United Nations Future Depends on Joint Vision, Shared Responsibilities; Public Information Department Stands Ready to Contribute, Says Communications Chief

13 October 2009
GA/SPD/428

United Nations Future Depends on Joint Vision, Shared Responsibilities; Public Information Department Stands Ready to Contribute, Says Communications Chief

13 October 2009
General Assembly
GA/SPD/428
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

8th Meeting (AM)

United Nations Future Depends on Joint Vision, Shared Responsibilities; Public

Information Department Stands Ready to Contribute, Says Communications Chief

Kiyo Akasaka Tells Fourth Committee, Despite Budgetary Climate, Department

Making Steady Progress, Expanding Outreach, Delivering Message in Creative Ways

Emphasizing that the future of the United Nations depended on a joint vision and shared responsibilities, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today that the Department of Public Information “stands ready” to contribute to the achievement of the Organization’s goals by building understanding and support for the Organization among the peoples of the world.

During his detailed address at the opening of the Committee’s debate on information, Mr. Akasaka said that although the budgetary climate remained difficult, the Department was making steady progress overall, both in terms of expanding its outreach and delivering the Organization’s messages in new and creative ways.  It was fully committed to making strategic use of available resources and to enhancing and diversifying the range of its programmes, products and services, on the basis of evaluation and lessons learned. 

In those efforts, the Department would be guided by the priorities set by Member States, especially those in the Information Committee.  Commending the partnership that had been forged with the Information Committee and its Bureau, he said that, for the first time, the Committee’s Chairman had participated in the international seminar on peace in the Middle East, which was organized as part of the Department’s special information programme on Palestine.  The Chairman had also been a speaker at the United Nations Headquarters’ observance of World Press Freedom Day, organized by the Department. 

The Department was extremely conscious of the need to disseminate accurate, timely and coherent information in ways that matched the requirements and expectations of today’s communications industry, he said.  Examples of ways in which the Department was applying its multimedia approach included:  posting of speakers’ statements on the General Assembly website as soon as they were delivered; webcast videos; press releases; photos; and the multilingual United Nations News Centre portal.

For the first time, the Department had used the micro-blogging tool Twitter to promote the general debate by “tweeting” live from the General Assembly floor, he said, noting that those “tweets” had included quotes from statements in real time, as well as links to United Nations photos, webcasts and other online materials.  The Department had also launched the “Citizen’s Ambassadors to the United Nations” campaign on the opening day of the general debate, which encouraged people to directly engage with decision makers by uploading video messages on the United Nations YouTube channel.

The Department was also broadening its reach by expanding its network of broadcasting partners for such flagship television programmes as 21st Century and UN in Action, he reported.  To expand its outreach to youth, the Department had held the first annual Global Model United Nations (GMUN) Conference in Geneva in August, at which more than 300 students had participated in a five-day programme under the theme “The Millennium Development Goals –- Lifting the Bottom Billion out of Poverty”.  And, the Department’s flagship publication UN Chronicle had been revamped, and was now a mix of short pieces and in-depth articles.

He acknowledged that budgetary limitations still hampered the Information Centres’ ability to provide information services to local communities, urging host Governments to explore possibilities for providing subsidized or rent-free premises.  Unfortunately, however, the global economic crisis had forced some to limit or even suspend Centre contributions.  The suicide bombing attack on the Office of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Islamabad on 5 October had been a stark reminder of the United Nations urgent security needs; security and safety concerns required additional funding.

An exchange followed the Under-Secretary-General’s address.  It touched on topics ranging from linguistic errors in Arabic on some of the pages of the United Nations website to the lack of modern technology in the developing world, and the central role of the United Nations News Centre.

Following the interactive dialogue, the Committee began its general debate on information, with a number of speakers underscoring the importance of the Department’s mission to provide accurate, comprehensive, unbiased and timely information on United Nations tasks and responsibilities.  That, they agreed, enabled the dissemination of relevant information to a global audience and assisted Member States in working together to deal with critical events.  

Thailand’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), emphasized that more than ever before, information was integral to an interdependent and interconnected world.  The international community had faced many new critical challenges, among them, the global economic crisis, natural disasters, and a new pandemic.  ASEAN appreciated the Department’s dedicated efforts in providing clear communication and accurate information during the outbreak of H1N1, and the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development. 

The Association also welcomed the new initiatives taken by the Department in reaching out to wider audiences, and encouraged the Department to disseminate United Nations information and publications in local languages, in order to enhance accessibility for all, he said.  It also encouraged the Department to assist developing countries in the evolution of communications technology, in order to provide every country access, not only to the United Nations services, but also to the global information pool.

Other speakers drew attention to the digital divide, and called on the Department to help narrow the technological gap between developed and developing countries.  The representative of Jamaica, while welcoming the availability of information through new media, stressed that for peoples of the developing world, traditional means of communication remained the primary source of information.  He trusted that the Department would continue to improve the effective and timely delivery of its various information products through the use of traditional media.

Along those lines, the representative of Sudan, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that the Department’s most daunting task was to reach out to the widest possible audiences.  Many countries, especially developing ones, lacked the resources and technical means to access information about United Nations activities and achievements.  The United Nations was a universal forum, where the issues and concerns faced by the world community were debated.  It was critical, therefore, for the Department to continuously and actively project the United Nations ideals and accomplishments, intensify outreach and transmit the United Nations message to all peoples of the world.

Also speaking during the general debate were representatives of Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), Qatar, Yemen, Syria, Singapore, Cuba and Myanmar.

Contributing to the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Yemen, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

At the start of the meeting, the report of the Committee on Information was introduced by that body’s Rapporteur.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 October, to continue its general debate on information.  It is also expected to take action on two draft resolutions on the questions of Gibraltar and Western Sahara.

Background

As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to take up questions relating information, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on that issue (document A/64/262).

The report highlights recent communications campaigns of the Secretariat by the United Nations Department of Public Information on key issues, such as the Millennium Development Goals, climate change, human rights and issues of peace and security.  Particular attention was paid to the expanded use of new information and communications technologies.  The report also includes an update on the Department’s outreach activities, as well as a section on its work with students.

The report describes activities undertaken in the first half of 2009 by the Department, through its three subprogrammes:  strategic communication services; news services; and outreach and knowledge-sharing services.

According to the report, the Department’s strategic communication services used thematic campaigns to focus on:  climate change; publicizing the work of the General Assembly on the impact of the economic and financial crisis on development and the Millennium Development Goals; the influenza A (H1N1) virus and the Special Task Force of the United Nations Communications Group; International Women’s Day 2009; Department of Public Information and United Nations peacekeeping operations; the question of Palestine; human rights, including the Durban Review Conference and the Rwanda genocide outreach programme; and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). 

Through the United Nations Communications Group, the Department also agreed to establish and coordinate a task force to develop a communications strategy on the global financial and economic crisis.  It also agreed to endorse a set of revised draft guidelines on the appointment and activities of United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace.

Further to the report, the network of 63 United Nations Information Centres remained central to the Department’s efforts to bring the United Nations story to people around the world.  The Department also strengthened the communications capacity and introduced the use of new information and communications technologies in these centres.

In terms of its news services, the Department carried out a major revamping of the top layers of the United Nations website -— from the splash page to over 200 underlying pages in all six official languages.  As part of a wider effort to disseminate material through new media and interactive forms of communication, including popular social networking sites, work also continued on a new companion site for mobile devices and was currently being tested for compatibility in all languages.  The Department is exploring new ways to deliver more content on demand, in the form of podcasts and video podcasts (vodcasts), to make it easier for consumers to share United Nations material with others.  The United Nations News Centre remained one of the most popular destinations on the United Nations site, showing sustained interest by users for all its language versions.

Regarding radio, the Department also continued to expand its network of broadcasting partners, now spanning 126 countries, and to improve access to archival material, including old radio programmes and historic speeches.  As for television coverage, there was a noticeable spike in traffic on the United Nations-branded channel on YouTube, which now features excerpts from the Secretary-General’s statements, video from the United Nations Television series, special interviews with United Nations Messengers of Peace and Goodwill Ambassadors, statements by senior United Nations officials, and coverage of special events.  The Secretary-General’s news conference on the H1N1 influenza generated particularly strong interest, registering nearly 150,000 views.

As part of its news-related operations, the Department continued to provide assistance to senior United Nations officials in the placement of their articles in newspapers and other media outlets around the world.  Combining efforts of its staff in New York with United Nations Information Centres around the world, in the first half of 2009, the Department ensured the publication of 18 op-ed pieces, including 12 articles by the Secretary-General.  The articles, which focused on some of the most urgent challenges facing the international community, appeared in a total of 142 newspapers.  The Secretary-General’s op-ed article entitled Growing Green, jointly authored by former United States Vice-President Al Gore, was carried by 35 newspapers on all continents.

As for outreach and knowledge-sharing services, the Department focused on: Dag Hammarskjöld Library; non-governmental organizations; the Journalists’ Fellowship Programme; the Creative Community Outreach Initiative; the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust; the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery; working with students; the Academic Impact initiative:  guided tours and briefings for visitors; exhibitions in the Visitor’s Lobby; and print and online products and services, including the UN Chronicle, the United Nations Yearbook, The United Nations Today (formerly Basic Facts About the United Nations), iSeek, graphic design, and sales and marketing.

The Committee also had before it a report on the thirty-first session of the Committee on Information, held from 4 to 15 May (document A/64/21).  It contains two draft resolutions:  draft resolution A, on information in the service of humanity;and draft resolution B, on United Nations public information policies and activities.

Introduction of Report

SHEREE CHAMBERS ( Jamaica), the Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced the Committee’s report (document A/64/21), which had been adopted at the end of its thirty-first session.  It includes four chapters, with the first and second dealing with organizational issues, including the opening of the session, adoption of the agenda and the programme of work.  Chapter III provides a summary of the general debate, and chapter IV presents two draft resolutions, adopted at the end of the session.

She recalled that, at this year’s session, three reports had been submitted by the Public Information Department for the Committee’s consideration.  Those reports outlined the work undertaken by the Department in various areas.  A total of 35 members and one observer had addressed the Committee, focusing on a wide range of issues.  They had emphasized the central role of the United Nations in global affairs and of the Department, as its public voice.  Several speakers had emphasized the Committee’s vital role and had called for continued cooperation between it and the Department. Emphasizing the importance of achieving parity in the six official languages of the Organization, speakers had advocated that the Department should work to close the gap between the number of web pages offered in English and those offered in the other official languages.

The work and activities of the network of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) had been highlighted by several speakers, she continued.  They had urged that all possible measures be taken to strengthen the Centres.  Several speakers had stressed that the traditional means of communication, such as radio and print media, remained important in achieving the effective promotion of the Organization’s message; they had asked the Department to strengthen its relationship with Member States’ radio stations.  Also at this year’s session, several speakers had referred to the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and had asked the Department to play a more vigorous role in promoting the dialogue among civilizations.  Several speakers had also commented on the Department’s proposal to replace UN Chronicle with UN Affairs magazine.

The main task before the session had been the adoption of a draft resolution, addressing various aspects of the question relating to information, she said.  Draft resolution A, entitled “Information in the service of humanity”, was an exact reproduction of resolution A/63/100 A, and had been submitted without any change.  Draft resolution B, entitled “United Nations public information policies and activities”, consists of 87 paragraphs, divided into seven sections and various subsections.

By the terms of a draft decision, the Committee on Information had agreed to appoint Sierra Leone as a member, bringing the total membership to 113.  That draft decision was also reflected in the report, she said.  In the course of consultations, agreement was reached between the Group of 77 developing countries and China and the European Union, as well as other members of the Committee, to form a task force, which would undertake to streamline that resolution and produce a revised text, at least two weeks before the opening of the Information Committee’s thirty-second session.

Under-Secretary-General’s Statement

KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that the early weeks of the General Assembly –- referred to by the Secretary-General as the “World Cup of international diplomacy” -- had provided just the latest example of how the Department of Information was striving to help shape and communicate the work, images, and sounds of the United Nations to the world at large.  Those efforts involved providing continuous information, news products and services, which included the provision of press credentials to 1,500 journalists for the national and global media.  Efforts to expand and engage old and new audiences had involved the use of new information and communication technologies to complement capacities in television, radio, and print.

He said that the Department was extremely conscious of the need to provide and disseminate accurate, timely and coherent information in ways that matched the requirements and expectations of today’s communications industry.  Examples of ways in which the Department was applying its multimedia approach included:  posting of speakers’ statements on the General Assembly website as soon as they were delivered; webcast videos; press releases; photos; and the multilingual United Nations News Centre portal.

For the first time, the Department of Public Information had used the micro-blogging tool, Twitter, to promote the general debate by “tweeting” live from the General Assembly floor.  Those “tweets” included quotes from statements in real time, as well as links to United Nations photos, webcasts and other online materials.  The Department had also launched the “Citizen’s Ambassadors to the United Nations” campaign on the opening day of the general debate, which encouraged people to directly engage with decision makers by uploading video messages on the United Nations YouTube channel.  The channel offered a unique opportunity, particularly to youth, to make their voices heard during the General Assembly by responding to the question:  If you had the opportunity to speak to world leaders, what would you say?

So far, he reported, videos for the campaign by the Secretary-General, Messenger of Peace George Clooney, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai had been viewed roughly 135,000 times.  Messages from citizens worldwide on reasons to disarm were also projected in the General Assembly Hall as leaders gathered for the general debate.  The campaign used popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, and urged a world free of nuclear weapons.

Permanent Missions to the United Nations were also benefiting from the focus on new media, in particular, through deleGATE (www.un.int), the Department’s website for delegations, which now provided content in English and French, he noted.  It averaged close to 18,000 hits per month.  The Department had also begun to explore how best to share secure information with Member States about the status of their financial contributions.

He said that the Department was also broadening its reach by expanding its network of broadcasting partners for such flagship television programmes as 21st Century and UN in Action.  With the help of United Nations Information Centres, the Department continued to place opinion pieces by senior United Nations officials in newspapers around the world, which received prominence online and in other formats, maximizing their spread and reach.

To harness the intellectual diversity and creative energy of its civil society partners, the Department had organized the second annual Conference of the Department of Public Information for Non-Governmental Organizations, held in Mexico and entitled “For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!”, he said.  The Department had also revamped the United Nations Climate Change gateway and produced the Climate Change Summit website.  Externally, the United Nations system had entered into partnerships with groups such as the International Advertising Association, which had recently commenced a campaign supporting a successful outcome at Copenhagen, known as “Hopenhagen”.

In its efforts to expand outreach to youth, the Department had held the first annual Global Model United Nations (GMUN) conference in Geneva in August, at which more than 300 students had participated in a five-day programme under the theme “The Millennium Development Goals –- Lifting the Bottom Billion out of Poverty”, he reported.  The Department’s flagship publication UN Chronicle had been revamped, and was now a mix of short pieces and in-depth articles.  The current issue focused on disarmament and included contributions from both the scientific, scholarly, civil society, and official United Nations communities.

Budgetary limitations still hampered the Information Centres’ ability to provide information services to local communities, he said, urging host Governments to explore possibilities for providing subsidized or rent-free premises.  Unfortunately, however, the global economic crisis had forced some to limit or even suspend Centre contributions.  The suicide bombing attack on the office of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Islamabad on 5 October had been a stark reminder of the United Nations urgent security needs; security and safety concerns required additional funding.

He also stressed the need to digitize and preserve the United Nations “unique” collection of photo, audio, film and video archives which, without human and budgetary resources, were in danger of disappearing. 

Overall, he found that the Public Information Department was making steady progress, both in terms of expanding its outreach and delivering the Organization’s messages in new and creative ways.  Although the budgetary climate remained difficult, the Department was fully committed to making strategic use of available resources, and to enhancing and diversifying the range of its programmes, products and services, on the basis of evaluation and lessons learned. 

In those efforts, he said the Department would be guided by the priorities set by Member States, especially those in the Information Committee.  He was proud of the partnership that had been forged with the Information Committee and its Bureau.  For the first time, the Committee’s Chairman had participated in the international seminar on peace in the Middle East, which was organized as part of the Department’s special information programme on Palestine.  The Chairman had also been a speaker at the United Nations Headquarters’ observance of World Press Freedom Day, organized by the Department.

He said that the future of the United Nations depended on a shared vision and shared responsibilities, and the Department “stood ready” to contribute to the achievement of the Organization’s goals by building understanding and support for the Organization among the peoples of the world.

Interactive Dialogue

Thanking the Under-Secretary-General for his address, Committee Chairman NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER of Qatar opened the floor to questions.

The representative of Yemen said his delegation appreciated the efforts made to improve the United Nations website to make it more accessible, more reader-friendly and more attractive overall.  His delegation had observed, however, that some of the pages in Arabic contained linguistic errors and that the content was not regularly updated, as it should be.  His delegation hoped that the Department would pay attention to that issue.

Sudan ’s representative thanked the Department for, among other things, responding to a proposal to publish a note upon the opening of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.  His delegation hoped that the new United Nations magazine would give Member States and others knowledge about the activities occurring at the United Nations.  Such efforts should be strengthened, he added.

Thanking the Department for efforts made during the general debate and for its advancements in presenting the websites of the United Nations for the Missions, he said there was still a dire need to focus more on the peoples of the developing world.  In that respect, the modern technology in the field of mass media available in the developed world was lacking in many developing countries.  The Department should create initiatives and strengthen the dialogue between it and the developing countries on the best ways to present the message of the United Nations.  At the same time, he noted the positive developments concerning United Nations television and as concerned conferences organized by the Department away from Headquarters.  Such efforts were appreciated and should be continued.

In response to comments made by Yemen’s representative regarding linguistic errors in Arabic, Mr. Akasaka said that the Department had already learned about the particular difficulties in translating into Arabic at the meeting of the Committee on Information.  The Department had been trying to address the problems, but apparently that did not mean that there had been rapid progress in that area.  He would very much like to see such progress and ensure that the errors were reduced and that information was updated.  Indeed, the website was one of the most important tools for the Department to reach out the widest possible audiences, so he would very much like to see to the points the representative made.

Responding to the comments made by the representative of the Sudan, Mr. Akasaka said he was pleased with the positive remarks about the new United Nations magazine, United Nations in Focus.  The Department thought it was necessary after the General Assembly debate to make certain important points in the format of an easy-to-read magazine.  He would like to continue publishing that brochure at least a couple of times per month, in order to be able to focus on the important achievements and outcomes of events and various meetings. 

Taking note of the point made by Sudan’s representative regarding the need to strengthen the focus on developing countries, Mr. Akasaka said that, indeed, the Department was attempting to expand its activities, including the use of new media and social networking devices, and was conscious of the importance of addressing the needs of many developing countries, which were not in a position to have easy access to those new tools and media.  The Department would very much like to continue its production of television, radio programmes, press releases and brochures in a printed format so that they could be made available to many countries, particularly developing countries, where the needs were the greatest.

The representative of Uzbekistan said that the United Nations News Centre was one of the most frequently used news sources in his country.  He praised in particular the activities of the Russian services, saying that many users accessed that news and information, which informed about the United Nations and other bodies on a daily basis.  Drawing attention to the fact that the information presented by the News Centre was objective and unbiased, he said it was really trusted because of that, by the many news outlets across his region.  He asked for more information about the language services of the United Nations News Service and its resources in terms of personnel.  In addition, he asked Mr. Akasaka for his thoughts on the prospects of the Information Centres, especially those which provided information in Russian.

In response, Mr. Akasaka said that the News Centre had been playing a pivotal role in diligently communicating the important messages and work of the United Nations in the most appropriate, impartial and coherent ways.  In terms of the languages expanding beyond English and French, into such languages as Russian -- that was a challenge, because help was required in translating some of the important work of the United Nations, including various documents.  There was a lack of resources, but with the help of colleagues in the Information Centres, and also with the help of partners, he hoped that it would be possible to translate the key messages of the United Nations into as many languages as possible. 

For example, he continued, there were currently 63 Information Centres in the world, which had the capacity to work in 48 languages and produced material in more than 140 languages.  In addition, websites were maintained in more than 30 languages.  The Department was conscious of the need to maintain the objectives of the United Nations in the area of multilingualism, and would very much like to expand activities in that area.  He was hopeful that the necessary resources would be made more available in that respect.

Statements

CLAUDE HELLER (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said he recognized the Public Information Department’s valuable efforts in promoting the work of the United Nations in a wide variety of areas:  peacekeeping and international security; human rights; the Millennium Development Goals; the effects of the financial and economic crisis on development; fighting pandemics; disease prevention; climate change; and the eradication of poverty and hunger, among others.  In the context of health emergencies, such as the influenza A H1N1 outbreak, he urged the Department to continue updating its communications network and encouraged multilateral action, avoiding the adoption of unilateral measures.

Since the changing international reality required the international community to assume innovative methods for better information distribution, he said that the Rio Group welcomed the establishment of a new structure in January by the United Nations Communications Group.  The Rio Group also supported the “spontaneity and agility” of electronic communication, although it was concerned over the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries.  In that light, traditional media, such as radio, television and written press should remain employed.  New media did not replace, but rather complemented, other traditional means of communication.

The Rio Group also welcomed the intense work in the area of information and promotion by the Public Information Department and the United Nations Information Centres, he said.  The Group reaffirmed its full respect for freedom of speech and free press, but said that the media should operate with full respect for the international legal framework.  In that regard, the Group was concerned by the violation of radio-electronic frequencies, and reiterated the need for those frequencies to be used in favour of public interest and in conformity with international law.

One of the most valuable goals of the Rio Group was the achievement of parity among the six official United Nations languages, he said.  Since multilingualism was “inherently associated” with the United Nations, it was essential that information was distributed in as many languages as possible.  He took note of the initiative to transform the UN Chronicle into a publication with more methodological rigour, and urged a redoubling of efforts in the search for options that allowed its publication in all six official languages.

He said the Group also endorsed the Department’s efforts in support of Middle East peace, through dialogue among journalists, intellectuals and civil society.  The Department should continue to improve its information machinery, in order to fulfil its “praiseworthy goal” of bringing the voice of the Organization to the world.

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the foundation of the Public Information Department’s policies had been built on close cooperation and partnership between it and the Information Committee.  Continued improvement of that partnership was essential, as the Department played its vital role as the United Nations public voice. 

He said that the most daunting task before the Department was to reach out to the widest possible audiences.  Many countries, especially developing countries, lacked adequate resources and technical means to access information about United Nations activities and achievements.  The United Nations was a universal forum, where the issues and concerns faced by the world community were debated.  A comprehensive, accurate, impartial and balanced coverage of its deliberations, decisions and actions could promote better understanding and goodwill.  It was therefore critical for the Department to continuously and actively project the United Nations ideals and accomplishments, intensify outreach and transmit the United Nations message to all peoples of the world.

The Group of 77 and China urged that all possible measures be taken to strengthen the United Nations Information Centres, he said.  Those Centres were a vital source of information flows.  They helped to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries in terms of access to information and communication technologies.  He underlined that any decision pertaining to reorganizing the Centres must be made in close consultation with the host countries and must take into account the geographical, linguistic and technological characters of different regions.

Stressing the need for the United Nations website to be available in all official languages, he said that the Group was of the view that more resources and efforts should be allocated to achieve full language parity and to bridge the gap that existed in that regard among the websites.  The Group commended the Department for its efforts in improving the structure of the top layers of the United Nations website, which would not only improve the site content accessibility and usability, but would also make it more user-friendly. 

At the same time, he said, the Group attached great importance to the continuation of the use of traditional media, including both radio and print, in disseminating the main messages of the United Nations, since traditional media remained the primary means of communication in developing countries.  It also underscored the importance of closer cooperation between the Department and other substantive departments, in particular, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support.

NORACHIT SINHASENI (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that today, more than ever, information was integral to an interdependent and interconnected world.  Effective information flow enabled the collective adoption, adaptation and anticipation of opportunities and challenges posed by globalization.  Within the United Nations, effective information flow not only helped to garner support for United Nations activities from the international community, but also promoted transparency and accountability within the United Nations system.  The Department must continue to ensure and further enhance the access to, speed and quality of such information flow.  Equally important was that such information be accurate, reliable, impartial and free of politicization.

He said that the international community had faced many new critical challenges, among them, the global economic crisis, natural disasters, and a new pandemic.  ASEAN commended the Department’s work in disseminating relevant information to the global audience to advance efforts in addressing those challenges.  ASEAN also appreciated the Department’s dedicated efforts in providing clear communication and accurate information during the outbreak of H1N1, and the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development.  The role of the Department on both issues, among others, in providing adequate, credible and timely information had made it easier for Member States to achieve a common agenda in dealing with such critical events.

ASEAN welcomed the new initiatives taken by the Department in reaching out to wider audiences, especially the use of new media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs, to engage with the younger generation and new demographics.  Such technologies would allow the youth to voice their ideas and assist in addressing the common challenges and concerns through greater participation.  The digital divide, however, continued to pose a serious obstacle to the universal accessibility of information.  Despite global technological development, many countries were deprived of advanced means of communication.  Traditional media, such as radio networks and local newspapers, remained central in communications in many countries, and United Nations work in those areas should be maintained. 

In addition, ASEAN encouraged the Department to disseminate United Nations information and publications in local languages, in order to enhance accessibility for all, he said.  It also further encouraged the Department to assist developing countries in the evolution of communications technology, in order to provide every country access, not only to the United Nations services, but also to the global information pool.

Welcoming the Department’s close cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support in various campaigns to promote United Nations peacekeeping operations, he said that similar efforts should also be made in promoting peacebuilding activities carried out by the Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Fund to bridge the critical resource gap in post-conflict situations.  ASEAN also encouraged the Department to promote a holistic approach to United Nations peace operations and garner support for sufficient and flexible funding for peacebuilding activities.  Only through sustained support from the international community for both peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts could lasting and sustainable peace be achieved, he said.

PETER ERICSON (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that managing the flow of information was a core activity of any major organization and an increasingly important task in today’s globalized media landscape.  This year, climate change and the H1N1 influenza stood out as topics where the United Nations message needed to reach a wide audience.  The Department had proven its competence in both those areas, not the least in the case of the H1N1 influenza, where United Nations information had been both timely and widespread.  Credit should also be given to the Task Force of the United Nations Communications Group, which helped to maintain message coherence in communications during the influenza outbreak.

He said that the European Union stood by the three priorities it had outlined for the Information Committee’s thirty-first session.  It also looked forward to the proposal of a streamlined resolution to be made by the Task Force.  An improved structure of the resolution would provide the Department with a clearer starting point for its work.  It would also be a way to strengthen the resolution’s message.

Efforts should also continue to maximize the output of the Department’s limited resources, he said.  The Department operated within a tight budget, and that made it particularly important to ensure efficiency.  He encouraged the Department to take a new look at what could be done to create synergies between the various United Nations Information Centres around the world.  In Europe, the United Nations now operated on the basis of one regional focal point for public information.  Where appropriate, that model should also be tried in other parts of the world, as a way to create synergies and save costs.

Multilingualism was a priority for the European Union, he said, adding that it was encouraging that the Department had continued to emphasize the parity of the official languages.  Well aware of the limited resources, the Union reiterated the importance of using multilingualism as a tool of their client-oriented outreach approach.  There, Information Centres played a key role.  Furthermore, the Union believed that transforming the UN Chronicle into a genuinely thought-provoking UN Affairs journal aiming to be an authoritative voice on the issues of the United Nations agenda and on the values and objectives of the Organization would be a tool for further outreach.  The Union also welcomed the revamping of the top layers of the United Nations website in all six languages.

He noted that 31 journalists had been killed so far this year as a consequence of their profession, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.  There was still a risk that number could climb to last year’s record of 42 deaths before the end of the year.  It was a collective duty to halt those killings and ensure that those responsible account for their crimes.

SALEM MUBARAK SHAFI AL-SHAFI (Qatar), expressing support for the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the Department and network of United Nations Information Centres carried out excellent work to promote a better understanding of the United Nations work and goals.  They also, among other things, informed the public of peacebuilding activities and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  The actions of the Department and the Information Centres should be mandated by neutrality and coordination to promote an increased international awareness of its different bodies.  He supported the agreement made during the last meeting of the Committee on Information between the Group of 77 and China and the European Union, and other Committee members, to set up a working group to facilitate the annual resolution on training, through adoption of a revised text.

He said that it was important to respect multilingualism, and noted that the new United Nations web portal was a good step in the right direction.  However, the six official languages were not always represented on an equal footing; some languages were treated as less equal than others.  In particular, the Arabic part of the website should be improved to guarantee equity.

The Palestinian question was one of the most pressing issues, requiring a solution that dealt with both the political and humanitarian impacts, he said.  It was necessary, therefore, for the Public Information Department to reflect that truth, and to urge the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization to grant priority to the Palestinian question and to reveal Israel’s practices, which were incompatible with the United Nations Charter.  The Department should stress the realities of events in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as a priority.

He added that the inter-confessional dialogue among cultures and religions was a main instrument of international peace and security, he said.  Qatar played an important role in the alliance of civilizations, in an effort to strengthen the culture of peace.  Both the Department and Information Centres should deepen interreligious dialogue by joining the ongoing efforts to promote dialogue among civilizations.

MOHAMMED ABDULLAH AL HADHRAMI (Yemen), expressing support for the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said his delegation had carefully studied the Secretary-General’s report on information questions, which detailed the activities and development in that sector during the first half of the year.  Stressing the importance of the special information programme developed by the Public Information Department on the Palestinian cause, he also highlighted the international seminar on peace in the Middle East, organized in Rio de Janeiro on 27 and 28 June, as well as the training seminar for Palestinian journalists, to be held from 9 to 11 December.

He said that the Internet today was of great importance in distributing information and knowledge around the world.  It was particularly useful for the exchange of experiences, knowledge, culture and contact among peoples.  It was also the fastest way of communicating information and news.  The United Nations website was thus the best possible tool for informing the world about the Organization’s activities and goals.  Unfortunately, there was an enormous gap between the content in English and that of the other official languages, which reduced its effectiveness and did not enable it to play its proper role.

Stressing the particular importance of the United Nations Information Centre in Sana’a, he said that the Centre was in a country that was viewed as one of the least developed.  To date, the Centre did not have direct, practical experience in the field of information and information technology in communications.  Yemen, therefore, hoped that the Department would choose a new director, who was more appropriate and who would be capable of leading the Centre.  A new director should have the necessary knowledge and background to enable him or her to play a pioneering role in the dissemination of United Nations principles and to inform the people of the region about the Organization’s work.

Expressing thanks for the efforts undertaken by the Department to raise its level of service, he said he hoped that, in the future, it would be possible to strike a more effective balance among the official languages, so as to promote dialogue among cultures, for the benefit of the whole world.

MANAR TALEB ( Syria) said that the Department played a significant role in supporting international efforts to face new crises, such as the financial crisis, climate change, swine flu, terrorism, world food security and natural disasters.  The United Nations Information Centres played an essential role in building the skills of the media centres in countries around the world, and the necessary human and financial resources should be ensured.

He also urged the Department to continue its efforts regarding the Palestinian issue, because of the tragic circumstances that had befallen those people.  He also emphasized the importance of preparing and helping qualified Palestinian journalists.  The Department should redouble its efforts to bridge the digital gap between the South and the North.  It might also play an important role in encouraging dialogue among civilizations and cultures, and in acting as a bridge of understanding among nations and peoples, in order to reach a decent level of cultural coexistence.  Syria believed that freedom of expression was an international right that should be protected and supported.

In addition, the Department should intensify its efforts to cover events on African continents, and to promote interest in related programmes in a way that affirmed the international commitment to support that continent and respond to the aspiration of its peoples, he concluded.

BEY MUI LENG ( Singapore) said that, in a way, “new media” was a misnomer.  Internet-based media represented an evolution of the way information was disseminated to the masses.  The invention of the rotary printing press by William Bullock in the nineteenth century had helped to revolutionize the printing industry with its great speed and efficiency.  Books, magazines and newspapers became widely available, giving birth to mass media.  Today, people lived in an era of computers and the Internet, and widespread accessibility to those tools for people worldwide had empowered millions through easier and rapid dissemination of information.  It was evident that each new advance in technology had created new modalities and widened the reach and impact of media.  New media was no exception, especially when it had the potential to completely transform the way people communicated, lived and worked. 

She said, however, that new media was not fair media, given the persistent digital divide between individuals who had easy access to the tools and those who could not even afford print media, let alone computers or iPhones.  There was much to be done by the international community to bridge that divide, in order to channel the benefits of widely available information to all individuals.  The United Nations could play a role.  For example, the Public Information Department could consider ways to spread the positive aspects of new media, in particular, by paying close attention to the specific needs of developing countries.

Just as the rotary press unlocked the elite classes’ control of information, new media could open up new vistas and new opportunities for many communities, she said.  The Singapore Government had attempted to develop a government-to-people relationship via the new media, through the creation of REACH (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home).  As the Government’s key engagement entity, REACH provided new media platforms, through Facebook and Twitter, to enable citizens to share their sentiments on national issues and, in the process, enable them to play a more active role in policymaking.  The Government had found the new media, while in its early stages, to be helpful in enhancing citizens’ sense of identity and belonging.

ISMARA VARGAS WALTER (Cuba), associating her delegation with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and the Rio Group, said that in an environment in which the media were rapidly transformed and the information flow occurred in such a peculiar manner, the purpose of informing, spreading and promoting objective, balanced and impartial pieces of news to an audience as wide as possible was full of challenges.  The accelerated technological development on communication and information and related technologies had not resulted in equal benefits for all.  To the contrary, the gap in the access to new information technologies had increasingly widened.

She said that the developing world could not access such technologies as rapidly and efficiently as the developed world.  The digital divide between the North and the South had not narrowed, but had grown continuously greater.  Also, the flow of information was produced in a very peculiar manner.  The pieces of news being circulated or silenced were those convenient for the powerful people, for the large information control centres that, with too much frequency, imposed deceit, manipulated history, and insulted the freedom of expression and information.  It was necessary to start thinking about how to change those realities into practical measures, enabling the rational use and more social appropriation of information technologies.  In that regard, the United Nations had a key role to play, as expressed in the Secretary-General’s report.

Her country believed that the 63 United Nations Information Centres throughout the world, particularly in developed countries, must continue to play a key role in spreading balanced information, and to take into due consideration the needs of the intended audience, she said.  The use of broadcast mechanisms, such as radio, should be promoted as a means to contribute to informing the vast illiterate populations that existed in the countries of the South.  In that respect, Cuba welcomed the news that the Public Information Department continued to improve its radio programming.

Cuba remained the object of constant radio and television aggression by the United States Government, she continued.  That radio aggression openly infringed the principles of international law that regulated relations among States, and the rules and procedures of the International Telecommunications Union.  Each week, United States-based stations broadcast to Cuba more than 1,908 hours of radio and television through 30 different frequencies of medium and short waves, FM and television.  Cuba condemned that aggression and rejected the intention of the United States Government to maintain radio and television broadcasts to Cuba, in flagrant violation of current international rules on radio spectrum regulations.  Cuba had not requested those broadcasts, and did not need them, she concluded.

U NAY WIN (Myanmar), associating his delegation with statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said that in today’s globalized world, it was imperative that States be informed of the challenges facing the United Nations, as well as the opportunities before it.  States should remain appraised of United Nations reform and, in that regard, the Public Information Department had a crucial role to play in providing timely, accurate, impartial, comprehensive and coherent information.  Priority should be given to integrating all of the United Nations activities in a comprehensive way.  The Organization’s objectives and activities could only be achieved if the people were aware of the vital issues facing the world today.

He welcomed the Department’s commitment to ensuring that people in both developed and developing countries were informed of its activities by means of both traditional and new communication technologies.  As noted at the eighth Conference of Ministers of Information of the Non-Aligned Movement in April, there were imbalances in dissemination and distorted information of events in developing countries.  It was necessary to work together to increase cooperation, in order to promote the new world information and communication order and to reduce the growing digital divide between developed and developing countries.  The Department could play an important role in efforts to bridge and narrow the development gap.

The United Nations Information Centres remained central to the Department’s efforts to bring the United Nations story to people around the world, he continued.  His delegation welcomed endeavours to strengthen the communications capacity of those Centres at the national and regional levels to promote system-wide coherence in their work with the rest of the United Nations system.  Also of value in that context were news services for the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, the United Nations website, the United Nations News Centre, radio, television, photo services and op-ed articles.  The expanded use of the media and new information and communication technologies could also contribute immensely to the Department’s work.

RAYMOND WOLFE (Jamaica), aligning his delegation with statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the one to be delivered on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the critical task performed by the Department on a daily basis should never be underestimated.  Through its creative use of new media, the Department ensured that the Organization’s objectives, activities and achievements were communicated to all peoples across the globe.  In that vein, the Department ensured that the United Nations remained a relevant and respected voice in issues of importance on the global agenda.

He said that the Department continued to carry out that critical task even in the face of significant budget cuts and an ever-expanding agenda.  Over the first half of the year alone, it had undertaken several media campaigns in climate change, the impact of the global financial and economic crisis, the Millennium Development Goals, the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza, peacekeeping, disarmament, human rights -– including women’s rights –- genocide, and the Durban Review Conference, with a number of those campaigns still ongoing.  He noted the Department’s continued youth outreach activities, through the GMUN, which had been held in Geneva in August, as well as the fourteenth Annual International Student Conference to be held in New York in December.  He looked forward to engaging with the Department on how to ensure that young people, who were unable to participate, might be able to benefit from those events.

While he welcomed the availability of information through new media, it was necessary to once again stress that for peoples of the developing world, traditional means of communication remained the primary source of information, he said.  He trusted that the Department would continue to improve the effective and timely delivery of its various information products through the use of traditional media.  Taking note of the positive work of the Department on a number of critical issues, he said it could play an important role in underlining the negative impact of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, particularly on small developing countries, including those in the Caribbean.  The countries of that region, including his own, witnessed daily the negative consequences of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and ammunition, on their societies.  Developing countries needed the assistance and support of the Department to galvanize international support for efforts to stem that illicit trade.

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