INFORMATION HEAD URGES MEMBER STATES TO JOIN AS PARTNERS IN TELLING UNITED NATIONS STORY, SAYING “WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR A BETTER WORLD”

28 April 2008
PI/1827

INFORMATION HEAD URGES MEMBER STATES TO JOIN AS PARTNERS IN TELLING UNITED NATIONS STORY, SAYING “WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR A BETTER WORLD”

28 April 2008
General Assembly
PI/1827
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Information

Thirtieth Session

1st Meeting (AM)

INFORMATION HEAD URGES MEMBER STATES TO JOIN AS PARTNERS IN TELLING UNITED NATIONS

STORY, SAYING “WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR A BETTER WORLD”

Addresses Committee on Information as Headquarters Session Opens;

Speakers Stress Importance of Multilingualism, ‘Action-oriented’ Resolution

The head of United Nations Public Information today urged Member States to become partners in telling the Organization’s story and ensuring sustained support for its mission from the global public, saying that, with such cooperation, “we can make a difference for a better world”.

Addressing the opening meeting of the Committee on Information, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, described a broad array of information efforts and stressed that “telling the United Nations story and building broad public support for the Organization and its aims cannot be achieved by DPI alone”.  He told delegations “we also need your active participation”, and urged them to think of ways their Governments and civil society could partner with his Department and other offices to bring their own national audiences a “greater and deeper understanding” of the Organization.

He added that, at a time when the Organization was facing more and more issues of global importance -- and rising expectations that it could find solutions -- the Department’s mission was “central to, and inseparable from”, the objectives and aims of the Organization, and he outlined for delegates the approach he had taken to guide it in the past year, with a focus on a strategic approach, improved coordination, new and expanded partnerships, multilingualism and evaluation.

For example, in early 2008, the Department had identified broad communications priority themes in the areas of development, peace and security, human rights and climate change, he said.  It has also identified Africa as a regional focus and youth as a strategic audience for its work.  In light of its shrinking resources, but expanding mandate, the Department must set priorities and prepare early so that its work was focused, he said, noting that those strategic themes reflected and built on the mandates provided by the General Assembly, as well as the vision articulated by the Secretary-General.  Through a series of consultations held with the heads of departments and offices, and collaboration with the United Nations Communications Group, the Department was working to improve cooperation and early action across the United Nations system to better and more effectively inform the public at all levels about specific United Nations initiatives.

Building support for the United Nations required new partnerships and expanding old ones, he continued, noting that he was initiating and promoting creative long-term relations with the film industry, non-governmental organizations, the business community and young people.  The Model United Nations programme, in which more than 400,000 students participated worldwide annually, was just one excellent way to educate and excite young people about the Organization, he said, urging the Committee to support a new Department initiative to launch a global Model United Nations in 2009.  The Department also continued to spare no effort in promoting multilingualism throughout all United Nations activities, including its radio programmes, in the six official languages, as well as non-official languages.  To better evaluate the Department’s work, an annual programme impact review was being conducted on selected programme outcomes.

The Department was also actively working with the Secretary-General’s Office on plans for the September 2008 high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals, and it would continue to work with the Millennium Campaign and other partners to support this October’s “Stand Up and Speak out against Poverty” Millennium Development Goal awareness campaign -- which had successfully mobilized approximately 44 million people last year, almost double the 2006 number.  It was also looking into new ways to better reach out to academics and policy makers worldwide, he said, presenting the Department’s proposal to create a new journal targeting key academics, “UN Affairs”, to replace the UN Chronicle magazine, as well as a multilingual “UN Affairs” website that would allow the global academic community to engage the Organization on selected themes.

He reminded delegations that 2008 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee on Information and said: “Today, we can say with certainty that the evolving partnership between the Committee and DPI has been a cornerstone in defining DPI’s role in a continuously changing global media environment.”  Thanks to the Committee’s support and guidance, the Department’s efforts were more strategic and coherent, its products and services were conveyed faster and more effectively, and its reach and partnerships engaged greater audiences.  He looked forward to working with the Committee to further enhance his Department’s effectiveness and impact.

Committee Chairperson Andreas Baum of Switzerland said the Committee was meeting at a crucial time in the Organization’s history, as it celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reached the halfway mark in implementing the Millennium Development Goals.   The United Nations was also in the midst of renewal, with more than 7 million people looking to it to improve peace, security, development and human rights, as well as to address the challenges of climate change and food security.  To meet those expectations, the Organization’s actions, goals and aspirations must be understood.  That required communicating clearly, informing in a timely and precise manner and reaching out actively, as well as embracing new technologies to stay on the front line of change in the way information was gathered and disseminated.  Multilingualism -- an often professed goal of the Organization -- had yet to be fully realized.

Antigua and Barbuda’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, began the general debate by saying that, as the media tended to sensationalize bad news, it was critical for the Department of Public Information to continuously and actively project the United Nations accomplishments and intensify its global outreach on such issues as United Nations reform, the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development, dialogue among civilizations, climate change, HIV/AIDS, development in Africa and the question of Palestine.

The United Nations Information Centres helped bridge the information and communications technology access gap between developed and developing countries, he said, supporting the call for allocating adequate resources to strengthen and ensure the effective functioning of the Centres.  Any decision to reorganize those Centres must be made in close consultation with the host countries and must take into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characters of different regions.  Greater resources were also needed to ensure that information on the Department’s websites was available in all official languages.

Similarly, France’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said multilingualism was a key aspect of the United Nations work and, while much had been achieved, the situation was still not satisfactory.  All available resources should be used to achieve common objectives, including language parity.  The current session should also focus on improving the Department’s effectiveness, particularly as it concerned the Information Centres, within budgetary constraints, and on improving interdepartmental collaboration to develop a more coherent communications strategy and to speak with one voice.

He lauded all the initiatives of the Regional Centre in Brussels to help the United Nations celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying such initiatives clearly demonstrated the validity of regionalism, as well as touted the improved resources of the Information Centres worldwide and their increased cooperation.  Further, the Committee should work to streamline the resolution to make it more action-oriented, he said, noting that in its current form the resolution was too complicated, long and unclear.  During the twenty-ninth session, the Group of 77 and China had assured the European Union that it would offer a text to streamline the resolution.  But the European Union was still waiting for that resolution to be officially communicated.

Mexico’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, recognized the Department’s close cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support to better inform the public about the United Nations work in maintaining international peace and security.  He called for more information on the Department’s activities to support peacekeeping, taking into account the creation of the Public Affairs Unit in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

He lauded the broad coverage of and high number of visits to United Nations webcasts and welcomed efforts to expand the webcasting capacity in the Organization’s six official languages.  While stressing that it was important to continue to use such traditional media as radio, television and the written press, the Department should work to broadcast radio programmes in as many languages as possible, including in Portuguese and indigenous languages.  Further, the Department should continue to strengthen its relationship with radio stations and local journalists.

Also today, the Committee adopted its provisional agenda and programme of work for the session (document A/AC.198/2008/1).

In addition to the election of the new Chair, the Committee elected by acclamation Xavier Rosa (Angola) to replace Estevao Umba Alberto (Angola) as Vice-Chair for the remainder of 2008 and for 2009.

Antigua and Barbuda and Zambia requested membership in the Committee.  The Chairperson also announced that Antigua and Barbuda, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Malaysia, Montenegro, Myanmar, Panama, the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), International Progress Organization (IPO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as Palestine would participate in the current session as observers.

Also speaking in the general debate were the representatives of Algeria, Philippines and Syria (on behalf of the Arab Group).

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 29 April, to continue its general debate.

Background

The Committee on Information met this morning to open its thirtieth annual session.  For background, see Press Release PI/1826 issued on 25 April 2008.

Opening Statement

Committee Chairperson Andreas Baum ( Switzerland) said that, in recent years, the relationship between the Committee and the Department of Public Information had been characterised by a high level of cooperation and partnership.  That hade been possible thanks in large part to the leadership of Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka, and he looked forward to working with the Under-Secretary-General and his staff to further the work of the Department.

The Committee was meeting at a crucial time in the history of the United Nations, he continued.  This was the year of the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the international community was at the midpoint of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  It was also in the midst of a renewal of the Organization.  Over 7 million people looked to the United Nations to better peace and security, to improve development, to guarantee human rights, not to mention the giant new challenges of climate change and food security.  For the United Nations to meet those expectations, its actions, goals and aspirations needed to be understood.  For the United Nations to be understood, it needed to communicate clearly, inform in a timely and precise manner and reach out actively.

The task of the Department of Public Information was, therefore, a central one, he went on, noting that the report of the Secretary-General on the Department’s activities, submitted for consideration by the Committee, took stock of steady progress in reaching its strategic objectives.  Particularly noteworthy were the Department’s emphases on increased cooperation with United Nations system partners and with civil society organizations, as well as its results-based approach.

The Department of Public Information was a credible and audible voice of the United Nations in the world, but big challenges remained, he said.  There was a breathtaking speed of change in the way information was produced, gathered and passed on.  It took ingenuity and a will to embrace new technologies to stay on the front line of change and not lose touch.  New technologies were but an addition to a rich world of many languages, cultures and identities.  Multilingualism, though an often professed goal of the Organization, had not been realized to its full extent.

He stated that the basic objective before the Committee was to produce a consensus resolution summing up its deliberations.  He hoped for a clear, easily understandable and well-structured resolution that would provide the Department with practical guidance on public information policies and programmatic activities.  The resolution should be action-oriented.  “If DPI is the voice of the UN, the Committee on Information is the tuning fork that sets the tone,” he said.

Statement by Under-Secretary-General

KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said 2008 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee.  The Committee’s partnership with the Department had strengthened over the years to better inform the public about the realities of the United Nations.  Thanks to the support and guidance from the Committee, the Department’s products and services were communicated more efficiently and strategically, and its partnerships engaged a larger and broader public.

He said the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Department of Public Information, parts I and II, provided information on activities specifically identified by the General Assembly in its resolution 62/111 of 12 December 2007.  He would outline the Department’s current activities and the challenges it faced, and later in the day, Member States would have the chance to discuss those matters in detail during an interactive dialogue.

The Department of Public Information remained committed to providing timely, accurate, impartial, comprehensive and coherent information about the United Nations and its objectives, he said.  Its mission -- to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact -- was central to, and inseparable from, the objectives and aims of the Organization.

Mr. Akasaka then outlined the approaches he had undertaken to guide the Department’s work.  Concerning a strategic approach, he said he had consistently emphasized the need for setting priorities and early preparation to ensure that the Department’s work was focused, and to achieve the greatest impact from its efforts.  That was particularly important given the Department’s shrinking resource base, but expanding mandate.  The Department had early in the year identified broad communications priority themes in the areas of development, peace and security, human rights and climate change.  It had also identified Africa as a regional focus and youth as a strategic audience for its work.  Those priorities, which reflected and built on the mandates provided by the General Assembly, as well as the vision articulated by the Secretary-General, guided the Department’s work.

Examples of the Department’s strategic approach in action, and its resulting successful communications campaigns, included the series of events and activities at United Nations Headquarters and in venues around the world as part of the Holocaust and the United Nations outreach programme; the launch of Secretary-General Ban’s multi-year campaign to end violence against women and girls; and the first annual worldwide commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Regarding improved coordination, Mr. Akasaka said he had held a series of consultations with the heads of departments and offices to identify specific areas of cooperation.  The purpose of those consultations had again been to set communications priorities, to provide advice and expertise on effective ways to inform the public at all levels about specific United Nations initiatives, and to coordinate early action across departments.  He had also sought to be more proactive in ensuring coordination across the United Nations system on selected priorities, including at the global, regional and country levels, through the United Nations Communications Group.  The Department presently served, for example, as the chair of inter-agency communications task forces on the Millennium Development Goals and on climate change.  Both task forces had delivered coherent and coordinated United Nations messages and public information materials that had advanced the debate on those subjects.  Mr. Akasaka had also led meetings of United Nations Information Centres and United Nations offices from the Arab region and the Asia-Pacific region, in Cairo and Bangkok, respectively, to focus on global and regional priorities.  The Department was currently planning a similar regional meeting for Africa in early 2009.

Mr. Akasaka said he was convinced that building support for the United Nations required new partnerships and expanding old ones.  He had taken several steps on that front, including by initiating and promoting creative long-term partnerships with, for example, the film industry, non-governmental organization coalitions, the business community and young people.  Youth represented a top priority for the Department, as well as a new generation of support.  The Model United Nations programme, in which more than 400,000 students participated worldwide each year, was just one excellent way to educate and excite young people about the United Nations.  Model United Nations events were organized at the local, regional, national and international levels by many different associations.  There was an enormous opportunity for the Department to play a more active role in Model United Nations programmes and in engaging the interests and energy of young people.  He sought the Committee’s support for a new Department initiative to launch a global Model United Nations, beginning in 2009.  The global Model United Nations would be developed on the basis of best practices and would hopefully be rotated among the different regions of the world.

Concerning multilingualism, he said that, with due consideration to the status of French as one of the Organization’s working languages, the Department continued to spare no effort to promote multilingualism throughout all United Nations activities, including its radio programmes in the six official languages and non-official languages, as well as web broadcasts in the original language of the speaker and in English.  The Information Centres were making contributions to produce documents in 80 local languages, and there were constant efforts to strengthen and enhance the language services of the News Centre.  He welcomed Members States’ efforts in that regard. 

Evaluation represented the fifth overall approach to the Department’s work, he said, noting that he had underlined to his team the value he placed on the achievement of results and on understanding the impact of the work.  As part of those efforts, the Department conducted an annual programme impact review on selected programme outcomes.  It also was increasing the number of evaluations of its services and programmes, with a view to making them more effective.

Parts I and II of the report of the Secretary-General contained many examples of communications successes in the year since the Committee had last met, he continued.  Those included successful campaigns and outreach programmes on thematic issues; cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support on United Nations peacekeeping; the expansion of a full range of news services to larger audiences; and examples of new partnerships with, for example, educators, the academic community, libraries and non-governmental organizations.

He then turned to a number of current initiatives and strategies that the Department was working on with its partners in the Secretariat and in the United Nations system, which were aimed at new audiences and establishing new partnerships.  To mark the sixtieth anniversary of United Nations peacekeeping, to be launched on 29 May, the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, the Department had developed an elaborate communications strategy, working closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  In addition to guidance for Information Centres and United Nations country teams on main messages for the occasion, the Department was developing press materials, a photo exhibit and a 10‑minute documentary.

To mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the annual DPI/NGO Conference, which was planned to take place in Paris, intended to focus on “Reaffirming Human Rights: the Universal Declaration at 60”.  The Department was working actively to identify partners with whom it could collaborate on such conferences being held at venues other than Headquarters.  That initiative, taken jointly with the affiliated NGO community, was aimed at encouraging greater international presence and participation, particularly from the developing world.  For that important anniversary, the Department had also created a website with links to products and activities.  In addition, a cooperative project to digitize the early documentation that led to the adoption of the Declaration was being developed by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the United Nations Office at Geneva Library.  That website would provide access for historians and others interested in the earliest negotiations on that defining issue.

On the Millennium Development Goals, the Department was actively working with the Secretary-General’s Office on plans for the September 2008 high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals, and was chairing an inter-agency task force to develop a joint communications strategy leading up to and for the high-level event, he said.  The Department would also continue to work with the Millennium Campaign and other partners in support of this October’s “Stand Up and Speak out against Poverty” Millennium Development Goal awareness campaign.  That campaign had successfully mobilized roughly 44 million people last year, almost double the number of people who had taken part in the campaign in 2006.   The Department’s efforts this year would be to focus on encouraging meaningful participation and action as part of the Millennium Development Goal campaign.

The Department continued to draw special attention to human-interest stories that resonated with diverse audiences through different communications means, including, for example, through the 21st Century TV programme, which was now broadcast by more than 50 outlets.  United Nations Radio had focused on topical stories like the linkage between climate change and development, and had provided broad coverage of the Secretary-General’s MDG Africa Steering Group meeting in March.  The Department’s decision to bring the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali live via webcast had yielded excellent results.  Total live and on-demand webcast viewed over the period of the conference to the end of February 2008 had been 455,312 from 143 countries.  Those statistics were orders of magnitude larger than any other previous United Nations conference.  They also indicated that the technology was maturing, as more and more people obtained broadband access to the Internet.

He said that, four times a year, in both English and French, Africa Renewal delivered feature stories on the most important issues of concern to Africa and the international community to more than 250,000 dedicated readers of the magazine in print.  Africa Renewal also produced special thematic issues on major topics, most recently on NEPAD -- the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development.  The magazine was available on the Africa Renewal website, and its articles were posted on major Africa-interest web portals like allAfrica.com and, in French, Afrik.com.  Over the past two years, Africa Renewal’s material had been republished some 600 times in more than 90 media.  This year, the short feature service was expanding to include Swahili and Spanish-speaking media outlets.

The Department, with the excellent efforts made by the Information Centres, also successfully amplified key United Nations concerns like global food challenges and the complex situation in Darfur, by the strategic placement in newspapers around the world of op-eds by the Secretary-General and senior United Nations officials.  With almost 300 op-ed placements during 2007 in more than 20 languages, those publications reached millions of readers.

In a rapidly changing media environment, where young people used the Internet, social networks and mobile phones to communicate and get information, the Department had developed strategies to target that key group.  For example, the UN Works programme was developing with VH1 networks a celebrity-hosted TV series and complementary website with online advocacy and educational resources.  The CyberSchoolBus had sponsored live video chats on human rights, the Millennium Development Goals, Darfur and the realities of nuclear war, and had brought them directly into the classroom.

The Department had also been looking into new ways it might better reach out to academics and policymakers around the world, he said, stressing that he would like to discuss, that afternoon, the proposal to create an entirely new journal, “UN Affairs”, which would replace the UN Chronicle magazine, and would target the key academic audience more closely.  The new journal would be accompanied by a multilingual “UN Affairs” website, subject to available resources.  The website would include an interactive capacity that would allow the global academic community to engage the Organization on selected themes.

The capacity of the Department to deliver the services required would, however, depend a great deal on resource availability, he said.  The Department’s approved budget for 2008-2009 had been reduced to such an extent that its non-post initial appropriation was almost $3 million less than the non-staff portion of the proposed budget for the biennium.  Unless alternative sources were found, the resource shortfall could hurt several of the Department’s programmes.

For example, one of the flagship publications of the Organization, the Yearbook of the United Nations, which had made significant gains over the last decade to maintain a meaningful production schedule, could once again face publication delays, he said.  The Department’s efforts to put the entire collection of the Yearbook online, from 1946, could also be slowed.  The Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s information services to clients could be further affected.  The ability of United Nations Information Centres to translate materials into multiple languages, in particular local languages, could be curtailed.

Meanwhile, broadcasting had gone digital and mobile -- making it cheaper and easier to reach audiences around the world -- in cities as well as remote rural areas, he said.  But, with a smaller operating budget, the Department was ill-equipped to buy the digital equipment it needed to take full advantage of the transformation of the dissemination of audio and video material.  Nor would it be able to meet the growing demand for webcasting meetings and events in all official languages.  Fewer resources could also mean that same day photo and press release coverage of late meetings would be delayed, and that late meeting television coverage might no longer be possible when the budget for overtime costs was exhausted.

With 63 field offices, the Department was also forced to cope with the impact of currency fluctuations, the declining value of the dollar, inflation and rising costs for rent and utilities, he said.  The United Nations Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro, for example, had calculated that, when inflation and currency fluctuation were factored in, its actual operating budget had decreased by over 70 per cent between 2002 and 2007.  In addition, the Department would have to manage the continuing question of security for staff in the field.  Even before the attack on United Nations offices in Algiers, requests from Information Centres, approved by local security officials, exceeded the 2008 allotment for Information Centre security by $124,000.  The Department was simply not able to meet current needs, let alone cover any new costs that arose owing to evolving security requirements.

Resources would also be key to implementing the proposal on press releases included in part II of the report of the Secretary-General, he said.  Guided by the mandate in last year’s resolution, the Department had considered several proposals to expand press release coverage to the other four official languages, in addition to English and French.  The Department was aware that each of the options before the Committee had financial implications.  In developing those options, his Department had consulted the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management on ways to expand language press releases, including within existing resources.  However, that was not feasible, given the volume of content involved.  Member States might wish to offer alternatives the Department had not considered on the kind of content they would like to have available in other languages, and provide further guidance in that regard.  The Department remained ready to explore the matter further.

Despite those resource constraints, he assured the Committee that the Department was not standing still.  To make up for the shortfalls, the Department was reaching out to Member States, private sector and civil society partners for extrabudgetary contributions.  It was also looking for creative solutions.  For example, since February of this year, through a cooperative agreement with the Information and Technology Services Division, it made available to United Nations Information Centres computers in good condition that would otherwise have been returned to stock and discarded.  And it had now completed the four training seminars for Information Centres on Holocaust remembrance, and would hold an “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar on “Art and the Environment” next week, all paid for by partner institutions and at no cost to the United Nations.

Another challenge was the forthcoming move of staff in connection with the implementation of the Capital Master Plan.  Every effort would be made to ensure the continuation of all the essential services that Member States relied on from the Department, he said.  Meetings would continue to be broadcast and webcast, and press releases issued.  The media would continue to have access to briefings and stakeouts, and would be able to send out their stories as quickly as they did now.  However, during the renovations of the conference building, the guided tours operation would be limited to the General Assembly building.  The Department expected that the number of tours and visitors would be reduced, as would the revenue from this income-generating operation.  The Department would work with many external partners to alleviate some of the consequences stemming from those constraints, as well as find new and creative ways to engage the millions of visitors to the United Nations.

But the Capital Master Plan provided opportunities as well, he said.  For example, his Department was working closely with the Department of Management to create a more efficient and more integrated digital asset management system for all audio and video services.  Such a system, provided Member States would agree to meet the request now submitted for the associated costs, would both enhance services to delegates, the media and other users, as well as realize a number of efficiency gains.

The Department was determined to meet the expectations that Members States had placed on it, he said.  “However, the task before DPI -- to tell the UN story and build public support for the Organization and its aims -- cannot be achieved by DPI alone.”  The active participation of Member States was needed.  He asked Member States to think of ways their Governments and civil society could partner with the Department to bring their own national audiences “a greater and deeper understanding” of the United Nations.

More and more issues of global importance were being brought before the Organization, and expectations that the United Nations would find solutions had grown.  It was important that global public opinion understood what the United Nations could and could not do, so that their support and faith in the Organization was sustainable.  In that regard, public information was crucial.  With Member States’ support and advice, “we can make a difference for a better world”, he concluded.

Statements

TUMASIE C. BLAIR (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the Department of Public Information faced many challenges as it undertook its function.  Today’s media had a tendency to sensationalize bad news, thus creating an atmosphere of negativity surrounding the Organization.  It was, therefore, critical for the Department to continuously and actively project the United Nations accomplishments, intensify outreach and transmit the United Nations message to all peoples of the world.  The Group of 77 and China fully supported the work of the Department in promoting and advancing the work of the Organization through continued campaigns on issues of importance to the international community.  Those included United Nations reform, the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development, dialogue among civilizations, climate change, HIV/AIDS, as well as development on the African continent.  The Group also commended the Department for its implementation of the Special Programme on the Question of Palestine, aimed at raising the awareness of the international community with regard to the Question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.

The Group highlighted the importance of the Department as the public voice of the Organization and in providing accurate, impartial, comprehensive and timely information to the Member States and the wider international community on the work of the United Nations, he continued.  It was important that there be a consistent message between the Department and any other entity that provided information on the United Nations.  As part of the efforts to enhance and strengthen accountability and transparency of the Organization, Member States should be able to first learn about important events affecting the United Nations through official channels, including the Department, rather than through the outside media.  The General Assembly had a Charter-mandated role of oversight on matters affecting the Secretariat and resources of the Organization.  The interaction between the media and the Secretariat did not replace that Charter requirement for the Secretariat to report to Member States through the General Assembly.

Turning to the United Nations Information Centres, he said they were a vital source in the flow of information and they helped bridge the gap between the developed and developing economies in terms of access to information and communications technology.  The Group supported the call for allocation of adequate resources to ensure the effective functioning and strengthening of the Centres.  It stressed that any decision pertaining to their reorganization must be made in close consultation with the host countries, and must take into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characteristics of different regions.  The Group also expressed support and appreciation to the Department in its effort to strengthen the United Nations websites in all official languages and said that the goal should be achievement of equality in presenting information on the websites in all official languages.  In that regard, the Group was concerned at the increasing gap among websites in different official languages.  More resources needed to be allocated to achieve equality among all the official languages in order to bridge that gap, taking into account the specificity of some official languages that used non-Latin and bidirectional scripts.

He added that the Group attached the utmost importance to the continuation of the use of traditional media, including both radio and print, in disseminating the main messages of the United Nations, since those media remained the primary means of communication in developing countries.  In that regard, the Department needed to continue building partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to extend the United Nations message to all corners of the world in an accurate, impartial and effective manner.

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Committee needed activity reports with precise figures and comments that clearly evaluated results, spelled out differences and proposed solutions for resolving them in order to do a good job.  The European Union had set three priorities for the current session.  The first was to improve the effectiveness of the Department within its budget constraints.  That applied in particular to Information Centres, which were essential instruments for the Department to promote the United Nations and its main issues.   He noted with satisfaction all the initiatives of the Regional Centre in Brussels, in particular, as the United Nations celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  That clearly demonstrated the validity of regionalism.  The European Union had also taken note of the improved resources of the Centres and their increased cooperation.  The European Union considered that approach positive and encouraged its expansion to other Centres, on a voluntary basis and within its constrained budgetary framework.

The European Union also encouraged the Department and the Information Centres to enhance cooperation with other United Nations entities at the national and local levels to develop a more coherent communications strategy and to speak with one voice, he said.  The United Nations should also partner more with civil society, as it had to more than ever explain that it was still wholly relevant.  The European Union would strongly support any initiative for that purpose.  Multilingualism was still a key aspect of the United Nations work.  Much had been done, but the situation was not satisfactory, and all available resources should indeed be used to achieve common objectives.  The third priority was to streamline the resolution.  It was too complicated, long and lacked clarity in its current form.  It must be made more action-oriented, so that the United Nations message was better understood.  He said that, during the twenty-ninth session, the Group of 77 and China had assured the European Union that it would offer a text to streamline the resolution.  The European Union was waiting for that resolution to be officially communicated.

In a few days, World Press Freedom Day would be celebrated, he said.  Every year, the Committee reaffirmed in the first part of its resolution the principles of freedom of information, independence, plurality and diversity of the media, and it urged all States to ensure that journalists could work freely and effectively.  Every year, it also resolutely condemned all attacks against all journalists.  In 2007, 65 journalists had been killed and so far this year, 8 had been killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.  That was far too many and the Committee had a collective responsibility to put an end to it.

CLAUDE HELLER (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the work done by the Department of Public Information contributed to a better understanding of the tasks that the United Nations carried out in the maintenance of international peace and security, the respect and promotion of human rights, achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, prevention of disease, climate change, poverty and respect for the norms of international law.  The Rio Group recognized the efforts by the Department to strengthen cooperation with other organs of the United Nations, and underlined that strengthening such cooperation would contribute to a broader and truthful dissemination of the tasks the Organization carried out in order to comply with its responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security.

The Rio Group, in particular, took into account the close cooperation among the Department of Public Information, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support, as well as the effort of the Department to disseminate information on peacekeeping operations.  The Group hoped to receive more information on the functions and scope of orientation and support activities that the Department carried out, taking into account the creation of the Public Affairs Unit in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

The Group underlined the work done in its region by the United Nations Information Centres, services and information components there through the modest resources they had to disseminate the message of the Organization, he went on.  In that regard, it encouraged the Department to keep on supporting them and called for a constructive and permanent dialogue between the Department and Member States in order to strengthen the network of information centres, services and components.

On the issue of parity among United Nations official languages, he expressed the Group’s appreciation for the information that had been provided, but said there was still a lot to do.  He encouraged the Department to renew its efforts in order to make progress towards the goal of parity among the official languages.  He added that the Group was encouraged by the information provided by the Secretary-General regarding the broad coverage and high number of visits to United Nations webcasts, which allowed direct access for the public to the activities of the main organs.  It further welcomed the efforts of the Department to examine ways of expanding the webcasting capacity in the six official languages, but added that additional efforts were required to promote the United Nations message not only in the official languages, but also in as many other languages as possible. The Group considered it a priority to ensure the parity of the official languages.

He added that the Group considered it important to continue to use traditional media, such as radio, television and the written press, taking into account that they still remained the fundamental means for obtaining information in developing countries.  In that regard, the presentation of radio programmes in as many languages as possible should be encouraged, including in Portuguese and indigenous languages.  The Department should continue to strengthen its relationship with radio stations and local journalists of Member States.

Not only the Department of Public Information, but all United Nations agencies should offer information in all the official languages and it was important that the press releases also be published in Spanish, he said.  Nowadays, the Organization could not continue working in only two languages and, most of all, could not continue the tendency to focus on only one.  With respect to annex I of document A/AC.198/2008/3, the Rio Group considered that the Committee could not make a decision on a budgetary issue.  The proposal should be analysed by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).

In closing, he said the revolution of information technology and communication made it more necessary to any international organization to have qualified personnel to promote information in the world’s main languages.  The United Nations should adapt to that reality. 

YOUCEF YOUSFI ( Algeria) said the Committee’s work must be improved.  The achievement of the Committee’s objectives was today undermined by phenomena that were contradictory to the values of the United Nations Charter.  He called for solidarity to ensure a strategic and effective campaign to promote and inform the world about the work of the United Nations.  A campaign that appealed for intolerance in the area of information technology had developed.  Islamophobia now occupied an important place in the discourse of a non-representative minority.  Prompt and firm action was needed to address that and to attain the objectives of understanding of and respect for cultures, religions and civilizations.  The Committee should give the Department of Public Information the impetus to pursue awareness campaigns in that regard.  New information technology and the network of institutional partnerships that was being offered in that framework was an intermediary.   He suggested the development of anti-intolerance seminars and the promotion of interfaith dialogue between civilizations.

It was essential to confront the manifestations of intolerance in the media, he said.  The political and scientific communities and non-governmental organizations should get the message out to the people.  They had a real role to play in promoting that debate and its objectives.  He also supported the Department’s awareness campaigns in Africa.  He favoured a more balanced approach, whereby the campaigns showed both Africa’s problems and the efforts under way to eliminate poverty and promote development.  Impartial coverage of the Israel-Palestine issue was also an essential part of the Department’s work, and it was a lifeline for people like the Palestinians, who were not free from colonialism.

HILARIO DAVIDE, JR. (Philippines) associated his delegation with the statement made by the representative of Antigua and Barbuda on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and said that the advances made by the Department of Public Information in promoting the work of the United Nations to an ever-expanding audience had been underscored by the Secretary-General in his report to the General Assembly on the Department’s activities since July 2007.  In that report, the Secretary-General cited such accomplishments as the synergy between Headquarters and the field, which had resulted in a more focused delivery of the United Nations message to the target audience.  His country hoped that the Department would be able to accomplish the tasks it had set out to do, and effectively deliver the United Nations message under the priority themes of peace and security, development and human rights.  It also supported and looked forward to the successful implementation of the activities outlined in Department’s proposed strategic framework for the period 2010-2011.

The Philippines was pleased with the efforts of the Department to promote a better understanding of various issues that were of importance to the international community, in particular the thematic communications campaigns it had undertaken last year in support of, among other things, the Millennium Development Goals, human rights and climate change, he stated.  His country was also impressed with the Department’s effective use of print, radio and television in bringing United Nations issues to a much larger global audience, especially in Asia and Africa, as well as its efforts to further expand its audience by utilizing traditional media in as many languages as possible.

Bridging the digital divide remained a key area that the Department needed to address, he went on.  He noted the efforts of the Department in utilizing available new technology to publicize the work of the United Nations, and cited, in particular, the webcast of all General Assembly meetings and the reorganization and redesign of the websites of the General Assembly and the United Nations News Centre, which now made them more user-friendly.  The Philippines would like to see the Department make full use of new technology to allow the public better and faster access to information about the United Nations, especially on pressing global issues that affected them.  The Department should also continue to exert effort to strengthen its partnership with civil society.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, expressed support for the statement made earlier by the representative of Antigua and Barbuda on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and said that the Arab Group attached great importance to the new information order aimed at achieving a world governed by the principles of equality and justice.  Focusing on issues that had been mandated by United Nations organs, especially the General Assembly, had become the main task of the Department of Public Information.  In that context, there was growing interest in United Nations activities.

Turning to the efforts to rationalize the United Nations Information Centres, he stated that the Arab Group welcomed that trend, especially in countries that had enormous information resources.  The Group, however, stressed the importance of expanding the Centres in developing countries, particularly in the least developed States.  The Centres needed to be effective in enhancing the activities of the Organization.  The Group appreciated the measures that had been taken by the Department in order to revitalise the Sanaa United Nations Information Centre.

The equality of all United Nations languages on the Internet was of special importance to the Group, he continued.  In that regard, the Group had noted the efforts that had been made by the Department, but was of the view that possible further improvement on the Arab page on the website was needed.  That required more effort in order to achieve full parity by allocating human and material resources in a manner that took into account the peculiar nature of the language.

The Arab Group was grateful to the Department for incorporating Palestine in all its activities, he went on.  The Department should, however, make further effort in that area, given the long suffering of the people during the decades of occupation.  It should continue implementing that programme and should allocate adequate resources to it.  Also, in accordance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, the General Assembly and other bodies, it should cover Israeli acts against the people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.  There was inadequate coverage of those Israeli activities.

He added that the Group agreed with the Secretary-General that freedom should be associated with responsibility.  The Department has the responsibility to raise awareness in order to consolidate respect and understanding of different cultures, so as to promote the value of peace.  Thus, the Group welcomed the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the film by Geert Wilders.

He urged the Department to make every effort to ensure the accuracy of its press releases.  It also needed to expand the coverage of those press releases to include all six official languages.

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