UN Information Centres Central to Quest to Familiarize World with United Nations, Fourth Committee Hears, Also Approving Two Final Texts on Decolonization

14 October 2009
GA/SPD/429

UN Information Centres Central to Quest to Familiarize World with United Nations, Fourth Committee Hears, Also Approving Two Final Texts on Decolonization

14 October 2009
General Assembly
GA/SPD/429
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

9th Meeting (AM)

UN Information Centres Central to Quest to Familiarize World with United Nations,

 

Fourth Committee Hears, Also Approving Two Final Texts on Decolonization

 

‘Haphazard’ Closure of Well-Established Information Centres in Europe

Had ‘Nothing to Do with True Interests of United Nations’, Committee Hears

Informing a world audience about the story of the United Nations required correcting the imbalances of information between developed and developing countries, for which the United Nations Information Centres -- the hosting of which was a “sign of distinction” –- played a crucial part, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today.

The Committee continued its general debate on questions of information, but it began its morning meeting by approving by consensus the final two decolonization-related texts for its current session, on the questions of Gibraltar and Western Sahara.

By the terms of the resolution on the question of Gibraltar, the General Assembly would urge both the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom, while listening to the interests and aspirations of Gibraltar, to reach a definitive solution to the question, in the light of its relevant resolutions and applicable principles, and in the spirit of the United Nations Charter.

Further, the text would have the Assembly welcome the recent successful trilateral ministerial meeting of the Forum for Dialogue in Gibraltar on 21 July and the shared commitment to make progress in six new areas of cooperation.

According to the draft resolution on the question of Western Sahara, the Assembly would call upon all parties and States of the region to cooperate fully with the United Nations Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy, and with each other.  It would also call upon the parties to cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The text would have the Assembly request the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples to keeping the situation in Western Sahara on its agenda and to report on it to the Assembly at its next session.

Speaking in explanation of position after action on that draft resolution, the representative of Morocco said his delegation had been pleased with the consensus, which was the result of fraternal and productive cooperation between the delegations of Morocco and Algeria, and reaffirmed the unanimous support of the international community for the ongoing negotiation process.  For its part, Morocco hoped that the spirit of compromise and cooperation that had allowed today’s consensus would be followed up in a more constructive and engaged attitude, at the resumption of the Manhasset process.  A change of attitude would positively influence bilateral relations and reinvigorate the rebuilding of the Maghreb to help it overcome the many challenges it faced, he said.

Echoing support for the resolution, Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union continued to encourage the parties to work towards a solution, and to continue to work with Personal Envoy Christopher Ross to advance the political process.  Welcoming the commitment of the parties to continue to show political will and work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue, he said that the Union remained concerned, however, about the implications of the conflict in Western Sahara on security and cooperation in the region.

When the Committee returned to its discussion of information matters, begun yesterday, several speakers underscored the importance of the United Nations Information Centres, which, they said, were central to efforts to familiarize the world with the United Nations, projecting the Organization’s image and conveying its messages to local populations.

Serbia’s representative, recalling his 14-year experience in the Department and as former director of the New Delhi Centre, said that the greatest damage done to the Organization since its inception had been the haphazard closure of most of the Information Centres in Europe.  Although some might have accepted the decision based on an incorrect theory that the Centres were important only for developing countries, he stressed that they were important for both:  in developing countries, largely for the effective flow of information; and in developed countries, for enhancing the United Nations public image.

The Information Centres were capable of fulfilling the information needs of all the United Nations agencies present in a country -- and they routinely did so, he said, adding that he had never understood how host States had accepted the Centres’ closure without a murmur.  The Centres had served as hubs of United Nations-related activities in the countries in which they were based for decades. 

Moreover, he said, the closures had “nothing to do with the true interests of the United Nations” and “nothing to do with rationalization”, as the practically-overnight closure of well-established European Centres had created such monumental expenses and loss of United Nations property that it would have been much cheaper to let them continue to exist.

Also drawing attention to the importance of United Nations Information Centres, the representative of Morocco said the Information Centres played a key role in informing local populations about what was occurring globally.  That information had become, more than ever, a “commodity that was both valuable and momentary”. The Centres were the main source of information in developing countries, such as Rabat’s Centre, which had organized a seminar on Morocco’s contributions to peacekeeping operations and was also involved in productive partnerships with several Moroccan universities.

The United Nations Information Centre in Lima, Peru had the Peruvian Government’s support, said that delegation’s speaker.  The Centre’s activity this year had been very constructive.  It had projected the image of the United Nations and dealt with substantive issues in Peru.  The Centre had also helped to increase awareness in Peru of global issues that had affected the country.  He recommended focusing efforts on consolidating and strengthening a system of national information centres, which would disseminate the United Nations message in a clear and coordinated way. 

Also emphasizing the central role played by the United Nations Information Centres in projecting the Organization’s image and conveying its messages to local populations was Senegal’s representative.  He said that the Centres contributed significantly to information-sharing among the different communities and allowed local populations to claim greater ownership over United Nations ideals.  The Centres should, therefore, receive special attention and adequate means to complete their mission.  Senegal had offered, free of charge, the property for the Information Centre in Dakar.

Also speaking during the general debate on information were the representatives of Japan, Israel, Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Indonesia, Philippines, Cameroon, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Uruguay.   

The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine also made a statement.

Following the action on the two draft texts today, the representatives of Spain and the United Kingdom spoke in explanation of vote on draft resolution VI, approved on 12 October, which concerns the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 15 October, to continue its general debate on questions relating to information and to take action on related draft texts.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its general debate on questions relating to information.  (Reports before the Committee are summarized in yesterday’s Press Release GA/SPD/428.)

The Committee was also expected to take action on two draft resolutions pertaining to its cluster of items on decolonization, on the question of Gibraltar (document A/C.4/64/L.5) and on the question of Western Sahara (document A/C.4/64/L.7).

By the terms of the draft resolution on the question of Gibraltar, the General Assembly would urge both the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom, while listening to the interests and aspirations of Gibraltar, to reach a definitive solution to the question of Gibraltar, in the light of relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and applicable principles, and in the spirit of the United Nations Charter.

By further provisions of that text, the Assembly would welcome the recent successful trilateral ministerial meeting of the Forum for Dialogue in Gibraltar on 21 July and the shared commitment to make progress in six new areas of cooperation.

By the terms of the draft resolution on the question of Western Sahara, the Assembly would call upon all the parties and States of the region to cooperate fully with the United Nations Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy and with each other.  It would also call upon the parties to cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.

By further provisions, the Assembly would request the Special Committee on the situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples to continue to consider the situation in Western Sahara and to report on it to the Assembly at its sixty-fifth session.

Action on Draft Texts

Taking up the draft text on the question of Gibraltar (document A/C.4/63/L.5), Committee Chairman, NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) said the document had been re-issued for technical reasons.

The Committee then approved the resolution without a vote.

The Committee then turned to the draft text on the question of Western Sahara (document A/C.4/63/L.7), approving the resolution, also without a vote.

Speaking in explanation of position after action, the representative of Morocco said his delegation had been pleased with the consensus, which, for three successive years, had characterized the text’s adoption by the Fourth Committee.  The consensus was desired by all Committee members and was the result of fraternal and productive cooperation between the delegations of Morocco and Algeria.  The result would not have been possible without the ongoing and excellent support of several colleagues and friends.

He said that the consensus also reaffirmed the unanimous support of the international community for the ongoing negotiation process, under United Nations auspices, and its encouragement of the parties to achieve a compromise political solution that would be agreeable to all.  The Security Council had asked all parties to show flexibility and move beyond the impasse, and enter into a phase of intensive negotiations on substance, in order to advance towards a final solution to the dispute.  The Fourth Committee recognized the serious and credible efforts made by Morocco in its autonomy proposal.  The relevant resolutions of the Security Council, adopted since 2007, had called on the parties to exhibit the necessary will, were inherent in all negotiation processes.

For its part, Morocco hoped that the spirit of compromise and cooperation that had allowed today’s consensus would be followed up in a more constructive and engaged attitude, at the resumption of the Manhasset process.  A change of attitude would positively influence bilateral relations and reinvigorate the rebuilding of the Maghreb to help it overcome the many challenges it faced.

Also speaking in explanation of position after action, the representative of Sweden, on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the consensus adoption of the resolution and commended the parties for their efforts.  The Union affirmed its full support for the United Nations Secretary-General’s efforts to achieve a just, lasting and mutually-acceptable political solution, which would provide for the self‑determination of the people of Western Sahara.  The Union continued to encourage the parties to work towards such a solution and to continue to work with Personal Envoy Christopher Ross to advance the political process.

Expressing the European Union’s full support for the Manhasset negotiations and its satisfaction at the holding of an informal meeting convened by Ambassador Christopher Ross in August to prepare for the fifth round of negotiations, he said that the Union welcomed the commitment of the parties to continue to show political will and work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue.  The Union remained concerned, however, about the implications of the Western Sahara conflict on security and cooperation in the region.

Following the action on draft texts, the representative of Spain, speaking in explanation of vote on draft resolution VI, which concerns the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands, and which was adopted on 12 October, said that her delegation backed the application of the principle of self-determination included in that omnibus resolution, but would remind the Committee that the principle of self-determination was not the only relevant principle for the decolonization of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.  One of the cases regarding decolonization was Gibraltar, which was already the object of a specific resolution that had been adopted by consensus.  Spain was prepared to advance towards the achievement of a definitive solution on the issue, which could only be the result of negotiations with the United Kingdom as the administering Power.

The representative of the United Kingdom, expressing a wish to make an addendum to his delegation’s explanation on vote on Monday regarding the issue, and also in response to the explanation of vote made by Spain’s representative, said that the United Kingdom did not accept the assertion that self-determination did not apply where there was a sovereignty dispute.  The United Kingdom’s position on the issue was well known, and had previously been expressed.  The United Kingdom had no doubt of its sovereignty over Gibraltar and its surrounding waters.  Furthermore, the United Kingdom did not accept that because of the existence of a sovereignty dispute, the people of Gibraltar did not have a right to self-determination.

General Debate on Information

MIKIO MORI (Japan) expressed profound appreciation for the activities of the Department of Public Information, covering issues such as climate change, impact of the economic and financial crisis on development, the Millennium Development Goals, H1N1 influenza, gender equality, peacekeeping, disarmament, human rights, and African issues.

He said that during 2009, Japan saw a number of important international events, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit.  During that trip, the Secretary-General had met with high-level political leaders to discuss such issues as climate change, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Nations reform, Myanmar, disarmament, nuclear proliferation and piracy.  It was also confirmed that Japan and the United Nations would strengthen their cooperative relationship.  Mr. Ban had also held dialogues with representatives of the private sector, students and academia, youth, opinion leaders, and others, to emphasize the role played by Japan and the United Nations in tackling the world’s problems.

Considering today’s global challenges, he said that the Public Information Department was the very organ, which advocated for the United Nations.  As such, it was expected to deploy further strategic operations and implement activities in an ever more efficient and transparent manner.

DAVID WALZER (Israel) said that the “Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme,” which had resulted from General Assembly resolution A/60/7, had served as an effective tool for education and remembrance.  The Public Information Department, through its worldwide network of civil society groups, in collaboration with renowned institutions and experts in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies, was educating future generations on the dangers of hate, bigotry and anti-Semitism.  Among its many activities was the “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar series and the “Footprints of Hope” project.  Such undertakings not only commemorated the Holocaust, but actively engaged academic institutions, non‑governmental organizations and others to ensure that similar atrocities would never occur again to anyone.

He said that Israel had created a longstanding initiative to educate the public on the principles, goals, initiatives, values and actions of the United Nations, which had been founded in part to prevent future genocides.  Israel regularly held awareness seminars at leading universities, at which representatives of United Nations agencies spoke about their work and about the Organization’s contribution to the world.  He invited the Department to open an Information Centre in Israel, in order to foster dialog and cooperation in the region.  Israel’s unique status as a multilingual and multicultural democracy -– as well as the birthplace of the world’s three great monotheistic religions –- offered the Department a unique opportunity.

Noting that Israel had cutting-edge technology, which permitted unprecedented information sharing, he said that his country was eager to “bridge the technological and digital divide” with the international community at large and with its immediate neighbours, in particular.  The United Nations, the Department and the Committee on Information were designed for putting aside political differences and concentrating instead on cooperative efforts.  Despite the Department’s admirable work, he was disappointed at the one-sided, biased and misleading picture of the facts on the ground in the Special Information Programme on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Israeli Government officials, therefore, were unable to attend or participate in those seminars until a more even-handed approach was adopted.

ROBERTO RODRÍGUEZ (Peru), expressing support for the statements made on behalf of the Rio Group and on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reiterated his delegation’s full commitment to the freedom of expression, and of the press, and to the values shared by democratic societies.  Those freedoms, which went hand in hand with the protection and promotion of human rights, even when societies were in the midst of conflict or emerging from one.  Peru also opposed acts of violence against journalists in zones of conflict.

He said that there was a need to focus efforts on consolidating and strengthening a system of national Information Centres, which would disseminate the United Nations message in a clear and coordinated way.  The establishment of a network to consolidate that system was a very important task.  The national and regional Information Centres kept abreast of global public opinion, so it was important to have such a system nationally; that would guarantee the dissemination of United Nations information.  His delegation also agreed with the United Nations Secretary‑General, as stipulated in his report, about the relevance of having established a strategic information system, which the Organization had been using to disseminate information on issues of specific importance to the world, such as the financial crisis, climate change, human rights and the H1N1 flu outbreak, among others.

His Government also supported the work of the United Nations Information Centre in Lima, he said.  That centre’s activity this year had been very constructive.  It had projected the image of the United Nations and dealt with substantive issues in Peru.  The centre had also helped to increase awareness in Peru of global issues that had affected the country.  In addition, Peru praised the work of the Public Information Department in encouraging the participation of young people through the United Nations Model Work Conference.  Such initiatives made a decisive contribution to generating and forming opinions among young citizens, so that they could become fully aware of the substantive issues debated in the Organization.  He encouraged Member States to work closely with the Secretariat, in order to guarantee the efficacy of its work and be able to show to the world exactly what the Department was doing.

AKSOLTAN T. ATAEVA, (Turkmenistan), said her delegation supported the work of the Department in facilitating a correct understanding of the world’s peoples and of the United Nations.  Its output must be precise, unbiased, and thorough.  She sought more active support to prevent conflict, as “quiet” United Nations diplomacy remained unnoticed by society at large.  She drew attention to the 2006 decision to open the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, which had begun active work on monitoring and analysis of regional issues, and had looked into key development issues in the region.

She said that United Nations efforts in that regard would only benefit if they were more actively supported by the media, which must also be used for conflict prevention.  Regarding the United Nations News Centre, she noted its “productive work” in Russian and emphasized its tremendous value in society and in foreign media.  That “very effective DPI mechanism” -- a major supplier of information in post-Soviet regions, was vital.  It was possible to overcome the digital divide and remedy the imbalance of the global information and technological revolution.  She appreciated the volume of information to be found on the News Centre’s site, particularly the coverage in Russian.

She also expressed support for journalists’ stipends, which allowed them to better understand and support the Organization’s work.  Timely and thorough communication of the Organization’s efforts was an important contribution, and she called on the Public Information Department’s management to analyse the extent to which resource allocation was “in tune with the times”, and whether it helped the Department to participate in the most important information flows, efficiently carried out in all six United Nations languages.

CHERRY-ANN MILLARD WHITE (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that information had the power to influence choices.  Targeted and specific dissemination of correct information could contribute significantly in bringing about positive changes to the global audience served by the Public Information Department.  CARICOM wished in particular to commend the Department for its work and outreach to students, youth groups, non‑governmental organizations and civil society on the various activities in which the United Nations was engaged, including the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, the needs of the African continent, as well as calling attention to and informing about the work of the United Nations on current issues.

She said that the CARICOM members, as small island developing States, vulnerable to climate change, wholly embraced the captive campaign slogan “Seal the Deal” in Copenhagen, which aimed to promote a successful outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in December.  CARICOM also agreed that the Internet was now a primary medium of communication.  It was necessary to be mindful, however, that for the vast majority of peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, the traditional means of print and electronic media, including radio, remained the primary medium for transmission and receipt of information.  CARICOM, therefore, supported the continued production and dissemination of Caribbean media programmes on the activities of the United Nations system through the well-known media format of a daily news programme and the programme transmitted monthly to radio stations in all the islands, including the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

With respect to the traditional and news media, she said CARICOM welcomed the efforts of the Department to disseminate programmes directly to broadcasting stations, and to produce and disseminate television news, video and feature material to broadcasters worldwide through satellite-distributed and web-based delivery, including e-transmissions from the United Nations Information Centre for the Caribbean, located in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to the United Nations Headquarters.  However, CARICOM members were also concerned about the extent to which information on decolonization was disseminated to Non-Self-Governing Territories, and suggested that necessary measures be put in place to address the issue.  The Department should also report on the status of the Caribbean radio programmes within the Department, as well as on the extent to which programmes on the Caribbean were covered and disseminated by United Nations television.

HADI MARTONO (Indonesia), aligning his delegation with the statements made on  behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated appreciation for the work of the Public Information Department.  Theirs was a challenging assignment, disseminating so much information on issues of importance, in an increasingly complicated world.  However, he called on the Department to strengthen its efforts to raise public awareness on such important issues as preventing pandemics and the “Seal the Deal” campaign for Copenhagen, among others.

He encouraged the Department to use its expertise to combat prejudice and division among nations, peoples, and religions, as it understood “perhaps more than any other institution” that the mass media could be either a messenger of peace and tolerance, or one of misunderstanding and discord.  While freedom of expression was a universal right, it was best enjoyed when used responsibly and with the highest interest of all in mind.  It was not “proof of freedom” when used to disaffect or offend others.

The Department should continue to implement its media program on the Palestinian issue, he said, stressing that it was essential to continue “sensitizing” the world on the Palestinians’ suffering under occupation, siege, and unjust collective punishment.  As a troop contributing country, Indonesia recognized the vital nature of information dissemination on United Nations peacekeeping operations, and was pleased by the growing cooperation between the Public Information Department, the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, and the Department of Political Affairs, as that would enhance both the image and quality of the Missions.

PAUL BADJI (Senegal), associating his delegation with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the Department continued to provide an understanding of the tasks accomplished by the United Nations in many areas.  It informed the broadest possible audience about the Organization’s activities, and as such, contributed to the Organization’s central objectives.  That philosophy should underpin the Department’s activities.  He also emphasized the central role played by the United Nations Information Centres in projecting the Organization’s image and conveying its messages to local populations.

Continuing, he said that the Information Centres contributed significantly to information-sharing among the different communities, and allowed local populations to claim greater ownership over United Nations ideals.  The Centres should, therefore, receive special attention and adequate means to complete their mission.  Senegal had offered, free of charge, the property for the Information Centre in Dakar.  The total area and beauty of the property was conducive to hosting, without extra costs, a regional office for West Africa and the Centres, which would take on similar priorities of concern to the large Francophone community.

The Department, despite the difficulties it faced, unflaggingly pursued its efforts to convey the work and decisions of the General Assembly, as well as those of other United Nations bodies, in all official languages, he said.  The results achieved in that sense should be strengthened, in order to promote multilingualism in all of the Organization’s activities.  In addition, his delegation was pleased with the Department’s tremendous support of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and its Missions, in defining and forming communication strategies that provided accurate information on new peacekeeping activities and many other priority areas of the two departments. 

He also welcomed the dynamic partnership between the Department, civil society, non-governmental organizations, teachers, students, international celebrities, and the private sector.  That partnership was an irreplaceable innovation in terms of spreading knowledge of the Organization’s many activities, enabling an ever-more integrated transmission of the United Nations message.

ELMER G. CATO, (Philippines), commended the men and women of the Department for their role as the “public voice” of the United Nations, as it continued to provide timely, accurate, impartial, comprehensive and coherent information about the Organization and its positive impact on people across the globe.  His delegation was particularly encouraged by the Department’s effective evolution to meet the challenges of a rapidly-changing media environment -- as evidenced by the decline of the print industry and the increased use of new and social media.

However, he said, while the Department had made significant strides by complementing its outreach efforts with additional creative methods, it should remain mindful of the needs of developing countries, especially those without easy access to new technology.  He noted the efforts to promote the culture of dialogue among civilizations, as well as religious understanding, through the mass media, but lamented the Department’s lack of support for interfaith dialogue and cooperation for peace.  He hoped that by the General Assembly’s sixty-fifth session, the Department would have already given “interfaith dialogue and cooperation for peace” the development and attention it deserved.

He said the Department played an important role as the “media backbone” of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, calling it “instrumental” in painting a positive image of United Nations Blue Helmets, not only in the host countries, but in the rest of the world.  His country looked forward to further enhancing its partnership with the Department, and as president-elect of the 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Philippines hoped to work with the Department in promoting greater public awareness of the issues of disarmament and non-proliferation.

AMINE CHABI (Morocco), expressing support for the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, noted the diversification of activities conducted by the Department to inform, educate and communicate to the largest possible audience.  His delegation also welcomed the progress achieved by the Department, particularly with respect to broadening its audience and communicating the Organization’s message in priority areas, such as peacekeeping, climate change, sustainable development and the dialogue of civil society, among others.

He said that the world was entering a new era of information, and there were new methods to gather and disseminate information.  Information had become, more than ever, a commodity that was both valuable and momentary.  His delegation was encouraged that the Department had recognized those changes and was positioning itself as an interface between the Organization and the public.  In that sense, the Information Centres played a key role.  The 63 Centres around the world had a critical mission, namely, to inform local populations about what was occurring globally.  That was especially true in developing countries, where the Centres were the main source of information.

The Information Centre in Rabat had organized a seminar on Morocco’s contributions to peacekeeping operations, and it was also involved in productive partnerships with several Moroccan universities on themes of interest, he said.  The duty to inform must be conducted ethically and with integrity, as well as accurately and impartially.  It was necessary to harmonize content in press communiqués in all six languages.  His delegation also wished to commend the Department for its continuing attention to the special programme on the question of Palestine, which sought to educate the international community on the issue.

Furthermore, he said, multilingualism was very important to the United Nations, but the linguistic parity demanded by many Members was still not a reality.  His delegation was confident that the Department would redouble its efforts in that regard.  He noted the efforts of the United Nations Communications Group to develop some guidelines regarding communication in times of crisis.  The special mission of the Department meant it had to take up the challenge of greater use of information and technology.

FEODOR STARČEVIĆ (Serbia), recalling his 14-year experience in the Department, said that, as a former insider, he had a “fairly good idea” of its workings and was happy to see it operating diligently with a revived “esprit de corps”.  The report showed how much the Department had accomplished in the first half of the year to highlight issues like climate change and the impact of the economic and financial crisis on development.  He also had noticed the numerous activities carried out by the Information Centres, which were central to efforts to familiarize the world with the United Nations.  As a former director of the New Delhi Centre, he had witnessed the greatest damage done to the Organization since its inception:  the haphazard closure of most Information Centres in Europe.

He said he had never understood how States, which had hosted Centres had accepted their closure without a murmur, as hosting a centre was a “sign of distinction”.  The Centres had tradition; they served as hubs of United Nations‑related activities in the countries in which they were based for decades.  He asked why the countries wanted to be represented at the United Nations, but suddenly had not wanted a United Nations presence in their countries, wondering whether that was a sign of a lack of support for what the United Nations stood for.  He still had no answers to those questions.  But he knew that the whole thing –- the closures –- had been done “under the cloak of rationalization and it was swallowed by the membership as such”. 

He said that the closures had been done owing, to a certain extent, to the exigencies of the time, which he would forever suspect had “nothing to do with the true interests of the United Nations” and “nothing to do with rationalization” –- because the practically-overnight closure of such well-established  as London, Paris, Bonn, Lisbon, Rome and Athens, among others, had created such monumental expenses and loss of United Nations property that it would have been much cheaper to let them continue to exist.  That was public knowledge within the Public Information Department, and some even raised it in internal debates, “but the whole thing was hushed up”. 

Some regions were likely motivated to accept the decision based on an incorrect theory that the Centres were important only for developing countries, he said.  But they were important for both:  in developing countries, largely for the effective flow of information; and in developed countries, for enhancing the United Nations public image.  To make that wrong decision more palatable, a doctrine of “hubs” was offered, with Europe covered by one centre only, in Brussels.  However, without a continuous presence in a country, there was no efficient information work; the needs of the whole world could be covered from United Nations Headquarters only.  Every director of every Information Centre, past and present, could discuss a bevy of necessary activities that could be implemented “only if you are on the spot”.  Besides, it stood to reason that the large linguistic and cultural differences in Europe could not be covered from any one European centre. 

He said he harboured a dream that one day that wrong decision would be reversed. Of course, the wishes of countries in which Centres were closed were paramount, but he believed that at least some of them had accepted the closure only because it had been presented to them as an “absolute necessity”.  But the key to not increasing costs of maintaining a network of Information Centres, and probably even reducing the costs, were system-wide coherence and pooling resources.  Centres were capable of fulfilling the information needs of all the agencies of the United Nations system present in a country, and they routinely did so.  Thus, there was no justification for separate information officers of the agencies.  Instead, part of the costs of maintaining them should go towards the costs of maintaining an Information Centre.  With all the agencies chipping in, it would still provide a much more cost-efficient solution and send an excellent message about system-wide cooperation.  In closing, he congratulated Information Centre directors, notably the director in Mexico, for their excellent work.

MAMOUDOU MANA (Cameroon), associating his delegation with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, noted the well known, central role of the United Nations in global affairs, especially through the Public Information Department, as the “spokesperson for the organization”.  It was important for the Department’s role to remain as it was, namely, to provide information internationally.  Since the current main concerns of the international community were the global financial crisis and climate change, the Department should strengthen its efforts in addressing those issues.

He said that developing countries, although they bore less responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, suffered more from climate change, and the Public Information Department should continue to provide information to the international media regarding the “difficulties and expectations” of those countries.  Africa, in particular, would benefit from more attention.

Significant progress had been achieved through information and communication technologies, which had served to bring peoples and cultures closer together, he said.  However, the world still needed the printed press and radio broadcasting.  It must not lose sight of the fact that all the new media operated on electrical energy, and Africa suffered more than other regions from the effects of the global energy crisis.  Apart from the economic crisis and climate change, the Public Information Department should continue to convey the values of peace within and among States.  In that context, the role of the United Nations Information Centres was vital.  Those Centres must have sufficient resources, in order to increase the effectiveness of their actions.  Moreover, an information society “with a human face” should be built, which focused on development and solidarity.

HAMAD ALZAABI (United Arab Emirates), expressing his delegation’s support for the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that it was important to enhance the spread of information to the peoples of the world concerning the different activities of the United Nations, as well as the results of the thirty-first session of the Committee on Information, held in May.  An important role had been played by the Committee in order to enhance the Department’s efforts and increase its effectiveness in the field.

He said his delegation was gratified by the different changes and procedures adopted by the Department during the past few years, including the work it was presently undertaking to enhance and improve information about the United Nations response to present global challenges.  It was necessary to ensure the free and balanced flow of information, and to not exploit information to impose ideologies on other people.  His delegation also reaffirmed the call that there should be a certain international charter to define ethical principles, in order to clarify the responsibilities of Governments and mass media organizations, and to enhance transparency in the field.

It was also necessary to ensure the security of journalists who worked in the field, he said.  Also necessary was to bridge the digital gap in technology, so that both developed and developing countries benefited from the available services.  It was necessary to provide the necessary financial and technological resources, and to ensure the fair distribution of information and translation, especially in Arabic, about the activities of the Department and its regional Centres, in consonance with General Assembly resolutions.  His delegation called for strengthening information in Arabic for United Nations radio and television, and the websites of the specialized agencies.  No effort should be spared to improve the quality and volume of information provided by the Department.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela), welcoming the statements made by Sudan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and by Mexico on behalf of the Rio Group, acknowledged the Department’s support for delegations during the General Assembly.  He also commended the professional work of the Department’s members in promoting the aims and goals of the Organization, as well as efforts made to improve that work.  Regarding the role of the media in the current era, the international community must overcome imbalances in information and communication technologies between the developing and developed world.  It was of vital importance to narrow the digital divide, as all countries must have equal access to those technologies.

He said that the regional television station, Telesur, had been set up by Venezuela and other countries in South America, and aimed to overcome the “news gap” between the North and South.  That new vision reflected the realities of the developing world, and was an expression of solidarity and cooperation among nations and peoples.  That innovative initiative for communication information constituted a “modest alternative” to communication monopolies, which disseminated and promoted the “exclusive interests of national and international elites”.  However, very often, Telesur journalists suffered aggression or restraints with regard to their work, as had occurred in the coup d’état in Honduras while covering hostilities against the Brazilian Embassy.

Venezuela attached great importance to the right of all human beings to express and disseminate, and access information, but it had witnessed a new form of terrorism -– media terrorism, he said.  New legislation guaranteed access to information for all Venezuelans and encouraged social and community participation in the management of information sources.  That legislation was created to “raise the cultural level of peoples, their creativity, and their ideas”.

MARTÍN VIDAL (Uruguay), expressing support for the statement made on behalf of the Rio Group, said that last year, the Committee had heard about a new initiative taken by his Government known as the “Ceibal Plan”, which meant basic connectivity for online learning.  The plan was a country-wide initiative of “one laptop per child”, which sprang from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Under the plan, there would be laptops for all children and teachers from year 1 to year 6 in national schools.  Training was also provided for all teachers.

Continuing, he said that the programme endeavoured to facilitate computerized information and networking for pupils and their families and teachers.  Its aim of digital inclusion sought to reduce the digital divide between Uruguay and other countries, and among the citizens of Uruguay.  The initiative -– with a great deal of effort -– was funded by the Government.  With the President’s delivery yesterday laptops to two schools in Montevideo, the country had reached its goal of laptops for all schools and pupils.  Private schools could also join the programme and acquire laptops at a low price.  Thanks to the initiative, Uruguay was seeing a huge change in teaching and learning, and in generating equal opportunities, beginning in early childhood.  The divide that was often seen inside the countries of Member States themselves was echoed at the international level, he said, urging countries to promote access to technology and information.

YUSSEF KANAAN, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, reconfirmed the importance of the special information program on the question of Palestine, which had emanated from an “unending” historical responsibility towards that question, until it was resolved.  It was important to sensitize the international community on the question of Palestine, and pave the way to a “favourable climate”, leading to dialogue in support of the process to end Israeli occupation.

He expressed appreciation to Member States for their support of special media programmes on the question of Palestine, noting that the recent international seminar held in Rio de Janeiro this year had been the first such seminar to be held in that region.  The Public Information Department should continue its efforts in that respect and should consider holding the seminar twice a year.  Additionally, a permanent exhibition on the question of Palestine should be included in guided tours at United Nations Headquarters in both New York and Geneva.

He also attached great importance to the Department’s training of journalists.  Stringent restrictions were imposed on Palestinian journalists, and the international community should recognize the role of the media in enhancing dialogue among Palestinian and Israeli parties.  Despite efforts being made to revive the peace process, leading to a peaceful and just settlement, Israel persisted in its practices against the Palestinian peoples and journalists, which were not only illegal, but also inhumane.

Palestinian journalists and foreign reporters should be allowed to cover developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, so as to transmit their stories to the world.  Additionally, the recent Fact Finding Mission in Gaza deserved broad international media coverage.  The Palestinian people were deprived of direct access to new technology.  Generally speaking, progress, knowledge and development could not be achieved without ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory. 

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