TELLING UNITED NATIONS STORY REQUIRED METHOD, PURPOSE; AS ‘MEGAPHONE’, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INFORMATION GUIDED BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S VISION, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

18 October 2007
GA/SPD/376

TELLING UNITED NATIONS STORY REQUIRED METHOD, PURPOSE; AS ‘MEGAPHONE’, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INFORMATION GUIDED BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S VISION, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

18 October 2007
General Assembly
GA/SPD/376
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Fourth Committee

7th Meeting (AM)

TELLING UNITED NATIONS STORY REQUIRED METHOD, PURPOSE; AS ‘MEGAPHONE’, DEPARTMENT

OF PUBLIC INFORMATION GUIDED BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S VISION, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

Under-Secretary-General for Communications, Public Information Highlights

Strategy, Including Integrated Use of Traditional, New Information Technologies

Bringing the story of the United Nations to the world required a method and a purpose that was guided by the Secretary-General’s vision to communicate to the world audience based on positive results, the Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, said today as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) took up questions of information.

“Through written words, images and voices, we bring the story of the United Nations to the world,” he said, noting that the Department was the Organization’s “megaphone”.

The Department’s strategic approach to communications demanded that priorities were set in a way that meant it should not only tackle what was most pressing, but what was most achievable and where it could have the best results, he added.  Its strategy included six components:  integrated use of traditional means of communications and new information and communications technologies; targeted delivery of public information products; greater integration of the network of United Nations information centres; greater partnership with civil society; system-wide coordination; and internal evaluation of major activities.

That approach had been in evidence during the Secretary-General’s high-level event on climate change, during which the Public Information Department had driven the universal media coverage in a way that reflected key United Nations concerns and messages on the issue, Mr. Akasaka said.  By setting up and now coordinating an inter-agency communications task force, the Department had provided a set of coherent messages on both international and national levels.

The strategy’s success had also been visible in the “Stand UP and Speak Out Against Poverty and for the MDGs” event, which had just taken place on 16 and 17 October.  More than 38 million participants in over 100 countries had participated -- topping last year’s turnout and resetting the Guinness world record that had been established the year before.

By taking full advantage of the information technology revolution through tools like webcasting and by making more video and audio available online, the Department was also solidifying links between global partners and reaching larger audiences, he said.  Some examples of successful online initiatives included an electronic version of the United Nations Yearbook and a multimedia project on child soldiers.

Yet, traditional means of communication remained vital, he said.  United Nations radio was expanding.  The Department had also initiated partnerships to expand its outreach including a conference with the non-governmental organizations.  The Department was working to promote outside speaking engagements for United Nations experts and to develop school curriculums on its work.  A “Holocaust and the Unite Nations” outreach programme had also been initiated.  Notably, many of these successes had been achieved without taxing the Department’s budgets and resources.

Following his address, the Under-Secretary-General answered questions from the representatives of Iran, China, Jamaica, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, India and the Committee Chairperson on a wide range of topics, from the Department’s communications strategy on climate change and the abolition of slavery, to its work in helping to train journalists from developing countries.  He also heard comments from the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine.

In his interaction with the Committee, Mr. Akasaka stressed the importance of delivering a consistent message, in line with the “One UN” initiative, while also underlining the need to quickly respond to and correct stories that were unsubstantiated and sensational.

Following the interactive dialogue, the Committee kicked off its general debate on information with many countries expressing support for the Department’s communications strategy.  Several speakers voiced approval for its choice of four focal topics:  peace and security; development; human rights; and the Millennium Development Goals. 

However, a few speakers remarked that lack of communication was a source of discord among Member States, and urged the Department to consider a fifth topic:  promoting dialogue among civilizations and cultures.  As Pakistan’s delegate noted, it was critical to actively project United Nations ideals and accomplishments at a time where the media tended to sensationalize bad news.

“The Department must become proactive,” he said, adding that the time had come for that Department to be revitalized.  That should be done through a comprehensive strategy aimed at projecting the United Nations as a successful Organization, which had helped to improve the standard of living of the people of its Member States.

The representatives of Syria, Algeria, China, Portugal (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Sudan, Kazakhstan and Thailand (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) also spoke.

The Rapporteur introduced the report of the Committee on Information.

Myanmar’s delegate spoke in the exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again at 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 19 October to continue its general debate on questions relating to information.

Background

As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to take up questions relating to information, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on that issue (document A/62/205), updating the reports submitted to the Committee of Information at its twenty-ninth session, held from 30 April to 11 May.

According to the report, the Department of Public Information continued to address key thematic priorities of the United Nations, including issues related to peace and security, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals and human rights.  Using a combination of traditional means of communications and new information and communications technologies, the Department worked in close cooperation with Member States, United Nations systems partners and civil society to further expand its outreach services. 

The report describes activities undertaken in the past six months by the Department, through its four subprogrammes:  strategic communication services; news services; library services; and outreach services.

Regarding strategic communications services, the report describes thematic communications campaigns on:  peacekeeping; Darfur; climate change; Millennium Development Goals; human rights; 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.  Other projects included a programme to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and a new website on counter-terrorism. 

Also, according to the report, the Department stepped up efforts to promote the Millennium Development Goals as a priority issue.  It launched the Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 and unveiled an excerpt report on Africa and the Goals at United Nations Headquarters during the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit.

As for the United Nations information centres (UNICs), the report stated that further measures had been taken to rationalize the centre’s work, strengthening leadership in key centres, and strengthening and coordinating regional communications networks to give enhanced support to field offices.  The Department achieved a milestone with the launch of 16 new or revamped African websites.  The United Nations Communications Groups played an increasingly prominent role in communications at the country level and held a workshop of communications officers in May.  Information centres in Dar es Salaam and Islamabad are participating in One United Nations pilot projects. 

The news services included the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, the United Nations website, the United Nations News Centre, and radio, television, photo and other services, according to the report.  Every minute of every day, nearly 700 pages of material in the six official languages are being viewed, and more than 15,000 video clips every 24 hours.  The main pages of the website have been revised to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.  During the first half of 2007, some 7 million visitors from about 200 countries and territories viewed live or archived webcasts.  The number of subscribers to the daily webcast e-mail alert system increased from 6,000 in 2006 to more than 9,000 in 2007.  To enhance these sites, the Department is establishing new technical standards and an improved governance system for the website. 

The United Nations News Centre featured revamped audio, video and photo pages and increased bandwidth.  It also emphasized interactivity with a most-read-stories feature and a current events-based quiz.  The e-mail news service in French and English grew to more than 50,000 subscribers.

The Department continues to provide press release coverage in English and French of all open intergovernmental meetings, press briefings and conferences, the report says.  In the first six months of 2007, the Department produced a total of 1,997 such releases.  The Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit continue to facilitate access by media to coverage of United Nations activities.  In the first five months of 2007, 173 press conferences or briefings were held and were attended by 5,428 journalists.

The report adds that the Department continued to strengthen its radio programming and to expand its partnerships with international broadcasters.  Since the major technical overhauls in the radio delivery systems two years ago, the number of radio and television partners has increased from 317 in December 2005 to 367 in June 2007.  Through the United Nations Television unit, the Department also launched a 26-minute television news magazine show, entitled 21st Century, which replaced World Chronicle.  The weekly feature UN in Action continues, as do the United Nations contributions to the CNN World Report.  The Department also improved the distribution of its photographs. 

The Department also continued to streamline the United Nations libraries, revising its training programmes and making iSeek available to a greater number of international offices, according to the report.  It also expanded its outreach services, deepening its relationship with the academic community, research institutions, civil society organizations and students through, among other things, the Yearbook of the United Nations and the UN Chronicle.

The report goes on to say that the Department is strengthening linkages across its divisions by assessing and evaluating its performance.  The Department received feedback on its “Ten stories the world should hear more about”, showing that 75 per cent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the project’s general value.  Also, 70 per cent of respondents also said they were satisfied with the Department’s press releases and media placement efforts.

The Committee also had before it a report on the twenty-ninth session of the Committee on Information (30 April – 11 May 2007) (document A/62/21), which contains two draft resolutions:  Draft resolution A, on information in the service of humanity; and Draft resolution B, on United Nations public information policies and activities.

Introduction of Reports

HOSSEIN MALEKI ( Iran), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced that body’s report (document A/62/21), which contained two draft resolutions.  He also informed the Fourth Committee that, with the appointment of Thailand and Dominican Republic, the Information Committee had a total of 110 members.  Since the thirtieth session in May, Zambia had requested full membership to the Committee, and its application would be considered at the Committee’s thirty-first session in 2008. 

He said that, at its last session, the Group of 77 developing countries and China had mentioned that that the Group had agreed to a proposal by the European Union to streamline its Committee on Information resolution.  The Group of 77 would circulate a draft resolution on that subject next year.  Also, the Group had stated that the Department of Public Information’s request to consider renaming the Dag Hammarskjold Library as the “Dag Hammarskjold Library and Knowledge Sharing Centre – DHLink” was being deferred to the next session, and would be dealt with in light of legal and other relevant provisions that governed the name change.  Following a discussion between the two main negotiating groups, the Group of 77 and the European Union, and other Members, an ad hoc committee would be set up to review those issues.

Under-Secretary General’s Statement

KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to Information (document A/62/205), said his Department had been accurately described by one delegate as the “megaphone” of the United Nations.  Through written words, images and voices, it brought the story of the United Nations to the world.  That work was done with a purpose and a method, and was guided by the Secretary-General’s vision to communicate to the global public based on positive results.

He said that the Department’s strategic approach to communications demanded that priorities were set in such way that the Department, not only tackled what was most pressing, but what was most achievable and where it could have the best results.  That approach included six components:  integrated use of traditional means of communications and new information and communications technologies; targeted delivery of public information products; greater integration of the network of United Nations information centres; greater partnership with civil society; system-wide coordination; and internal evaluation of major activities.

An example of how the Department was guided by that approach had been the Secretary-General’s high-level event on climate change, he said.  An inter-agency communications task force had been created and coordinated by the Department, and it put together a joint communications strategy, which had one set of coherent messages and a joint press kit.  Drawing on the expertise from throughout the United Nations system, an inter-agency media team had arranged more than 110 press appearances and the placement of “op-eds” worldwide before and during the event.  Those efforts were broadened by country-level work done by the United Nations information centres.  The universal media coverage had reflected key United Nations concerns and messages on climate change.

He said that that strategy had also been successfully deployed during the 2007 “Stand UP and Speak Out Against Poverty and for the MDGs” event, which had just taken place over the past two days.  In 2006, about 23.5 million people in more than 80 countries had participated, setting a Guinness world record.  That record had just been broken, when more than 38 million people in more than 100 countries participated.  United Nations information centres, together with their United Nations country teams, had taken the lead in organizing various events and had also used new media and communication technology to spread the message.  The Secretary-General had also led the event at United Nations Headquarters on 17 October.  He had been joined by many representatives of Member States.

The Department’s work had also benefited from an integrated approach in other priority areas, he said.  On peace and security, the Department had built a strong partnership with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Department of Public Affairs, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other United Nations system entities.  It was helping to build national media capacities in post-conflict situations, such as the media workshop for senior Government officials in Burundi, which had taken place earlier this month. It had been so well received that a second workshop had been requested.

In areas such as human rights, the United Nations Regional Information Centre in Brussels had developed a website in connection with the upcoming sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, he noted.  That website would be part of a system-wide United Nations campaign scheduled to launch in December.  In terms of the Middle East, the Department’s annual international media seminar now included representatives of Israeli and Palestinian civil society groups and created a forum for practical people-to-people contact.  Seminar participants had set up a Steering Committee composed mainly of Israeli and Palestinian mayors and had identified five projects in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory aimed at addressing critical public services.

Stressing that the United Nations information centres were essential to the Department’s work, he said they served as a bridge between global audiences and partners in the field.  More opportunities to bring together United Nations information centre staff at regional levels were being created and had improved interactions and communication between the field and Headquarters.  A number of workshops had been or would be held around the world, and training opportunities were increasingly being provided.

He said that the adoption and integration of new information and communications technologies at all levels had been a key part of the Department’s efforts to improve productivity, increase global outreach and rapidly respond to the demand for new information.  The Department was taking full advantage of the “ICT revolution” from webcasting United Nations meetings to posting photos and video on the web to using video conferences, to link partners worldwide.  The results had been remarkable:  the Department’s live webcast of the high-level event on climate change, as well as six press conferences and other events, had been seen by viewers in 190 countries from nine simultaneous web channels, and 1.4 million webcast viewers from 192 countries had been registered during this year’s general debate.

Other ways the Department was using new technology to reach larger audiences, he noted, included reconfigurations of the News Centre on the United Nations home page that made it a multi-media news portal; a rebuilding of the press releases page to make it more user-friendly; making all United Nations texts, video and audio-based news available on mobile devices; making the Department’s audio library available online; and processing all applications for media accreditation electronically.  Communications technology was also increasingly visible in library services, and the slogan for the Dag Hammarskjold Library was “Moving from collections to connections”. 

At the same time, traditional means of communications –- particularly radio -– remained vital, he stressed.  United Nations radio was extending its once-a-day news programme with continuous news feeds throughout the day, and such material was already available in Arabic, English and Spanish, and other languages would soon follow.

Exciting partnerships had also been initiated to multiply the impact of the Department’s outreach efforts without taxing its budget or resources, he went on.  The conference between the Department and non-governmental organizations had allowed the Department to expand its reach to civil society organizations by involving some of those groups in expert workshops and panels.  The live webcast of the proceedings had also expanded the conference’s reach.  With the United Nations Volunteers and a Dutch foundation, the Department was supporting the creation of an “orchestra for the United Nations”.

By working with universities, the Department was also encouraging academic activism for the United Nations.  The “Yearbook of the United Nations” was ready to go online for the first time, as a result of a project carried out entirely within available resources, talent, skills and imagination.

Noting that a number of groups in the United States had asked for United Nations speakers to join them at events related to United Nations Day – all at their expense -- he said that those requests were important because there would be no public access for tours and group briefings at United Nations Headquarters during the upcoming renovation.  The Department was also working harder to promote speaking engagements outside.

Work with several Member States to develop school curriculums on the United Nations was also under way and included an association of 16 Latin American Ministers of Education, he said.  The United Nations Cyberschoolbus had launched the first-ever WebQuest on child soldiers, and the “Holocaust and the United Nations” outreach programme had been initiated.  Three separate week-long training seminars, which were funded entirely by partners at no cost to the United Nations, had been organized for National Information Officers in the United Nations information centres to raise public awareness about the Holocaust and its lessons of tolerance, human rights and civic responsibility

Noting that these efforts had been guided by the strong support of Member States, he expressed pride for the partnerships that had been developed with the Committee on Information and its bureau.  The Department was trying to become more focused to further sharpen its tools and better coordinate its activities.  Through small incremental steps, it was creating what the Secretary-General called “a stronger United Nations for a better world”.

Committee Chairman ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) thanked Mr. Akasaka for his statement and commended him on the successful outcome of the Department’s many activities.  In transmitting the United Nations message, he encouraged the Department to place a strong emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals, which was important to developing countries.  Hopefully, the Department would also stress the importance of promoting dialogue between civilizations and cultures, which would consolidate peace and security throughout the world.

He then opened the floor to those wishing to engage in an interactive dialogue with Mr. Akasaka.

Questions and Answers

The representative of Iran asked to hear more about the Department’s work on promoting a dialogue among civilizations, to which many Member States attached great importance.  He also noted that many United Nations information centres in developing countries suffered from a lack of resources and were using obsolete equipment.  He asked what the Department proposed to do about that problem.

A representative from the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine expressed appreciation for the Special Information Programme for Palestine, as highlighted by Mr. Akasaka in his statement.  It provided opportunities to journalists to gain skills that they might not have otherwise acquired.  Also, it brought together Israeli and Palestinian journalists, along with members of civil society, to complement efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine.

The representative of China said she was pleased to hear about the Department’s work on climate change, which was of concern to many.  She asked to hear more about work being done by the Department on that issue, which impinged on issues of economic development and Africa’s needs.  She also asked for more information on the monthly magazine, “21st Century”, mentioned in the film.

Responding to Iran’s delegate, Mr. AKASAKA said the Department was engaged in a number of activities to promote dialogue among civilizations, such as seminars on unlearning intolerance; exhibits on ceramics by Palestinian and Israeli craftsmen; and global training seminars, arranged at no cost to United Nations, on holocaust remembrance and averting genocide.  There were also cultural programmes, such as the event commemorating Rumi, the Sufi poet, and the concert by the East-West orchestra.  A forthcoming issue of the United Nations Chronicle would be devoted to work being done to address racial discrimination, and a seminar on combating hatred was expected to be held on 8 November.

Concerning the modernization of United Nations information centres, Mr. AKASAKA said he had just returned from the Dominican Republic and Mexico, where that issue had been foremost on people’s minds.  He had instructed the Department to look into the centres’ needs.  In addition to providing new equipment, training programmes would also be offered to staff to learn how to use it.  In fact, staff from UNICs in Asia and the Pacific, including the centre in Tehran, would attend a weeklong library workshop in Bangkok, organized by the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

He thanked the representative from Palestine for her comments, adding that the Department was preparing its next media seminar for 2008.  Hopefully, that seminar would enhance the dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian participants.  He voiced appreciation for the work of local government officials and non-governmental organizations to help organize discussions on infrastructure, water and environmental issues.

Addressing the question from China’s delegate about climate change, he said the United Nations now had a climate change portal, which summarized the work of 15 United Nations agencies on that topic.  It was important to send a clear message on climate change, as reflected in the outcome document of the 24 September meeting.  Indeed, United Nations agencies could not afford to give conflicting messages on that issue.  It was also important to address development needs in Africa.

He said the Department would try to present “more concrete” information on the consequences of climate change, backed by scientific evidence.  He was pleased to note that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had received a Nobel Peace Prize.  The portal summarized the Panel’s findings, such as the level temperature and sea-level rise, as well as information on areas of the world that are thought to be most affected by drought or floods.  Also, more than 1 million people had viewed the United Nations’ television webcasts of press conferences and stakeouts on climate change.

Regarding the show, “21st Century”, he said that Chinese television stations were indeed involved in airing them.  Also, BBC World Television would begin broadcasting episodes in January 2008.  They were half-hour documentary-style programmes on human interest issues, he added.

The representative of Jamaica asked whether the Department had launched an information campaign to bring the recent 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade to the global audience.

Libya’s representative asked why insufficient time was given to the Department’s visits to Palestine, and why there was not a greater focus on Palestine.

The representative of Egypt, supporting statements made by the representative from Palestine on the need for the Department to step up efforts to convey information on what was needed to achieve peace in the Middle East, said the United Nations should be objective in describing facts and events on the ground there.  He asked about the Department’s efforts on Palestine, as well as the sometimes days-long delay between posting information online in English and making it available in other languages.

Noting the work done by the Department on developing school curriculums, the representative of Morocco asked if such curriculums were available to every country.  He also asked about the Department’s approach to human rights.

Saying that training was important in getting out the United Nations message, the representative of the Sudan asked if there were any initiatives to increase the number of journalists receiving training.  He asked about the program of work, particularly given the wide range of areas dealt with by the United Nations.

Responding to Jamaica’s question, Mr. Akasaka said that articles on the anniversary of the slave trade’s abolition had been carried in the United Nations Chronicle, and the United Nations Jazz society had had a musical tribute to the anniversary.  Also, a concert organized by many Caribbean nations would be held at the end of the year to commemorate the anniversary.  Such an event would be very fitting to mark the end of the anniversary year.  The Department fully supported those events and would make every effort to make the concert a success. 

In response to the questions from Libya and Egypt, Mr. Akasaka noted that the permanent exhibit on Palestine had been updated.  The booklet on Palestine, which explained the history of and debate on Palestine, had also been updated.  The training programme for Palestinian media had accepted 10 journalists and would begin on 5 November.  He expressed hope that both political and economic issues would be well addressed by those efforts, as well as the media seminar.

On Morocco’s question about human rights issues, Mr. Akasaka said that his Department considered that those issues needed to be a focus, particularly in light of the upcoming anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Towards that goal, various events were under way.  The Department would also like to develop a multi-media project on that, which included video clips and classroom resources.

In response to the Sudan’s question, Mr. Akasaka said the Department would very much like to increase the number of journalists, if the resources existed, and hoped for increased voluntary contributions for those additional journalists.

The Committee Chairman asked what criteria were used in choosing the journalists to participate in the various training programmes, citing criticism that not enough journalists from least developing countries were involved.  He also asked how well the Department interacted with regional bodies, such as the Economic Commission for Africa, the Economic Commission for Latin America and others.  Finally, he asked about the Department’s role in promoting system-wide coherence.

Mr. AKASAKA stressed the importance of delivering a consistent message, in line with the “One UN” initiative.  While it was not possible for the various United Nations bodies to speak with one voice at the moment, the Department was doing all it could to help coordinate the different messages.  The nearly 40 members of the United Nations family assembled regularly as part of the United Nations Communication Group, of which he was Chairman.  The Secretary-General was also mindful of the need to integrate communication concerns into the Organization’s policy-making process.

On the selection of journalists, he said that good regional representation was among the criteria considered, as was professional standing and fluency in English.  The journalists were chosen after extensive consultation with national authorities.  It was important to ensure transparency in the selection process.

Regarding contact with partners, he said the Department worked closely with the Africa Section to launch various reports.  Next year, the United Nations was expected to host important events in Africa, including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to be held in Ghana.  There were also several high-level events on the Millennium Development Goals planned, on which the Department would work closely with the Economic Commission for Africa.

Regarding the messages sent out on peacekeeping and peacekeepers, the representative of India said it was important to share success stories throughout the world and in countries where the operations were located.  He suggested that the Department had an important role to play in ensuring that a correct and proper perspective was disseminated to the media, and asked what the Department was doing to effectively counter unsubstantiated stories about the peacekeepers.

Mr. AKASAKA underlined the need to quickly respond to and correct stories that were unsubstantiated and sensational.  The Department had been working with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to advise it and its own media departments to provide advice on that.  In a recent meeting, he had discussed such issues with the Director of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  Those reports had been taken seriously and every effort had been made to redress them.

General Statements

JALIL SHAFQAT (Pakistan), noting that the United Nations was a universal body where issues of concern to the world community were debated, said that, as such, the role of the Department of Public Information, as the Organization’s public voice, had assumed a greater dimension.  Unfortunately, the world was characterized by polarizations and misunderstandings between societies and cultures.  At the same time, Pakistan appreciated the Department’s efforts to promote issues such as United Nations reform, climate change, Africa’s development, genocide prevention and the Millennium Development Goals.

He said the media’s role and its influence could not be overemphasized.  With the tendency to sensationalize bad news, it was critical to actively project United Nations ideals and accomplishments.  The role and achievements of the United Nations had gone unnoticed, even as it worked for the greater good of the international community.  That was because developments at the United Nations were considered “soft news”.  The Department must become pro-active; the time had come to revitalize it.  That should be done through a comprehensive strategy aimed at projecting the United Nations as a successful Organization, which had helped to improve the standard of living of the people of its Member States.

Pakistan encouraged freedom of expression, but rejected its use as an excuse to malign other faiths, he said.  Member States attached great importance to the United Nations information centres, whose goal was to enhance public interest in the United Nations work in promoting peace.  He pressed the Department to supervise the centres and fulfil their technical and human resource requirements.  Information and communication infrastructures of the developing world should be strengthened, to combat the “lopsided” and “unidirectional” flow of information that resulted from the developed world’s powerful media operations.  He also underlined the Department’s role in disseminating information about United Nations peacekeeping operations and to strengthen dialogue amongst civilizations.

MANAR TALEB ( Syria) said that his country attached great importance to the establishment of a more just and fair information network, which expressed mutual respect, equality and tolerance.  The United Nations, and particularly the Department of Public Information, had a special responsibility in that regard.  Efforts to encourage study of matters of concern to the international community were welcome, particularly in terms of the four thematic issues mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report:  peacekeeping; climate change; the Millennium Development Goals; and human rights.  Other issues that should be studied were Palestine, the Syria Golan Heights and intercultural dialogue.  The United Nations also had a contribution to make in dealing with foreign occupation and mobilizing the international community to combat various scourges and wipe them out.

He welcomed the Department’s improvements to its website, but said that it should step up efforts to provide parity among languages, particularly on the Arab page.  Efforts to study climate change helped develop a coherent strategy, so that decisions could be taken at the highest level of decision making.  The United Nations should be considered the leading actor, given its status and comparative advantages.  He encouraged the Department to step up its efforts to disseminate information on the World Summit and to close the digital divide between the North and South.  The Department’s symposium on the Middle East had been welcome, as had been the training it offered Palestinian journalists.  The role the Department could play in encouraging intercultural dialogue could build bridges between different peoples.  The information centres were important and any effort to streamline them should be made in consultation with the host countries.  Also welcome were the Department’s efforts to highlight the Fourth Committee’s work.

MOHAMED SOFIANE BERRAH ( Algeria) said that, to be fully effective, the United Nations communication strategy should rely on the United Nations information centres to establish a two-way flow of information.  The Organization should also make use of the latest technologies to disseminate information in a timely manner.  In doing so, however, the Organization should not forget that radio and television were the most popular means used by people around the world to connect with other civilizations and to learn of current events.

He voiced support for the Department’s awareness-raising campaigns, since those promoted a sense of unity and goodwill among peoples of the world, including in Algeria.  It was important to have a communications strategy that was coherent and transparent, and one that responded to actual needs.  All Member States were encouraged to play an active role in making that possible.  Achieving parity among the various United Nations languages was also important.  In terms of content, the information delivered by the United Nations must be impartial and balanced; it should be seen as the Secretariat’s “sacred duty” to be faithful and objective in all press communiqués and records of meetings, so as to prevent misunderstandings or ill-intentioned distortion of the message.  He encouraged the Department to keep its websites updated, and ensure that they were balanced.  Finally, the Department must not neglect to consult with concerned countries as it tackled the task of reorganizing the network of United Nations information centres.

YAN JIARONG ( China) said that the United Nations was receiving more and more attention and support.  Its status as the core global multilateral mechanism was growing, and the norms of international relations it advocated were gaining greater popular support.  The Department’s work to mobilize public opinion and enlist popular support was an important part of the Organization’s “soft power”.  The Department should focus on the four themes, which had been identified for its main activities -– peace and security, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals and human rights -- and make its publicity more targeted, efficient and effective.  Yet the task of publicizing the United Nations should not fall solely on the Department.  Other United Nations organs and agencies should promote the Organization’s work and the Public Information Department should strengthen that work through planning and coordination efforts, and by formulating interagency publicity strategies and plans.

She said that, in order to gradually establish a more just and effective world information order, the United Nations information sector should undertake greater efforts in several areas.  First, it should provide accurate, impartial and objective information, and play a more effective role in balancing information by explicitly preventing and rebutting misleading propaganda, distorted facts and falsified news.  Second, special attention should be given to the issue of development to guide public opinion away from the tendency of focusing solely on peace, while neglecting development.  Towards that goal, the United Nations information sector should invest more energy to help more media outlets and the general public correctly appreciate the issue of development.  Third, the United Nations information sector should play a bigger role in promoting mutual understanding and dialogue among civilizations and religions. 

Traditional means of communications and information dissemination should be strengthened to cater to the developing world’s needs, she said.  It should not be forgotten that many regions and peoples of the world still relied on traditional means of communications, and the information activities of the United Nations should help narrow, rather than widen, the existing disparities between different regions and countries.  Fifth, partnerships with more media outlets of developing countries should be established, and those outlets should be provided with more assistance.  Sixth, contacts with non-governmental organizations and imminent public figures from developing countries should be also be strengthened.

JORGE DE LEMOS GODINHO ( Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, commended the Department for its efforts in developing a more strategic approach to promote a greater understanding of United Nations activities.  Indeed, the European Union placed special emphasis on the role of information and communication activities in peacekeeping operations, conflict prevention and other crisis management and peacebuilding activities.  A more strategic and efficient Department of Public Information required well-defined communications goals, identifying target audiences, assigning roles to various actors and finding ways to measure the impact of those activities.  The Union would welcome more information on assessments and evaluations towards that goal.

He commended the movement towards language parity on the United Nations website, but more should be done.  The Organization should develop its Internet services, taking advantage of new technologies in a way that heightened the interest of young people.  The United Nations must ensure its messages reached those without access to the new forms of technology, such as in Africa and other parts of the developing world.  In that context, the Union stressed the need to continue to rely on radio and print.  United Nations information centres were fundamental in helping to spread the message, and the Union called on the Department to continue rationalizing the centres’ work.  The Union was also pleased to see new strategic uses of United Nations libraries, allowing for greater access to information by delegates and others elsewhere.

He added that 47 journalists had been killed in 2007 so far, including the recent killing of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai from AFP News, in Myanmar, and Salih Saif Aldin of the Washington Post in Baghdad, Iraq.  That was in addition to three others who had disappeared and 11 others who were killed.  The Union called attention to Security Council resolution 1738 (2006) on the safety and security of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, while repudiating all attempts to influence or control the media with the aim of suppressing information.  He reiterated the Union’s commitment to freedom of expression.

KHALID MOHAMED KHEIR MOHAMED ANAN ALI ( Sudan) thanked the Committee on Information for its report, saying his country had sent its Ministry of Communication Secretary to its latest meeting.  He thanked the Department of Information for today’s interactive dialogue with Member States, and commended it for the work it had done to ensure the Organization’s message was being heard throughout the world.  Indeed, the world was increasingly turning towards the United Nations as a global leader, and the Department was known to be its “faithful” and “neutral” voice.  He also thanked the Under-Secretary-General for having engaged in a constructive dialogue with Member States since assuming his post.  Perhaps “dialogue among civilizations” should be added to the list of issues on which the Department chose to focus, since today’s violence was largely due to a lack of communication among people.  He called on the Secretary-General to urge Member States to become more involved in crafting the United Nations communication strategies.

He said that the persistent digital divide remained an obstacle to the spread of information, particularly in Africa.  The Department should make use of traditional means of communication to reach those living in remote areas, or those who did not have access to new technologies.  The Department should use national languages to ensure effective transmission of its messages.  Only 15 journalists benefited from United Nations scholarships, which were too few, given the importance of promoting professionalism among the media in developing countries.  He welcomed the Department’s efforts to achieve language parity on its websites, but encouraged it to do more to bring the use of Arabic in line with the use of English.  He also invited the Department to promote cooperation among different United Nations bodies involved in decolonization, as well as on issues related to Palestine.

SERIK ZHANIBEKOV ( Kazakhstan) said the culture of information at the United Nations should permeate all levels of the Organization as a means of keeping the people of the world fully informed and creating broad-based global support.  Its geographic outreach and target audiences should be extended.  Although progress had been made in enhancing the timely dissemination of information, the Department should take into consideration the fact that information on the issues dealt with by the Security Council were not always available to Member States who were not part of that Council.  His country supported the process of consolidation of the United Nations information centres around regional hubs to promote greater efficiency.  The 63 information centres were progressively maximizing their value as strategic assets to the Organization. 

He said that, in order to maintain a positive image of the United Nations globally, it was important to disseminate information on the positive experiences of Member States -– such as the steps taken by Kazakhstan to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and how its decisions regarding its nuclear capabilities had shaped State strategies for global security.  He drew attention to the global nature of the Aral Sea problem and suggested the Department should highlight that issue more extensively, particularly the global dimensions of the region’s environmental degradation.  Other areas of Kazakhstan’s society that the Department could highlight included:  its multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, and its role in international forums, such as the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia.  The timeliness of establishing a single global information and communication space was inarguable, and Kazakhstan was working on domestic programmes to develop an information framework that would further assist it in joining the global information community. 

CHIRACHAI PUNKRASIN ( Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said information was a tool of power in the age of globalization.  Exclusive possession of information gave power to the holder.  It was important, therefore, that the international community ensure the distribution of unbiased information and that power did not remain only in the hands of a few.  In parts of the world with well-developed technological infrastructures, people were so inundated with information that it became difficult to distinguish truth from distortion.  In other parts of the world where the most basic infrastructure was absent, lack of information bred ignorance.

He said that the United Nations faced two key challenges:  to increase public understanding of the Organization’s work; and to ensure the efficient flow of information among its various entities.  While appreciating the Department’s effort to promote peace, development and human rights, the Association strongly believed that the promotion of dialogue among civilizations should be given some prominence.  It noted with satisfaction several new communications strategies initiated by the Department, building on a closer relationship with its network of information centres, other United Nations departments and more than 1,500 civil society organizations.  Further, the ASEAN-United Nations memorandum of understanding, signed recently, incorporated important elements regarding the exchange of information and expertise between the two organizations.  The Department should also continue strengthening its partnership with international media and taking steps to reach young people.

Speaking in his national capacity, he added that Thailand had become a full member of the Committee on Information.  He thanked Member States for their support of Thailand’s inclusion.

Right of Reply

In exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Myanmar , referring to the statement made by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, said that it was regrettable that some delegations tried to link one issue to other unrelated areas.  The situation of the Japanese photo-journalist had been unfortunate, and nothing like that had happened before in Myanmar.  It was unacceptable to assume that that incident threatened international peace and security.

* *** *

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