IMPORTANCE OF MULTILINGUALISM, RATIONALIZING UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION CENTRES, CLOSING DIGITAL DIVIDE AMONG ISSUES AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE DEBATE CONTINUES

29 April 2008
PI/1828

IMPORTANCE OF MULTILINGUALISM, RATIONALIZING UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION CENTRES, CLOSING DIGITAL DIVIDE AMONG ISSUES AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE DEBATE CONTINUES

29 April 2008
General Assembly
PI/1828
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Information

Thirtieth Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

IMPORTANCE OF MULTILINGUALISM, RATIONALIZING UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION CENTRES,

CLOSING DIGITAL DIVIDE AMONG ISSUES AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE DEBATE CONTINUES

Stressing the importance of multilingualism in international affairs, representatives of several Member States addressing the Committee on Information today said the United Nations must step up efforts to get its public message out in all its official languages and as many local languages as possible.

The Department of Public Information should use cutting-edge information and communications technology, as well as traditional means of mass communication, to ensure language parity of its information products, including by creating websites in languages other than English, the Russian Federation’s representative said as the Committee continued its general debate.  She supported the Department’s proposal to translate press releases -- currently offered in English and French -- into the other four official languages, as well as efforts to expand all forms of Russian-language coverage of United Nations activities.

Last year, she added, the number of page views of the Russian-language section of the United Nations website had risen 58.1 per cent, while visitor traffic to that site had jumped 30 per cent.  The Russian-language service of United Nations Radio was now broadcasting programmes in Moscow and Saint Petersburg through the Global Radio Network and it had formed a constructive partnership with The Voice of Russia, a leading radio station.

Cape Verde’s representative said that, last year, views of the non-English United Nations web pages had expanded the most, increasing 28.6 per cent -- a clear sign that, despite efforts to bridge the communications gap, information for the large non-English-speaking community was still lacking.  He called for strengthening the Portuguese-language service of United Nations Radio, noting that radio remained the most effective and accessible means of communicating with targeted audiences, particularly in the least developed countries.  He also called for creating the Luanda information centre to address the specific information needs and challenges of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, and lauded the work of the Portuguese desk of the United Nations Information Centre in Western Europe.

Senegal’s representative, equally keen on expanding the United Nations multilingual services, called for greater efforts to offset the growing gap between the number of web pages available in English and those available in other languages.  Despite budgetary constraints, the Department had worked unrelentingly to make information materials available in all six official languages.  It had also formed partnerships with Russian and Spanish universities to translate documents free of charge, he said, encouraging similar translation arrangements for other languages.  He also supported the creation of a regional information centre in Dakar for Africa’s French-speaking community.

The United States representative supported the Department’s efforts to rationalize the Information Centres and to link that process with a system-wide evaluation of all United Nations offices worldwide.  The Organization should continue to strive for housing all of its country offices under one roof and with one central public information unit.  He also supported the Department’s efforts to create and update 26 websites for Information Centres in developing countries and to build functioning websites in all 63 Information Centres with materials available in five official languages.

Jamaica’s representative said the Information Centres’ future rationalization should be done in consultation with the host country, as well as with other countries served.  Like many other delegates addressing the Committee today, he also lauded the Department’s efforts to work closely with the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to provide more accurate, comprehensive and timely information on United Nations peacekeeping missions and to promote the Organization’s action to curb sexual abuse and exploitation committed by peacekeepers.  Those moves had resulted in a noted decline in media inquiries and reports on the subject.  The three departments should further collaborate to ensure that peacekeeping was reported in a fair, balanced manner and that peacekeepers were duly recognized for their important work in rebuilding communities in countries emerging from conflict.

Other representatives pointed to the need to close the widening digital divide between developed and developing countries.  The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said effective measures were necessary to improve the information and communication capacity of developing countries.  That could be accomplished through an international cooperation mechanism that would help transfer advanced technology to developing countries and improve their information and communication infrastructure.

Cuba’s representative said technological use continued to follow consumerist models dictated by technology hubs in the North.  More than 2 billion people worldwide had never used a telephone and did not know the word “Internet”.  It was important to rethink approaches to the technological revolution and to devise practical ways to rationally use information technology to close both the technological and social gaps.  Information disseminated from the developed world usually distorted, fabricated or ignored news and events in developing countries, she said, adding that it was increasingly necessary to create a new world information order.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Japan, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Republic of Korea, Iceland, Thailand, Israel, Belarus, Egypt, Switzerland, Benin, Ukraine, Sudan and Indonesia.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 30 April, to conclude its general debate.

Background

The Committee on Information met this morning to continue its general debate.  For background, see Press Release PI/1826 issued on 25 April 2008.

Statements

MARI MIYOSHI ( Japan) commended the Department of Public Information’s efforts to prioritize themes, as it was an inevitable responsibility for the Department to identify priorities and strategically tell the world promptly and accurately about the roles and missions of the United Nations.  In 2007, with particular thanks to the leadership and commitment of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the high-level event on Climate Change in September and the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention in Bali in December had brought about worldwide media coverage and fostered greater awareness by the global community, she stated.   Japan hoped that the Department would continue to enhance its efficiency by coordinating within its organization, networking with other United Nations organizations, and creating partnerships with civil society within its existing resources, in light of the importance of financial discipline.

This year marked the midpoint of the efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, she continued.  In that regard, it was important to take stock of the progress that had been made and to identify the areas on which the international community should focus attention in the years ahead.  In May, Japan would host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) with the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.  It would also host the Group of Eight (G-8) Hokkaido-Toyako Summit in July.  Through those initiatives, it would take up relevant issues of the highest priority to the international community, including development. Japan would spare no effort in ensuring that the outcomes of those two meetings would provide important input to the high-level United Nations meeting on the Millennium Development Goals to be held in September.  She hoped that the Department of Public Information would continue to set development as one of the key issues.  In other areas -- counter-terrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, peacebuilding and reconstruction -- Japan would remain actively engaged and hoped the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo would publicize those issues to deepen understanding of the work of the United Nations.

AIDA ALZHANOVA ( Kazakhstan) strongly supported the efforts of the Department and the Committee to further enhance the United Nations public information infrastructure and project a positive public image of the Organization.  It was essential to keep the world informed, in order to create broad-based global support for the United Nations.  She commended the Department’s activities during the reporting period that highlighted such key areas as peace and security, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals and human rights.  She supported the process to consolidate, in close consultation with Member States, United Nations Information Centres.  She welcomed the establishment of 63 Information Centres worldwide, all of which had functioning websites.  Notable progress had been achieved in disseminating the work and decisions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as important activities of other United Nations bodies.

Further steps were needed to expand the Department’s geographic outreach and target audiences, and that process required close cooperation with Member States, she said.  Disparities among Member States that affected their ability to disseminate information about their achievements and challenges must be taken into account.  She drew the Committee’s attention to the global consequences resulting from the drying of the Aral Sea and the dire humanitarian consequences of nuclear testing at the former Semipalatinsk testing ground.

To maintain a positive image of the United Nations, it was important to disseminate information on the positive experiences and activities of Member States.  She noted the valuable experience of Kazakhstan in ensuring and strengthening harmony among its approximately 130 ethnic and more than 40 religious groups, which may be of interest to the global public.   She said her country was proud of the fact that its internal policy and international initiatives were truly based on the principles of trust and dialogue, pointing out that it had initiated two unique international forums -- the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia.

MLADEN CVRLJE (Croatia) aligned himself with the statement made by the representative of France on behalf of the European Union and commended the Department of Public Information for its assistance to Member States in facilitating their contribution to promote the activities of the United Nations in the area of information at the national and regional levels, especially by using information and communications technology.  For many years, major Croatian media and information agencies had used United Nations information sources in publicizing the work of the Organization on key priority issues, such as the crisis in Darfur, the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, as well as climate change and peacebuilding.  Since Croatia had become a non-permanent member of the Security Council, the national media had raised the awareness of the general public considerably on pressing issues discussed by the Council.  It was only now, with the perspective of a Council member, that the country had really understood and appreciated more deeply the difficult task accomplished by the Department.

He stated that a crucial aspect of a successful public information policy for any State was its degree of respect towards one basic human right, the freedom of speech.  That took on special significance at the United Nations this year, with the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Respect for the freedom of expression, however, went hand in hand with the responsibility to respect the beliefs and rights of others.  Any abuse of that fundamental right, especially in dangerous and highly volatile areas of the world, could easily lead to incitement, anarchy and irrational behaviour that could, in turn, create hostility and hatred amongst peoples of different faiths and cultures.   Croatia commended the Department of Public Information for continuing to make efforts to promote the culture of dialogue among civilizations.  He was convinced that respect for those fundamental rights was the only path for the achievement of a lasting civilization of peace and security.  His Government was very sensitive in implementing the principle of transparency, including in protecting the secrecy of the private data of its citizens.  That was closely connected to the fundamental right to express one’s own faith and national denomination.

Croatia believed that the Department should continue to build partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to extend the United Nations message to the entire world, he stated.  The Department should continue to focus on supporting service in the six official languages of the United Nations, in order to meet the needs of an ever increasing audience.  The local population in some areas of South-Eastern Europe should be given a chance to also use the Croatian language, because that could accelerate the pace of their development and economic reconstruction, particularly in those areas where English was not understood.

SHAFQAT JALIL ( Pakistan) said the Department of Public Information should use all available tools to create an environment in which its message could have maximum impact.  Pakistan’s new Government was committed to upholding the country’s Constitution, which clearly stipulated the right to freedom of expression and speech as a fundamental right of all citizens.  Freedom of expression was a universal right that must be promoted and protected.  It must also always be accompanied by social responsibility.

He welcomed the condemnation by the Secretary-General of the airing of Geert Wilder’s offensive film.  He also expressed his appreciation for the opposition voiced by the Government of the Netherlands and many Member States.  The film had not only hurt the feelings of Muslims; it had also threatened the stability of many societies and, as such, had violated the United Nations Charter, as well as the laws of the countries where those sacrilegious acts had been carried out.  It was all the more important that the Department redouble its efforts to sensitize the media and Member States on the need to understand and respect various cultures and beliefs.  The United Nations could play a vital role in bridging the gulf between different beliefs and cultures.

He lauded the Department’s work in promoting issues of international importance, such as United Nations reform, climate change, human rights, development in Africa, preventing genocide, the Alliance of Civilizations, the Millennium Development Goals, peacekeeping operations, peace and security, General Assembly reform and counter-terrorism.  The reform issue was complex, and Member States and groups often had varied perspectives.  While disseminating statements of senior United Nations officials on reform issues, the Department should strive to maintain a balance and comprehensively project the positions of various Member States.

He said the cost and benefit analysis by the Department on expanding press releases to other languages would help the Committee make a decision on the issue.  Also, he welcomed the Department’s culture of evaluation of its products, services and activities aimed at further improving performance.  Finally, he welcomed Department efforts to increase awareness about peacekeeping.  Peacekeepers often produced huge success stories and it was important that that part of the story be told.

MUHAMMAD A. MUHITH ( Bangladesh) said his country attached great importance to the activities and performance of the Department of Public Information, taking into account its role in being the strategic communicator of the United Nations activities and concerns to achieve the greatest public impact.  He commended and supported the structural overhaul conducted by the Department for the last couple of years and welcomed the fact that the Department’s activities were guided by the imperative of promoting a culture of evaluation and performance management, which had been vigorously initiated since 2001.  Now was the time to shift managerial and administrative emphasis from a process-focused approach to one based on performance and results, or outcomes.   Bangladesh expected the Department to continue to pursue those issues aggressively, in accordance with General Assembly resolutions.

Referring to the United Nations Information Centre in Dhaka, he stated that it had continued to play a critical role in promoting the goals and objectives of the United Nations.  Making the best use of its available resources and teaming up with local educational and civil society groups, it had helped to observe the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promote the Millennium Development Goals and highlight the role that Bangladesh played in United Nations peacekeeping.   Bangladesh was particularly impressed with the careful planning done to involve children and youth in various activities.  The country had always stressed that the best hope for a stronger United Nations lay in rearing the next generation in the spirit of the Organization.  Bangladesh was pleased to see that the Information Centre in Dhaka was doing its part to raise the next generation.

Turning to peacekeeping, he said his country remained one of the largest contributors to peacekeeping and was proud of the involvement and contributions of its brave soldiers in nearly a dozen field operations.  He noted that, in the past, the Committee on Information had urged the Department to do more to publicize the work of United Nations peacekeepers and to focus on stories with a national angle.  Bangladesh would like to know what had been done in that regard.  On multilingualism, he said he was pleased to see that the United Nations had this year noted the observance of International Mother Language Day, which commemorated Bangladesh’s language movement and was directly linked to its quest for independence.

ILEANA NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE ( Cuba) said access to technological development and new information and communications technology was very unequal among countries and its use continued to follow consumerist models dictated by the technology hubs.  The technology gap between the North and South would continue to grow.  According to the latest estimates of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), by 2010, the illiterate adult population would reach 830 million people.  More than 2 billion people had never used a telephone and did not know the word “Internet”.  It was, therefore, worthwhile to reconsider approaches to the technological revolution.  It was necessary to begin to devise practical ways to rationally use information technology to close the technological and social gaps.  Information disseminated from the developed world usually distorted, fabricated or ignored news and events in developing countries.  It was increasingly necessary to create a new world information order.

The Internet could become a vehicle for a cultural and educational revolution that promoted knowledge and promulgated education, culture, cooperation, development and solidarity, she said.  Cuba was contributing to that objective, despite its scarce resources.  All Cuban children and adolescents attended computer classes and had access to television channels dedicated to education.  The United Nations Information Centres must play a more active role in disseminating balanced information, taking into account the needs of the targeted public.  The United States continued to wage a broadcast war against Cuba.  That radio aggression overtly infringed upon the principles of international law and the regulations of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  Last November, the World Radio Conference held in Geneva had concluded that the broadcasts from United States aircraft to Cuba contravened radio regulations.  She reiterated Cuba’s condemnation of that aggression and fully rejected the United States Government’s intention to increase broadcasts against Cuba.

SHIN DONG-IK (Republic of Korea) said that, last year, his country had been shocked by the attack against the United Nations in Algiers.  That incident signalled that there was a misperception about the United Nations work and how important it was to clearly deliver the United Nations message.  The task of letting the world know about the United Nations was the responsibility of the Committee on Information and the mandate of the Department of Public Information.  That was why his country had always attached great importance to the work of the Department.  It supported the efforts of the Department to work more efficiently.  In particular, it would like to commend the Department’s efforts to maximise public impact by identifying the four priority themes of development, peace and security, human rights and climate change in its strategic communication plan, and by maintaining a good balance between new and traditional means of communication.  On peacekeeping operations, he stated that, considering that misconduct by a few personnel could unjustly damage the credibility of the entire United Nations system, the Department should work more closely with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in better informing the public about the activities and goals of peacekeeping operations.

The network of United Nations Information Centres was essentially the public information hub of the United Nations, he continued.  The network played a key role in disseminating the messages of the United Nations and in building relationships with the local public and media.  It was noteworthy that the hub of the Information Centres had recently taken a more rationalized and creative approach to its regional activities, such as partnerships with host Governments, civil society and local media outlets.  The Information Centres were most useful to those communities where information technology was not readily available, or where one of the six official languages was not widely spoken.  Accordingly, his country hoped that the rationalization of the Information Centres would be done in such a way to enhance the Organization’s outreach to Member States currently outside the scope of the Department.

COLY SECK ( Senegal) said the Department was facing new challenges and it was more important than ever to implement appropriate strategies to disseminate information as the world faced new situations and upheavals.  The Secretary-General’s report had identified several priority topics on communications themes.  He stressed the central role of the United Nations Information Centres in enhancing the Organization’s public image.  He reiterated his appeal to strengthen Information Centres in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Information Centres made a vital contribution to information sharing and made it possible for local populations to become informed about the United Nations.  The Information Centres should be given adequate resources to successfully carry out their mandate.  He supported the creation of a regional information centre in Dakar for the French-speaking community in Africa.  Despite constraints, the Department had unrelentingly worked to have documents available in all six official languages.  Efforts should be consolidated to promote multilingualism.

He lauded the Department’s support for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support through communication strategies that provided accurate information on peacekeeping.  He also welcomed the dynamic partnerships between the Department and civil society, educators, students, celebrities and the private sector.  Such partnerships made it possible to ensure transmission of an increasingly integrated message by the United Nations.  He also lauded the partnerships with Russian and Spanish universities to translate United Nations documents free of charge, and he supported efforts to form similar agreements for translation of documents into other languages.  Everything possible must be done to offset the growing gap between the number of web pages available in English and those available in other languages.  He also welcomed the creation of the special information programme on Palestine and said that further efforts were needed in that regard and to support civil society in Palestine.  He called on all delegations to support recommendations and decisions related to the Department’s information programmes on the question of Palestine.

HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland) welcomed the Department of Public Information’s continued efforts to develop a more comprehensive and strategic approach to promoting global awareness and better understanding of the work of the United Nations.   Iceland broadly shared the priority themes identified by the Department in the areas of development; peace and security, including peacekeeping; human rights; and climate change.  On the United Nations Information Centres, he wanted to echo the statement made by France, on behalf of the European Union, about the excellent work and initiatives undertaken by the Regional Centre in Brussels.

He welcomed the continued efforts of the Department to improve the United Nations website, which was an increasingly effective instrument for disseminating information about the Organization and was growing in popularity, as indicated by the increasing number of visits to the website.  The United Nations website’s continued development was essential for user satisfaction.

In previous sessions, Iceland had underlined that multilingualism was a key aspect in the work of the United Nations in all its activities, he continued.  The country had taken note of the considerable progress that had been made towards reaching parity among the official languages on the website and encouraged the Department to continue and strengthen its concrete work in that regard.  Iceland also recognized the efforts made by the Department to strengthen cooperation with other United Nations entities to develop a more coherent communications strategy.  The Department was to be commended for its increased cooperation with civil society organizations and its enhanced focus on young people as a strategic audience for its work.  Reaching young people should be a top priority in all actions of the international community to promote the values and work of the Organization.  The Model United Nations programme, in which 400,000 students participated worldwide every year, was a good example of how to educate young people about the United Nations.

CHIRACHAI PUNKRASIN ( Thailand) commended the Department’s work to support the priority themes of peace and security, development, human rights and climate change.   He also lauded the Department’s activities concerning the dialogue among civilizations, the question of Palestine, the Holocaust, anti-slavery commemoration and development in Africa.  He stressed the importance of close cooperation on information activities in the United Nations system in order to achieve the greatest possible public impact.  It was important for Member States and the public to receive accurate, up-to-date information about United Nations peacekeeping activities.  Progress reports on the United Nations efforts to end sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel were important, but they were not enough.  Those found guilty must be held accountable without impunity.  All sexual abuse by United Nations personnel must be stopped.

It was important that present and future generations understood the work of the United Nations and how it was relevant to their lives, he said.  While the United Nations must inform the global public about global issues, it was important not to overwhelm people with information.  The United Nations must ensure the steady flow of quality information and help the public turn that information into knowledge.  Last year, Thailand had become a full Committee member for the first time.  He commended the Department’s ongoing educational outreach activities involving schools and youth.  He fully supported the proposed global Model United Nations programme to begin in 2009.  He commended the Department’s efforts to make information available in all the official languages, and non-official languages as well.  While lauding the use of new media, he said the United Nations must continue to use traditional media to reach the many people who lacked access to electronic media.

YUN YONG IL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said there was a need to continue paying attention to ensuring fairness and objectivity in information activities.  Such attention was all the more important in light of the fact that sinister attempts continued unabated to use a mass-media monopoly for imposing so-called democratic values and lifestyles on other countries, thus creating social disorder and chaos and instigating regime change.  In that context, due attention needed to be paid to the United States Free Radio Asia and Voice of America.

Nowadays, he said, the United States had been stepping up its psychological warfare offensive against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by beginning medium-wave broadcasting, in addition to increasing the hours of short-wave broadcasting on Free Radio Asia.  It was also airing medium-wave broadcast programmes in the Korean language, along with short-wave broadcasting on Voice of America.  Those provocative acts were aimed to shake the faith of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in their cause and to incite discontent towards the political system, thus ultimately bringing down Korean style socialism.  That action was clear in violation of the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and international law on relations among States.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was of the view that the establishment of a new international information and communication order could be a way to ensure fairness and objectivity in international information activities, he continued.  In that regard, the Committee on Information, in conformity with its mandate, should focus on the establishment of such a new order as its main agenda item during the current session.  Effective measures should also be taken to improve the information and communication capacity of developing countries.  Despite strenuous efforts on the part of those countries to improve their capacity for information and communication, the digital gap between the developed and developing countries was ever widening.  Most of the developing countries remained marginalized from the rapid information and communications technology development.  To overcome that phenomenon, there was a need to set up a mechanism for international cooperation, which would help transfer advanced technology to the developing countries and improve their information and communication infrastructure.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA ( Russian Federation) said that, when speaking about the unique opportunities created by information and communications technology, one could not overlook to the disparity in access to it.  She supported the principle of giving all people broad access to information, freedom of expression and equal participation.  The Department needed to use cutting-edge information and communications technology, as well as traditional means of mass communication, to ensure parity of its information products in all the official languages.  The Department and the Information Centres should track down and promptly respond to distorted information about the Organization’s activities.  She called for stepped-up efforts to promote multilingualism and create websites in languages other than English.  She supported the Department’s proposal to translate press releases into the other official languages and efforts to expand all forms of Russian-language coverage of United Nations activities.  According to the Secretary-General’s report, the Russian-language section of the Organization’s website had demonstrated last year the largest increase in page views, which had risen 58.1 per cent, and a 30 per cent increase in visits.

In 2006, the Russian Service of United Nations Radio had begun broadcasting programmes in Russian in Moscow and Saint Petersburg on the Global Radio Network, she said.  She also noted the constructive interaction between United Nations Radio and The Voice of Russia, a leading radio station.  An international conference on terrorism and electronic mass media, to be held in Cyprus in October, would elaborate on the principles governing journalists’ coverage of terrorist acts and counter-terrorist operations, as well as their interaction with law-enforcement agencies in such situations.  She supported the ongoing rationalization of the Information Centres based on the three-track approach.  It was fundamental for Information Centres to prepare materials in local languages, arrange events for local civil society, target public-opinion shapers and involve local mass media in information and communication processes.

In closing, she reaffirmed the need to provide, within the framework of the Department’s Holocaust commemoration, objective information on the Second World War as a whole.  Any attempt to consign to oblivion those who fought against fascism and national socialism must be stopped.  She condemned the trend, gaining momentum in many countries, to present the accomplices of the Nazis as heroes, while destroying monuments to those who fought on the side of the anti-fascist coalition.

DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) said that, this Thursday, Israel and the Jewish world would observe the annual day of Holocaust remembrance.  Hence, it was fitting that he take the opportunity to express support and praise for the Department of Public Information team on the successful outcome of the third International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, which had taken place on 28 January.  The outreach programme on “the United Nations and the Holocaust” continued to play an instrumental role in bringing Holocaust remembrance and education worldwide.  Still, the proliferation of Holocaust denial in some parts of the world greatly threatened Holocaust remembrance.  Holocaust deniers were found in prominent positions, including within revered academic institutions, at the helm of media organizations and as leaders of national Governments.  It was gravely alarming that Holocaust deniers and detractors garnered public attention today -- just 60 years from the Nazi atrocities.  Their determination signalled the ever growing importance of Holocaust education initiatives.

Notwithstanding the admirable work of the Department, he expressed disappointment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only conflict in the world that had a special information programme.  It certainly was the only conflict that had a programme that conveyed a one-sided, biased and misleading picture.  Israel had been in continuous discussions with the Department on implementation of the General Assembly’s resolutions on the Palestinian information programme.  In the past, Israel had recognized the Department’s efforts to make seminars and materials as objective as possible.  However, Israel continued to be the only Member State that was a target of political bias.  As long as the mandate for the programme stemmed from an anti-Israeli resolution that was inherently one-sided and biased, Israel would not be obliged to attend or participate in those seminars.

The programme should be replaced with a more balanced and constructive joint effort concerning peace in the Middle East, aimed at promoting tolerance, peace education, mutual understanding and the prevention of incitement, he said.  Israel had previously expressed interest in partnering on a programme that was balanced and did not resort to singular narratives on the conflict.  For that to happen, though, the programme needed to be adjusted to remove the inherent bias against Israel.

ANDREI POPOV ( Belarus) said his country supported the efforts of the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information to provide equitable news coverage in Russian and other official languages.  In particular, Belarus noted the effort that had been made with regard to the Russian component and hoped that that effort would be maintained.

He stated that the future depended on what had been learned from past.  In that regard, his country had experienced the tragic events of the Chernobyl disaster.  In response to that disaster, proposals had been made by delegations on how to improve coverage of the Chernobyl situation.  But, the implementation of those proposals had not proceeded as had been hoped.  It was, therefore, necessary to revisit the actual situation in order to improve the coverage of the Chernobyl situation.  Belarus requested that the Secretary-General play a catalytic and mobilizing role in that regard.  He noted that, in June, the United Nations would be undertaking a thematic debate on how to combat human trafficking.  His delegation hoped that the United Nations information services would pay due attention to that event and would cover it in an objective and balanced way.

RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica) said that the Department of Public Information had made significant progress in recent years to more widely disseminate information about the United Nations through traditional and non-traditional media, and it had made the Organization’s website accessible to persons with disabilities.  He encouraged the use of all six official languages, particularly in press releases.  He commended the Department and its Information Centre network for efforts to use the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to further promote global awareness of the Declaration, its importance to the international human rights architecture and the rights it prescribed.  This year also marked the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations engagement in peacekeeping, which commanded an ever increasing share of resources and attention.  The joint efforts of the Department of Public Information, the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had resulted in more accurate, comprehensive and timely information on United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Thanks to collaborative efforts of the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to promote United Nations action to curb sexual abuse and exploitation committed by peacekeepers, there had been a noted decline in the commission and reports of such acts in the media, he continued.  He called on the Department of Public Information to strengthen its relations with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support to ensure that peacekeeping was reported in a fair and balanced manner and that peacekeepers were duly recognized for their important work in rebuilding communities in countries emerging from conflict.

Information Centres in developing countries played a critical role in enhancing access to information on events and in helping to close the technological gap, he said.  He applauded their efforts to provide information to local communities in their local languages.  He reiterated his call that any future rationalization of the Information Centres be done in consultation with the host country, as well as other countries served by the Centre.  He also called for enhancing the information component within the Kingston office of UNDP, which would complement the work of the Caribbean region’s only Information Centre, located in Port-of-Spain.  Before closing, he expressed thanks for the Department of Public Information’s hard work in marking the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

AMR KAMAL ELDIN ELSHERBINI ( Egypt) said there was no doubt that continuous development of the mass media and sustained progress of information and communications technology and its applications had become one of the central aspects marking the contemporary world, with all the implied challenges in terms of the knowledge gap between the developing and developed world.  Those challenges implied the necessity to develop a new media system that was more just and based on the principles of equality and mutual respect for different cultures and values.

Consequently, he continued, the United Nations had to continue carrying out its responsibility, with a view to enhancing and deepening international cooperation in the media domain to bridge the knowledge gap and enable developing countries to get access to knowledge objectively.  In so doing, the developing countries’ need to enhance their capabilities and upgrade their media structures had to be taken into account.  That should go hand in hand with the efforts exerted to develop the media message of the United Nations to cope with the spirit of the age, in order to enlighten world public opinion on the sublime message of the United Nations and its role in addressing many of today’s issues and to spread the culture of peace and the values of tolerance, as well as enhance dialogue of civilizations, cultures and religions.

Egypt was concerned that the media message of the United Nations had not yet reached the aspired-for standard in order to deal with the nature and circumstances of the international status quo, or to attain the objective purposes of the United Nations in its main fields of development, world peace and security and respect for human rights, he continued.  It had also not reached the standard to confront new challenges, such as climate change, capital market fluctuations, the food crisis and others. The media message still had gaps that the international community was hoping to fill quickly through promoting access to all peoples, achieving multilingualism and the aspired for parity among the six United Nations official languages, developing the content of the media message and working towards its diversity in line with the cultural, civilizational and religious diversity in today’s world.

Consequently, he said, Egypt looked to the Department of Public Information to improve the quality of media coverage of the thematic issues of priority to the work of the United Nations, raise awareness on the goals of United Nations initiatives and push forward efforts of implementation.  Given that, the leading role of the major Information Centres in Cairo, Mexico City and Pretoria must be strengthened and the United Nations media structure must be extended to all geographical areas without downsizing.  Further, he called on the Department to continue implementation of the media programme on the Palestinian issue and, concerning language parity, he still observed some deficiencies in posting information in the six official languages on the United Nations website in a timely manner.

SIMON PIDOUX ( Switzerland) said it was necessary to respond in a sustained and pragmatic manner to the rapid developments in the media, so the Department of Public Information could offer clients the best possible product.  Those rationalization efforts must begin with the work of the Committee.  He expressed hope that the Committee could produce a more readable resolution.  It should abandon the vain search for exhaustiveness, opting instead for a more incisive approach and focusing on a more limited number of priorities.  It was important for the Department to be able to base its work on a mission and on objectives that were clearly defined by the Committee’s work.  He supported the idea of avoiding redundancy by ensuring that the same issue was not examined several times in different bodies.   Different Information Centres must be able to base their work on a mission and objectives also clearly defined by the Committee.  That would make it possible to define respective responsibilities more clearly, to measure results and, if necessary, to make the changes required for effective action.

To increase the quality of information dissemination on United Nations activities, Switzerland intended to maintain its focus on content, rather than the form of rationalization, he said.  While the creation of the Brussels Regional Information Centre had led to increased synergies, it also demonstrated the limits of that kind of model.  Switzerland also regretted the very strong ideological positions with regard to that rationalization model.  He intended to learn the positive and negative lessons from that experience, in order to pursue an intelligent and pragmatic rationalization policy that took into account specific regional features.  He supported the Department’s efforts to achieve language parity of the content of the United Nations website.  He advocated multilingualism, but did not support it as an end in itself.  Rather, he supported multilingualism as a way to better disseminate the United Nations message in certain regions.

JEAN-MARIE EHOUZOU ( Benin) said that the mandate of the Committee on Information was to contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the United Nations through ensuring the dissemination of accurate and impartial information on the work of the Organization.  In the contemporary world, certain populations had better suited tools for accessing information than others.  In that regard, the delicate mission of the Department of Public Information had become more and more complex and varied.  Faced with multiple challenges in retaining attention on United Nations efforts aimed at contributing to build a world of peace and justice, it was necessary that the communication strategy be as effective as possible.  That was why Benin welcomed with satisfaction the Department’s elaboration of a strategic work plan based on the priority themes of the Organization.  Those efforts should be pursued with particular attention to the needs of the weaker Member States, particularly the countries of the southern hemisphere, Africa and the least developed countries.

The General Assembly had declared 10 December 2008 as the start of the International Year for Learning on Human Rights, he continued.  The goal was to bring human rights to all communities, so that human rights would become a way of life and serve as an instrument available to all individuals.   Benin hoped that the Department and the United Nations Information Centres would devote the necessary attention to activities marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Since the historic Millennium Summit, the Organization had adopted the ambitious programme contained in the Millennium Development Goals with the goal of reducing poverty and preserving the common planet against the negative effects of climate change.   Benin placed special importance on the achievement of those goals.  That was why it welcomed the principal role of the Department of Public Information in supporting the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  The partnership between the Department and the Millennium Campaign through the “Stand-Up against Poverty” initiative constituted part of that effort.   Benin encouraged such collaboration and initiatives, in order to ensure that, by 2015, the achievement of the Goals would be a reality.

ANTONIO PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA ( Cape Verde) said that, in today’s era of new technology, global information dissemination and intercommunication were possible.  Such information should be provided by impartial and reliable sources.  The Department of Public Information had a great role to play, in that regard.  As the United Nations increasingly confronted challenging tasks, stakeholders must bring an end to the digital divide and marginalization of accessing global information, particularly in the developing world.  He supported the Department’s work and recognized its efforts to strengthen the United Nations positive image and deliver detailed information about its mandate and achievements.  “One United Nations” also meant one image and one message that should be coherent and consistent among the Department and all other United Nations departments and entities.  He commended the Department’s work to achieve language parity and to expand the translation and production of important United Nations documentation into non-official languages.

Despite those efforts to bridge the divide in diverse communications areas, he continued, a gap remained.  According to the Secretary-General’s report, statistical data showed that the non-English web pages showed the strongest growth, with an average increase in page views of 28.6 per cent in 2007.  That clearly illustrated the large non-English speaking community that was lacking information.  Radio was the most effective and widespread means of communication, particularly in the least developed countries, including the Portuguese-speaking countries.  It was important to strengthen the Portuguese radio unit, so that it could produce products and services for its targeted audience.  It was urgent to set up the Luanda centre for Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, in order to close the gap and tackle their specific needs.  He lauded the work carried out by the Portuguese desk of the Western European Information Centre, and the Rio de Janeiro Information Centre for disseminating information in Portuguese worldwide.

LEROY G. POTTS ( United States) said that the 2008-2009 biennium budget had once again imposed constraints that members of the Committee could not ignore.  The Department of Public Information, along with all other parts of the United Nations, needed to continue to carry out its important mandate within existing resources.  The Committee had a duty to help the Department to work within those constraints without undermining its mandate.  His country had noted the efforts by the Department to improve synergy between Headquarters and the field, and encouraged continued efforts in that regard.  It also supported efforts by the Department to foster a culture of evaluation.  The continued use of programme assessment and the use of data collection tools would help the Department and Member States evaluate the Organization and give better direction within the context of the Committee on Information.

The United States supported the Department’s effort to rationalize the United Nations Information Centres, he continued.  It hoped that the regionalization of those Centres would be linked with a system-wide evaluation of all United Nations offices worldwide.  It would like to see the United Nations continue efforts to house all United Nations system country offices under one roof and with one central public information unit.  The United States also welcomed the Department’s efforts to create and update 26 websites for Information Centres in developing countries and supported the effort made in 2007 to build functioning websites for all 63 Information Centres with information available in five official languages.

Mr. Potts added that his country remained committed to streamlining the resolution at the conclusion of the Committee on Information.  The yearly resolution was too unwieldy, and streamlining it in a holistic manner would go a long way towards providing the Department with the guidance it needed and deserved from the Member States.

TETYANA POKHVAL’ONA (Ukraine) aligned her delegation with the statement by the representative of France on behalf of the European Union and welcomed the impressive achievements of the United Nations website, saying that its importance lay not only in its ability to attract users from all over the world, but in the multiplication effect that it was producing.  The Internet allowed information agencies, media and non-governmental organizations immediate access to materials of the United Nations News Centre.  Stories produced by the Russian language section of the News Centre were actively redistributed by the mass media in Ukraine.  They were widely used, for example, by the Internet news agency, Businessinform, and found their way into print and Internet newspapers and other media outlets.  In that way, the impact of the United Nations story was multiplied many times over the original reach of the United Nations website.   Ukraine was pleased that the Department of Public Information did its best within the limited resources at its disposal to enhance the website in all official languages of the Organization.

Ukraine supported the efforts of the Secretary-General and the Department of Public Information to achieve a modern, highly integrated and efficient system of library services within the United Nations, she continued.  Collaborative reference services, supported by cooperative collection development and resource sharing, would ensure immediate electronic access to the wealth of global information resources to be used in the development of all knowledge-sharing initiatives of the Organization.   Ukraine also underlined the importance of the Department in supporting peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.  It supported the Department’s strategy to raise awareness about peacekeeping and welcomed its efforts undertaken at commemorating the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.  It also believed that the Department should continue to play a central role in drawing the attention of the international community to issues of global concern, such as the problem of terrorism, conflict prevention, sustainable development, AIDS and the environment, including the problem of Chernobyl.

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) supported implementation of the Department’s strategy presented earlier in the meeting by the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information.  The United Nations needed a more accurate information system based on the goals of the Charter and international law, and on the aspirations of people to develop justice, mutual respect and equal treatment.  The United Nations belonged to everyone.  He pointed to the Secretary-General’s report, saying it discussed partnerships between the United Nations Information Centres and some newspapers.  Such partnerships should be strengthened to try to convey the United Nations message of peace and security, development, human rights and the Millennium Development Goals.  In January 2005, Sudan had signed a historic peace agreement that put an end to 20 years of war.  Both parties in Sudan were enjoying constructive peace.  Sudan was carrying out constructive development projects.  It had conducted a census of the population, which was quite helpful.

The Department sought to be an authentic partner in that historic process, he said.  That was important, particularly because Sudan had been the object of an odious campaign that criticized its national choices.  He lauded the efforts to strengthen the United Nations website and webcast in all areas of training.  He also supported the Department’s ongoing programme on Palestine and its training of journalists, in that regard.  He called on the Department to develop more programmes and activities, so that Palestinians could enjoy their right to self-determination and to an independent State.  It was important to promote the principles of the dialogue among civilizations and respect for religions, and to strengthen peaceful coexistence.  The Department should play a major role, by creating a campaign to ensure that dialogue was pursued, rather than violence and hatred.

MOHAMED HERY SARIPUDIN ( Indonesia) associated his delegation with the statement by the representative of Antigua and Barbuda on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.  He underscored the important role of the Department of Public Information as the voice of the United Nations in disseminating information about its work for the purposes of achieving the greatest impact. Indonesia appreciated the Department’s work on such issues as development and development financing, the Millennium Development Goals, human rights, climate change, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and the question of Palestine, particularly in its programme aimed at both enhancing the awareness of the international community with regard to the question of Palestine and at strengthening the media capacity and skills of Palestinian journalists.  Those few examples illustrated the wide range of issues that the Department had to keep an eye on, and to keep informing the world about.

Indonesia commended the Department for extending the use of technologies as far a field as possible, he continued.  Not only had that approach brought the work of the United Nations closer to the people of the world, it was also bringing United Nations offices and programmes closer to each other and enhancing partnerships.  In that connection, his country was pleased at the increasing use and influence of the United Nations Information Centres and their deeper involvement with the local media.  In October 2007, the United Nations Information Centre in Jakarta, in cooperation with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, had organized a  two-day media and stakeholders workshop with the objective of giving journalists a better understanding of the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled for December 2007 in Bali.  That workshop had been of tremendous value to the local journalists.

He added that, as a troop-contributing country, Indonesia recognized how important information dissemination was in United Nations peacekeeping.  That was why it was pleased with the current growing cooperation between the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.   Indonesia believed that such continued cooperation would enhance the image of the Organization in the eyes of the world, as well as the quality of peacekeeping missions.

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