12 October 2005


General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixtieth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

7th Meeting (AM)

promotion of 2005 world summit example of how changes in public information

department were paying off, under-secretary-general tells fourth committee

As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its examination of questions relating to information, delegates were informed that the reorientation process, initiated three years ago by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, had fundamentally changed the way the Department of Public Information (DPI) defined and carried out its mission, and the promotion of the 2005 World Summit was the most recent example of how the changes were paying off.

In his address to the Committee this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said his Department now employed a client-oriented approach, whereby it and other areas of the Secretariat worked together to develop information packages and campaigns, creating a “culture of communication” throughout the United Nations.  The DPI was also integrating new information and communications technologies at all levels, and forging new and stronger partnerships with civil society, educational institutions, and the public and private sectors.

Among the activities of the DPI to “till the ground” for the largest-ever gathering of world leaders at Headquarters, he cited the publication of press, kits, briefings, and interviews and contacts with media representatives.  A particular focus of the Department was to ensure that the vitally important development and poverty issues would not be lost in the welter of other proposals.

He added that although initial responses to the Summit’s outcome by many media commentators came down to a “glass half empty”, a new phase of renewal was now under way.  “With your help and support, I am confident that DPI -- the public voice of the United Nations -- will continue to evolve and play an important part in that process.  And that is why I, like the Secretary-General, see a glass half full – and the tap is still flowing”, he said.

During the interactive dialogue with Committee members that followed, Mr. Tharoor addressed concerns regarding, among others:  the reach of United Nations Television and Radio; the further rationalization of United Nations information centres (UNICs); the possibility of establishing a regional UNIC in Angola to serve the Portuguese-speaking public in Africa; coverage of the United Nations reform process; and budget cuts for the Department.

Regarding the rationalization of the UNICs, he said the Department did not have sufficient resources to implement the regionalization plan, a sensitive issue which had been exacerbated by the last budget session of 2003, during which it was decided to reduce the budget of the UNICs by $2 million.  Nor were there resources within the existing budget to finance a regional centre in Angola. 

When the Committee moved into a general debate on information issues, the representative of Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nation (ASEAN), said that the success of an organization depended not only upon the completion of its work but also on the perception of others, in particular the general public.  The United Nations needed a carefully drawn plan so as to communicate with the widest possible audience in the most effective manner.  In that regard, she commended the role that the DPI had played in informing the public about the Millennium Goals, African development, human rights and the global fight against HIV/AIDS, among others.

At the outset of today’s meeting, the Committee approved a draft resolution on the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism by a recorded vote of 72 in favour to 3 against ( Israel, United Kingdom, United States) with 30 abstentions.  (See Annex for voting details.)  The representative of the United Kingdom spoke in explanation of vote, while the Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Julian R. Hunte ( Saint Lucia), delivered a general statement after the vote.

Also taking the floor today were the representatives of Argentina (in his national capacity, as well as on behalf of the Rio Group), China, Israel, Syria, Morocco, Jamaica, Portugal, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, India, Spain, Antigua and Barbuda, Angola and Nigeria.

Statements were also made by the Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, Muhammad A. Muhith ( Bangladesh); its Chairman, Mihnea Ioan Motoc ( Romania); and the Chairman of the Fourth Committee, Yashar Aliyev ( Azerbaijan).

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 13 October, to continue its consideration of questions related to information.


When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to begin consideration of “Questions relating to information”, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the issue (document A/60/173), updating the reports submitted to the Committee of Information at its twenty-seventh session, held from 18 April to 3 May, and covering the activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI) from July 2004 to March 2005.

According to the report, the Department has undergone structural changes that led to a new strategic orientation in its work, underpinned by a clear and coherent mission statement, a new operating model and a new organizational structure.  The Department has adopted a client-oriented approach and has taken further steps to integrate new information and communications technologies (ICT) at all levels.  Partnerships with civil society and with the public and private sectors have been strengthened.  Those changes have been accompanied by a Department-wide emphasis on the evaluation of its activities.  The Department is divided into four subprogrammes:  strategic communications services; news services; library services; and outreach services.

Regarding strategic communications services, the report describes thematic communications campaigns on:  United Nations renewal, including the September World Summit; review of the Beijing Platform for Action; HIV/AIDS; human rights; the question of Palestine; and decolonization.  The needs of the African continent have been highlighted in the Department’s flagship publications Africa Renewal and Afrique Renouveau.  The Department has also consistently highlighted the activities of the Organization, African Governments and their partners in other countries, by placing feature articles in a number of influential national and regional media in Africa.  Those efforts were supplemented by campaigns to promote the work of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa and the Economic Commission for Africa.

The United Nations Communications Group, also falling under the strategic communications services, had since its inception in 2002 evolved into a communications platform for the entire United Nations system.  The report describes several new steps the Group has taken to further enhance cooperation and coordination among United Nations communicators.  With the March launch of UNIFEED, the Department has brought together Group members in an unprecedented partnership with international broadcast networks.

The DPI has continued to work closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to further develop and adjust its global communications strategy in support of United Nations peacekeeping operations, according to the report.  The DPI’s work with peace missions led by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) has also intensified.  Moreover, the DPI has recently drafted a communications strategy to promote the Secretary-General’s approach to counter-terrorism, emphasizing the unacceptability of terrorist methods.

As for the United Nations information centres (UNICs), another part of the strategic communications services, the report states that an initial plan for rationalization of the network of centres envisaged the merger of nine Western European United Nations information centres into the Regional Information Centre in Brussels and the extension of the regional concept across the network of information centres.  Because of divergent views among Member States and fresh budget cuts, a revised plan was submitted in early 2005 (document A/AC.198/2005/3), emphasizing a more regional approach to public information work at the country level.  It proposes integrated United Nations communications activities on priority thematic issues that resonate with local audiences. 

The plan includes proposals for:  some resource adjustments to the current network of UNICs, including a reallocation of posts where necessary; certain UNICs to be headed by international staff at the D-1 or P-5 level; and networking of centres within a given region or subregion to benefit from each other’s relative strengths, maximize limited resources and share best practices, as well as contacts among the media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other partners.  The concept was discussed during a strategic communications workshop for staff of UNICs located in sub-Saharan Africa.  On the basis of feedback from that workshop, the new operating concept will be further refined in the coming months.  Subject to the availability of extrabudgetary resources, similar workshops will be held in other regions as well.

The news services include the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, the United Nations website, the United Nations News Service, and the radio, television and photo services, according to the report.  Since January, the Web Services Section has posted an average of 554 new pages per official language, with an average of 2,040 pages updated per language, and it has created new major sites in the six official languages.  Information on the Organization’s activities was also available on the Web to local audiences in 27 other languages, thanks to the work of the UNICs.  During 2004, live webcasts were viewed over 3.3 million times.  The e-mail alert system for the daily webcast schedule garnered 2,423 subscribers.

The United Nations News Centre continued to gain importance as a focal point for the latest news and related resources on the United Nations.  The number of subscribers to the e-mail news service, currently available in English and French, reached 40,000 in June, representing a 20 per cent increase over the previous six months.  Building on the success of last year’s “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About”, the Department released a new list of crisis situations and important international challenges that often slip off the radar screen of news organizations. 

The Department continues to provide press release coverage in English and French of all open intergovernmental meetings, press briefings and conferences.  Coverage also includes adaptations in French of briefings of the Spokespersons for the Secretary-General and the Assembly President.  The Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit continues to facilitate access by media to coverage of United Nations activities.  In September 2004, the Department issued a new, revised edition of Basic Facts About the United Nations.

In view of the important role radio plays in many parts of the world, the Department has continued to strengthen its radio programming and expanding its partnerships with international broadcaster, the report notes.  Regarding preservation and restoration of the United Nations audio-visual collection, the Department was recognized with the 2004 Preservation and Scholarship Award of the International Documentary Association.  The Organization’s sixtieth anniversary will be covered in comprehensive video content packages.  The report also describes new technologies being applied.  A pilot survey conducted in November 2004 showed that, overall, clients had a positive view of United Nations radio and video programmes.  A larger survey was expected in the third quarter of 2005.

The report goes on to describe the Department’s activities regarding the United Nations libraries and outreach services, including outreach to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and for educational purposes.  It also describes activities in the fields of public relations including guided tours, exhibits and special events at Headquarters and a training programme for journalists from developing countries, and highlights activities regarding partnerships, sales and marketing and external publishing.

A three-year project with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to establish an internal mechanism for self-evaluation through the Annual Programme Impact Review is now in its final year.  Surveys indicate that the Department has managed to meet the demands of 80 per cent of its target audiences.  Another survey found that 96 per cent of users found the customized e-mail services of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library to be very useful.  Journalists expressed general satisfaction with the timeliness of news and media products, but a number of them requested even earlier delivery of materials.  Extensive training has been provided to staff to systematically asses the impact of their work.

The report concludes that the Department employs every available means at its disposal to tell the United Nations story in the most effective manner.  Taking advantage of the new information and communications technologies, pooling resources of the United Nations system in a planned and consistent manner, and building broader partnerships with re-disseminators, including NGOs, civil society organizations and the private sector, the Department has been able to reach more people.  By constantly seeking new ways and means to promote the activities and concerns of the Organization, the DPI has demonstrated its commitment to achieving the greatest public impact for its work.  Member States can further strengthen those efforts by renewing their support for the Department and its mandate.

Also before the Committee is the Report of the Committee on Information on its twenty-seventh session (18 April- 3 May 2005 ) (document A/60/21), which contains two draft resolutions and one draft decision. 

Action on Decolonization Text

Before turning to questions relating to information, the Committee took up draft resolution IX on the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, contained in the report of the Special Committee on Decolonization (document A/60/23).

By the terms of that text, the Assembly would call on Member States to redouble their efforts to implement the Plan of Action for the Second International Decade.  It would also call on the administering Powers to cooperate fully with the Special Committee to develop constructive programmes of work on a case-by-case basis for the Non-Self-Governing Territories to facilitate the implementation of the mandate of the Special Committee and the relevant United Nations resolutions on decolonization. 

The Assembly would also request Member States, specialized agencies and other United Nations organizations, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations to actively support and participate in the implementation of the Plan of Action during the Decade.  In addition, the Secretary-General would be requested to provide the necessary resources for the Plan of Action’s successful implementation.

The Committee approved the text by a recorded vote of 72 in favour to 3 against ( Israel, United Kingdom, United States), with 30 abstentions.

In explanation of vote, the representative of the United Kingdom said his delegation had, once again, voted against the draft, as it believed that there was little evidence that the Second Decade, or for that matter the First Decade, and the resources dedicated to it were of any use to the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

In a general statement after the vote, the Chairman of the Special Committee, JULIAN R. HUNTE ( Saint Lucia) said his delegation had voted in favour of the text because it reiterated the call for the international community to fulfil its obligations to facilitate the self-determination and decolonization of the people in the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The Second Decade’s Plan of Action could only be effective if it was implemented.  The level of implementation remained insufficient.  That was not surprising, given the limited resources devoted to the Plan. 

The work of the Special Committee, he continued, would be greatly enhanced if the administering Powers would cooperate with it more.  The decolonization resolutions could be further strengthened with the resumed participation of the administering Powers in the Special Committee.  The work of the Special Committee, and what needed to be done in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, must never be seen as a waste of resources.

The Committee was informed that draft resolution V on the question of Tokelau, contained in the same report, would be taken up at a later date.

Questions Relating to Information

Committee Chairman YASHAR ALIYEV ( Azerbaijan) introduced today’s item by recalling that the Committee on Information had been established in 1978 to review United Nations public information policies and activities.  In an Organization such as the United Nations, the dissemination of information through various media greatly influenced the impact of most of the issues that fell within the realm of concern for the international community.

MUHAMMAD A. MUHITH ( Bangladesh), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced the report on the twenty-seventh session of the Committee on Information as contained in document A/60/21.

MIHNEA IOAN MOTOC ( Romania), Chairman of the Committee on Information, said that the challenge for the DPI was to communicate the World Summit’s outcome in a clear and convincing manner.  He congratulated Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor for helping media navigate the complex documents presented during the World Summit and for telling the United Nations story in an effective manner.

The reorientation and restructuring of the DPI had resulted in a renewed and more effective Department with a sharper focus, he said.  Use of new technologies had widened its reach to audiences.  Concerns about linguistic parity on the United Nations website were also being addressed.  Today the United Nations mattered more than ever before, and more and more people looked up to it as a common symbol of hope.  The principal task before the DPI was to serve as the public voice of the Organization.  Meeting that goal would require good planning and strong leadership.

Statement by Under-Secretary-General

SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information (document A/60/173), began by highlighting some of the Department’s most recent endeavours, especially those undertaken in the context of the 2005 World Summit.

He said initial responses by many media commentators -- with some notable exceptions -- presented the outcome of the Summit as a “glass half empty”.  However, people were now beginning to realize that the outcome document not only contained language that affirmed the importance of the multilateral system, but that it also included clear commitments on precise steps needed to reach the Millennium Development Goals, as well as agreements to create a Peacebuilding Commission and a Human Rights Council.  And, most significantly, the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, championed by the Secretary-General in 1999, had now been clearly and unambiguously accepted by all Member States. 

Of course, he continued, not everything the Secretary-General had proposed in his In Larger Freedom report had been realized.  The omission of any reference to disarmament and nuclear proliferation and the failure to agree on a comprehensive definition of terrorism were especially disappointing.  But taken as a whole, as the Secretary-General later commented, the outcome was “at least a glass half full”.

The reorientation process the Secretary-General initiated three years ago had fundamentally changed the way the DPI defined and carried out its mission, he stated.  The DPI now employed a client-oriented approach, whereby it and other areas of the Secretariat worked together to develop information packages and campaigns, creating a “culture of communication” throughout the United Nations.  The DPI was also integrating new information and communications technologies at all levels, and now sat at the centre of a series of mechanisms that provided system-wide coordination of public information activities.

The Department, he added, was forging new and stronger partnerships with civil society, educational institutions, and the public and private sectors.  Thanks to Member States’ guidance and strong support, the Department had acquired the tools it needed to respond to the evolving media environment.  It was now better equipped and prepared. 

He said the promotion of the 2005 World Summit was the most recent example of how changes were paying off.  Efforts to promote the Summit had been driven by four core principles:  strategic planning; better use of new information and communications technologies; closer system-wide coordination; and proactive outreach.  In order to “till the ground”, the DPI had launched coordinated efforts to bring the conclusions of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change to the attention of the media. 

A press kit containing the report and its executive summary had been issued; arrangements for interviews with key panel members by major media outlets had been made; and civil society organizations had been encouraged to debate and discuss the proposals.  A particular focus of the Department was to ensure that the vitally important development and poverty issues would not be lost in the welter of other proposals.

The next step, he said, was to publicize the Secretary-General’s In Larger Freedom report, which he released in March.  A series of editorial meetings and interviews with key media around the world had been set up, and very quickly, Secretary-General Annan’s recommendations had become core elements in the political discourse on reform.  A few months later, the Secretary-General had met the press in New York to introduce the most up-to-date and comprehensive statistical accounting on the Millennium Development Goals.  The DPI had published that report in an engaging, powerful, full-colour format, and promoted it in a global rollout.

Then came the Economic and Social Council’s high-level session and the General Assembly’s high-level review of financing for development, he said.  The DPI had produced a press kit that explained how the agreements reached in Monterrey in 2002 had become central to progress on development, and identified the challenges that lay ahead.  Also in June, the DPI had disseminated guidance on the full range of Summit topics to United Nations officials around the world.  It had arranged two days of background briefings by senior staff for a group of influential editors and columnists from all regions.  In return, those journalists had offered their professional advice on how to improve public understanding of the United Nations.

In the crucial final month and a half before the Summit opened, he said, the DPI was confronted by an unsettling prospect -- that there might not be an agreed outcome document on which the next phase of pre-Summit promotional activities could be based.  Despite that uncertain footing, the Department had pulled together a kit that named and clarified key points of discussion, and media outreach efforts went into high gear.  Personal contact had been made with more than 250 journalists, columnists, editors and television and radio producers, pitching Summit stories to the media in all corners of the world. 

Those contacts resulted in some 125 interviews and background briefings by senior officials.  Maximum use had been made of the contacts and capacities of the network of United Nations information centres.  When the Summit actually commenced, more than 3,500 accredited journalists, including some 2,600 accredited especially for the Summit itself, had covered the meeting.

The importance of keeping civil society constructively engaged in the process had also been recognized, he said.  The fifty-eighth Annual DPI/NGO Conference, held from 7 to 9 September, on Our Challenge:  Voices for Peace, Partnerships and Renewal, took reform of the international system as its theme.  In the week preceding the Summit, more than 2,500 NGO representatives and other civil society partners had come to Headquarters, and even more followed the proceedings over the Internet.

He said the United Nations website had been accessed some 45 million times during the three days of the Summit -- compared to 42 million accesses during the entire year in 1997.  More than 180,000 viewers from 175 countries had watched the webcast of the Summit live, and a further 722,216 used the “webcast on-demand” capacity to watch it over the following days.  For the first time, audiences had been provided with the option to watch the live webcast in either the original language or interpreted into English.  The group photo of the world leaders had been downloaded 539 times within four hours of its posting, and more than 3,000 times before the Summit concluded.

Those figures indicated that the website was an essential tool to reach global audiences quickly and in a cost-effective manner, he said.  It was being used by people in more than two thirds of the Member States, so, unlike in the past, its value now extended far beyond the developed world.  It also indicated that people would tune in if there was a way to do so.  Perhaps one could also conclude that the pre-Summit communications strategy had been effective.

Once the Summit was over, he continued, the UNICs had been able to quickly transmit a summary of the outcome document, often in local languages.  They had also placed the Secretary-General’s op-ed article, written immediately after the Summit, in newspapers in 43 countries, organized 25 press briefings, seven workshops, eight press conferences and about 50 radio or television interviews.  That was a clear demonstration of what UNICs could do when they were effectively integrated into the communications strategy.

He said other indicators suggested that public support for the United Nations was slowly improving after the slump that followed the disagreement in the Security Council over Iraq.  A new poll by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, conducted in June 2005 among adults in the United States and Europe, indicated that strong majorities in both places held a “very favourable” or “mostly favourable” opinion of the United Nations -- 73 per cent and 62 per cent, respectively.  Three quarters of Europeans and a majority of Americans consider the United Nations better able to manage many of the world’s most pressing problems than any single country. 

The results of that survey were particularly striking, considering the fact that, in some parts of the world, the media continued to pay little attention to global issues and humanitarian issues, he said.  In fact, a recent report by the Genocide Intervention Fund found that major network and cable television stations in the United States devoted 50 times more coverage to the trial of pop star Michael Jackson than to events in Darfur, and the situation was not so different in many other countries.

He said that, as part of efforts to counter that trend, the DPI had launched Ten Stories the World Should Know More About in 2004.  That initiative, now in its second year, had helped draw journalists’ attention to stories like the humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda, Sierra Leone’s efforts to build peace after many years of bloody civil war and the continuing violence, worldwide, against women.  Those neglected stories had also been made priorities for DPI’s own video and radio programming.  And although celebrity trials drew extensive attention, DPI’s suggestions had generated interest where previously there was little or not.  As part of the Messengers of Peace programme, which was now a DPI responsibility, the Department had recently brought Michael Douglas, Elie Wiesel, Anna Cataldi and Jane Goodall to Headquarters to promote the achievements of the Summit while commemorating the International Day of Peace.

In conclusion, he said that with the decisions of the 2005 World Summit, a new phase of renewal was now under way.  “With your help and support, I am confident that DPI -- the public voice of the United Nations -- will continue to evolve and play an important part in that process.  And that is why I, like the Secretary-General, see a glass half full -- and the tap is still flowing.”

Question-and-Answer Session

MARCELO SUÁREZ SALVIA ( Argentina) asked if the press attachés of various missions could participate in common events at next year’s general debate of the General Assembly.  For the work of the press to benefit, some flexibility for official media was also needed.  Would it be possible to have special badges for the press, especially for those coming to the United Nations with a President or dignitary?

Mr. THAROOR said that he was intrigued by the idea of associating the missions’ press attachés to the Assembly’s work.  He would like to explore that further and conduct an inventory to establish how many missions in New York could have dedicated press attachés who could work with DPI in the run-up to the Assembly’s general debate.  With regard to special badges for the members of the press, he said that while accreditation was the DPI’s responsibility, it also involved United Nations Security.  Thus, he would have to consult with Security, as he did not know if it would be practical.

YAN JARONG ( China) asked if there were statistics on how many articles had been written by high-level officials during the World Summit; to which newspapers they had been sent; and how many interviews had been given, particularly to mainstream outlets in the United States.  She also wished to know how the officials made sure that their articles were published.

Mr. THAROOR replied that the Secretary-General had only authored one article related to the Summit, which had been sent all around the world to a large number of outlets.  Articles from the UNICs had an almost 100 per cent placement rate.  His own article had been given to a syndicate which had contacts in publications around the world, and the article subsequently appeared in 17 different languages worldwide.  The Secretary-General’s article appeared in 43 countries. 

While the Secretary-General did not give dedicated interviews during the Summit period, he himself had given about 15 or 16 interviews a day during the Summit, he stated.  A detailed assessment of media outreach during the Summit was currently being undertaken, at the end of which he would have more precise statistics to share with interested delegations.

RON ADAM ( Israel) asked if there was any data regarding the ratings of United Nations Television around the world, and which countries were transmitting the United Nations channel in their programming.

Mr. THAROOR said it was a misconception that the United Nations had its own television channel.  Time Warner Cable had given DPI the opportunity to put United Nations television, free of charge, on its channel 78, which only reached a section of Manhattan.  The expense of its own channel would vastly exceed the DPI’s budget.  The Department, through Associated Press Television, provided live feed for all televised events in the Organization, which was picked up worldwide.  The UNIFEED, launched in March, was an innovation that allowed broadcasters around the world to immediately access the audio-visual material of the Organization, free of charge.  The Department also produced pre-packaged programmes that were made available on video, such as “World Chronicle”. 

While there was a fairly good pick-up rate in developing countries and a poor rate in Europe, the pick-up in the United States was limited to some channels, he noted.  Some shows got picked up more than others.  Some Governments, for instance Ireland, had tried to encourage efforts to develop United Nations television capacity for Europe-wide coverage.  He noted that the challenges of the United Nations were also special, such as multiple languages and the need for material that reflected the views of all Member States. 

HAYDAR ALI AHMAD ( Syria) asked what kinds of crises the Department chose for its Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About, and what criteria were used.  He also asked if the Department had any views on calls to eliminate or reform the Fourth Committee.

Mr. THAROOR answered that the Department asked every United Nations entity what stories in their area of work were not getting enough media attention.  It would then select 10 stories from the responses.  There were two elements for final selection.  First, the Department would pick up stories that had not gotten much coverage.  Second, the stories had to be defensible to the media as stories.  The stories put forward did get picked up.  They were not only about emergencies or humanitarian situations.  The Department was also looking for human interest stories and good news, such as the winding down of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone. 

He said he took no view on the matter of the reform process and the Fourth Committee.  The DPI worked well with the Committee, and he found it useful to have a second chance to report on the Department’s work, after having reported to the Committee on Information earlier in the year.  The job of the DPI was to publicize decisions taken by Member States, without taking a view on them, except when the Secretary-General put forward a formal proposal. 

SOUAD EL ALAOUI ( Morocco) asked about the status of UNICs.

Mr. THAROOR replied that the plans for rationalization of the UNICs had been on the table for a while.  The DPI did not, however, have sufficient resources to implement the regionalization plan, a sensitive issue which had been exacerbated by the last budget session of 2003, during which the General Assembly decided to reduce the budget of the UNICs by $2 million.  That meant that there were fewer resources than anticipated for the regionalization plan.  The closing costs in Europe had, so far, reached the $3 million mark, he continued.  Closing offices was not an easy proposition nor was regrouping them into regional hubs.

Since the last meeting of the Committee on Information, the regionalization plan had been refined based on feedback from Member States, he said.  In recent months, the Department had realigned resources, reviewed the role of national information officers, and continued to seek extrabudgetary resources and the provision of rent-free premises from host Governments.  It was providing the UNICs with the information they needed on all issues in order to be proactive in their outreach to media and civil society.  The DPI had also thrown its weight behind a new internal Communications Unit charged with transforming the Intranet.  While there had been some shortcomings in the field and not all the UNICs were connected, the issue was a priority.

The Department, he continued, was also trying to improve regional cooperation between the UNICs and to encourage them to coordinate outreach at a regional level.  For example, a regional newsletter had recently been launched under the leadership of the UNIC in Dakar. 

JANICE MILLER ( Jamaica) asked if the new strategic approach to dealing with the work of the UNICs had prompted any reallocation of staff and resources.  She also asked how interested countries could get access to the UNIFEED.  In addition, were there any plans to improve the DPI’s equipment at Headquarters?

Mr. THAROOR replied that the DPI was the “stepchild of the Organization” and was persistently targeted for budget cuts.  The membership would get what they paid for.  With regard to the reallocation of staff and resources, he said that senior positions had been reallocated following the closure of the UNICs in Western Europe, and three D-1 positions had been redeployed to UNICs in developing countries.  However, the DPI was not able to move General Service posts around, as it did not have the resources to do so.

He said the easiest way to access UNIFEED was to use the Associated Press Television Network (APTN), as anyone subscribing to APTN could download it.  If people could not afford to do that, the only solution was to make the material available on the United Nations website, even though the quality might not be as good.  The DPI did not yet have the technical capacity to do that, but hoped that it would have it soon.

On equipment, he said that the Department was hoping to receive some new equipment at Headquarters, but that some upgrades were being delayed pending finalization of the Capital Master Plan.

SEBASTIÃO FILIPE COELHO FERREIRA ( Portugal) asked about the possibility of a regional UNIC in Luanda, Angola, specifically for Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, noting that the Angolan Government had offered assistance in that regard.  He also asked if there could be wider coverage of United Nations radio, as radio was the most cost-effective way of disseminating information.

Mr. THAROOR first thanked the Government of Portugal for its contribution to the work being done by the Regional UN Information Centre (RUNIC) in Brussels in the Portuguese language.  He was touched by the offer of Angola to open a centre in Luanda.  However, the Department did not have resources to open such a centre.  Regarding radio, he said the United Nations did not have a worldwide broadcast capacity.  A live feed was put forward, to 187 stations in 77 countries in a number of languages.  As for radio in Portuguese, he said the Department had established partnerships with three important Brazilian radio stations that reached a large number of Portuguese-speaking listeners.  A Portuguese language programme was also produced for five Portuguese-speaking African countries.  Sometimes it offered special feeds to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Portuguese radio.  However, if there were more resources, more could be done.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE ( C ôte d’Ivoire) said that, from the coverage of the Summit, the public in Africa had the perception that reform issues, such as that of the Security Council and the Commission on Human Rights, had been stressed at the detriment of issues close to their heart, such as poverty, debt and development.  They had gotten the sense that nothing had been accomplished, as the reform of the two institutions had not been achieved.  Their perception was indeed that the glass was half empty.  He asked what the DPI could do now to return attention to the real results of the Summit, so that the people of Africa could feel that the United Nations touched on their problems.

Mr. THAROOR said the comments were convincing up to a point.  In its communication effort, the DPI had also tried to project the development elements of the Summit.  The problem was that the media felt that such issues as development and debt had already been covered in the high-level meeting on financing for development.  For the media, the headline was reform.  Regarding Security Council reform, he said the Member States wanted to accelerate the process of Council reform and the Secretariat had remained neutral on that.  The media had stressed that question to a point that the public could have felt that the Summit was only about that issue. 

He insisted, however, that what had been done by the DPI had succeeded in changing the vision of the United Nations in the eyes of audiences around the world.  One should keep in mind that three weeks before the Summit, the Volcker report had come out, which had damaged the image of the United Nations.  It could be called a success that the coverage of the Summit had somewhat changed that perception. 

VITALIANO GALLARDO ( Peru) asked how the DPI was going to communicate to opinion makers and academics the reform process of the Department.  He also said there was a lack of synchronicity between the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals and their realization.  How would the DPI explain that difference?

RUCHIRA KAMBOJ ( India) commented that while her delegation was disappointed that the rationalization of the UNICs, as originally conceived, could not proceed, it was strongly in favour of the original idea.  She also noted that efforts to maximize resources to carry out that project had continued and welcomed those innovations.

FAUSTINO DÍAZ ( Spain) congratulated Mr. Tharoor for his presentation and for his work in the DPI.  He also thanked the DPI for an excellent course on Internet communication and web pages for Spanish-language delegations.  The course was very useful, he said, and asked if the DPI would consider the possibility of pursuing the course.

JOY-BEE DAVIS ( Antigua and Barbuda) asked what strategic decisions had been taken to improve the workings of the DPI, particularly regarding partnerships with educational institutions.

ESTEVÃO UMBA ALBERTO ( Angola) asked if the DPI was really committed to its proposals for the UNIC in Luanda.  The African Portuguese-speaking countries were being penalized and his delegation hoped that that would end.

FIDELIS IDOKO ( Nigeria) thanked Mr. Tharoor for his excellent statement and for the work he was doing in the Department.  He also expressed his delegation’s concern about the continuous blows that the DPI was being dealt in the budget.

Responding, Mr. THAROOR said that the DPI worked with the New York-based press corps in covering events at Headquarters.  If agreements were reached, the media would report a success; if the negotiating process went nowhere, it would be reported as failure.  Progress on the Millennium Goals was an important issue that was being addressed separately from progress on reform.  The DPI had produced, in cooperation with 21 United Nations entities, a chart in two languages that showed Goal by Goal, divided by region, what the level of attainment was.  That chart would be updated regularly.

He said the DPI was also working closely with academic institutions.  The Department had created an educational outreach section and had signed agreements with half a dozen universities.  Some universities were now offering courses on the United Nations.  The DPI had also been working with the International Association of University Presidents to establish more partnerships.

Turning to the UNICs, he said there had been an evolution in the position of the DPI.  The Department had never moved away from the desire to use scarce resources more efficiently and was always attempting to create regional synergies.  He expected the results of an assessment of RUNIC Brussels, which would be reported to the Committee on Information at its next session.  He stressed that it was not just a matter of doing cost-benefit analysis but also of looking at what sort of activities had a better impact and what had regional appeal.  He thanked the Governments of Spain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Germany and Italy for their contributions to the RUNIC, without which RUNIC Brussels would not have been able to do its work.

As for Angola’s offer to provide premises, free of charge, for a RUNIC in Luanda, he said the concept was excellent and the offer generous.  The DPI was very interested in creating a Portuguese-language network.  However, the operating costs were prohibitive.  The money was simply not available.  There had been a 20 per cent cut in the budget for UNICs. 

In conclusion, he said his first interactive session with the Committee had been a rewarding experience.  He felt it had been an excellent opportunity for the Committee to engage in the real work of the DPI.  He hoped that the Committee had come to an understanding of the opportunities and the limitations of the DPI in projecting the United Nations to the world.  He said he had been moved by the comments of the representative of Nigeria.  “I believe in the Organization”, he said.  The Organization could genuinely make the world a better place.  Without effective outreach, however, that could not be accomplished.

Mr. ALIYEV ( Azerbaijan), Committee Chairman, asked what was being done by the DPI with regard to promoting the Dialogue among Civilizations and the Culture of Peace.

Mr. THAROOR replied that the Dialogue among Civilizations had been added to the DPI’s list of issues, but no particular resources had been allocated to promote that.  The Department had tried to promote it using its own resources, for example by launching a series of seminars entitled “unlearning intolerance”.  As part of this initiative, the first-ever United Nations seminars on anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia were held.  Those activities could be described as a contribution to the Dialogue among Civilizations, although they were not conducted under that specific mandate.

Regarding the Culture of Peace, the DPI’s contribution lay in the promotion of the International Day of Peace, but beyond that the DPI had no mandate or resources for any specific activities.

General Debate

LAXANACHANTORN LAOHAPHAN (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the DPI had been employing every available means to further enhance communications between the United Nations and the public.  The Bangkok-based United Nations Information Service (UNIS) had been playing a pivotal and useful role in that regard, as it served as the information arm of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Information Centre for Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Singapore, as well as Hong Kong.

She said that the success of an organization depended not only upon the completion of its work but also on the perception of others, in particular the general public.  The United Nations needed a carefully drawn plan so as to communicate with the widest possible audience in the most effective manner.  In that regard, she commended the role that the DPI had played in informing the public about the Millennium Goals, African development, human rights and the global fight against HIV/AIDS, among others.

Regarding the rationalization of the UNICs, the ASEAN acknowledged the recalibration of the regionalization plan and encouraged the DPI to undertake close consultations on the matter with the countries in which the existing information centres were located, the countries served by those information centres, as well as other interested countries in those regions.  Continuing, she emphasized that the utilization of advanced technology must go hand in hand with that of traditional modes of communication, as many parts of the world still relied on the use of a simple radio.  She also urged the DPI to continue its work to close the digital divide between developed and developing countries.

Finally, she informed the Committee of Thailand’s application for membership in the Committee on Information.  Her delegation felt that information was a powerful tool for peace, security and development.  She hoped that members of the Committee on Information would lend Thailand their support.

Mr. SUÁREZ SALVIA (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that it was appropriate and necessary to improve the dissemination of information about the United Nations, so as to raise awareness about the Organization’s work to promote development and human rights, maintain international peace and security and fight international crime, among other things.  He supported the DPI’s actions towards reinforcing the positive image of the United Nations and to counterbalance the negative public perceptions about the Organization following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and alleged misconduct by United Nations officials.

There was a lot to be done in the sphere of information, he continued, but he felt that the Secretariat had been coordinating well and had been able to enhance public information.  In the Organization’s sixtieth year, the DPI had told the United Nations story in a more innovative way to more people around the world than ever before.  The Department’s emphasis on enhancing its global outreach had led to strengthened partnerships with civil society and with the public and private sectors.

He attached great importance to multilingualism and, therefore, could not fail to mention the need for that concept to be respected and applied in the dissemination of information by the Organization.  Despite many calls for its implementation, progress in language parity had not yet been seen.  The Organization also needed to double its efforts so that its website could be accessible to persons with disabilities.  He encouraged the DPI to systematically request the various offices to present their subject matter in accessible formats.


Vote on Second International Decade for Eradication of Colonialism

Draft resolution IX, contained in the report of the Special Committee on Decolonization (document A/60/23, P.107), was approved by a recorded vote of 72 in favour to 3 against, with 30 abstentions, as follows:

In favour:  Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Zambia.

Against:  Israel, United Kingdom, United States.

Abstain:  Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine.

Absent:  Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.