Both Latest, Traditional Technologies Essential to Disseminating United Nations Message, Public Information Chief Says as Information Committee Opens Session

26 April 2010
PI/1930

Both Latest, Traditional Technologies Essential to Disseminating United Nations Message, Public Information Chief Says as Information Committee Opens Session

26 April 2010
General Assembly
PI/1930
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Information

Thirty-second Session

1st Meeting (AM)

Both Latest, Traditional Technologies Essential to Disseminating United Nations

Message, Public Information Chief Says as Information Committee Opens Session

Future Comes Soon Enough, He Says, Describing Department’s Efforts to Keep

Pace with Technological Advances; Chair Commends Coverage of Haiti Earthquake

It was crucial for the United Nations to get its message out through both the latest technologies, such as Twitter, and more traditional ones, such as radio, the head of the Department of Public Information told the Committee on Information as it opened its annual session this morning.

“I never think of the future -– it comes soon enough,” Kiyo Akasaka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said, citing Albert Einstein, as he portrayed his Department’s efforts to keep apace of new technologies and reach the widest possible audience, including urban young people as well as rural residents who might not have Internet access.

During its two-week session, the intergovernmental Committee is expected to conduct a thorough review of the Organization’s information activities of the past year and to adopt texts for the future guidance of those activities and for the support of global freedom of information.

Introducing the reports of the Secretary-General on public information, Mr. Akasaka said that to better engage young people, the Department was making increasing use of social media tools, such as Facebook, to communicate on issues ranging from the Millennium Development Goals to climate change to ending violence against women.  The network of United Nations Information Centres used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts in multiple languages, with more than 10,000 followers on Twitter. 

He said that in-depth evaluation programmes were helping to determine whether specific communities should be reached by such new technologies or through radio, print or television.

Also in his presentation, Mr. Akasaka described new initiatives promoting multilingualism, welcoming the establishment of an Information Centre in Luanda, Angola, to address the needs of Portuguese-speaking African countries.

He warned, however, that the overall financial situation of the Centres was “less than positive” and that more support was needed from hosting countries.  In that regard, he said that the Department was determined to make the best of its available funds, but new mandates should be matched with new funding, lest resources be taken away from existing programmes.

Also making opening remarks today, Committee Chairperson Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima of Cape Verde praised the excellent cooperation between the Committee and the Public Information Department.  He spoke of efforts to overcome the “digital divide” between developing and developed countries, welcoming, in the meantime, the Department’s balanced approach between the use of new technologies and more traditional media.

He also welcomed the Department’s efforts keep the public abreast of new developments after the earthquake in Haiti and other emergencies around the globe, attesting to the value of the United Nations website and its multilingual News Centre in that regard.

Pledging to give the Department the clearest picture of the priorities of Member States, he urged delegates to examine the reports and to share their views and cooperate in producing a consensus document that would provide the best possible guide for the Department in the period ahead.

Following those presentations, Member States began outlining their priorities as the Committee began its general debate.  Speaking were representatives of Yemen (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Angola, Zambia, Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Syria, Brazil, Israel, United States and Kazakhstan.

Also today, the Committee adopted its agenda and elected by acclamation Shalva Tsiskarashvili of Georgia as Vice-Chairperson for the remainder of the term of a vacant seat available to be filled by the East European group.  It also welcomed Sierra Leone as a new member of the Committee, making a total of 113 members.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Tuesday, 27 April, to continue its general debate.

Background

The Committee on Information, the intergovernmental body charged with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information, began its thirty-second annual session today, during which time delegations are expected to undertake a wide-ranging review of the Department of Public Information and its three subprogrammes: strategic communications, news services and outreach services.  (For more information, please see Press Release PI/1928 of 23 April.)

Opening Remarks

ANTONIO PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA (Cape Verde), Chairperson of the Committee on Information, praised the excellent cooperation between the Committee and the Public Information Department, saying their working relationship had turned into a solid partnership.  The Bureau had been in close contact with the Department between meetings, and was in a good position to transmit States’ views and concerns.  He voiced appreciation over the series of conversations with States that had begun last year, which had enabled both sides to compare views on communication and information issues, including a conversation on new media in December 2009.  At that meeting, Mr. Monteiro Lima had spoken of Cape Verde’s experience, which stood at the cutting edge of new technology uses in promoting good governance.

But, the digital divide was still an obstacle for many developing countries, he observed.  At that meeting, he had stressed the need to break down the “digital wall” that existed between developed and developing countries in order to help accelerate growth, tackle poverty and meet other development objectives.  In turn, the Public Information Department’s response had underscored a need for a balanced approach.  United Nations Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka had assured the Committee that the Department would not abandon traditional media –- such as radio and television –- even as it made use of profitable new technology tools.

And while the Department kept the world informed of United Nations work, Mr. Monteiro Lima stressed that it was the responsibility of States to keep the Department informed of Governments’ priorities.  He pledged that the Committee would work with Mr. Akasaka to strengthen the Department’s achievements.

At the Department’s invitation, Committee members had attended an annual seminar on the Middle East peace process, organized by the Government of Brazil, which had led to a fruitful discussion between parties, he said.  The Committee was now meeting again, at a time when the United Nations faced challenges on many fronts, in particular in humanitarian affairs.  Haiti’s January earthquake had caused many casualties, including among United Nations staff.  Quakes had also hit Chile and China.  The Haiti earthquake had created a situation of unprecedented humanitarian emergency, and he congratulated Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his able leadership, which had paved the way for an adequate global response, for example through the holding of a donors’ conference on 21 March.

In turn, the Department had been actively communicating information on United Nations action in Haiti, he said, helping to keep the public abreast of new developments.  He attested to the value of the United Nations website and its multilingual News Centre in that regard.  He commended the Department for organizing a commemorative ceremony at Headquarters and other parts of the world, saying he had been “moved by it”.  On that occasion, the Department had invited him to recite a poem he had composed after seeing a child pulled from the ruins.

Calling the Department the “public voice of United Nations”, he said he would like the Committee on Information to be viewed as the Department’s natural partner.  This year’s annual session was a chance to examine Department activities, as described in several clear reports it prepared, which were results-based and published within deadline.  He pointed to a fourth report before the Committee that described the Department’s outlook, including strategy and logistic framework, for the next budgetary cycle.  He urged delegates to examine the report and to share their views with the Committee and the Department, to be submitted to the Committee on Programme and Coordination.  He appealed to States to cooperate in producing a consensus document at the end of the session, in order to provide the best possible guide for the Department in the period ahead.

KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, affirmed the importance of the partnership of the Committee with the Department, saying that it had been instrumental in guiding efforts to provide and disseminate accurate, timely and coherent information in ways that responded to the mandates given by Member States, and met the demanding requirements of today’s rapidly evolving communications industry, as well as the expectations of the global public.  He described ways in which that partnership was expanding with interactions outside of the Committee sessions.

Introducing the reports of the Secretary-General on public information, he stressed the importance of adapting to new information and communications technology.  Quoting Albert Einstein, saying: “I never think of the future – it comes soon enough,” he maintained that it was essential to take advantage of such technology in ways that enriched and complemented traditional media -– print radio and television --- which remained the primary tools for the Department to reach those with limited or no access to the Internet.  Portraying the developing mix of media, he said the Creative Community Outreach Initiative was designed to foster greater film and television coverage for the Organization’s message, and that use of new technologies in Africa was described in the latest issue of Africa Renewal magazine, which itself made use of Twitter.  (For summaries of the Secretary-General’s reports, see Press Release PI/1928).

To further engage people around the work, especially young people, he said, the Department, both at Headquarters and in the field, was making increasing use of social media tools, such as Facebook, to communicate on issues ranging from the Millennium Development Goals to climate change to ending violence against women.  The network of United Nations Information Centres used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts in multiple languages, with more than 10,000 followers on Twitter.  The News Centre had developed a mobile version, which had become a preferred mode of reception in Russian-speaking areas and China.  The United Nations Charter and other key documents were being disseminated on other smart-phone applications.

Among other innovations, he pointed to a successful online video contest on YouTube, aimed at mobilizing support for the Millennium Development Goals, and an imaginative Twitter outreach to young people on the Holocaust.  Journalists, in addition, were being updated on Twitter about key events.  Digital print-on-demand and on-line collaboration tools were being examined for greater efficiency and environmental responsibility.

He said that the Department also remained committed to promoting multilingualism, the subject of a special report by the Secretary-General.  He flagged new initiatives in that area, such as “Language Days”, which celebrated individual official languages.  In the area of evaluation, he pointed to efforts to strengthen methods of measuring effectiveness of United Nations communications and collecting feedback.  In-depth analysis, for example, showed that social media was effective to drive traffic to the United Nations Peace Day website, but mainly in the United States.  As a result, Information Centres had been asked to identify local social media that could work well in other areas.

Turning to United Nations Information Centres, he gave an update on the establishment of a Centre in Luanda, Angola, to address the needs of Portuguese-speaking African countries.  He warned that the overall financial situation of the Centres, however, was “less than positive”.  As it had become necessary to move some of them to new premises, he called for greater support by Member States to those which they hosted.  In that regard, the Department was determined to make the best of its available funds, but new mandates should be matched with new funding, lest resources be taken away from existing programmes.

In closing, he noted that part of the joint mission of the Committee and the Department was the strong support for freedom of information around the world, and he issued an invitation to the Department’s event on World Press Freedom Day, to be observed on 29 April.  “This is an important part of our mandate that requires constant vigilance,” he said.

Statements

ABDULLAH MOHAMED ALSAIDI (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, discussed the importance of strengthening the Committee’s partnership with the Department and in calling for the Department’s continued improvement as it promoted the “purposes and image” of the United Nations.  The Organization was a universal forum where the world community could hold debates on many concerns.  However, many countries, especially in the developing world, lacked the resources and technical means to access information on United Nations activities and achievements.  The Department, therefore, had a challenging task in reaching the widest possible audience on issues of particular interest to the Group: decolonization; peacekeeping; disarmament; human rights; sustainable development; poverty eradication; and climate change.  Other important issues were the Millennium Development Goals, dialogue among civilizations, the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

He said the Department’s Special Information Programme on the Question on Palestine was meaningful to the Group, and he commended the Department’s annual training programme for Palestinian media professionals from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He reiterated the need for the continuation of those and other activities, and called for their further enhancement.  The Group also attached great importance to the network of United Nations Information Centres, which it saw as vital in bridging the gap between developed and developing countries in terms of access to information and communications technology.  The Group underlined that any decision pertaining to the Centres’ reorganization must be made “in close consultation with host countries” and must take account of the geographical, linguistic and technological characters and needs of different regions.  It welcomed the establishment of a Centre in Luanda to address the needs of Portuguese-speaking African countries.  Full parity of languages on United Nations websites was important, as was the continued use of traditional media, including radio and print.  The Group also underscored the importance of closer cooperation between the Public Information Department and the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support.

JOSÉ MARÍA CABALLERO (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the role of United Nations public information was to reach a wide audience with information that was jointly identified and agreed.  In that light, the Union advocated the streamlining of the Committee’s annual resolution, giving the Department a clearer mandate.

Agreeing with the importance of the Information Centres, he welcomed steps taken towards cooperation among the Centres worldwide, which held a promise of savings without limiting capacity to pay attention to local specifics.  In that regard, he looked forward to seeing further progress in multilingualism, saying that the Centres’ current capacity was impressive and should be built on in a cost-effective manner, through, as often as possible, partnerships with non-governmental organizations and academic institutions.

As for enhancing the Department’s effectiveness within budgetary constraints, he welcomed efforts at system-wide coherence within the United Nations and acknowledged the importance of new information and media technologies.  He encouraged further use of the Internet and other electronic dissemination of materials, as well as webcasting.  It was of paramount importance for all Member States to adhere fully to their commitments to guarantee full respect for the freedom of expression and access to information, and to ensure the unhindered freedom of the press.  Unfortunately, 2009 had been the deadliest year for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which showed that much remained to be done in that area.  He called for the message of press freedom to be strongly disseminated on World Press Freedom Day. 

CAROLINA CERQUEIRA, Minister of Social Communications, Angola, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, noted the good work done by the Department in disseminating information relating to peacekeeping, disarmament, combating terrorism, the Millennium Development Goals, climate change, human rights and combating violence against women.  Its work was “crucial to mobilize a growing wave of solidarity” within the international community to help the needy, which included those affected by natural disasters and victims of armed conflict.  To ensure that people were reached all over the world, it was important for the United Nations to broadcast information, not just in the six official languages, but also in other languages.  In that respect, she expressed appreciation to the “remarkable job” done by the Portuguese Language Unit of United Nations Radio.

She noted that the 2010-2011 budget approved in December 2009 had included funding for a United Nations regional Information Centre in Luanda, and thanked the Group of 77 and China, as well as Under-Secretary-General Akasaka, for having contributed to the project’s realization.  The Centre’s establishment was an “important stimulus” to peace consolidation in Angola, and could also serve to strengthen democracy and battle poverty and social exclusion.  The Government would honour its commitment to provide facilities at no cost, and had already identified facilities for the Centre’s use.  She remarked on the importance the Secretary-General had attached in his report to disarmament and domestic violence, which were also important to her Government.  Angola had been implementing a national disarmament programme and had held a workshop on that on 16 April.  It had also enacted new laws directed at violence against women.  The establishment of the Information Centre in Luanda, coinciding with the approval of the new Angolan Constitution earlier this year, was coming at an important moment for that young democracy.

RONNIE SHIKAPWASHA, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services of Zambia, aligning his statement with that of the Group of 77 and China, said that he placed a high premium on the Committee’s work in promoting a more just and more effective world information and communication order, in order to strengthen peace and international understanding.  For that reason, he saw the Department as crucial, not only in disseminating information on issues such as climate change and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, but also in bridging the digital divide between developing and developed countries.  The Department should therefore continue to lead Member States in embracing new technology.

He expressed great appreciation for the Information Centre in his country’s capital, Lusaka, which was, among many important outreach activities, translating essential United Nations information into local languages.  The Centre, which functioned in a regional capacity, had galvanized support for the United Nations among Zambians.  He therefore appealed for such offices to be kept open where they still existed, financial constraints notwithstanding.  He also described efforts to increase country-wide media coverage in Zambia and to encourage a professional and ethical media in the country.  So-called social media was becoming more important, but that should not supplant the role of traditional media.

JORGE TAGLE (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the Group supported the spontaneity and agility of electronic communication, but was concerned over the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries.  Traditional media should continue to be used to convey the message of the United Nations, since they were a major source of information in developing countries.  While the Rio Group reaffirmed its full respect for freedom of speech and the press, it also wished to stress that the media should be used with full respect of international law.  The Group was concerned by the use of radio-electronic frequencies in violation of the international legal framework, and reiterated the need for those frequencies to be used “in favour of public interest” and in conformity with international law.

He paid due recognition to the Department’s efforts to strengthen interaction with the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, and in broadening understanding of activities in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  The Department should continue to support the Information Centres, through the effective use of available resources, as the Centres were essential to promoting a better understanding of the United Nations.  One of the Rio Group’s most important goals was to achieve parity among the six official languages, and as such, it was concerned by the Secretary-General’s remarks on the possibility of a growing gap in the use of Spanish on the United Nations website as compared to English.  It welcomed the recommendation that the Departments of Public Information and General Assembly and Conference Management study measures to reduce translation costs, and it called for the dissemination of information, particularly over the radio, in as many languages as possible, including Portuguese.

The Rio Group recognized the Department’s efforts to promote accessibility to people with disabilities, he said.  It also recognized its efforts to add more methodological rigour to the UN Chronicle and to make articles accessible online, including in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian, in addition to English and French.  He also praised the Department’s collaboration with non-governmental organizations through an annual conference, the last of which had taken place in September 2009 in Mexico.  The Department must maintain its level of services during the implementation of the Capital Master Plan.

MANAR TALEB (Syria), supporting the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, called for the establishment of a new world order of information for the purpose of creating a fairer and more equitable world based on mutual respect underpinned by United Nations principles.  Disseminating a culture of peace, tolerance and dialogue between civilizations was particularly important, to bring about and maintain peace.  The Department was important in addressing colonization, the Palestinian question and non-interference in countries, as well as such issues as climate change and the Millennium Development Goals.

Broadening the network of Information Centres in developing countries was also very important, he said, to build information capacity in those countries and to help mobilize support for the goals of the Organization.  Strengthening United Nations presence on the Internet was also important, but work must be increased to reach parity between official languages.  He encouraged the Department to keep addressing the plight of Palestinians, bearing in mind the suffering of those people, and to allocate additional resources to bridge the digital divide.  It should also continue to support dialogue between civilizations and press freedom, and to address African challenges.

MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSÔA (Brazil), also supporting the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the need to take into account linguistic diversity to spread the United Nations message as widely as possible.  In that light, she welcomed the work of the Portuguese Unit of United Nations Radio and the Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro.  She also strongly advocated synergies between traditional and new media to address diverse sectors and new challenges, as well as the pressing issues of the day, including sustainable development, leading up to the conference on that issue in Rio in 2012.

Welcoming the decision to establish an Information Centre in Luanda, she encouraged the Department, in cooperation with the Angolan Government, to take prompt measures to establish that Centre.  She encouraged all States in a position to do so to offer rent-free premises for such operations.  Noting the seminar on peace in the Middle East held in Rio, she supported the Department’s work on the question of Palestine.  She also stressed the importance of preserving the historical memory of the United Nations.  Preservation and access to original items must be maintained, while digitization efforts continued, particularly given the impact of the work carried out under the Capital Master Plan.

DANIEL CARMON (Israel) remarked that information was no longer bound by traditional borders, which was why his country supported the Department’s expansion into new mediums and technologies.  Israel had played an active role in the Department, including in its first ever Global Model United Nations Conference and the second annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Another initiative, the annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, was important for educating young people about the dangers of hate, racism and xenophobia.  He commended the Department for its “superb and tireless efforts” in promoting Holocaust remembrance and raising awareness of the threat posed by genocide, racism and crimes against humanity.  It was critical to pass on those stories, since a child born today was not likely to meet a Holocaust survivor.  Israel was confident that the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme would have the necessary resources to allow it to maintain, or even enhance, its scope.  The Department’s “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar on cyberhate had also dealt with issues of hatred, prejudice and Holocaust denial; at a time when Holocaust deniers were in positions of prominence within academia, the media and Governments, the Department’s work had never been timelier.

He expressed Israel’s lingering concern about the Palestinian information programme, which was based on an anti-Israel resolution that focused on a specific conflict.  Israel was concerned by the fact that the work relating to that programme offered a narrative that was one-sided, biased and misleading.  While it recognized the Department’s efforts to offer objective materials and events on the subject, problems persisted.  As a result of the continued, one-sided mandate that had established the programme, Israeli Government officials were obliged not to attend its events until it was modified to reflect a more even-handed approach.  In that respect, Israel was willing to engage in formulating a new, more constructive and balanced resolution to mandate future activities.  Such a resolution must be aimed at promoting peace education, tolerance, mutual understanding and the prevention of incitement.  That idea had received private support from members of the Secretariat and Member States.

EILEEN P. MERRITT ( United States) thanked Mr. Akasaka and the Department staff for their hard work in light of increasing mandates, by spreading the message of the importance of many United Nations events.  By doing so, they had helped to make many United Nations activities a “resounding success”.  The United States continued to encourage the Under-Secretary-General to identify ways to improve coordination, efficiency and integration of public information activities throughout the Organization, and welcomed his efforts to achieve “the greatest public impact with the greatest efficiency”.

Noting that Monday, 3 May, was World Press Freedom Day, she said press freedom was a cornerstone of United States democracy.  It was important for the Committee on Information to recall article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirmed the right of everyone to freedom of expression.  That right included the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

BYRGANYM AITIMOVA (Kazakhstan) supported the Department’s efforts to promote international awareness of the goals and objectives of the United Nations, particularly its building of partnerships at local and regional levels to reach the widest possible audience worldwide.  She expressed gratitude for the timely and comprehensive coverage of the visit of the Secretary-General to Central Asia in April, including the historic visit to the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, which highlighted Kazakhstan’s leadership in renouncing nuclear weapons.  In that regard, she expressed appreciation for the support of the “No Nuclear Weapons” initiative and hope that her country would receive assistance from the Department in marking the first International Day against Nuclear Tests.

She also expressed hope that the Department would continue to cover cooperative efforts made by her country and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and to continue to attract worldwide attention to global issues such as the shrinking of the Aral Sea.  Kazakhstan, she pledged, was ready to share expertise in strengthening inter-religious harmony.  She affirmed the importance of strengthening multilingualism in United Nations information.

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