|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Information
4th Meeting (AM)
ENCOURAGED BY POSITIVE STATEMENTS AS INFORMATION COMMITTEE CONCLUDES DEBATE,
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL PLEDGES TO PUSH FOR ‘EVEN BETTER ACHIEVEMENTS’
Delegates Stress Need for Department to Highlight United Nations Success Stories
Heartened by Member States’ positive and encouraging statements about the work of the Department of Public Information in spreading the United Nations message, departmental head Kiyo Akasaka said he would push his staff “to build on our achievements and to even make them better”, as the Committee on Information concluded its general debate today.
Mr. Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, had launched the Committee’s two-week session on Monday by urging Member States to become partners because “telling the United Nations story and building broad public support for the Organization and its aims” could not be achieved by the Department alone. The active participation of Member States was needed to support the Department’s broad array of information efforts, including focusing on a strategic approach, improved coordination, new and expanded partnerships, multilingualism and evaluation.
Closing the three-day general debate today, Mr. Akasaka said the Department, whether through its website or other media services, would continue to publicize the United Nations in a precise, concrete and human way in order to show how much it provided services to people in their daily lives. The Department was committed to working towards official-language parity on the Organization’s website, its News Centre, Press and Radio operations and United Nations Radio, he said in response to concerns raised by delegates seeking greater departmental efforts to improve multilingualism in those services.
The Under-Secretary-General noted that many representatives had highlighted the important contribution made in the field by the global network of United Nations information centres, which the representative of Antigua and Barbuda had described as “an essential source for the flow of information”, and the need to strengthen those in developing countries. He assured them that, while financial constraints limited the Department’s capacity to support existing centres, broader partnerships and regional cooperation would enable it to continue improving their work and outreach.
Responding to several positive statements about the active cooperation between the Public Information Department and the newly created Public Affairs Unit of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Akasaka said his Department was providing strategic guidance for peacekeeping mission planning, helping to formulate and implement communications strategies while creating and maintaining the United Nations peacekeeping website. In addition, the Department was featuring stories about peacekeepers on United Nations Television (UNTV), the News Centre, the information centres and local media. The “Then and Now” photo exhibit on peacekeepers would help the Organization celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Earlier in the meeting, Brazil’s representative said that, in order to ensure the greatest possible reach, the Organization should speak in as many languages as possible, not only its official ones. United Nations Radio had made significant efforts in that regard, expanding the reach of radio programmes in Portuguese despite scarce human and financial resources. Regrettably, however, there had been a lack of progress in creating an information centre to address the underserved needs of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, although the Angolan Government had offered to house and maintain a centre free of charge. Moreover, while the information centre in Rio de Janeiro had carried out laudable public information work, there had been a 70 per cent decrease in its operating budget from 2002 to 2007. Member States and the United Nations must work together to ensure the necessary support and progressive strengthening of the information centres network.
Iran’s representative, while commending the Department’s efforts to promote the Organization’s work in such important areas as United Nations reform, the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development and the dialogue among civilizations, stressed that other issues on the Organization’s agenda, including the negative impact of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on international peace and security, deserved more attention. Also, the Department’s efforts to treat all important global issues in a fair and balanced manner were diminished by the fact that many developing countries lacked the necessary resources and technical equipment to access information about the Organization’s activities. An appropriate response to their needs could strengthen the positive image of the United Nations in those countries and reduce the impact of the media’s prevalent tendency to “aggrandize bad news” and weaken the positive.
Reinforcing that theme, India’s representative said his country wished to see the Departments of Public Information, Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support working closely in highlighting United Nations peacekeeping success stories and providing accurate, impartial and timely information on the regular activities of peacekeepers, and the exceptional work they often did that went beyond the routine keeping of the peace and the call of duty. Indian soldiers serving as United Nations peacekeepers had consistently carved a special place in the hearts and minds of local people in their areas of operation as a result of their enthusiastic involvement in providing medical and veterinary support, promoting local soil conservation, water harvesting and other development projects, in addition to providing free vocational training. The world needed to hear more about such stories of goodwill and down-to-earth cooperation.
Other speakers today included the representatives of China, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Yemen.
The Observer for Palestine also made a statement.
Also addressing the Committee was a representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Committee on Information will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 9 May, to conclude its session.
The Committee on Information met this morning to conclude its general debate. (For background, see Press Release PI/1826 issued on 25 April 2008.)
AJAI MALHOTRA (India), aligning himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Committee’s focus must be making the work of the Department of Information as pertinent and accessible as possible to the largest number of users, making it an effective channel for the flow of information between the United Nations and the peoples of the world. To achieve that, the widest possible range of technologies must be utilized. As many countries simultaneously spanned several centuries in technological terms, it was essential to offer the end product through a wide spectrum of media channels. Thus, while the selection employed should incorporate the latest technologies, such as webcasts and podcasts, a strong emphasis must also be retained on using traditional and very cost-effective means, such as radio and print, which remained tremendously important in reaching out to ordinary people in many parts of the developing world and must be constantly kept in sight.
Expressing support for the effort to enable the emergence of a more linguistically equal world, he went on to stress the need to disseminate information not merely in the official United Nations languages, but also in other languages. India congratulated the Department for now producing information in roughly 80 local languages and noted with satisfaction that United Nations Radio programmes were being made in Bengali, Hindi and Urdu, among others. The promotion of multilingualism must be further widened and intensified. There was also much value in raising the level of local content and local involvement in the production of programme materials.
The information being disseminated must be relevant and meaningful and, to the extent pertinent, spread in a manner that made it not only interesting but also enjoyable for the target audience, he went on. That was not easy to achieve and those working on content management must be driven by a constant yearning for further improvement. The Department’s programmes must seek further to deepen and strengthen their coverage and projection of the most noteworthy activities of the United Nations, in particular those that directly impacted upon the lives of ordinary people, including humanitarian activities, as well as the work performed, often under extremely demanding circumstances, by United Nations peacekeepers in strife-torn lands.
He said his country wished to see the Departments of Public Information, Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support working closely in highlighting United Nations peacekeeping success stories and providing accurate, impartial and timely information on the regular activities of peacekeepers, as well as on the exceptional work they often did that went beyond the routine keeping of the peace and the call of duty. Indian soldiers serving as United Nations peacekeepers had consistently carved a very special place for themselves in the hearts and minds of local people in their areas of operation as a result of their enthusiastic involvement in providing medical and veterinary support, promoting local soil conservation, water harvesting and other development projects, and providing free vocational training. The world needed to hear more about such stories of goodwill and down-to-earth cooperation.
PAN XIONGWEN (China), supporting the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said Monday’s interactive dialogue had been constructive, worthwhile and valuable, particularly to new Committee members and those attending the session for the first time. Constructive interaction between the Department and Committee members was essential to the shared objective of ensuring that the Department continued to play a key role in promoting a positive public image of the United Nations.
Lauding the Department’s efforts to improve its work, he noted that, despite resource constraints, it continued diligently and conscientiously to fulfil its duties, making steady progress in various areas by optimizing its use of resources and improving its work methods, efficiency and effectiveness. In recent years, the Department had adopted a more strategic approach to its work, focusing on setting well-defined communication goals while improving the synergy between Headquarters and field offices. It had given priority to mobilizing non-governmental organizations and other social forces in a joint endeavour to communicate the work of the United Nations, while fostering a culture of evaluation to assess its activities more efficiently. China was encouraged by the Department’s continuously improving overall performance.
The Department should further strengthen coordination with other United Nations substantive departments, funds, programmes and specialized agencies, he said. However, it should not be solely responsible for publicizing the Organization’s work. Other organs and agencies must enhance their efforts in that regard. The Department should also strengthen planning and coordination, and formulate inter-agency publicity strategies and plans. Such mechanisms as the United Nations Communications Group and issue-based task forces should be used fully. With a clear division of labour and through coordinated efforts, the Organization’s various entities could tell good United Nations stories.
The United Nations should also play a more effective role in ensuring that information was balanced, he said. It should provide accurate, impartial and objective information while unequivocally voicing its opposition to bias and prejudice. Constantly receiving negative publicity, the Organization should sturdily criticize, rebut and remedy sensationalism, distortion, falsification and other misleading practices by unethical news media while encouraging media organizations to cultivate and uphold high ethical standards so they could better play their watchdog role. There should be a just and favourable environment for news coverage. Special attention should also be given to the issue of development. The United Nations should help more media outlets and the general public appreciate the significance of development so that public opinion could be guided away from the tendency to focus on issues of peace while neglecting those of development.
NARAYAN DEV PANT (Nepal), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that in an age of unrelenting revolution in the field of information and communication, a knowledge-centred world was rapidly outpacing the capital-centred one with the increasing risk that a sizeable number of people in the developing world, mainly from the least developed countries, found themselves drifting away from the mainstream of the fast-evolving knowledge society. Against that, Nepal viewed the role of the Department of Public Information as crucial to mitigating that asymmetry through effective delivery of authentic information to those “stranded billions” across the globe, particularly on the activities and concerns of the United Nations.
He said his country recognized the Department’s significant work in enhancing the substantive purposes of the United Nations, especially in the context of such burning issues as reform, the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development, climate change, the dialogue among civilizations, the rights of women and children, HIV/AIDS, and the transatlantic slave trade, among others. Nepal also appreciated the Department’s efforts in bringing peacekeeping matters into prominence. As one of the largest troop contributors to United Nations peacekeeping, Nepal felt the Department should work in close collaboration with the relevant Department so that it would be better able to highlight the importance of those operations.
Noting that language parity in disseminating information had been one of the concerns raised by Member States, he underlined the need to produce and broadcast audio programmes in local languages, including those spoken by indigenous peoples, in view of the popularity of traditional media like radio, so that no one would feel left behind. Furthermore, United Nations information centres not only represented the Department as its field offices, they also symbolized a bridge connecting local people with United Nations activities. As such, they must be made more user-friendly and effective, in keeping with the needs and priorities of the host countries. Thus, proper assessment of the specific needs and conditions of each centre, and prior consultation with host countries must be conducted before the Department considered any step towards rationalization of the centres. In that regard, the centre in Kathmandu needed further strengthening to make it an effective regional hub.
Recalling that the World Summit on the Information Society had agreed on a set of targets for improving access to information and communications technology by 2015, he said progress towards achieving that target was far from encouraging for most poor countries. Although the divide was shrinking in terms of quantity, differences in terms of quality were worsening and the best way to address that predicament was to intensify efforts aimed at bridging the gap through policy reforms at the global level in which multilateral approaches would take centre stage. Indeed, the Department, as the universal mouthpiece of the United Nations, should be able to devise innovative ways to assert responsibility for generating momentum for a more equitable, inclusive and affordable information order for all.
MUDITHA HALLIYADDE ( Sri Lanka), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China said that, while the exponential growth of information today made it a powerful tool, it was becoming harder to access for people lacking resources. The poor and the unfortunate remained on the margins of the information age and the Department was providing a crucial service in disseminating information for the benefit of the underprivileged through its outreach programmes and other means. Its role was indispensable in conveying the message about the purpose of the United Nations to the widest possible audience. Sri Lankalauded the Department’s strategic focus on targeted audiences and its integrated use of new information and communications technology in promotional campaigns and outreach activities.
Calling on the Department to redouble its efforts to strengthen partnerships with civil society, she went on to say many developing countries still lacked information technology infrastructure facilities and did not benefit from technological advances. The Department must understand the realities on the ground, which varied from country to country, and work to mobilize resources for all needy developing countries. Increasing the number of scholarships for both public and private media in developing countries was one such activity. In addition, United Nations websites were an essential tool on which the Department could use local languages to reach a wider global audience. At present, the organization’s information centres worldwide used only 34 languages. It was important for the Department to increase coverage and include more languages so the vast majority of people could benefit from greater knowledge and more information. Such expansion was particularly needed in Asia.
She stressed the importance of continuing to use traditional media, including radio and print, to disseminate information about the work of the United Nations. The Department should also play a more active role in disseminating success stories on the Organization’s peacekeeping operations, which had evolved more significantly as the need for them had grown. That role had also morphed into peacebuilding so that new conflicts did not end in violence and war, and so that post-conflict societies did not relapse into violence. It was, therefore, important to inform the world about United Nations success stories in peacekeeping and peacebuilding in order to rally the global community behind those efforts.
AMIR HOSSEIN HOSSEINI (Iran), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said his delegation appreciated the efforts of the Department of Public Information in promoting and advancing the work of the United Nations on such important areas as United Nations reform, the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development, dialogue among civilizations and the culture of peace and respect for religious, cultural and historical values. However, there were other issues on the Organization’s agenda that deserved more attention for their impact on international peace and security. They included the escalating “catastrophic” humanitarian situation of innocent Palestinian civilians under occupation and siege for so many years. The Department should give wider publicity to the negative impact of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in order to inform world opinion about the United Nations system’s work in that regard.
As the voice of the United Nations, he said, the Department should always commit itself to reaching out to the widest possible audiences and to providing accurate, relevant, impartial, balanced and timely information to the international community on the Organization’s work. While Iran supported the Department’s efforts to treat all important global issues in a fair and balanced manner, many developing countries lacked the necessary resources and technical equipment to access information about United Nations activities. An appropriate response to their needs could strengthen the Organization’s positive image in those countries and reduce the impact of the media’s prevalent tendency to “aggrandize bad news” and weaken that positive image.
He said developing countries were victims of an unjust, inequitable, partial and monopolized world media which, by taking advantage of modern communications technology and strong financial structures, were continuously trying to distort the facts and realities relating to those countries. It was Iran’s sincere hope that the Department would serve as a fair and balanced voice for both developing and developed countries. It should enhance its technological infrastructure on a continuous basis with a view to improving its public information activities, especially in areas of special interest to developing countries. Iran shared the view that the increasingly negative political and media discourse targeting religions and their adherents was a matter of grave concern for all and a serious threat to international peace and security. Deploring all insults and incitement against religions and their sacred principles and precepts, Iran joined many other Member States and the Secretary-General in condemning, in the strongest terms, the release of the blasphemous film, Fitna, which was a clear insult not only to the beliefs of more than 1 billion Muslims, but also a serious threat to the stability of many societies in the world.
MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSÔA ( Brazil) said it was important that the Department continue its efforts to enhance the use of new information technology by expanding live webcasts of United Nations meetings, and the number of web pages. However, traditional communication media, such as radio, television and printed materials, were still fundamental for information dissemination in developing countries and must be supported accordingly. To ensure the greatest possible reach, the Organization should speak in as many languages as possible, not only in its official ones. The Portuguese Unit of United Nations Radio had made significant efforts in that regard despite scarce human and financial resources. Since 2006, 35 new partnership agreements had been established to promote the United Nations in a language spoken by more than 235 million people on four continents. The most recent agreement had been on 25 April with the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries.
She said Diaries from Haiti, a Portuguese-language programme produced by United Nations Radio, with the support of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, showcased an interesting human angle in the lives of peacekeepers in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). That was a good example of internal cooperation used to disseminate accurate, balanced and timely information about the Organization’s peacekeeping activities. United Nations Television (UNTV) played a crucial role in helping to spread the Organization’s message worldwide while serving as a platform for people to spread their own message. UNTV was often the sole means by which disadvantaged populations could express their interest in situations that commercial television did not have the interest or means to cover. Brazil commended UNTV’s 21st Century series, which spotlighted the world’s most underreported stories, currently aired by 50 international broadcasters.
Reiterating her support for the United Nations Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro, she said it provided education and raised awareness in her country about the Organization’s fundamental role in promoting multilateral solutions to challenges faced by the international community. The first Brazilian training course for journalists covering peacekeeping missions, organized in March by the Rio de Janeiro Information Centre and the Brazilian Army’s Training Centre for Peacekeeping Operations, was a good example of such fruitful collaboration. However, Brazil noted with great concern the 70 per cent decrease in the Information Centre’s operating budget from 2002 to 2007, taking into account currency fluctuations and inflation, and encouraged the Department and Member States to work together in finding creative ways to ensure the necessary support and progressive strengthening of the Organization’s Information Centres network and services.
She expressed regret over the lack of progress in creating an information centre addressing the special needs of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, despite the Angolan Government’s offer to host and provide rent- and maintenance-free premises in Luanda, and the clear message conveyed in paragraph 42 of General Assembly resolution 62/111 B. None of the 22 Information Centres or the single United Nations Office in Africa currently operated in a Portuguese-speaking country. Two Portuguese-speaking African countries were served by a non-Portuguese-speaking Information Centre, but three other Portuguese-speaking African countries were not covered at all by the Information Centres’ network. The support provided by the Portuguese Unit of the United Nations regional Information Centre in Brussels and the Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro could not be a substitute for strengthening the network in Portuguese-speaking Africa.
ISMAIL MOHAMED YAHYA ALMAABRI ( Yemen) said the importance of the Department’s work was linked to the fact that it was aimed at formulating and shaping public opinion. Member States should always bear in mind the complex process involved as the task called for reaching both the hearts and the minds of the target groups. It was necessary, in that regard, that the Department have all the means to project its message so that the output would be in line with the multicultural setting prevailing across the globe. Those messages should involve clear concepts and be acceptable to target audiences. Aware of the difficulty involved in crafting such messages at the national level, where the scope for multicultural and ethnic diversity was limited, the complexity of the Department’s task in crafting appropriate messages for a global audience encompassing a huge diversity of cultures and groups could only be left to the imagination.
Stressing that the Yemeni delegation wished its statement to be “different” while remaining in line with the reality on ground, he said the impact of live United Nations broadcasts was the outcome of tireless daily work requiring an appreciation and acknowledgement of all delegates present in the Committee on Information. Yemen had come to appreciate the Department’s work, which had been fostered by the management and administrative style of the Under-Secretary-General. That approach had empowered members of his team effectively to address different aspects of the Department’s functions. The result had been seen in the sincerity with which all departmental staff carried out their duties. Yemen paid tribute to all Department staff for their dedication.
YOUSEF KANAAN, Permanent Observer for Palestine, reiterated the importance of the Department’s information programme to the question of Palestine, adding that it would remain necessary until the issue was settled in all its aspects and pursuant to all relevant General Assembly resolutions. The programme was also important in contributing to the creation of an environment of dialogue and to the goal of Palestinian self-determination and a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Department’s Palestine Section organized annual international workshops on the question of Palestine, including the fifteenth workshop on media and peace in the Middle East, held in Tokyo last year in cooperation with the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The Department continued to help Palestinian media through the training of journalists and information specialists.
Recalling that Israel had prevented Palestinian journalists from leaving to participate in a training programme last year, he said it was incumbent upon the international community to demand that it end such practices. Israel continued to target journalists attempting to convey the truth about its practices on the ground. On 16 April, it had assassinated 23-year-old Palestinian Reuters photographer Fadel Shanaa as covered Israeli operations in Gaza. The journalist had worn a badge clearly showing he was a member of the press. Ten Palestinian journalists had been killed since September 2000.
He stressed the importance of the Department’s work in showing films and videotapes on the history of the question of Palestine. Such works should be digitalized to preserve their historical importance for the benefit of researchers and educational institutions. The Department’s exhibition on Palestine and the soon-to-be-published booklet on Palestine were to be commended and hopefully, they would be available to the public next month to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the Palestinian catastrophe.
The Department should play a role in promoting the dialogue among civilizations in order to combat hatred, racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, he said. Palestinians continued to lack access to technological advances and information and communications technology services due to Israel’s air and other restrictions. Achieving development and advancing on the path of knowledge could not happen for Palestinians without an end to the Israeli occupation.
SUZANNE BILELLO, Senior Public Information and Liaison Officer, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), presented an overview of that agency’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), describing it as the only multilateral forum in the United Nations system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. Its overriding objective was to contribute to sustainable development, democracy and good governance by fostering universal access to and distribution of information and knowledge by strengthening the capacities of developing countries and those in transition in the field of electronic and print media, and by promoting freedom of expression and media pluralism.
She said the efforts of the IPDC had had an important impact on a broad range of fields, covering the development of community media, radio and television organizations, modernization of national and regional news agencies and training of media professionals. Since its creation in 1980, the IPDC had raised some $93 million for more than 1,100 projects in 139 developing and transition countries, she continued. During 2006 and 2007, the IPDC bureau had supported 113 media development projects in 66 countries at a total cost of $2.65 million. Just last week, the Bureau had met and approved 70 projects to be implemented in 50 countries this year at a total cost of $2 million.
At its twenty-sixth session a few weeks ago, she continued, the IPDC Intergovernmental Council had adopted a decision calling on Governments to report to the UNESCO Director-General on their investigations into the assassination of journalists and other intentional crimes against media personnel. The Council had also invited the Bureau of the IPDC to explore how appropriate projects supporting local capacity-building in the safety and protection of journalists could be given priority, and requested the Director-General to provide the IPDC Council, at its twenty-seventh session, with an analytical report on the basis of responses received from Member States. Over the past two years, UNESCO had publicly condemned the killings of 121 journalists, 68 of them in 2006 and 53 in 2007.
Closing Remarks by Under-Secretary-General
KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the many positive and encouraging statements he had heard from Member States in the last few days were comforting. “The confidence that a number of you expressed with regard to the Department as it works to inform the world about the United Nations work pushes us to build on our achievements and to even make them better.” He said he would respond to comments and questions, urging delegates not to hesitate to contact him or his staff afterwards if he did not answer their questions fully.
During the session, many representatives had talked about the close integration of the Department with local United Nations offices, he recalled. They had shown interest in the Department’s strategic communications priority themes and the considerable contributions of the network of United Nations information centres. The representative of Antigua and Barbuda had requested, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, that all possible measures be taken to strengthen the Information Centres, which he had described as an essential source for the flow of information, an assessment with which he agreed fully. Several delegates had called for the strengthening of the information centres, particularly in developing countries. Indeed, the Department’s financial constraints did limit its capacity to support existing centres, but thanks to broader partnerships and the special attention given to regional cooperation, the Department would continue to improve the Centres’ work and outreach.
Delegates had also noted the Department’s efforts to improve the Organization’s image, he said, expressing his deep concern over its poor image in the Arab world particularly. The representative of Syria, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, had described the efforts of the United Nations Communications Group in the Arab world and the revitalization of the Yemen Information Centre as very positive steps in that regard.
He said he had taken note of requests by several delegations for the Department to improve multilingualism on the United Nations website and of the importance that many delegations placed on the United Nations News Centre, Press Service and United Nations Radio. The Department was committed to stepping up efforts to ensure parity in all official languages on the website and was committed to maintaining the News Centre’s quality and production. Thanks to those media and to video services, the Department would continue to tell the United Nations story in a precise, concrete and human way in order to show how much the Organization was providing services to people in their daily lives.
The situation concerning French-language services was different from that of the other official languages because French was a working language of the Secretariat, the Under-Secretary-General pointed out. Therefore, the volume of information potentially available in French was larger than that of other languages. Considering the constraints affecting the pro bono translation of documents into Chinese, Russian and Spanish, and the bottleneck in quality control for those materials, the volume of documentation in French and other languages on the website could be better increased by working more closely with the offices producing the documents.
Initially, the Department had asked French-speaking junior professionals in the Secretariat to assess the amount of documentation to be produced in French in their respective areas, he continued. The Department would work closely with those offices to establish regular means of posting and updating information in French. Such a decentralized system could potentially be greater than a free translation service but it should not exclude the use of pro bono services provided by a French university, for example.
Regarding concerns raised by the representative of Syria, Mr. Akasaka said the Arabic Unit of the website now had a full team of four members, which was equal to that of other website language teams. Two professional posts had now been staffed with people on regular appointments and two general service staff members had been given temporary contracts while the Department awaited a review of posts by the staff selection service. As no appropriate candidate had been found during the first recruitment process, the process would continue.
In response to a request by the representative of France for the appointment of a coordinator of multilingualism, the Under-Secretary-General said that appointment was important for the Department and the entire Secretariat. The Secretary-General was the one to make the appointment and the Department was awaiting his decision.
He said in response to a call by the representative of Jamaica for the establishment of an information component within the Kingston United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office to complement the work of the Information Centre in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, that the Department recognized the important contribution that such an arrangement could bring to communications activities in the region. Although it currently lacked the staff and financial resources to provide for such a component, the Department was interested in exploring other options with the Jamaican Government.
With regard to a request by the representative of Cape Verde for the creation of an information centre in Luanda, Angola, he emphasized that the Department recognized the importance of serving the needs of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. However, to establish the centre would require a decision by the General Assembly and the allocation of sufficient resources to make it viable. The Department would continue to be guided by the Committee on that matter, and it stood ready to provide whatever assistance or information may be needed.
He thanked the many Member States who had continued to provide support, in cash or kind, to the operations of the Information Centres network, whether in connection with their ongoing activities or for special projects or workshops.
The representative of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, asked about the Department’s role in relation to the newly created Public Affairs Unit within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the establishment of the Department for Field Support.
Mr. AKASAKA said his Department supported peacekeeping missions in several ways, including by providing strategic guidance for mission planning and support to public information components of peacekeeping operations in formulating and implementing communications strategies. It also provided the entire United Nations system with guidance on peacekeeping-related issues and carried out numerous activities to promote peacekeeping. The Department organized specialized training for public information personnel identified for possible rapid deployment. It also created content, maintained the United Nations website on peacekeeping and helped develop local mission websites.
In that context, and in response to a question by the representative of Bangladesh, he said the Department had stepped up the promotion of peacekeepers’ work, with particular emphasis on the larger troop-contributing countries and their media. Different parts of the Department, particularly its Peace and Security Section, UNTV, the News Centre and the Information Centres, featured stories involving peacekeepers, such as those in the past three months about Bangladeshi soldiers serving in the Liberia and Haiti Missions.
For this year’s sixtieth anniversary of United Nations peacekeeping, Mr. Akasaka continued, the Public Information and Peacekeeping Departments had collaborated on a major photographic exhibit that looked at peacekeeping “Then and Now”. Together, they had created tailored versions of the exhibit, with additional images of peacekeepers from major troop-contributing countries, including Bangladesh, and other key Member States. The Public Information Department had also produced a series of posters featuring individual peacekeepers and key troop- and police-contributing countries, which it had also made available to Permanent Missions in New York.
He informed the representative of Bangladesh that the Department would explore the possibility of further promoting International Mother Language Day.
With regard to the name-change proposed for the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, as raised by the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and Switzerland, Mr. Akasaka said that in no way altered the commitment to fulfil previously agreed mandates and Assembly resolutions relevant to libraries. The Library was giving considerably more attention to providing access to information and knowledge management, particularly in developing countries. As more and more information was available on the Internet, librarians in those countries needed additional training. On the basis of a recent Library survey of more than 400 depository libraries, 93.5 per cent of the respondents had indicated that they had Internet access on their premises and most had indicated a preference for receiving United Nations documents electronically.
The Library was placing greater emphasis on regional training for depository libraries, he continued. A regional workshop, organized in conjunction with the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and held in Bangkok last November, had encouraged a new partnership approach with the Information Centres. Similar regional workshops had been held in Ethiopia in 2004 and in the Dominican Republic last year. In June 2008, a training session for libraries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) would take place in Saint Petersburg in the Russian Federation. Resources permitting, that initiative could be expanded.
Other United Nations Secretariat libraries, most notably the one in Geneva, had also adopted new approaches to encourage knowledge-sharing within the Organization, he said. Knowledge-sharing activities were discussed in meetings of the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries. Member libraries had progressively adopted new methods for reaching stakeholders and supporting United Nations constituents in accessing information and knowledge, thereby reinforcing their roles and making their services more relevant.
Recalling that a number of delegations had referred to the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine, he said the Department continued to implement that Assembly-mandated programme objectively. The programme included an annual training session for Palestinian media practitioners, an annual media seminar on peace in the Middle East, and other activities. In that connection, the Government of Austria had decided to co-host this year’s media seminar in Vienna in October, and the Department thanked the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for that generous offer.
He also thanked the representative of China for his interest in the evaluations conducted by the Department. In 2007, a major focus of the Department’s assessment activities had been its work with the media, including best practices and lessons learned in working with United Nations system partners to produce relevant and timely media products and services. The Department had also examined media outreach activities of the Information Centres and analysed the placement of opinion pieces by the Secretary-General and other senior officials in order better to understand what factors influenced the willingness of newspapers to print such pieces.
The Department used the information from such evaluations for the continual improvement of its products and services as well as to report to Member States, as succinctly as possible, what had been achieved, he said. Most recently, the Department had collected data on such activities as the United Nations Cyberschoolbus, library services, and the Reham al-Farra journalists’ fellowship programme, to cite just a few examples. Owing to space limitations, however, not all the evaluation results could be reflected fully in the report on the Department’s activities. Therefore, the Department included an overall rating compiled from the feedback received across all target audiences. As mentioned in the report on the Department’s activities, 84 per cent of respondents were satisfied with its products and services, compared to 80 per cent in 2005.
The Under-Secretary-General thanked Committee members for their comments about the Department’s work on the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), recalling that in his opening statement he had briefly mentioned the Africa Renewal information programme –- Africa Renewal magazine, its website, and associated features service. United Nations Radio facilitated radio broadcasts on issues of central importance to NEPAD’s vision for Africa in the 21st Century.
He said the Department also worked closely with the NEPAD Secretariat in Pretoria, South Africa, providing its staff and advisers with updates on Africa’s progress on the Millennium Development Goals, arranging opportunities for NEPAD’s senior officials to speak to the press when in New York, and facilitating the flow of information on NEPAD’s sectoral programmes to a wider audience. Also in cooperation with the Secretariat, the Department was making widely available in print for the first time, copies of The NEPAD Plan, and seeking partners to produce the booklet in some of the major African languages. The Department was also playing an important role in the Organization’s inter-agency consultative group charged with formulating joint projects to further implementation of NEPAD.
Responding to concerns voiced by several Member States, Mr. Akasaka said the Department, in consultation with the Department of Safety and Security and other relevant offices, would do what it could to facilitate access by press officers from the Permanent Missions to restricted areas during periods of elevated security, such as the opening of the General Assembly.
In response to questions about the Capital Master Plan, he said the Department was working very closely with the Capital Master Plan secretariat and colleagues in the Departments of Management and General Assembly and Conference Management to ensure that coverage of all open meetings, as well as briefings and other public events, were maintained during the renovation of the Headquarters complex. However, there would be certain limitations and logistical issues, as well as possible unforeseen circumstances in a project of that magnitude and complexity.
Connectivity was of key importance for coverage, he said, adding that the Department’s Information Technology Services Division and the Department of Management had been involved in detailed planning with the Capital Master Plan secretariat to ensure that cabling and connectivity were available for television, radio and Internet needs. The Department was working closely with those offices, including with the Broadcast Conference and Support Section, to plan not only for normal Secretariat information technology functions, but also for the special coverage needs. Detailed discussions had been held on connectivity issues to enable full coverage and redissemination of audio, video and electronic outputs. In addition, stakeout areas, camera positions, desks for press officers in the main temporary meeting rooms, lighting, and other factors affecting coverage had been resolved largely to the Department’s satisfaction. However, given cost constraints, there may be some small quality loss in lighting, for example, in some temporary rooms.
Proximity to conference and broadcast facilities had been the primary criteria for the location of News and Media Division staff during the Capital Master Plan, he said. A number of staff would remain on-site: broadcast, webcast and photo staff in the basement; and staff servicing the press corps in the Library and South Annex. The rest of the News and Media Division staff would be located in DC-1, providing ready access to the complex, particularly the temporary conference facility on the North Lawn. Department staff would move only in the early part of 2009, after the end of the regular Assembly session, and the move would be staggered. The Department had requested space in DC-1 so that some editing and production work could take place there, as well as in the studio capacity that would remain in the complex. Discussions were being held about locations for the audio-visual archives as the Department proceeded with a planned digitization programme.
The press corps would remain on-site, located in the Library, and full connectivity for them was part of the current planning, he said. The press briefing room would be located in the Library Auditorium with the Spokesperson’s Office, Media Documents Centre and Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit in adjacent areas. The Capital Master Plan Secretariat had assured the Department that the press would have direct access to stakeout positions located elsewhere in the complex -– the General Assembly, Security Council, and North Lawn complex -- although clearly the press would need to allow more time to get to those locations from their new offices.
The Capital Master Plan would affect other services, including those for visitors, he said. Based on current dates available, the Guided Tours operation would be impacted by the renovation as of June 2009 and the Department was working with the Capital Master Plan secretariat to identify a new route in order to continue to offer visits to the public. Meanwhile, the Library would necessarily have its services dispersed as a result of the building being partially used as a swing space. Capital Master Plan staff had been working closely with the Library to come up with new solutions. Current plans would allow for continued on-site reference services, and a phased removal of library stacks, to allow for the replacement of current shelving with more modern equipment. Other library services would be maintained off-campus but in close proximity to clients.
Even though the formal debate had now come to a close, the Department’s dialogue with members of the Committee, through its Bureau, would continue, the Under-Secretary-General said, adding that he looked forward to the outcome of the Committee’s deliberations over the coming days and to the strategic direction and guidance that the Committee would provide through its recommendations to the Assembly at its sixty-third session.
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