DEVELOPING COUNTRIES VOICE CONCERNS REGARDING POSSIBLE RESTRUCTURING OF UN INFORMATION CENTRES NETWORK, AS COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE

27 April 2004
PI/1574

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES VOICE CONCERNS REGARDING POSSIBLE RESTRUCTURING OF UN INFORMATION CENTRES NETWORK, AS COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE

27/04/2004
Press ReleasePI/1574

Committee on Information                                   

Twenty-sixth Session                                       

2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES VOICE CONCERNS REGARDING POSSIBLE RESTRUCTURING

OF UN INFORMATION CENTRES NETWORK, AS COMMITTEE CONTINUES DEBATE

Delegations Also Praise UN Web Site, Discuss Question of Language Parity

As the Committee on Information today considered proposals for the rationalization of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs), delegations stressed that a single model could not be applied to all countries, that the process should not be guided solely by budgetary constraints, and that it was important to ascertain the impact of the newly created Western European hub in Brussels before proceeding with the process in developing countries.

The rationalization of UNICs was among the main topics for discussion at the current session of the Committee, which makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the policy and activities of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI).  The Committee will conclude its current session on 7 May.

The results of regionalization in Europe would be critical, stated Brazil’s representative, in designing programmes for developing countries.  It was important to determine whether the Western European hub had made possible substantive savings; in what way the freed resources had been utilized; and, most importantly, if the quality of the information services had been affected.  While the resources at DPI’s disposal were scarce, it was not clear that the best way to save was by closing small UNICs in developing countries. 

The UNIC in Rio de Janeiro, he noted, was a special case in Latin America, in that it was the only one in the region to provide services in Portuguese.  In fact, with the creation of the Brussels hub, it was currently the only Portuguese language UNIC in the world, thus, enabling it to cater to the specific demands of Brazil, not excluding the possibility of eventually expanding those services to other Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.

He added that such services to the African continent, however, would be best covered by the offer made by Angola to host an information centre, which could function as a hub for the Portuguese-speaking African countries. 

Manuel Augusto, Angola’s Vice-Minister of Social Communication, said that due to the specificities of their goals, the African Portuguese-speaking countries both needed and deserved a particular focus as a group.  The rationalization process must be carried out in light of the new challenges facing the developing countries. He reiterated his Government’s commitment to taking full responsibility for the matter, as soon as the decision to host the UNIC in Luanda was reached.

The regionalization process could not be a “one size fits all” process, emphasized Argentina’s representative.  The Information Centre in Buenos Aires, which also served Uruguay, was the “Spanish voice of DPI in the field”, helping to create awareness and support amongst a large public on behalf of the United Nations, both locally and regionally.  A recent devaluation of the currency had allowed greater budgetary savings from the budget already allocated.  The UNIC had turned out to be remarkably less expensive than what it had been two years ago.  It was important to speak to the inhabitants of a country in their own language.

Pointing out that UNIC Tokyo was the only Centre from which the United Nations issued information in Japanese, Japan’s representative stressed the vital role the Centre played in furthering an awareness of the importance of the United Nations among the Japanese people.  Japan was the second largest financial contributor to the United Nations regular budget and a major financial contributor to many United Nations agencies. Such a high level of support for the Organization was possible only with the understanding and support of Japanese taxpayers.

Emphasizing the importance of maintaining direct contact between the United Nations and local communities, the representative of Ukraine was ready to support the integration of UNICs with field offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), particularly in countries with economies in transition, to achieve closer coordination and effectiveness in their activities and save funds by using shared resources. 

Also during today’s discussion, the United Nations Web site elicited positive feedback from several delegations, who applauded DPI for its work to ensure that the site became a cost-effective medium to disseminate information about United Nations activities to the far corners of the world.  Highlighting the successful expansion of the electronic mail-based United Nations New Service, Bangladesh said extra care needed to be taken, however, to ensure that news-breaking stories and news alerts were accurate, impartial and free of any bias. 

The representative of the United States, while commending DPI for endeavouring to achieve parity in the use of the six official languages on the United Nations Web site, especially the enhancement of the multilingual News Centre web portal and its efforts to expand its capacity to provide webcasts simultaneously in official languages, said that multilingualism, as defined in that context, did not equate with universality.  The six official languages were spoken by some 40 per cent of first language speakers worldwide. 

The United Nations Web site was a tool, not an electronic official document, he added.  Given the imminent linkage of the Official Document System (ODS) and the United Nations Web site, he questioned whether the use of the Secretariat’s human and financial resources to achieve language parity on the Web site was justified in light of other priorities as decided by Member States.  To better carry out the basic mandate of the Department, it would be more beneficial and equitable to post on the United Nations Web site the texts of important United Nations material in languages additional to the official six. 

Statements were also made today by the representatives of Syria, Romania, Venezuela, Russian Federation, India, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Nigeria, Iran, Morocco, Yemen and Colombia.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 April, to continue its general debate.

Background

As the Committee on Information met this morning, it was expected to continue its general debate.  [For background information, see Press Releases PI/1572 of 22 April and PI/1573 of 26 April.]

Statements

CESAR MAYORAL (Argentina) said his delegation had been pleased to hear the Under-Secretary-General tell the Assembly’s Fourth Committee last fall that the regionalization process could not be a “one size fits all” process.  The United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), located in Buenos Aires since 1948, was the Spanish voice of the Department of Public Information (DPI) in the field.  It helped to create awareness and support amongst a large public on behalf of the United Nations, both locally and regionally.  The Centre, which served both Argentina and Uruguay, was located in the centre of Buenos Aires, in an area of high tourist and cultural interest and was offered free of charge by the municipality of Buenos Aires.  The UNIC had been able to broaden its public activities, and its reference library was open to the entire community.  It had a complete set of official United Nations documents.

In its work in disseminating information on the work of the United Nations system, the UNIC provided substantial support for the organization of sessions of the model United Nations events, he added.  Some 20,000 students participated in those events.  The Centre also provided assistance to journalists from the radio and television in disseminating news, articles and special reports on the Organization’s work.  In line with the growing interest in Argentina for promoting the participation of civil society and the private sector, the UNIC for Argentina and Uruguay was an efficient partner in the regular distribution of information and reports of the United Nations system.  It acted as an adviser to non-governmental organization s (NGOs) in selecting their speakers and experts.  The Centre regularly organized special events to commemorate activities and provided assistance to NGOs in the organization of their events.  The UNIC also had its own web site.

In discussing rationalization, it was necessary to take additional information into account, he said.  In the case of the Centre in Buenos Aires, which served Argentina and Uruguay, a recent devaluation of the currency had allowed greater budgetary savings from the budget already allocated.  The cost of operating the UNIC had turned out to be remarkably cheaper than what it had been two years ago.  Speaking to the inhabitants of a country in their own language was important.  In that regard, the Argentine Government promoted the linking of the Centre with universities and translation schools so that free translations of entire United Nations documents would be available on the Web site.  The quantity of documents in Spanish was still way below that of English.  The UNIC should have an important role in coordinating that initiative.  He also praised the work of United Nations Radio in Spanish, as well as the remarkable growth of United Nations television services.  The needs of each region and country must be taken into account.

To increase the efficiency of the existing centres, prudent and careful analysis was needed, he said.  It was advisable to wait and see the results of the regionalization process in Western Europe.  It was also important to note that his region was not the same as Western Europe in terms of its geographical size or its access to new technologies.  Any change in the current make-up of Centres would not only impact the headquarters country, but also other neighbouring countries.  Everything must be done to make the information centres already existing more efficient.

TOSHIRO OZAWA (Japan) said that it was important to remember that reform of DPI and rationalization of UNICs should not be implemented simply for the purpose of achieving budget savings for the Department.  Their primary goal should be streamlining the flow of information and making the content more effective.  That undertaking required the efforts of Member States, in addition to the steps being taken by DPI.

The importance Japan attached to United Nations information activities was reflected in the assistance it extended to the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo, he said.  Despite the severe budget constraints of the last few years, Japan had been providing about $200,000 annually as assistance for the public information activities of UNIC Tokyo.  In 2004, approximately $241,000 would be provided, and in 2005, the contribution of his Government was expected to increase to as much as $350,000, which would include the facilities expenses of the Centre.

He pointed out that UNIC Tokyo was the only Centre from which the United Nations issued information in Japanese.  Therefore, it played an extremely important role in furthering an awareness of the importance of the United Nations among the Japanese people.  Japan was the second largest financial contributor to the United Nations regular budget and a major financial contributor to many United Nations agencies.  Such a high level of support for the Organization was possible only with the understanding and support of Japanese taxpayers.

Recently, he noted, some dissatisfaction with respect to the United Nations had been voiced within Japan, and that situation seemed to have been exacerbated by the latest developments relating to Iraq.  Under such circumstances, enhancing Japanese citizens’ understanding of the role of the United Nations had become that much more critical, and the Centre was called on to play a vital role in that respect.

He expressed appreciation for the proactive efforts of the United Nations Communications Group to promote greater interest in and awareness of issues concerning African development, including the information provided on the Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD III), which was co-hosted by Japan and the United Nations last year.  Sustainable development was undeniably the major challenge now confronting humankind, and he was confident that United Nations information services would play an important role in that area.

For its part, Japan was organizing “EXPO 2005 AICHI, JAPAN”, to begin in March of next year, with the theme of “Nature’s Wisdom”.  In that connection, he welcomed the involvement of the Communications Group, which was forming the Consultative Group for EXPO 2005, and also looked forward to the Group’s efforts to draw greater public attention to the EXPO.

MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) commended the progress already achieved since the commencement of the reform exercise.  The restructuring of the Department last year was yet another positive step that he hoped would enable DPI to further improve its delivery in the field of public information and communications and to disseminate United Nations messages by developing communications strategies.  He applauded DPI for the good work done in running and redesigning the United Nations Web site, which had become a very cost-effective medium to disseminate information about the activities of the United Nations to the far corners of the world.  He noted with satisfaction the successful expansion of the electronic mail-based United Nations New Service.

He said extra care needed to be taken, however, to ensure that news-breaking stories and news alerts were accurate, impartial and free of any bias.  The central objective of the news services should be the delivery, in real time, of authentic, objective and unbiased news and information to audiences worldwide.  The DPI should explore full potential of all available channels of communications –- both news and traditional -– so that they could meet the varied and growing demands of users.

United Nations peacekeeping operations had assumed paramount importance against the backdrop of an international era beset with conflict, he said.  In complex United Nations peace operations, information components had a vital role to play in forging proper understanding of the mission’s objectives and capabilities.  The DPI should continue its efforts to strengthen its capacity through development of a coherent information strategy with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).  As a major troop-contributing country, his delegation would like to see its contribution to international peace and security adequately reflected in local and regional media.

The UNICs were the real interface of the United Nations with the global community, he said.  His delegation was not persuaded that the initiatives proposed would strengthen the flow and exchange of information on the United Nations in developing countries.  The UNICs were created essentially to perform functions such as media liaison, knowledge management and outreach to educational institutions and civil society.  Those functions were still relevant to UNICs located in developing countries.  Despite the fact that UNIC Dhaka had been running without a Director for quite a few years, it was doing a commendable job.  He strongly supported the maintenance and further strengthening of the Centre.

While he understood the logic behind the creation of the Western hub, the same could not be generally applied to most of the centres in developing world, he said.  The global media had undergone dramatic changes with the innovative use of information and communications technology (ICT), from which the developed countries had been the main beneficiaries, while the majority of people in the developing world were still lagging behind.  That reason alone was enough to justify the maintenance and even further strengthening of the centres in the developing world.  It was too early to evaluate the success of the Western Europe experiment and its impact on the Department’s work.  Great care must be taken before treading further in that direction, taking into account communication, linguistic and geopolitical realities.  It should not be a budget-driven exercise.  Also, an objective cost-benefit analysis of the proposal should be done.  It should be applied only in countries where operating costs were very high and mediums of communication were sufficiency developed.  He was also concerned at the reduction of the allocation for information centres by some $2 million.

He appreciated DPI’s efforts in the area of multilingualism, noting that they should not be limited to six official languages.  Information had the strongest impact if it were disseminated in local languages.  While the information centres were trying to meet the demand, their efforts were constrained by resource scarcity.  The Dhaka Centre was a case in point.  It was hosting a useful Web site in the local language, Bangla, catering information requirements to some 250 million Bangla-speaking people.  The Web site should be enriched with adequate technical and material resources.  True multilingualism meant promotion, protection and preservation of the diversity of languages and cultures globally.  By its very nature, multilingualism promoted unity in diversity and strengthened international understanding.

FREDERICO S. DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the       19 member States of the Rio Group, said that he was in favour of any reform that could make DPI’s work more effective in disseminating public information and establishing links to civil society in developing countries, which were the ones that needed it the most.  However, it was not clear that regionalization was the best way to achieve that goal.  It was still too early to adequately evaluate the results of the first experience in Western Europe.  It was also not evident that that exercise could serve as an example for other regions, with very different socio-economic and technological realities. 

The results of regionalization in Europe would be critical in designing programmes for developing countries, he noted.  It was important to determine whether the Western European hub had made possible substantive savings; in what way the freed resources had been utilized; and, most importantly, if the quality of the information services had been affected.  In taking a decision regarding the destiny of a centre or its placement, the economy of resources should not be the only fact to be considered.  Most important was the improvement of the information mechanisms of the United Nations, with a view to the greatest possible public impact, in the most efficient manner.

While he understood that the resources at DPI’s disposal were scarce, it was not clear that the best way to save was by closing small UNICs in developing countries.  Upon analysis of the possible reduction of expenses generated by the closing down of a UNIC, the amount of saving should be considered in comparison with the amount that would be necessary to improve its functioning.  The improvement in the quality of services intended with the expansion of the regionalization process could be much greater if, instead of closing small UNICs, one were to restructure them with more resources, freed by the rationalization and consolidation of large UNICs in the developed world, a process which offered the possibility of greater savings.

Highlighting the importance of multilingualism, he stressed the need to make all documents on the United Nations Web site available in the six official languages.  He also emphasized the need to double efforts so the Web site would be made accessible to persons with disabilities.  He encouraged the DPI to systematically request the various offices to present their subject matter in accessible formats.

With regard to the information component of peacekeeping operations, he noted with concern the gap that existed between public perceptions and current reality, as indicated in the Secretary-General’s report.  The preparation and dissemination of a message on United Nations peacekeeping operations must be part of DPI’s priorities and must be undertaken utilizing all available resources, in an opportune manner and within close and effective coordination with the principal actors involved.

DAVID A. TRAYSTMAN (United States), noting that 3 May was World Press Freedom Day, said a cornerstone of American democracy was freedom of the press.  A free press was fundamental for true democracy.  In his address to the Second Committee last year, the Under-Secretary-General had noted that the Secretary-General’s confidence that the World Summit on the Information Society would reaffirm the universality of press freedom through all media, as envisioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He was gratified to note that the international community, in the Declaration of Principles adopted at the Summit in December, had reaffirmed article 19 as an essential foundation of the information society.

He commended DPI for assuming a leadership role in the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries and for leading the way towards improving coordination of the United Nations Libraries.  Now that the Steering Committee had completed its organizational phase, he looked forward to the achievement of concrete results that would enable United Nations system libraries to more efficiently meet the needs of their diverse clientele.  While impressed with the wide range of subjects being considered by the Steering Committee, he said the report did not refer to the setting of deadlines or to the establishment of time frames.  How would the Steering Committee ensure that its programme of work would be pursued in a timely manner? he asked.

On the question of the regionalization of the UNIC system, he commended the Under-Secretary-General and the EuropeanUnionmemberStates for reaching an agreement to close nine information centres in Western Europe and to consolidate them in a new Regional United Nations Information Centre (RUNIC) in Brussels.  United Nations system officers were maintained in over 170 countries, and several United Nations agencies each maintained offices in more than 120 countries worldwide.  He asked the Department to circulate a paper listing the existing United Nations houses and United Nations system offices in the countries currently hosting information centres.

The Secretariat, in three reports, including this year’s progress report on the rationalization of the network of UNICs, had convincingly explained the need to reorganize the information centre system.  In short, the Secretary-General, as the chief administrative officer of the Organization, and the Department’s experts had decided that reorganizing the information centre system was a priority activity.  The Committee should not tie their hands, but work with them to effect the long-overdue reorganization.  The United States looked forward to the completion of the process within the three-year time frame set out in the Secretary-General’s reform report, with the end result being the creation of an information system that would better meet the needs of all Member States.

He also commended the Department for adopting a client-oriented approach in its interactions with other Secretariat departments.  He was especially pleased to note that formal working relationships had been established with 24 clients and that 30 communications strategies were concluded with other Secretariat departments.  His delegation was pleased to note that the DPI had completed its first annual programme impact review and that it had formulated 170 performance indicators.

It appeared that performance indicators pertaining to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library only covered user services.  He asked whether performance indicators had been developed which would aid in the assessment of the Library’s technical operations, such as indexing and cataloguing.  Also, had such indicators been developed to assist in the evaluation of the Library’s involvement in the Steering Committee? he asked.

He noted that the Official Document System (ODS) would be made freely available to the public during the fourth quarter of the year through its integration with the United Nations Web site.  He commended the Department and the Information Technology Services Division of the Office of Central Support Services for working towards that important goal and for enabling searches of the ODS to be conducted in the six official languages.  While commending DPI for endeavouring to achieve parity in the use of the six official languages on the United Nations Web site, especially the enhancement of the multilingual News Centre web portal and its efforts to expand its capacity to provide webcasts simultaneously in official languages, multilingualism, as defined in that context, did not equate with universality.  The six official languages were spoken by some 40 per cent of first language speakers worldwide.

The United Nations Web site was a tool, not an electronic official document, he added.  Given the imminent linkage of the ODS and the United Nations Web site, he questioned whether the use of the Secretariat’s human and financial resources to achieve language parity on the Web site was justified in light of other priorities as decided by Member States.  To better carry out the basic mandate of the Department, it would be more beneficial and equitable to post on the United Nations Web site the texts of important United Nations material in languages additional to the official six.

He commended the Department for, among other things, the Photo Unit’s timely distribution of digital images of United Nations meetings and events and for closely working with the DPKO in ensuring effective deployment of public information components in new peacekeeping missions.  He also commended DPI for its active leadership of the United Nations Communications Group, especially its role in formulating and implementing joint public information campaigns with other United Nations system organizations.  He also highlighted the Group’s recognition of the importance of global public opinion polls in evaluating the impact of the Organization’s communication efforts.

NAJIB ELJY (Syria) said that the United Nations, in general, and DPI, in particular, had the duty to communicate the voice of the Organization and clarify its objective to all parts of the world.  It was expected to communicate and express the activities, positions and interests of its membership regarding major issues.  Concentrating on issues on which United Nations bodies had taken decisions, particularly the General Assembly and the Security Council, was the fundamental task of information activities at the United Nations.  That included confronting foreign occupation and mobilizing the international community to put an end to it.

He welcomed efforts to improve the United Nations Web site in the six official languages, and took note of the Secretary-General’s report, which stated that visitors to the Web site had increased from 1.6 billion to 2.1 billion in 2003.  That was due in large part to the multilingualism of the site, which served as an effective way to communicate the activities of the Organization.  However, he pointed to the continuing imbalance in the capacities of the Web site in the different languages.  The Arabic site, for example, required further improvement so it might satisfy the needs of Arabic-speaking visitors, whose numbers had increased by 126 per cent.

The Department, he said, should ensure full parity between the six official languages through providing further human and financial resources and their use in the six Web sites, according to the specificities of each language.  He also pointed out that parity between the six official languages was the appropriate way to implement the principles of multilingualism.  The information technology infrastructure in the United Nations and its applications did not serve multilingualism in the Organization.  That required efforts to introduce applications and technology that were friendly to all official languages.

He stressed the utmost importance of UNICs, especially in developing countries, in communicating the message of the Organization and clarifying its role.  He also noted the increased partnerships between DPI and various media, the private sector and NGOs in communicating the United Nations message.  While he supported that effort, he expressed concern because such partnerships might be in favour of outside media whose willingness to communicate the United Nations message accurately was not always clear.

Mr. MEYER (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-peaking Countries (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and Timor-Leste), said he attached great importance to the maintenance and, where possible, improvement of the structure in the DPI dedicated to the dissemination of information in Portuguese.  Due consideration must be given to that issue as the Department proceeded with the process of rationalization.  The work previously carried out by the UNIC in Portugal should not be compromised by the creation of the Brussels hub.

In adopting the criteria for the eventual establishment of hubs in Latin America, he stressed that the Portuguese language needs of Brazil must be adequately addressed.  The UNIC in Rio de Janeiro was a special case in Latin America, in that it was the only one in the region to provide services in Portuguese.  In fact, with the creation of the Brussels hub, it was currently the only Portuguese-language UNIC in the world, thus, enabling it to cater to the specific demands of Brazil, not excluding the possibility of eventually expanding those services to other Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. 

Such services to the African continent, however, would be best covered by the offer made by the Government of Angola to host an information centre, which could function as a hub for the Portuguese-speaking African countries.  He added that, while Timor-Leste’s public information concerns were currently still met by the United Nations presence in that country, it was important to begin to envisage the provision of Portuguese-language services in a future regional hub for South-East Asia, with a view to providing an uninterrupted flow of public information in Portuguese to Timor-Leste.  In all those cases, adequate arrangements for translation of reports into Portuguese should be provided.

Despite increasing technological progress, he said that traditional means of communication, such as radio, remained effective and far-reaching media instruments, particularly in developing countries, where access to more advanced forms of communication was still far from satisfactory.  The Portuguese Community, spread over five continents and comprising close to 250 million citizens, had greatly benefited from United Nations international radio broadcasting.  He greatly appreciated the work carried out by the Portuguese Language Unit, despite scarce resources, and trusted that, as its staffing was increased, such as with the recent positioning of a second producer, it would provide even better services.

SIMONA MICULESCU (Romania) said her delegation fully supported DPI’s important role in providing high-quality and focused information services to the United Nations family and to the wider public.  The Department’s products were well known in Romania, particularly in political, professional and academic circles.  Romania was fully committed to further working with the United Nations team in Romania in order to maximize the Organization’s visibility in the country.  In that regard, the Romanian Government had completed the legal procedures needed to fulfil its financial pledges to UNIC Bucharest, as well as to other United Nations funds and programmes operating in the country.

She said her delegation welcomed the Secretary-General’s report regarding the orientation process and commended DPI for its efforts to develop a more strategic approach to promoting global awareness and greater understanding of the United Nations work.  Romania also welcomed the now completed restructuring of DPI and supported the proposed strategic framework for 2006-2007.  She was pleased to recognize in DPI’s mission statement the historic goals of the Millennium Declaration in the field of economic growth, social and human development.

As a troop-contributing country, Romania attached particular importance to DPI’s activities aimed at enhancing public awareness of the major United Nations activity, she said.  Her country welcomed the Department’s strategic efforts to publicize new peacekeeping missions and encouraged it to further enhance its coordination with the DPKO in that regard. 

The rationalization of the network of UNICs around regional hubs was a matter of particular interest to Romania, she said.  She supported the principles outlined in the Secretary-General’s report and, as a future European Union member, welcomed the establishment of the RUNIC in Brussels.  Regarding the further implementation of the process, she stressed the need to consider the cultural and linguistic characteristics of each region.  Noting the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, she underscored the importance her country attached to the principle of free press and its important role in a free society.

ADRIANA P. PULIDO SANTANA (Venezuela) noted that DPI was trying to ensure that the public in different countries fully grasped what the United Nations was doing.  She encouraged the Department to make every effort to achieve a better realization of its mandate.  One of the indispensable conditions for information to play its role in society was freedom of expression, which was essential for the consolidation of a new world information order.  The Organization would pay tribute to freedom of the press, one of the fundamental pillars for society, during the annual commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.  It was regrettable that in exercising that basic freedom, some excesses were committed.  Freedom of expression and the press should be exercised with total responsibility and in a constructive spirit.

The digital gap between rich and poor countries posed a significant obstacle to better use of technological advances, she noted.  The challenge for the international community was to try to bridge that gap.  She emphasized the need to continue efforts in that regard and to give them greater impulse.  She hoped that the second phase of the World Information Society Summit, to be held in Tunis next year, would be able to give impetus to achieving the Millennium Development Goals as they related to technology. 

Public information of the United Nations played an important part in achieving the Organization’s objectives, especially in examining progress towards achieving the Millennium Goals.  The work of the Committee and DPI should aim at greater cooperation with other United Nations bodies for the sake of better coherency and coordination, she concluded.

B.N. MALAKHOV (Russian Federation) noted with satisfaction that in recent years the United Nations had made a significant contribution to resolving international problems concerning information.  United Nations public information activities were becoming increasingly indispensable, and the demand for them was growing.  Given recent international developments, the need for impartial and broad coverage of the Organization’s work was greater than ever.  The restructuring of the Department was timely.  The innovative approach of DPI’s leadership ensured consistent progress in addressing the tasks ahead of the Department.  He supported DPI’s efforts and called on the Department to keep the pace and firmly adhere to establishing a culture of communication as one of the key elements of the reform of the entire United Nations system.

The Secretary-General’s report, he said, reflected the great amount of work by the Department to implement the Committee’s recommendations.  The adoption of measures already taken had resulted in a strategic approach to communication.  Most importantly, DPI’s structure had been harmonized with the four key subprogrammes or cornerstones upon which all United Nations public information activities were based.  Emphasis on closer cooperation with the Secretariat’s functional divisions had already become fruitful.  He welcomed the fact that the Department’s leadership had gradually started to assess the efficiency of the Department’s efforts.

Regarding the regionalization of the information centres, he noted that the Department had done considerable work in that regard and that the strategic designs of the leadership had started to take specific shape.  He wished the Brussels Centre a good start and looked forward to comprehensive analysis of the Centre’s work.  For the developing world, he believed that the criteria and models developed by the DPI were interesting and well substantiated.  He hoped that the implementation of the regional initiative would be fruitful and, in the end, would broaden the flow of information and information exchange on the United Nations between countries.  He expected that some of the funds saved as a result of the establishment of the new European hub would be used for those centres.  In recent years, UNIC Moscow had considerably strengthened its partnership links with other United Nations institutions in Russia, playing a coordinating role on most issues related to United Nations outreach activities.

Having studied the Secretary-General’s report on the reform of library activities, his delegation supported the launching of the Steering Committee on the modernization of United Nations libraries.  Its impartial recommendations would enhance the accessibility of the Organization’s library services.  He hoped the Committee would be regularly informed on the implementation of specific initiatives.  At the same time, however, he was concerned about insufficient funds by the participating libraries and the Steering Committee to ensure the successful implementation of the proposed reorganization. 

He said the Department’s adherence to the principle of multilingualism, development of the United Nations Web site and its commitment to further improving the Web site deserved positive assessment.  He was pleased that some of the funds saved due to the establishment of the integrated information centres were to be allocated for the development of the multilingual United Nations Web site.  He noted the successful functioning of the Russian version of the Web site and of the recently established United Nations News Centre in Russian.  He welcomed DPI’s efforts to radically change the United Nations Chronicle.  He also welcomed the United Nations effort to consolidate the Organization’s communication capacity and to ensure that all United Nations institutions spoke with one voice.  The activity of the United Nations Communications Group had already made a significant contribution.

The Department’s efforts to enhance the United Nations capacity to provide information for the media were timely, he said.  The daily verbatim records of press briefings by the Spokesman, together with the news bulletin, press releases and the e-mail service, formed a solid foundation that could be used by national information agencies.  United Nations Radio could serve as an example of the multilingualism in United Nations activities.  The project was one of the Department’s most successful innovations.  The DPI was facing crucial and complex tasks.  His delegation was ready to constructively cooperate in the interest of improving United Nations information mechanisms.

VIJAY K. NAMBIAR (India) said that given the key role played by UNICs, their proposed reconfiguration to make the most cost-effective use of scarce resources assumed paramount importance.  He expressed serious concern over the fact that the resources freed up from the shutting down of the UNICs in Western Europe had not been fully released.  Also, he requested that a status report on the functioning of the RUNIC in Brussels be made available to the Committee next year, before considering the question of extending the model to other regions.  He emphasized that no single model could be successfully applied to all regions of the world and welcomed the fact that the Department intended to tailor the regional concept to the geographical, cultural and linguistic characteristics of each region.

He welcomed the steps taken by DPI to increase its involvement in the planning stage of new or expanding peacekeeping operations, as well as the deployment of public information components in new missions.  At the same time, he was disappointed to learn that public perceptions of peacekeeping were lagging behind the new realities and success of multidimensional complex peacekeeping operations, especially in Africa, which was presently experiencing a surge.  He called on DPI and the DPKO to work in closer tandem to bridge that “information gap”.  There was now, more than ever, a need to develop a comprehensive public information strategy on peacekeeping operations to ensure “the greatest public impact”.

He highlighted two relevant aspects regarding the continuing promotion of a culture of evaluation and performance management.  First, data collection, valuable as it was to any evaluation exercise, could not be the only index of performance management.  There must simultaneously be emphasis on data analysis and possible adaptation of that analysis to improve the system.  That should be done on a continuous basis and be an integral part of the new approach.  Secondly, the emphasis on data collection and analysis should not be to the detriment of the day-to-day work of programme managers.  If the right balance was not maintained, any advantage that might be gained from the process risked being nullified.

He also welcomed the establishment of the United Nations News Centre in all official languages, which was a promise made last year.  At the same time, he reiterated that that emphasis on new technology should not be at the expense of more traditional means of communication, which were still the main source of information in most developing countries.  While enhancing non-traditional means, DPI should continue to reach out by utilizing traditional media, print, radio and television, especially through local languages.

MANUEL AUGUSTO, Vice-Minister of Social Communication of Angola, said that one of the biggest problems facing the developing countries was the limited availability of resources to help support the existence of broad, democratic and balanced information services.  Access to modern ICTs had polarized the world into two groups -- those who were connected and those who were isolated.  A viable solution for making modern technology available to all was the implementation of the new information and communication world order as declared by the Assembly in 1979.  The translation of that project into concrete results would help balance the relationship between developed and developing countries in terms of technological capabilities.

Addressing the rationalization of the United Nations Information Centres, he said that due consideration must be given to the issue as the process moved forward.  He thanked the Under-Secretary-General for the reference in the Secretary-General’s report of Angola’s offer to host the UNIC for the African Portuguese-speaking countries in Luanda.  Due to the specificities of their goals, the African Portuguese-speaking countries both needed and deserved a particular focus as a group.  The rationalization process must be carried out in light of the new challenges facing the developing countries.  He reiterated his Government’s commitment to taking full responsibility for the matter, as soon as the decision to host the UNIC in Luanda was reached.

Freedom of the press, which would be celebrated on 3 May, was one of the most important pillars of a democratic society under the rule of law, he said.  Freedom of the press was closely linked to sustainable socio-economic development and was a valuable tool to ensure the exercise of the fundamental rights and liberties of the people.  Freedom of the press, speech and thought and the democratization of the media were important political priorities for his Government as it endeavoured to consolidate the peace.  His delegation encouraged the Department to continue its efforts for improving the ICT capabilities around the world.  The Assembly had an important role to play in providing DPI with the adequate operational resources.

MOON TAE-YOUNG (Republic of Korea) said that, while recognizing that the task of regionalization of the UNICs would not be easy, he believed that initiative should be based on the guidelines and criteria for the selection of regional hubs already agreed on by Member States.  Discussions on regional hubs must be carried out in a transparent and democratic manner.  In particular, those discussions must take into account the concerns of Member States located in the surrounding area of the regional hub.

According to the Secretary-General’s report on the issue, only 143 of the 191 Member States were covered by DPI’s current field information capacity.  He wanted to know why certain Member States had been excluded from the services of the UNICs.  He was not fully persuaded by DPI’s proposals regarding the regionalization plan for UNICs.  That discussion and the establishment of regional hubs should take into account the needs of each region.  A regional hub was rendered irrelevant if it only covered one MemberState.

He believed that the enhancement of the capabilities and content of the United Nations Web site was the most cost-effective way to improve the delivery of information on United Nations activities to as many people as possible.  He fully supported DPI’s efforts to enhance the Web site’s language capacity and to consolidate its design, programming and presentation.  He underscored the need to provide timely and useful content on the United Nations Web site.  In that connection, he welcomed DPI’s continued and coordinated cooperation with the content-generating offices of the Secretariat.

Also, a new search engine in all of the official languages would make it easier to locate materials, he noted.  However, in light of its limited resources, DPI would not be able to undertake all of the proposed improvements to the Web site simultaneously.  The Department should give greater priority to deepening and enlarging the capacity of the Web site in those major languages that currently received the most traffic.  He stressed that the provision of timely and relevant information in the major languages was far more important than the increase of services in various languages to the targeted audience of the outreach policies of DPI, namely, the media, academia and NGOs.

PAUL BADJI (Senegal) said in most developing countries, new information and communication technologies were still seen as luxury products.  The gap in access to those technologies was still a formidable barrier for the developing world.  The continent with the least amount of technology was Africa.  That was why, in preparing for the second phase of the World Information Society Summit, his delegation appealed to the international community to hold the Summit in Africa.  He hoped that would lead to a strong political engagement within the framework of North-South cooperation.  The promotion of a true culture of communication within the Organization would allow peoples around the world to better understand the United Nations activities.

The Organization should -- with more adequate financial resources -- give itself a more forward-looking and dynamic media capacity, he said.  Senegal supported the strengthening of the United Nations centres in the developing countries as they played a primordial role in disseminating knowledge about the United Nations’ lofty objectives.  He appreciated DPI’s efforts regarding the need to build partnerships among NGOs, civil society, academia and the private sector.  He was also pleased with the remarkable contribution DPI was making to the peacekeeping operations.  He strongly encouraged DPI to continue its support to the different peacekeeping operations and was also pleased to see that the United Nations Communications Group had shown itself to be a highly performing, useful tool for DPI in seeking to set up a mechanism for inter-institutional coordination.  It was fortunate that the United Nations could speak with one voice on the issues it dealt with.

He said he was pleased to see DPI’s special interest for the Palestinian cause.  The Department’s efforts to strengthen linguistic parity were also praiseworthy.  He supported a policy for the systematic evaluation and monitoring of United Nations information activities and paid tribute to the Under-Secretary-General and the Director of Strategic Communications for their contribution to making audible the voice of the world.

CHARLES ONONYE (Nigeria) said that reorientation should meet the aspirations of the developing world, which suffered the disadvantage of a continued digital divide.  He urged DPI to use its resources and expertise to correct that bias by assisting the developing countries’ advance in information technology.  Also, he welcomed the arrangement that had made it possible for the heads of UNICs to become full-fledged members of the United Nations country teams in developing countries.

He noted the continued growth of United Nations radio and television services and its educational outreach service, which had been enhanced through innovative electronic communication.  Radio remained the cheapest and the most accessible means of communication in his subregion.  The Department’s broadcasting arrangement with the Federal Radio Cooperation of Nigeria retained a record number of listeners of not less than 50 million, the largest in Africa.  He urged that necessary funds be made available to DPI to sustain that project.

With the successful establishment of the Western European information hub in Brussels, he looked forward to the same in Africa.  He welcomed the suggestion to maintain a physical presence of DPI in each country that had previously hosted a centre.  That would supplement the outreach capacity of any regional hub that might be established.  He looked forward to holding further discussion with DPI on the proposed hub to be located in Abuja and pledged his support to make the Abuja hub operational and effective.

HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) said the Department’s mission was to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the Organization’s activities.  As the United Nations image was projected by DPI, the Department should demonstrate the difficulties and challenges facing the Organization.  The Department’s role in disseminating information on issues of direct impact to human life was of great importance.  The dissemination of information on issues, such as international and regional peace and security, terrorism, human rights, poverty and development, was imperative.  DPI’s role in today’s monopolized media was crucial for bringing the facts to people around the world.  In a world dominated by the known mass media, the United Nations media should be strengthened.

The DPI, as well as its affiliated bodies, including the information centres, should play a significant role in disseminating information and mobilizing support for the Organization’s work, he said.  He hoped that the restructured DPI would be able to elaborate coherent communication strategies to that effect.  He welcomed progress in implementing the regionalization initiative in Western Europe and in other high-cost developed countries.  Due to the differences between the developed and developing world, however, the proposed strategy and modalities for the implementation of that initiative in the developing world seemed to be inappropriate and inapplicable.  The rationalization of the information centres should not negatively affect the flow of information into and within developing countries.

It was obvious that the main engine for rationalizing the network of United Nations information centres around regional hubs was lack of financial resources, he said.  Financial shortcomings could not justify the rationalization to close information centres in the developing countries.  The regionalization process should lead to freeing the resources in the high-cost developed countries.  Adequate resources should, moreover, be allocated for the effective functioning of UNICs in developing countries.

While his delegation appreciated the creation of a United Nations Web site on dialogue among civilizations, he believed that DPI should provide the necessary support for disseminating information pertaining to the issue and take appropriate steps for fostering a culture of dialogue among nations through the mass media.

SOUAD EL ALAOUI (Morocco) said that any reform was only valid if it served people in all of their diversity.  The new communications strategy of the DPI was designed to reach as many people as possible.  In a troubled world, she noted, terrorism had raised a complex set of issues, and the UNICs had a role to play so that public opinion could be better informed of the role of the United Nations.  She was concerned about the counter-productive effect of closing down UNICs on DPI’s massive information dissemination effort.

The digital divide, she said, could only be closed with the presence of the requisite political will, which was referred to in Africa as “digital solidarity”.  She hoped that the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held next year in Tunis, would be able to make a major contribution to promoting access to technology to all.  Noting that Africa had suffered the most in the past 25 years, she asked DPI to think about interaction with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Africa to strengthen action for Africa.

Also, the tragic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had called for an information strategy to help put an end to the Palestinian tragedy and put the peace process back on track.  She was pleased to note the seminar organized by DPI in Seville last year in that regard.  It was necessary to strengthen the Special Information Programme on Palestine.

She also highlighted the need to implement the principle of linguistic parity on the United Nations Web site, to enable broader dissemination of information on the work of the Organization.  She welcomed the initiatives taken by DPI to assist peacekeeping missions, particularly those related to devising information strategies on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.  She hoped that DPI, in its communications strategy, would continue to highlight the multidimensional aspects of peacekeeping missions.

MOHAMED ALI SALEH ALNAJAR (Yemen) noted that the Department’s progress was in great part due to the experience and leadership of its Under-Secretary-General.  His delegation depended on DPI activities for informing the world public on issues of common concern to all humanity and for enhancing harmony and cooperation through the establishment of specific mechanisms to promote dialogue among civilizations and cultures.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on the regionalization, in particular, the importance of maintaining the UNIC in Sanaa.  That Centre played an important role in making the region aware of the United Nations’ noble principles and in informing the Secretariat of new regional developments.  Free human beings were more capable of making the right choices for the future.

He expressed appreciation for efforts to make public information available in the six official languages.  He stressed the importance of providing assistance for the developing countries, including through training programmes for journalists and efforts to bridge the ever-widening digital divide.  In that regard, he hoped the World Information Society Summit would help in achieving those aspirations.

YURIY KHOMENKO (Ukraine) noted that there were differences of opinion on the United Nations Web site.  He was pleased to see that DPI did its best within limited resources to enhance the Web site in all the official languages of the Organization.  He supported the Department’s efforts towards the establishment of an e-mail news service in all official languages to back up the six United Nations news services already in operation.

He emphasized the importance of maintaining direct contact between the United Nations and local communities.  The information component of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Ukraine was effective, both in terms of presenting a unified image of the United Nations and enhancement of information activities in major areas of the Organization’s work.  He was ready to support the integration of UNICs with UNDP field offices, particularly in countries with economies in transition, to achieve closer coordination and effectiveness in their activities and save funds by using shared resources.

Noting that today marked the eighteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, he said that a reformed DPI should continue its activities to provide objective information on the dimensions of the disaster for the sake of present and future generations.  He expressed his gratitude to DPI and all permanent missions to the United Nations for their assistance in organizing a series of events at Headquarters, including the “Chernobyl Bazaar”, to mark the anniversary.  He also announced a special screening of this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Documentary Short “Chernobyl Heart”, which would be held tonight at 6 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.

ALVARO J. LONDONO (Colombia) said his country believed that the UNICs were a crucial tool in disseminating information on the United Nations system.  The UNICs also helped in making United Nations information topical.  The Brussels regionalization process should not be copied, as there were economic, social, cultural and technological differences between the various regions.  He also stressed the need to consult with Member States first.  His country was wiling to discuss other alternatives for the more efficient use of the centres.  Colombia contributed some 81.25 per cent of the annual budget of the UNIC in Bogotá.

He expressed appreciation for the developments made in the United Nations Web site in recent years, which had led to a more rapid and effective flow of information.  He applauded DPI in that regard and asked that it concentrate its efforts on improving the dissemination of documents of the different United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, in all the official United Nations languages.  He hoped that a spirit of consensus would prevail in the coming days, with the goal of allowing DPI to continue with its important contributions.

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For information media. Not an official record.