Committee on Information
4th Meeting (PM)
committee on information concludes general debate, with focus ON REORIENTATION
OF DPI, RATIONALIZATION OF INFORMATION CENTRES NETWORK
More In-Depth Study Needed
Before Next Stage of Rationalization Process, Delegations Say
As the Committee on Information concluded its general debate this afternoon, speakers focused on efforts for the continuing reorientation of United Nations public information and communications activities, including the rationalization of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) and the new culture of evaluation adopted by the Department of Public Information (DPI).
The rationalization of UNICs was, once again, at the forefront of discussions today. While welcoming the establishment of the Western European regional hub in Brussels, several delegations stressed that the case of developing countries should be viewed from a different perspective, considering the social and cultural diversities, as well as the technology and infrastructure gaps, among them. It was agreed that more in-depth study must be done before embarking on the next stage of the regionalization process.
Israel’s representative regretted that DPI had chosen not to establish an information centre in Israel, despite its requests and despite the fact that there were information centres in nearby Arab countries. Establishing an information centre in Israel would serve not only to educate Israelis about the United Nations, but would also to help substantiate the claim that the Organization was indeed objective and impartial regarding that part of the world.
While he was gladdened by DPI’s achievements, he was also weary of disheartening politicization that swallowed many of its initiatives and activities. Israel was still singled out by the DPI in various seminars and publications. He added that the time had come to abolish DPI’s “Palestinian Section” and to put those resources towards the goal of peace in the Middle East.
Delegations also welcomed the intention of the Department to publicize the work and decisions of the General Assembly. While commending DPI’s efforts to better publicize the Assembly’s work and decisions, Jamaica’s representative said further efforts were required to make it more visible to the wider public. That could be best assisted through the adoption of an approach which made the Assembly’s work more attractive and accessible, and augmented by the requisite human and financial resources, including the placement of the necessary staff in the Office of the Assembly President.
Speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), he also expressed support for the new culture of evaluation encouraged in DPI. It was interesting that performance indicators were based on the response of target audiences. While that might be a useful tool to assess the impact and reach of the Department’s work, he cautioned against a reliance on those responses as a basis for any reduction in the services offered by DPI. Criteria other than numerical ones might need to be employed, including a measurement of the impact of the United Nations product on the target audience.
Pakistan’s representative urged equal, if not greater, access to the Secretary-General and other sources of information at the United Nations by the media of developing countries. Media organizations that had based correspondents at the United Nations should be assisted by DPI in gaining much desired access. It would be useful to know how many interviews were arranged for the Secretary-General with the media from the developed world, as opposed to those from the developing world, as well as how much office space had been allocated in the United Nations press gallery to the media from those two groups.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Mongolia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Nepal, Monaco, Belarus, United Republic of Tanzania, Switzerland, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, Togo and Cape Verde.
The representative of Costa Rica spoke on a point of order, to which Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information Shashi Tharoor responded.
In addition, the representatives of the United States and Cuba spoke in exercise of right of reply.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 3 May, to observe World Press Freedom Day.
The Committee on Information met today to continue its general debate. It was also expected to hear replies from Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor.
AYRE MEKEL (Israel) said that the task of the Department of Public Information (DPI) was a straightforward one, namely, to tell the world its own story. Information was the blood in the world’s circulatory system. Modern society lived and died by it, and progress was fuelled and defined by it. In fighting global scourges like AIDS and international terror, free access to information was the world’s best tool. Communication must be neutral and unfettered. It was DPI’s job to be the United Nations information circulatory system. Often, it was successful in that task. He applauded the work done this year by DPI to facilitate substantive issues, such as the peacekeeping missions in Africa and efforts to raise the profile of the campaign for the Millennium Development Goals.
Israel viewed with interest the plans made and actions taken towards the rationalization of the network of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs), he said. The decision to establish different models for the information hubs situated in developing countries from those based elsewhere made sense. Accommodating those centres to the social conditions in which they were situated was an imperative of logic. Nuances in local societies demanded nuances in global information. He regretted, however, that DPI had chosen not to establish an information centre in Israel, despite its requests, and despite the fact that there were information centres in nearby Arab countries. Establishing an information centre in Israel would serve not only to educate Israelis about the United Nations, but would also to help substantiate the claim that the Organization was indeed objective and impartial regarding that part of the world.
Israel commended the efforts directed towards the continuing reorientation in public information and communications, the increasingly effective United Nations Web site and the modernization of the United Nations library system, he said. A vast amount of progress had been made in reorganizing and making better use of communication logistics at its disposal. DPI’s modernization was significant. The medium, however, was not always the message. While DPI’s mandate was one of fairness and international neutrality, it was regularly steered by the voices and interests of certain groups of States.
While Israel was gladdened by DPI’s achievements, it was also weary of disheartening politicization that swallowed many of its initiatives and activities, he said. It was unjust and inappropriate for DPI’s conferences, summits and reports to push the narrow political objectives of certain Member States. It was wrong and misguided for the DPI to allow individual States to be repeatedly and unwarrantedly singled out in its documents and forums. The DPI should provide a system for the free flow of unbiased information. Any deviation from that path was detrimental to the DPI, the United Nations and the world community.
Israel, he said, was disappointed that it was still singled out by the DPI in various seminars and publications. While he recognized the Under-Secretary-General’s efforts to make seminars and materials more objective, Israel continued to be the only MemberState that was singled out for unfair treatment. The time had come to abolish the “Palestinian Section” and to instead put those resources towards the goal of peace in the Middle East. Also, his delegation was disheartened by the fact that among its many staff members, DPI did not have even one Israeli employee.
The United Nations’ status as a neutral and positive force on the world stage depended upon its use of information, and its use of information depended upon the DPI, he said. Israel urged the Department to be aware of all that was at stake. The DPI and the United Nations, in general, should make sure that its officials treated Member States fairly. That was not always the case. Earlier in the week, Israel had been compelled to send a letter to the Secretary-General in protest of recent anti-Israeli statements by a senior United Nations official.
By combating biased information of all kinds in the world’s communication matrix, the DPI could lead the march towards harmony within its own sphere of influence, he said. In a period of rapid change, both in information technology and in the world’s geopolitical structure, DPI stood at the nexus of those forces and was in a position to influence how they interacted. Regarding the struggle against anti-Semitism, DPI had made modest progress, but it was not enough. In that regard, DPI must work to educate against hatred and against the provocation to hate. Incitement was endemic and rampant throughout the world. The DPI should act to counter that negative force in the world today.
BAATAR CHOISUREN (Mongolia) said he appreciated the new strategic direction adopted by DPI, namely, a client-oriented approach, a greater system-wide coordination and a culture of evaluation. He was pleased to note the Department had formulated 170 performance indicators, which would enable programme managers to assess their activities, and had completed its first annual programme impact review.
He applauded DPI for its successful redesigning of the United Nations Web site, a cost-effective medium for information dissemination. He found the Official Document System (ODS) an important and reliable source of reference for official United Nations documents. Making the ODS system freely available would further enhance that service.
While endorsing the rationalization of UNICs around a regional hub, he stressed that the special needs of the developing countries should be kept in mind in the restructuring. Also, rationalization should be implemented in close consultation and cooperation with concerned Member States. The hub in Western Europe had just been put into operation, and it would be some time before a concrete evaluation of its success and impact on the Department’s work could be made
KIM CHANG GUK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said that information and communications technology (ICT) was reflecting the inequitable international economic relations as it was, and as a result, the disparity between the developed and developing countries in the field of public information continued to widen. He drew attention to existing inequality and imbalances in the field of public information and communication. Certain countries continued to abuse those imbalances, and encroach on the sovereignty and interests of other countries. Some countries were taking advantage of their monopoly of modern communications to distort the reality of the developing countries.
The activities of DPI should help in narrowing differences and establishing a fair and equitable international information and communication order, he said. It was important for DPI to take issue with distortion and ensure increased coverage and dissemination of priority development issues such as poverty eradication and sustainable development, which were of major concern to developing countries. He commended the Department for its efforts for the promotion of capacity-building in developing countries, and the implementation of an annual training programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries. He hoped those efforts would be further strengthened.
FRANÇOIS OUBIDA (Burkina Faso) said the budgetary difficulties facing UNICs and DPI’s effectiveness on the ground were at the heart of the rationalization process. One of the original objectives in the regionalization of UNICs was to apply savings made by closing a number of centres in the developed countries to the centres in the developing world. Developing countries lagged further behind in terms of access to information. Entire societies were deprived of those advantages. The digital divide and the lack of access to the Internet made the already existing ICT obstacles even more difficult. Many centres in developing countries were encountering difficulties in terms of staff and logistical resources. In that regard, the purpose of the reform was to breadth new life into the centres.
There were reasons to fear that the reform would not offer the developing countries much, he said. The idea of rationalization had been seen as a necessary evil for developing countries. Some delegations had said that restructuring should be based on the experience gained from the regionalization process in the developed world. Any integration of other United Nations offices with the centres had not proven advantageous to the developing countries. The proposal to institute a regional centre in Africa and six subregional hubs would require more thinking.
He said the role of the UNICs was to bring the Organization closer to the people. The African centres must be strengthened to enable access to information from a distance. The Information Centre hosted by his country was the only one in the Sahel region. The area it covered by UNIC Ouagadougou had specific concerns in terms of poverty eradication and security. It also occupied a strategic position for promoting United Nations information, including humanitarian action for the Côte d’Ivoire crisis. Ouagadougou was also home to several regional organizations. To allow it to meet its mandate, the Government had made some facilities available free of charge, including TV and radio time. The Burkina Faso Centre played an important role, he said.
RODNEY LOPEZ (Cuba) said that UNICs would play an important role in the diffusion of the just and balanced information the world needed. The rationalization process should take into account the significant differences among regions; thus, a single model could not be applied to all equally. The experience of the Western European hub could be examined but could not be implemented mechanically. Also, a better dissemination of the work and decisions of the General Assembly was imperative, and elaborating a communications strategy to do so would be a positive development.
He said he was compelled to denounce, once again, the aggression Cuba received daily through radio and television from the United States. Out of 18 stations, 15 belonged to organizations that were linked to or promoted known terrorists, who were based, operated and acted in United States territory with full knowledge and consent of United States federal authorities. Twelve of those stations broadcast information against Cuba, the most notorious among them being television and radio Marti.
He reiterated Cuba’s condemnation of that aggression, and rejected the United States Government’s attempt to maintain and increase radio and television broadcasts towards Cuba. His country would continue to exercise its sovereignty and independence, and would continue to adopt all measures to deter those aggressive actions.
MURARI RAJ SHARMA (Nepal) said his delegation attached high priority to the Committee’s work and supported its efforts to promote the establishment of a new, more just and more effective world information and communication order. The Committee should work to strengthen peace and international understanding through the wider and better-balanced dissemination of information. The committee had proved critical in helping DPI reshape its structure and priorities. In that context, Nepal beloved that DPI’s work was very important. There were too many challenges before the Organization and too little resources to meet them. The United Nations had made remarkable contributions in all priority areas and had been the principal vehicle to galvanize support and resources and take collective action to promote common human objectives.
Like all human endeavours, the United Nations was not perfect, and its resources were not limited, he said. It had made mistakes many times. The DPI must do what it could to project a true image of the United Nations’ work. No doubt, DPI had to undertake reforms and improve its efficiency and productivity. He welcomed the recommendation of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) that all field offices should produce annual work plans. DPI’s efforts for protecting the Organization’s image would contribute to the Department’s further improved performance.
He urged DPI to focus on further reinforcing partnerships with governments, as well as on building bridges with civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Department should give priority to building information capacities in developing countries, especially the least developed ones. Noting that the proposed strategic framework for 2006-2007 covered four areas, he said DPI would be well advised to give special focus in its work to the Organization’s priority issues, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. DPI’s efforts to improve services of the United Nations libraries and its depository libraries were appreciable. He welcomed the proposal for the observance of the United Nations sixtieth anniversary with the highlights of the Organization’s achievements over six decades.
Nepal supported the proposal on the rationalization of the network of UNICs with a view to further strengthening and enhancing effectiveness in providing United Nations information, he continued. Resources released from the rationalization of UNICs in developed countries should be deployed for strengthening UNICs in developing countries. Least developed countries should be accorded high priority in the allocation of resources. The presence of UNICs carried symbolic value at the national level and the existing UNICs should not be closed without proper assessment of the specific needs and conditions of each centre. Any change without consultation with the host countries would send a wrong signal to the people of those countries.
He urged DPI to allocate more resources to the Centre in Kathmandu, to strengthen the Centre and make it more effective. He could not accept the proposal to close the UNIC simply because his country had extremely limited access to the electronic media. Indeed, Nepal would call on DPI to upgrade the Kathmandu Centre for several reasons, including that it was the headquarters of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The DPI could benefit more if the UNIC in Kathmandu could be upgraded.
MICHEL BORGHINI (Monaco) said that World Press Freedom Day would, once again, be an opportunity to pay tribute to those who had faced all dangers in the service of objective information and truth. The Internet, the rapid development of technology and the expectations of viewers and listeners had made DPI’s reform indispensable. The Department was the Organization’s “shop window”. Therefore, he supported DPI’s new approach, which included system-wide coordination and evaluation. An example of the new approach was the partnership between DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).
The Department, he said, must contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Goals. In that connection, the strategic campaigns organized jointly with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) should be further expanded. He encouraged DPI to continue work with the media and NGOs so they might reach out to the population, which was the target of the Organization’s action. Too often the media spoke of the shortcomings of the United Nations and ignored the work done and progress achieved. That was where the “UN Works” programme should be pursued further.
He congratulated the Department on the success achieved by the United Nations News Centre and the Web site, whose use was increasing and was an important tool for the permanent missions. He understood the need to rationalize the network of UNICs. The Western European regional hub in Brussels would serve as a test for other regions. The programme undertaken by the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries was ambitious and should be encouraged. He also thanked the Secretary-General for his suggestions on enhancing the dissemination of the work and decisions of the General Assembly.
ANDREI SAVINYKH (Belarus) supported the wide-ranging efforts to detail the United Nations public information strategy. The process of reforming information and communication components was key to the United Nations’ future. The Under-Secretary-General had provided an accurate assessment of recent trends regarding the downgrading of the United Nations’ role in global matters. He, too, was concerned with those trends. Member States must do their utmost to strengthen the United Nations’ role in confronting the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Thanks to an even-handed domestic and foreign policy, his country was not experiencing religious or political conflict, he said. Rather, people in Belarus were concentrating on development issues. In that regard, he called on the DPI to maintain its focus on areas of specific interest for developing countries and countries with economies in transition, including publicizing the results of the Chernobyl disaster. He supported the Department’s new strategic approach and new culture of assessment.
He suggested that the Department’s management consider developing customer clients with the information centres on the ground, as they worked in very specific conditions. A clear idea of what kind of information support could be given by the Department would allow for the diversification of the DPI’s work in different parts of the world. Such work could be carried out within the United Nations Communications Group. The idea of implementing a regional component in the Group’s work would allow for the further assessment of various national audiences. That work could be done without spending more money. He cited last year’s signing on a memorandum of cooperation between DPI and Belarus TV1, which had provided endless possibilities to broadcast updated information on the United Nations’ work. Greater coordination would be needed in that regard to make optimal use of that agreement.
He welcomed regular training programmes for journalists from developing countries and countries with economies in transition. The results of the work on the United Nations Web site were impressive, both in terms of content and in providing language parity. The DPI should continue efforts to develop the Russian language components of the site. While welcoming wider use of new ICT, he stressed the need to focus on the use of traditional means of communication. He was concerned that Belarus had not been receiving basic publications such as the United Nations in Brief in Russian. Producing and disseminating printed matter through the regional offices was very costly. The must do more to prepare original models and send them to the regions where they could be developed.
He supported the basic provisions of the Secretary-General’s report on the regionalization process. Forming regional hubs should not entail, however, a reduction in the physical presence of DPI representatives. His Government was attached to strengthening the information potential of the United Nations office in Minsk. In reorganizing the information work in the hubs, efforts should be made to increase the qualifications DPI field workers on the ground. A very important criterion for the success of the regionalization should be increased financial resources.
RADHIA MSUYA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that approach to regionalization of UNICs should be on a case-by-case basis. She called for the retention of the UNIC in Dar-es-Salaam for several reasons. Among other things, the operational and administrative costs of the Centre were relatively low due to the rent-free premises offered by the Government. Also, the Centre, which included a library, was conveniently located, making it easily accessible to the public. In addition, there was no other United Nations office which offered similar service. It was the only place in her country where one could access a collection of United Nations information materials and publications under one roof.
Given Tanzania’s special circumstances, she said it was unlikely to be effectively served by the proposed regional hub in Nairobi, which was intended to cater for the whole of East Africa. Also, retaining one or two information officers under the Resident Coordinator’s Office meant that the Centre would have to close its library services, thereby denying many Tanzanians an important source of information about the United Nations that they had gotten used to.
In addition, she said, as the use of the Internet and modern information technology was still limited in her country, traditional means of communication were still a relevant method for getting the United Nations message across. That required the physical presence of a viable, functioning information centre. Her Government was willing to continue providing rent-free premises for the UNIC in Dar-es-Salaam. The challenge for DPI rested in supporting the Centre to enable it to better serve the community.
MANSOOR SUHAIL (Pakistan) said that the idea of creating regional hubs had served to hit at the most vital part of the information services rendered by DPI. The performance and efficiency of UNICs should be maximized by closer supervision and better coordination. A regional hub was not the solution for regions like Asia, where 3 billion people lived under unique socio-cultural and geopolitical conditions. The concepts enunciated by DPI in its report had obvious flaws and were not conducive for developing countries. The raison d’être advanced by DPI for creating regional hubs was neither convincing nor acceptable. If any UNIC failed to perform at the optimum level, then the solution was not to eliminate it but to identify the problems afflicting it.
He urged equal, if not greater, access to the Secretary-General and other sources of information at the United Nations by the media of developing countries. For media organizations that had based correspondents at the United Nations, access should be facilitated by DPI. It would be useful to know how many interviews were arranged for the Secretary-General with the media from the developed world, as opposed to those from the developing world. Also, how much office space had been allocated in the United Nations press gallery to the media from the developed world, as opposed to those from the developing world?
He encouraged DPI to extend support to the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Scholarship Fund, which sponsored journalists from the developing world to come to Headquarters to report during the General Assembly session, that would enable it to double the number of scholarships for journalists. In addition, he requested DPI to furnish information about Urdu broadcasts and also requested a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the Committee’s next session on the International Programme for the Development of Communications, designed to strengthen the communication capacities of developing countries.
RUDOLF CHRISTEN (Switzerland) said the Department had done a good job, often under difficult circumstances during the last year. He also noted with satisfaction that DPI had made progress in implementing its reforms, notably its new client-oriented approach. That positive approach must allow for the establishment of closer ties between the public and the Organization by making its actions and policies more comprehensible. He was also pleased that the use of modern communications means had been introduced while noting that the more traditional means of information, such as radio, remained indispensable.
Regarding the rationalization of the network of United Nations Information Centres, he said his delegation would follow with interest the evaluation of the results achieved by the opening of the first regional hub in Brussels. He noted that the regionalization of the centres in Europe had not affected the information services in Geneva and Vienna. In pursuing the rationalization process, the conditions specific to each region must be taken into account. Dialogue and transparency must prevail in the elaboration of solutions that would be retained.
Concerning the modernization and integrated management of libraries, he took note of the results of the work carried out by the Steering Committee established to follow the question. They constituted a good basis for the realization of the goal of improving the efficiency of the United Nations library system. He noted the fruitful collaboration between the New York Library and the library of the United Nations Office at Geneva, both of which had important and complementary roles. Further collaboration must be pursued, while respecting the mission and budgetary autonomy of each.
SANGA PANGGABEAN (Indonesia) said that, while he welcomed the inauguration of the Western European regional hub in Brussels, the case of developing countries should be viewed from a different perspective, considering the social and cultural diversities, as well as the technology and infrastructure gaps, among them. More in-depth consideration and study must be done before embarking on the next stage of the regionalization process. Existing UNICs should be strengthened.
He welcomed the recommendation to publicize the work and decisions of the General Assembly. Towards that end, he encouraged DPI to establish a working relationship with the Office of the Assembly President. He was encouraged by the results of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in December 2003 and looked forward to the second phase in Tunis in 2005. Bridging the communication and digital divide between the developing and the developed countries was of significant interest to him, because it was obvious that those countries that lacked access to information could not reap the benefits of globalization.
STAFFORD NEIL (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed support for the new culture of evaluation encouraged in DPI. It was interesting that performance indicators were based on the response of target audiences. While that might be a useful tool to assess the impact and reach of the Department’s work, he cautioned against a reliance on those responses as a basis for any reduction in the services offered by DPI. Criteria other than numerical ones might need to be employed, including a measurement of the impact of the United Nations products on the target audience.
Also, he added, any evaluation should take into account that lack of response might be due to factors other than a lack of interest. He urged the Secretariat to consider that when evaluating the United Nations Radio programmes, particularly in relation to coverage in the Dutch-speaking countries in the Caribbean. Regarding the international meeting on small island developing States to be held in Mauritius in August, he welcomed any information from DPI on the communication strategy adopted by the United Nations Communications Group for that event.
He encouraged DPI to consider any further proposals for regionalization in a careful manner, sensitive to the geographical, cultural, linguistic and other defining characteristics of the region concerned and in close consultation with affected countries. He urged that the work of UNICs in various countries be evaluated in terms of an assessment of the impact and presence of the UNIC in furthering the work and objectives of the United Nations. It might also be useful to evaluate the operations of the Regional United Nations Information Centre (RUNIC) in Brussels over a longer period before extending the concept to other regions within the stipulated time frame.
While he commended DPI’s efforts to better publicize the work and decisions of the General Assembly, further efforts were required to make the Assembly’s work more visible to the wider public. That could be best assisted through the adoption of an approach which made the Assembly’s work more attractive and accessible. Such an approach might need to be augmented by the requisite human and financial resources, including the placement of the necessary staff in the Office of the President of the Assembly.
PHILIP SEALY (Trinidad and Tobago) noted that UNICs needed the capacity to interact in a more proactive manner with the mass communication in the various countries. The Caribbean boasted a comparatively high level of literacy. In his country alone, the media industry comprised 22 radio stations, four television stations, three daily newspapers and several weekly newspapers and magazines. Yet too little information was seen or heard in the media about the work of the United Nations. Media operations in developing countries were either already web-ready or taking measures to incorporate the new technologies. Given the plethora of information sources available on the World Wide Web, however, they appeared to be oblivious to the various media services and products that were available from DPI. That led him to wonder if it would be possible for UNIC Directors, as part of their annual work plans, to initiate workshops which provided key players in the print and electronic media with hands-on information about how they could access DPI services and products.
The question of the regionalization of the information centres had become one of the central elements of the Committee’s debate, he said. He had noted the proposal in the Secretary-General’s report to convert the Port of Spain Centre into a subregional hub to serve the needs of the English-speaking countries of the eastern and southern Caribbean and to assign national information staff to Jamaica to serve the information needs of the English-speaking countries of the northern Caribbean. If that conversion were to take place, adequate human and financial resources would be needed to enable one office to cover eight or nine countries.
He said the provision of adequate financial resources for DPI’s field officers was a matter that required further attention by the Assembly. It was regrettable that some $2 million had been cut from the savings brought about by the closure of nine Western European centres. The understanding that had been reached at the time was that the monies released would be used for improving multilingualism on the United Nations Web site, for assisting UNICs in developing countries and for evaluating DPI’s activities. Given the importance of DPI’s role and its field offices in disseminating the work of the United Nations, some ways must be found to restore unconditionally to DPI the full savings of some $3.6 million.
Access to objective, balanced and timely information on global events was a prerequisite for informed global public opinion, he said. DPI’s field offices must continue to play an essential part in the flow of information globally.
KOUDJO OMABABUE NOUDONOU, Minister of Communication and Public Information of Togo, highlighted what the UNIC in Lomé meant to Togolese, Beninois and many institutions of the West African subregion. The Centre, opened in 1962 and headed by the Resident Coordinator, operated with a limited number of efficient personnel who had a lot of experience in communications matters. The Government had provided the Centre with premises free of charge, partly paid its telephone bills and fully bore its water and electricity bills.
The Centre, he said, cooperated with a large number of public and private media, educational institutions, civil society, the private sector and NGOs. The role played by the Centre was increasing every day. The increasing number of requests for documents made by individuals, schools and NGOs in Lomé and other parts of the country, as well as in Benin, pointed to that fact.
The Centre’s overall cost was almost insignificant compared to the activities it carried out, he stated. The Lomé Centre offered a very important institutional communication framework for Togo and Benin. Given the fact that developing countries were far behind in access to information, the closure of the Centre would only worsen the problem of ignorance in the subregion. In light of the numerous services offered by the Centre, his Government invited the Committee to decide to maintain the Centre and support its efforts to better meet the information needs of the people of Togo and Benin.
LUIS DE MATOS MONTEIRO DA FONSECA (Cape Verde) said that significant improvements adopted by DPI in the dissemination of information by the electronic media had made it possible for millions of persons to follow, in real time, important United Nations activities. The quality of webcasts had significantly improved, as well as the web pages dedicated to information. In particular, he underscored the noteworthy accomplishment of the Portuguese language unit of the United Nations Radio and its Web site, which had been contributing to the spread of the United Nations ideals to some 250 million Portuguese-speaking people.
Particularly in the least developed Portuguese-speaking countries, radio was the most effective and more widespread means of communication, he said. For that reason, he commended DPI for its efforts to improve the output of its services. Despite the fact that nearly 250 million people spoke Portuguese, their access to United Nations information was limited, as most documents were not translated into Portuguese. It was important, therefore, that the unit dedicated to the dissemination of Portuguese should be strengthened.
The generous offer by the Government of Angola to host the regional hub for the African Portuguese-speaking countries, including the construction in Luanda of a building to accommodate the United Nations Centre, should be given due consideration. He commended that concrete expression of Angola’s willingness to contribute to the United Nations goals. He also supported the view of Brazil’s Government that the Rio de Janeiro Centre –- the only Portuguese language UNIC left after the closure of the Lisbon Centre -- should be maintained, as the Brazilian population accounted for about half of the population in South America.
He reiterated his support for DPI’s reforms to increase the efficiency and quality of United Nations public information and hoped they would contribute to reducing the divide between developed and developing countries’ access to information.
Point of order
The representative of Costa Rica said he attached great importance to the United Nations, and his delegation had taken an active role in United Nations activities. He wished to put on record its concern at the lack of transparency at which the DPI and the DPKO had handled a report containing ananalysis of communication policies and strategies commissioned by the DPKO from an outside consultant. His delegation had expressed interest and concern about that document. Under-Secretary-General Tharoor had assured delegations that the conclusions reached by that document were incorrect and that the document did not represent the views of the Secretary-General.
For that reason, he said his delegation had, last week, asked that DPKO provide a copy of the document. To his surprise, his request had been denied, not only by DPKO but also by DPI. In other words, a Secretariat Department was denying a MemberState access to a study of particular sensitivity to the Organization. It was essential to have all existing sources of information so that decisions could be made on a serious basis. That need was more important when sources, while not official, had been examined by high-level United Nations officials. He wanted to know why a MemberState had been denied the right to have appropriate and timely information in that regard. He found it hard to believe that the Department that was the spokesman for the United Nations had fallen into that deplorable state. He was certain that the obstacles that had arisen would be removed.
Responding, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information SHASHI THAROOR said the report had not been commissioned by DPI, nor had it been meant for public view. The report had been prepared by a consultant commissioned by the DPKO with a view to fostering DPKO’s own analysis of information strategies. The Secretary-General had conveyed his views -- in a succession of reports to the Committee -- on his reform measures and the continuing reorientation of DPI. What went on in other departments was beyond the competence of DPI. If the delegation had a difficulty with the DPKO report, he should address that department. Should DPKO wish to make the report public, that was its prerogative. The DPI had no say in the matter.
The representative of Costa Rica said that the negative reply was reached in consultation with DPI. Therefore, it had to be assumed that DPI also wished not to have the document made public in the sense of giving it to Member States. It seemed plain that it should be brought before the Committee. During the Committee’s unofficial exchange with DPI, both the Department and Mr. Tharoor said they had looked at the document and did not agree with its conclusions. The DPI was consulted on it and had a copy of the document. He looked forward to receiving a copy of the document, and would also bring the matter to Mr. Guehenno and DPKO.
Mr. THAROOR replied that DPI was not in a position to release a document that it had not commissioned. He would oppose the document of another department being made available as a document of the Committee on Information. He had no objection if Costa Rica wished to request the document from DPKO. He rejected that the report had anything to do with the work of the Committee on Information, and would not agree with one outside consultant that DPI’s model was outdated.
Statements in Right of Reply
The representative of the United States, speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, said the United States Government had steadfastly observed its international obligations, particularly those of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) concerning avoidance of harmful interference to the services of the other countries. For 45 year, the Cuban people had been denied the right to choose their own representatives, to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal, to meet or to organize freely.
Last month marked one year since the Cuban Government’s crackdown on Cuba’s peaceful opposition for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said 75 Cubans had been convicted by kangaroo courts to an average of 20 years of imprisonment for writing web sites based abroad, setting up independent libraries and collecting signatures to petition for a national referendum on basic rights, the Varela Project. Some of them were over 60 years of age and suffered from chronic illness.
The United States continued to feel that the Cuban Government’s opposition to Radio and TV Marti and its continued imprisonment of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience -- including the journalist Raul Rivero Castañeda, who had been awarded the World Press Freedom Prize by UNESCO -- was driven by an underlying fear of the consequences if the Cuban people to receive uncensored information about their own country and the world around them. Simply put, he said, the Castro regime was a dictatorship, which denied the Cuban people their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
He said he also wished to draw attention to the “appalling spectacle” which had occurred at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 15 April. In view of dozens of witnesses, a member of the Cuban Government’s delegation had viciously attached the chief of a United States-based human rights NGO, striking him from behind and beating him unconscious. While the individual lay dazed on the floor, other members of the Cuban delegation had verbally assaulted him.
Following the incident, Cuban Ambassador Mora Godoy had attempted to justify the assault by claiming that the individual assaulted had committed a “provocation”. The United States had demanded that the Cuban Government hold accountable all those Cuban government officials who were involved in the display of violence and thuggery, but the Cuban Government had not indicated a willingness to do so. He condemned the unprovoked attack and viewed it as evidence of Cuba’s utter contempt for what the United Nations stood for.
Mr. LOPEZ (Cuba) reiterated that the position taken by the Cuban delegation in Geneva was legitimate self-defence. The United States representative had said nothing new but sought to attack Cuba’s social system, which had been set up in a democratic fashion. He reminded the United States that the people of Cuba were literate and educated, and had access to the press and to international broadcasts, which were received without any problem all over the country.
The United States representative had referred to “prisoners of conscience”, he said. The persons the United States mentioned had infringed Cuban law by serving a foreign Power, and promoted the interests of a foreign Power. No one in Cuba was in prison for “thought”. They were tried in court, given due process, enjoyed full freedom to appoint lawyers and had public hearings.
The representative of the United States said that the facts of the trial were as follows. Judges and prosecutors in Cuba were not independent. International observers were barred from the proceedings. The French lawyer had not been given adequate time to prepare for the defence.
The representative of Cuba said that the trials were public, and Cuban nationals, but not foreign nationals, could attend them. The lawyers, chosen by the families, were independent lawyers and designated by the State. On whether enough time was given to study the documentation, the United States representative should look at the situation of five Cubans brought to trial in the United States on terrorism-related charges. Their documents had not been made available to their lawyers.
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