UNITED NATIONS HAS COMPELLING STORY TO TELL, BUT MUST CLOSE GAP BETWEEN WHAT PEOPLE WANTED AND WHAT IT COULD DELIVER, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
UNITED NATIONS HAS COMPELLING STORY TO TELL, BUT MUST CLOSE GAP BETWEEN WHAT PEOPLE WANTED AND WHAT IT COULD DELIVER, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
10th Meeting (PM)
UNITED NATIONS HAS COMPELLING STORY TO TELL, BUT MUST CLOSE GAP BETWEEN WHAT
PEOPLE WANTED AND WHAT IT COULD DELIVER, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD
Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information
Shashi Tharoor Says UN Might Frustrate, But Few Question Its Legitimacy
The United Nations needed to close the gap between what people wanted from the Organization and what it was able to deliver, said Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, in his address to the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, as it took up questions relating to information.
Though the Organization might have received its share of criticisms -- from lingering disapproval over the United Nations’ role in Iraq, to complaints about a perceived lack of action on Darfur -- the world still had a desire to see the Organization preserve world peace, promote human rights and ensure economic justice, Mr. Tharoor said. In fact, more Americans in 2005 said they believed the United Nations was central to solving world conflicts, showing that, while people might be frustrated by the Organization, they did not question its ideals or legitimacy as a universal body, so much as its ability to deliver on promises made.
“The United Nations has a compelling story to tell,” he stressed, adding that it must be told well so as to build public support.
To help achieve that aim, Mr. Tharoor said that the United Nations Department of Public Information sought to create strong partnerships with 50 departments and offices within the United Nations and its 26 field missions, to help identify key messages and to recast them, so that they could be understood by their target audiences across the globe. On big-tickets item like migration, for example, which had been the subject of a special high-level dialogue this year, the Department had placed an “op-ed” in 28 newspapers in 24 countries at the time of the launch of the Secretary-General’s report to ensure the Organization’s message was satisfactorily conveyed. Around the time of the 2006 World Cup Soccer championship, an article by the Secretary-General had been placed in the newspapers of over 40 countries with the help of the Department’s field offices, or UNICs (United Nations information centres), in which the World Cup was used as leverage to draw attention to United Nations activities.
Amid such activity, Mr. Tharoor said it was imperative for the Organization to speak in one voice, and for that reason, the United Nations Communications Group was born. “From the recent humanitarian crisis in South-East Asia, to the crisis in Darfur, to the looming threat of avian flu, there is clear proof that the world is paying more attention when we speak in concert,” he noted, adding that the Communications Group held regular meetings so that it could think, plan and act together.
Enhancing public information should be seen as an ongoing activity, he said, calling for resources to be “realigned” and technologies upgraded. Local and regional partnerships must be built, while interaction between the field and Headquarters must be increased. Meanwhile, the Department’s “annual programme impact review” would allow managers to determine the effectiveness of their activities.
In the ensuing debate, delegates voiced their appreciation for the Department’s work, saying it had effectively addressed key issues like AIDS, natural disasters, human development, threats to international peace and security, the eradication of hunger and poverty, and United Nations reform. Guyana’s representative, who spoke on behalf of the Rio Group, commended the Department for bringing attention to the new Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission, as did others.
While Ukraine’s delegate welcomed efforts made by the Department to raise awareness about the Holocaust and the dangers of racism, Israel was disappointed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the only conflict that still had a Special Information programme, which conveyed a one-sided, misleading picture. By allowing the continued existence of that project, the United Nations was failing to meet its standards on directing funds to “more globally relevant stories”, he said.
The representative from the United Arab Emirates, however, cautioned that attempts to distort cultural and religious facts of certain people could bring about instability. Such distortions were “irresponsible”, and countries should act to prevent them because they were fuelled by hatred and extremism, he said.
In other business, the Committee elected a new Vice-Chairperson, Machieddine Djeffal of Algeria, by acclamation, to replace Larbi Djacta, also of Algeria, who had left New York.
Statements were also made today by the representatives of Cuba and Finland (on behalf of the European Union).
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, Tuesday, 17 October, at 3 p.m., to continue its debate on question relating to information.
When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to begin consideration of “questions relating to information”, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the issue (document A/61/216), updating the reports submitted to the Committee of Information, at its twenty-eighth session, held from 24 April to 5 May and covering the activities of the Department of Public Information from July 2005 to March 2006.
According to the report, the Department of Public Information continued to address the strategic priorities of the United Nations and its reform agenda emanating from the 2005 World Summit. Using a combination of traditional means of communications and the new information and communications technologies, the Department worked in close cooperation with “client departments” within the Secretariat and field offices worldwide, to further expand its outreach services. These efforts were guided by four strategic objectives: the targeted delivery of public information; the enhanced use of new technologies; increased partnership with civil society; and integrating a culture of evaluation at all levels of work.
The report describes activities undertaken in the past six months, by the Department, through its four subprogrammes: communications campaign services; news services; library services; and outreach services.
Regarding strategic communications services, the report describes thematic communications campaigns on: the Human Rights Council; international migration and development; Small Arms Review Conference; and the question of Palestine. The Department continued to promote Africa by highlighting the goals of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), among other things, through its quarterly magazine, Africa Renewal/Afrique Renouveau, which is now read in print or online by some 250,000 people.
The Department of Public Information has continued to work closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to further develop and refine its global communications strategy in support of United Nations peace operations, according to the report. Most recently, the Department assisted in addressing the urgent public information requirement that emerged as a result of the crisis in Lebanon. In preparation of the first meeting of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission, held on 23 June, the Department prepared a fact sheet, created a website, carried out other media activities and sent guidance and information material to United Nations information centres. The Department also provided information assistance to the United Nations Democracy Fund.
As for the United Nations information centres (UNICs), the report states that further measures had been taken to integrate them into the Department’s overall communications strategies and workplan by, among other things, developing a database for the input of communications workplans by various sections at Headquarters and by the individual centres. Further progress was also made in the coordination of communications at the field level, with the endorsement in March by the United Nations Communications Groups of the guidelines for the establishment and functioning of country-level Communications Groups. In addition, 47 Information Centres maintain websites in five official and 26 unofficial languages.
The news services include the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, the United Nations website, the United Nations News Centre, and the radio, television and other services, according to the report. On a typical weekday, users now view more than a million web pages in the six official languages, and more than 15,000 video clips. Since January, the Web Services Section has posted an average of almost 570 new pages per official language. The main pages of the website have been revised to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities. The introduction of an enterprise content management system, now under way, will permit improved technical standardization of publishing tools and applications, used by various content providing offices. During 2005, 6,124,401 visitors viewed webcasts from the United Nations Internet broadcast page. The number of subscribers to the e-mail alert system for the daily Internet broadcast schedule more than doubled in 2005, to 5,120.
The United Nations News Centre had improved scope, timeliness, accuracy and balance of its coverage of United Nations work at Headquarters and around the world. The portal’s visibility has increased substantially on several leading online search engines, including Google. The Best-2006.com website has listed the News Centre among its selection of 37 top sites under the “News” category. The portal’s News Focus feature, providing access to source materials on major developments in the news, has grown in popularity. The e-mail news service in French and English continued to gain new subscribers, with a combined total reaching nearly 43,000.
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 for the Assembly President. The Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit continue to facilitate access by media to coverage of United Nations activities.
The Department continues its efforts to draw attention to important issues that often slip off the media radar screen, in its third annual list of “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About”, covering a broad spectrum of topics, including, presently, Liberia, illegal migrants, and children caught in Nepal’s civil strife. The special “Ten Stories” page on the United Nations website, available in all official languages, registered a substantial increase in traffic and usage of its materials.
Aware of the important role radio can play in spreading the United Nations message, the Department has continued to strengthen its radio programming and to expand its partnerships with international broadcasters, the report finds. A pilot project was undertaken to serve North American radio audiences with news reports, features and “raw” audio via the web. The FTP (file transfer protocol) access to raw audio has also proved extremely useful. That capacity will be expanded and offered on the web. In June, the number of radio partners had risen to 344.
Also, according to the report, the potential audience for United Nations Television products has also increased, because “UNifeed”, an inter-agency satellite news service, spearheaded by the Department at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), offers timely field video, six days a week, to a worldwide network of broadcasters. The Department has also begun to produce a
26-minute television news magazine show, entitled 21st Century, replacing World Chronicle. UN in Action, a weekly feature, continues, as do the United Nations contributions to the CNN World Report. The Department is also improving the distribution of its photographs.
The report notes that the Department is working with the International Federation of Television Archives and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on a project to digitize its audio-visual materials as a showcase preservation project. The revised edition of Basic Facts About the United Nations in French and Spanish had also been published.
The report goes on to describe the Department’s activities regarding the United Nations libraries and outreach services, including outreach to non-governmental organizations. 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. Under its academic initiatives, the Department highlights the Yearbook of the United Nations and the UN Chronicle.
Under the heading: “A culture of evaluation”, the report describes the Department’s activities in analysis of its work, specifically the impact of public information and communications campaigns. The Department has provided training to staff members by external media monitoring specialists. In a pilot project, the Information Centres will be involved in global systematic media monitoring and analysis. On a pro bono basis, the International Association of Applied Psychology has carried out a survey, which underlined the usefulness of the Department’s annual non-governmental organization conference.
The report concludes that, with its activities aligned with the overall priorities of the Organization, the Department is now better equipped to achieve its mandate. This has led to the overall enhancement of the Organization’s public information capacity. The Department’s success will always be measured by how convincingly it tells the United Nations story and how well it connects with its constituents: Member States, media, civil society and the public at large. To ensure that this connection is maintained and enhanced, the Department will continue to apply clearly measurable indicators to evaluate its performance. By reaffirming their support for the Department’s work, Member States can play a key role in making the Department the true public voice of the United Nations.
Also before the Committee is the Report of the Committee on Information on the twenty-eighth session (24 April-5 May and 24 August 2006) (document A/60/21 and Add.1), which contains two draft resolutions and one draft decision. Draft resolution A is entitled “Information in the service of humanity”; Draft resolution B is entitled “United Nations public information policies and activities”, and the draft decision is on the Committee on Information’s increased membership.
The Committee was also expected to take up consideration of the draft resolution on International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space (document A/C.4/61/L.3), by which the Assembly would reaffirm the importance of international cooperation in developing the rule of law, including the relevant norms of space law and their important role in international cooperation for the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.
By that text, the Assembly would endorse the report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and urge States that had not yet become parties to the international treaties governing the uses of outer space, to consider ratifying or acceding to those treaties, as well as incorporating them into national legislation.
According to the text, the Assembly would endorse the outer space Committee’s recommendation that the Legal Subcommittee, at its forty-sixth session, consider, among other things, the status and application of the five United Nations treaties on outer space; the definition and delimitation of outer space; and the character and utilization of the geostationary orbit, including consideration of ways and means to ensure its rational and equitable use, without prejudice to the role of the International Telecommunication Union.
The Assembly would also endorse the Outer Space Committee’s recommendation that the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, at its forty-fourth session, consider, among other things, the implementation of the recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) and matters relating to remote sensing of the Earth by satellite, including applications for developing countries and monitoring of the earth’s environment; space debris; the use of nuclear power sources in outer space; space-system-based disaster management support; and near-Earth objects.
The Assembly would, by other terms, agree that the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, at its forty-fourth session, should establish for one year, a working group on near-Earth objects, in accordance with the work plan.
It would also note that the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development, the first of which was hosted by Nigeria, in collaboration with Algeria and South Africa, from 23 to 25 November 2005, would be held on a biennial basis.
By further terms, the Assembly would urge all States, especially those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to preventing an arms race in outer space, as an essential condition for promoting international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.
The Assembly would also emphasize the need to increase the benefits of space technology and to contribute to an orderly growth of space activities favourable to sustained economic growth and development in all countries, including mitigation of the consequences of disasters, particularly in developing countries.
Additionally, the Assembly would request the outer space Committee to continue to consider, at its fiftieth session, its agenda item entitled “Spin-off benefits of space technology: review of current status”. It would also agree to include a new item on the Committee’s agenda at its fiftieth session, entitled, “International cooperation in promoting the use of space-derived geo-spatial data for sustainable development”, under a multi-year workplan.
Under-Secretary General’s Statement
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information (document A/61/216), said, this year marked the end of a five-year cycle of reform, and the beginning of another. An integral part of that reform was the enhancement of the United Nations public information reform.
By way of background, he said that expectations of the United Nations, today, included a desire to see the Organization address “problems without passports” -- those that easily crossed frontiers uninvited, like climate change, drug trafficking, terrorism and epidemics. Those aspirations remained at the core of the United Nations mission. Security depended on cooperative efforts to guard against terrorism, pollution, disease, drugs and weapons of mass destruction, and, therefore, on promoting security, development and human rights. Those were the integral elements of world peace, and they could only be achieved through a mutually agreed global framework.
He said it was clear that the need for a universal means for global governance, a mechanism for international cooperation -– a United Nations -– was stronger than ever.
Embracing the Secretary-General’s 2002 challenge to close the gap between what people wanted from the United Nations and what the Organization delivered, he said that the Department of Public Information had set about reorganizing itself along four strategic objectives: to achieve greater effectiveness; better use new information and communication technologies; expand the grass-roots support base through civil society partnerships; and build into activities an annual performance impact review (APIR).
Forming partnerships was essential to using resources efficiently and meeting Member State priorities, he said. In that context, three sets of collaborators supported Headquarters in its efforts to gain media exposure: the network of United Nations information centres in 63 countries; United Nations organizations that were integrated into the United Nations Communications Group (UNCG); and a global network of more than 1,500 civil society organizations.
He said that the centrepiece of the Department’s new operating model was greater internal coordination and a new client-orientation process. Secretariat departments and United Nations family organizations were now identified as “clients,” with the Department as the “service provider”. Some 50 departments and United Nations offices, and another 26 field missions, were now included in that process. The Department worked with clients to recast their raw material into public information and identify key messages. The integrated approach had proven effective in developing sound communications strategies, as the constant feedback had enabled the Department to tailor its products and services. Client consultations had also been crucial to giving greater visibility to priority issues, including the General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on Migration.
Within the past two years, the Department had developed a rapid media response mechanism, to ensure that the Organization was properly understood in a world of 24-hour news cycles, he explained. It had produced regular briefing guidance on priority issues for spokespeople and established a coordinating mechanism for placing “op-eds”. Daily meetings were held to review events and determine if, where and how to respond.
The Department also had consolidated various United Nations organizations under the United Nations Communications Group, to ensure the system spoke with one voice on common issues, he said. The Communication Group carried out its responsibilities through weekly meetings at Headquarters, issue-specific task forces and an annual meeting at the principals’ level. Last year, the Department had launched UNifeed, an inter-agency satellite news service, covering the Organization’s work through six-day per week field video and a global network of over 560 broadcasters. Costs of implementing UNifeed were nominal and shared among United Nations participants.
Re-evaluating the role of field offices had also been a priority, with a view to better integrating them into the Department’s strategic communications framework, he said. Working within the existing budget, the process included realigning resources allocated for information centres, upgrading information and communications technologies, building local and regional partnerships, and increasing interaction between the field and Headquarters. To ensure greater flow of information between the Department and its field offices, the centres’ network had been connected to “iSeek”, the new web-based internal communications platform. The centres had also been brought into the StratCom system, which included a consolidated Internet database of issues related to the Department’s programmatic, operational and administrative priorities.
He said that the Department’s successes had been achieved, in no small part, because of the work of the information centres, which had placed the Secretary-General’s article on the opening of the 2006 World Cup Soccer event in some 70 newspapers in more than 40 countries.
Key to the Department’s drive for improved productivity, increased global outreach and more rapid responses had been the integration of new information and communication technologies, he continued. Over the past five years, resources devoted to developing the United Nations website had increased, with efforts resulting in an almost doubling of usage since 2002. Continued growth of the database-driven e-mail news service, with more than 44,000 subscribers, was also a sign of the Department’s expanding reach.
Also, allowing the public to access the Official Documents System had resulted in an exponential increase in the number of documents now available to Internet users in all official languages, he said. That had resulted in a United Nations website that was much more multilingual in nature. Since 2002, website usage had almost doubled, with growth in many of the official languages far exceeding that average. The Internet had also been at the forefront of improvements in the Department’s radio and television operations. Since its introduction in 1998, webcasting had exploded. Each day, more than 12,000 video clips of the United Nations at work were watched online. In addition, many radio broadcasters now received United Nations radio programmes via the Internet, rather than by telephone, ensuring better audio quality. And, there were currently 8,000 photographs posted on the web and available for downloading, free of charge.
He said that corollary of enhancing public information was greater engagement with civil society, and the Department had expanded its outreach by using new communications technologies that enhanced physical and “virtual” participation at annual non-governmental organization conferences, student events and education programmes. Annual observances of events, including World Environment Day, now included multimedia dialogue through video links at various global locations. New and innovative partnerships with the private sector included an MTV-UN Works documentary on the earthquake in Pakistan, which had been nominated in June for the first ever Emmy Award for programming created for non-traditional platforms.
He said that another area where radical changes had been introduced was in the Department’s library services. The focus of those services had shifted from one oriented towards maintaining book and periodical collections, to one that made connections for its users -- between documents and functions, between people and documents, and between people here and people there. The Dag Hammarskjold Library and Knowledge Sharing Centre, or DHLink, was spearheading a concerted effort to help United Nations libraries build upon their original role as repositories of books and documents, by developing networks of knowledge-sharing communities.
The final element of the Department’s strategy was to create a culture of evaluation. In 2002, it had integrated the Annual Performance Impact Review evaluation tool into its work, which clearly set measurable indicators of achievement for each of its major activities. The assessment process enabled the Department to better articulate the ways in which it contributed to an enhanced understanding of the Organization’s work. It also helped measure increases in global access to United Nations public information products and services. The Cyberschoolbus website for children, for example, had seen a 140 per cent increase in the number of page views, and had reached an average of 330,000 students and teachers per month, over the last six months.
Reform was a process, and not an event, he said. During the past five years, the Department had laid the foundation for success. Because it had persevered and refused to give up, today, the Department’s focus was sharper, its target audiences better defined, and the tools it needed were in place. If its efforts did not produce the desired result in some areas, it was not owing to a lack of commitment or concerted effort, but from a combination of factors, including the political landscape.
“It has been a journey we have made together, and one whose true significance lies not in the distance we have covered, but in the obstacles we have overcome,” Mr. Tharoor said in closing. “And, when I look to the future of DPI and UN communications, there is a great deal in place now that gives me confidence and hope,” he added.
MADHU RAMAN ACHARYA ( Nepal), Committee Chairman, thanked the Under-Secretary-General for his statement and congratulated him for his significant contribution to the Organization. He then opened the floor to delegates for questions.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Sudan asked for a clarification on a reference made in the Secretary-General’s report to a United Nations peacekeeping mission for Darfur. As far as he knew, there was no such mission.
China’s representative noted that, in recent months, several newspaper articles had been produced by the Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General and Under-Secretary-General, including by Mr. Tharoor himself, with very good results. How many articles had been published during the last six months, and how did they get published? Also, what was the Department planning to do to stem cultural clashes, such as those triggered by the publication of cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad?
The representative of the Russian Federation asked Mr. Tharoor to elaborate on the Department’s most significant area of focus in the coming months and years.
Argentina’s delegate said that the responsibility for complying with the principle of multilingualism lay, not just with the Department, but with other United Nations departments as well. Indeed, such a principle should be voiced at the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). Also, what did the Department plan to do, regarding building better relationships with the press attaches at country missions?
In response to Sudan’s question, Mr. Tharoor said that the Security Council had indeed authorized a peacekeeping mission to that country, but added that it would only be established with the country’s permission. In the meantime, the Department of Public Information had begun to lay the groundwork with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations for a public information component to the mission, should such a mission come into being. Such activities were a crucial part of the planning of any mission, and had taken place prior to the creation of similar missions in Congo and Haiti, for example.
Regarding articles and interviews by senior United Nations officials, he said that four “op-eds” had been written by the Secretary-General and published in 30 to 40 countries, and, more articles had been published in the past. Under-Secretaries-General Arbour, Gambari, Egeland and himself had averaged one or two articles, picked up by 25 to 30 newspapers. There were no standing arrangements with any particular newspapers, and the papers were free to accept or reject the submissions at will. Effort was spent to ensure that submissions were made to a broad range of newspapers and not simply limited to one or two. Preference was given to publishing companies that could print the articles in different languages.
On cartooning, Mr. Tharoor said that a seminar was currently being given on “Cartooning for peace”, as part of the “Unlearning Intolerance” series of talks. Those talks were taking place within the broader context of promoting dialogue between civilizations, under what was called an “alliance of civilizations”. The United Nations was a useful forum for such exchange, and he was pleased to see that various conferences were being held under that rubric and that the Department had participated in many of them. A notable example of collaboration on cross- cultural dialogue was a paper by a Chinese scholar from Nanjing University, which explained that the holocaust was a global issue and not limited to the Jewish holocaust only. The Department of Public Information would also be helping prepare a report of the high-level panel on the alliance of civilizations.
He said the Secretary-General’s report had laid out the main direction the Department would take in the future; it had recently adopted the Department’s 2008-2009 strategic framework. His remarks to the Committee, too, had elaborated a road map for the years ahead.
He agreed with the Argentinean representative, regarding multilingualism, and said that it was not something that the Department could do alone. The issue should be taken up by the governing bodies of other substantial departments within the United Nations. For its part, the Department had sought, and received, more funds to create extra posts for use in languages other than English.
The representative of Iran, noting that the Department was facing a financial restriction in handling its affairs, asked whether it could perhaps double the number of journalists accepted into the journalist fellowship programme, and include more from developing countries. Since its 1981 inception, the programme had accepted only 15 journalists per year, he noted.
Mr. THAROOR replied that the journalist fellowship programme had been extremely useful, in that it gave journalists the opportunity to write knowledgably about the United Nations. In order to expand the programme, the General Assembly must vote on more funds. Each year, the sum of money allocated had not risen, although the costs involved had. The number of journalists accepted had actually decreased, because it had become more expensive to bring them here. The Department would do its best, however, it could not expand the programme without additional funds. If the number of journalists accepted was doubled, there would be a risk that each participant would not get as much out of the programme, he added.
RAN GIDOR ( Israel) said that in light of the large challenges facing the international community today, nothing short of “total zeal and commitment” would suffice, in order to promote United Nations ideals. Israel was satisfied with the standards and absolute vocational commitment the Department of Public Information and its various organs had shown over the last year. Recalling troubles in the Middle East over the last year, he invited the Department of Public Information to consider opening an Information Centre in Israel, as it would consolidate dialogue and perhaps give rise to a fresh impetus for peace. Israel, as a multilingual democracy with wide-reaching media and advanced Internet infrastructure, would be an ideal location.
He said that the Department’s promotion of Holocaust remembrance had demonstrated the evolving role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century. The Holocaust Awareness initiative had provided a unique precedent, as it constituted an educational project with potential universal application to promote global understanding and mutual tolerance. Notwithstanding that, Israel was disappointed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the only conflict that still had a Special Information programme, which conveyed a one-sided, misleading picture. By allowing the continued existence of such a money-wasting information programme, the United Nations was failing to meet self-imposed standards to focus on priority issues.
On national issues, in 2005, no less than 55 per cent of Israeli households had Internet access, and 52 per cent had broadband connections, significantly higher than most Western European countries, he said. About three-fourths of households possessed at least one computer, and the percentage of Israeli female net surfers had nearly tripled, to 38 per cent in 2005, from 14 per cent in 1997.
HAMAD OBAID EBRAHIM ALZAABI ( United Arab Emirates) said that astonishing developments in digital technology, in the last two decades, had not only brought about positive development in international relations, but also contributed to a widening of the economic and social gap, between North and South, and the marginalization of poor countries. A balanced and free flow of information was needed to promote principles of tolerance, non-discrimination and mutual respect. Developing countries should be given the necessary financial, scientific and technological resources to enable them to access information and communication technologies, to suit their national needs. Meanwhile, reforms should be undertaken in the infrastructure used for information systems, and practical training programmes should be conducted for managers responsible for outreach in the areas of education, health, social and environmental awareness.
He expressed concern over ongoing attempts by the media of some countries to homogenize and deliberately ignore the concerns of the developing world, including attempts to distort the reality and historical, cultural and religious facts of certain people, especially Muslims. The authorities in those countries should act to prevent future occurrences of such irresponsible practices, which were fuelled by hatred, extremism and racial discrimination. Such acts also threatened the security of those countries. He, thus, called for an international code of ethics for information that would ensure mutual respect among different religions and cultures. He also sought the strengthening of the Public Information Department’s Arab Section, based on the principle of equality among the six official United Nations languages. The Department, in accordance with relevant General Assembly texts, should use some of its resources to publicize developments relating to the Palestinian question and the Middle East situation, particularly facts about the suffering of the Palestinian people, caused by Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan.
ILEANA NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE ( Cuba) said that the gap between the developed and developing world in communication and information matters was widening by the day. For example, only 15 per cent of the world population had access to the Internet, with more than half of them located in the United States, Canada and Europe. Only a small number -- 2.5 per cent of the total -- were in Africa. Over half of the world population did not have access to a telephone, and those with cellular phone service and Internet servers lived in developed countries. It would be impossible to develop an information society under such circumstances. The United Nations had a key role in helping developing countries attain substantial, stable and foreseeable financial resources to facilitate access to such technology, and to do so through its information centres. In the underdeveloped world, radio should continue to be used to keep large illiterate populations informed.
Cuba had succeeded in providing computer classes to children and adolescents, despite not having large financial resources, she said. Computing and audio-visual aids were used as teaching tools at universities, and free computer classes were given to more than 770,000 youth by the Computer Youth Club Movement. To achieve basic literacy, the Cuban “Yes I Can” television and video programmes were used, reaching thousands of people in more than 10 countries. Cuban doctors, too, provided their services to more than 60 countries using information technology, including training new medical students.
She denounced the United States for its radio, electronic and television aggression. That country’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting had begun using a new G-1 aircraft to significantly increase television broadcast to Cuba, for which the United States Congress approved $10 million. On 11 August, two aircrafts interfered with six service areas and, in 2006, the United States devoted $37 million for anti-Cuban propaganda through Radio and TV Marti, $10 million more than in 2004. Those actions were in blatant violation of international law and the provisions agreed by all States within the framework of the International Telecommunication Union. They were also contrary to the principles of the United Nations Charter and other international instruments. Further, several stations broadcasting subversive programmes against the Cuban revolution belonged, or provided their services to, organizations linked to well-known terrorists who lived in the United States and acted against Cuba with full consent of the United States authorities.
GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the Department’s reorientation had allowed it to devise strategies and programmes that both enhanced its work and increased United Nations visibility. In that context, he praised the Department’s efforts to promote the Organization’s work in addressing key issues, including HIV/AIDS, natural disasters, human development, threats to international peace and security, the eradication of hunger and poverty, and United Nations reform. It had also brought attention to the new Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission. The Rio Group strongly recommended that collaboration between the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations be improved to best assist populations in conflict areas.
He said that challenges remained, however, including the ever-present need for additional financial and human resources. Links between the Department of Public Information and national broadcasters in Member States should be increased, as radio and print media remained the only means for obtaining information in many developing countries. Noting the Secretary-General’s report on enhancing the range of material on the United Nations website in the official languages, the Rio Group recommended, where feasible, that consideration be given to transmitting information in other languages, as language remained a tool for building peace and understanding among cultures. He also urged the Department to continue efforts to ensure website accessibility for persons with disabilities.
HELI KANERVA (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the Union supported the Department in its crucial role of providing accurate, impartial and timely information about the United Nations in an era of new challenges. Acknowledging the breadth of the Department’s work, she said the Union was pleased it had continued its reorientation process. The Union also fully supported the Secretary-General’s proposals for the creation of regional United Nations information centres, acknowledging the difficult decision that several European countries would have to make to close United Nations information offices in their capitals. That would allow for a new Western European regional information centre to be opened in Brussels.
She expressed support for the Department’s focus on poverty reduction, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, combating terrorism, and the needs of Africa. Those objectives could only be achieved if people were aware of the issues, and she called for a narrowing of the technology gap between the developing and developed countries.
The Department’s three strategic goals of pursuing targeted delivery of information, taking advantage of new technology developments and building partnerships with civil society would help promote global awareness of the Organization’s work, she said. Welcoming further development of the United Nations website, she urged the Department to continue its work in favour of multilingualism in all its activities. The Union strongly condemned all attempts to control or influence the media, with the aim of distorting or suppressing information and opinions.
PETRO DATSENKO (Ukraine), in association with the European Union, said that the Department’s mission statement rightly echoed the Millennium Declaration by focusing on key priorities such as poverty; conflict prevention; sustainable development; human rights; AIDS; the fight against international terrorism; and the environment, including the problem of Chernobyl. He also supported the Department’s efforts to design a communication strategy to promote the Human Rights Council, of which Ukraine was a member, and to underline the important role of the Department in supporting peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts. As a troop-contributing country, Ukraine appreciated the partnership between the public information Department and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in raising awareness about peacekeeping and in preparing public information components of peacekeeping operations.
He also welcomed efforts made by the public information Department to raise awareness about the Holocaust and of the dangers of hatred, racism and prejudice, in order to prevent future acts of genocide. Indeed, the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide would take place in two years. The Ukrainian people were victims of genocide long before the Convention’s adoption, however, which took place at the hands of the communist totalitarian regime in the form of an artificial “Great Famine” of 1932-1933. Some 7 to 10 million men, women and children -- 25 per cent of the Ukrainian population at the time -- had been killed during that tragedy. Ukraine called upon the United Nations to contribute to the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary by recognizing the Great Famine as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.
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