broadest sense of the term.  Information should be among the Organization’s priorities during the reorganization effort.  The rationalization of the Department should not obey mere accounting exigencies, as the Department should be the “umbilical cord” linking the Organization to the outside world.  The absence of the United Nations voice on the international scene would only give additional ammunition to those who wanted to marginalize it.  The Organization’s credibility lay in its capacity to be close to the people.

DPI’s efforts in the last months had been exceptional, he said.  Its achievements were on the same scale as the challenges faced by the United Nations in the international sphere.  In particular, he expressed appreciation for the remarkable media coverage for the important international summits held in the last few years.  He noted with satisfaction the remarkable use of new information technologies, especially the use of the Internet, as well was the improvement of the United Nations Web site in the official languages.  It was the best way for the United Nations to be close to the peoples.  The six official languages must, he stressed, receive equal treatment on the web.

Regarding the UNICs, he reiterated the “primordial role” played by the centres for the developing countries.  He expressed strong attachment to maintaining the Information Centre in Tunis.  Among other things, Tunis hosted an Arab League regional office.  His delegation categorically refused the proposal to close the Tunis Centre for several reasons, including the fact that the premises were provided free of charge to the Organization.  He wondered what was the point of continuing the process of regionalization of the Centres in the developing countries and asked if it was logical to close Information Centres at a time when the Organization was suffering from misunderstanding.  Also, was it logical that the Maghreb subregion, with its specific cultural affinities, be deprived of DPI’s presence?  He appealed for the maintenance of the Tunis Centre, which should be provided with the necessary resources for its strengthening, as the budget for the Centres would be divvied up following the closure of the nine Western European centres.

Concerning the digital divide, all countries should be allowed to share in technological progress, he said.  The World Information Summit to be held in Tunis would be a historical landmark.  Information and communications technology played a central role in the creation of a just and sustainable development process and would help foster an information society available to all.  He hoped the Tunis round would allow for the identification of ways and means to seize the opportunities provided by the new technologies.  He also paid tribute to DPI’s efforts in publicizing the Summit to a worldwide audience.  Those efforts should be further increased as the date for the Summit approached.

IHAB AWAD (Egypt) noted that the consultative process between DPI and other departments was still in its preliminary stage and required more time to develop.  Also, the importance of the work of United Nations country teams in promoting the work of UNICs was clear, particularly in developing countries that benefited from United Nations activities.

He welcomed and encouraged the development of a culture of evaluation in DPI and stressed the need to lay down the required tools in that regard.  He hoped those tools would reflect United Nations activities and policies in the field of information and make it possible to rationalize the use of resources, measure the Department’s performance and amend its performance to correspond to its mission statement.  Measuring the effectiveness of United Nations information policies was closely linked to the ability of those policies to address international crises and to enhancing the awareness of United Nations priorities in, among other things, the economic and social fields.

He requested that African issues and the current crisis in the Middle East be at the forefront of information campaigns to be implemented by DPI next year.  The Department should do so through the increased use of workshops and the audio/visual and printed means of information available to it, to make the Organization’s message clear to those suffering from occupation and conflict.

His delegation had followed with interest developments regarding the United Nations Web site, he noted.  He appreciated DPI’s efforts in taking tangible steps to promote equality between the six official languages on the Web site, particularly the accomplishments in that area on the United Nations News Centre site.  He looked forward to further work in that direction on all sites, including those of the ODS and press releases. 

He had taken note of DPI’s concerns regarding the scarcity of available resources in that area and the link between that and other departments providing documents in the six official languages.  The issue of the equality of languages was pivotal and must be given priority in DPI’s reorientation exercise.  Also, the issue of resources must be tackled with more seriousness in the context of discussions on the overall United Nations budget.

Noting that many in developing countries still lacked access to the Internet, he stressed that DPI’s activities should focus on linking with those people through more traditional means of communication, such as printed materials.  He highlighted the important role played by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library in that regard.

He hoped that the Committee’s current session would arrive at clear recommendations to the Assembly stressing the necessity to enhance resources provided to the United Nations Information Centres.  He stressed that any steps to be taken regarding regionalization should be done in consultation with Member States and, in that regard, appreciated the fact that DPI had held informal consultations with different regional groups on the various proposals.  General Assembly resolutions 57/130 and 58/101 B still provided the legislative framework for linking rationalization with regionalization.

Following the first phase of establishing RUNIC, Brussels, it was now necessary to move into the second phase –- to channel all the resources saved from the closing down of nine national centres to support the information activities of the United Nations in developing countries.  He welcomed DPI’s intention to redeploy three D-1 posts to Cairo, Mexico City and a third in Africa, perhaps in Addis Ababa.  He stressed the importance of considering and agreeing on a time frame in order to complete the process by 2006, in accordance with the implementation of the relevant Assembly resolutions.

NADJEH BAAZIZ (Algeria) said the United Nations, especially the DPI, should ensure equitable access to the benefits of ICTs to developing countries in order to bridge the digital divide.  The development of a global strategy in that regard was essential.  Reaching that objective would require the joint efforts of all countries.  The dissemination of information was an important aspect of the United Nations’ work.  As the spokesman for the Organization, the DPI, which was responsible for providing timely information on the Organization, was crucial.  In that regard, she called for the intensification of the Department’s promotion campaigns.  Given recent political developments, more and more people were turning to the United Nations as a reliable and impartial source of information.

Respect for the diversity of expression was a concern of numerous Member States, she said.  The promotion of multilingualism should be given priority, therefore.  The six official languages should be given equal treatment on the Web site, so that users could access substantial information on the Organization’s work.  The continuation of United Nations radio programmes, which were present in the most remote areas, was also vital.  The journalists training programme should also be strengthened and be provided with additional resources.  The UNICs played a most important role and required adequate telecommunications infrastructure.  Their regrouping should be done on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the countries concerned.

LUIS GALLEGOS (Ecuador) said that the maintenance of international peace and security today was a very different challenge from that of past decades.  The reform efforts of DPI were crucial in connection with the need of the United Nations to adapt to changed circumstances.  There was a perception in the international community that the United Nations was no longer relevant.  That was not the case, and Member States were committed to the United Nations.  That message should be communicated.  The strategy for sending the message was even more important.  Reform was both a response and a new challenge.

Any important reform must not be guided solely by budgetary reasons, he said.  It was important to communicate what the United Nations was doing and extend the “moral voice” of the Organization.  It was necessary to exert greater efforts to optimize the United Nations Web site in all six official languages.  The United Nations was the headquarters of cultures, languages and beliefs, and everything must be done to ensure that documents were available in all languages.

He noted that the growing digital divide was not easy to overcome, and the disparities among States must be taken into account.  He supported the regionalization of UNICs, but did not necessarily support its application in developing countries, in which the majority of the world’s population lived.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.