UN Information Services Showing New Agility in Support of Organization’s Goals, Communications Chief Tells Information Committee at Opening of Annual Session

27 April 2011
PI/1977

UN Information Services Showing New Agility in Support of Organization’s Goals, Communications Chief Tells Information Committee at Opening of Annual Session

27 April 2011
General Assembly
PI/1977
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Information

Thirty-third Session

1st Meeting (AM)

UN Information Services Showing New Agility in Support of Organization’s Goals,

Communications Chief Tells Information Committee at Opening of Annual Session

Urging Public Information Department Not to Compromise on Responsibilities Amid

Belt Tightening, Kiyo Akasaka Looks to Member States to Fashion Effective Mandates

To best support United Nations initiatives in peace, development and human rights at a time of financial austerity, information services were developing a “new agility” through broad collaborations and the use of a variety of media, the Organization’s top communications official told the Committee on Information as it opened its annual session this morning.

“We cannot compromise on our responsibilities, but we can better address them with creative partnerships and the enlargement of areas of collaboration, with Member States, with a broad spectrum of civil society and within the Organization itself,” said Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, as he introduced the reports of the Department of Public Information.

Noting that Member States themselves had emphasized the important role of public information in helping the United Nations become the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world, he said he looked to Member States to equip the Department and to fashion mandates in the most effective way to allow it to fulfil its critical purpose. 

On collaboration with member nations, Mr. Akasaka expressed gratitude for support to United Nations information centres from host countries around the world, including the provision of rent-free facilities, while appealing for more countries to do so as the Department reviewed the best configuration for such centres.

He also pointed to cooperation on a raft of initiatives including this year’s commemoration of victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, World Autism Day, outreach on the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust as well as communications that engaged the public with international conferences, particularly in the lead-up to the conference on sustainable development planned for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012.

Pointing to the central role of the Internet and social media in recent events in North Africa and the Middle East, he said that those tools had become essential for the United Nations on a wide range of issues to enable it to keep journalists quickly updated on developments and to build better-informed and more inclusive communities and coalitions for change.

United Nations videos on Youtube had been viewed more than 2.5 million times, its photographs on Flickr had recorded a million views in the past two years and many publications were available as e-books. 

At the same time, the Department continued to recognize the importance of traditional media, he said, noting that its radio and television activities had continued to expand, with encouraging results, including the greatly increased distribution of its products. 

Elected Chairperson of the Committee by acclamation this morning, Eduardo Ulibarri of Costa Rica said the United Nations had made substantial progress in public information and management in recent years.  He pledged to use his new position to maintain that record and to effectively and constructively face future challenges.  The Organization’s information policies must be approached with greater vision and effectiveness, he said. 

Following those presentations, Member States began outlining their priorities as the Committee began its general debate.  Speaking were representatives of Argentina (on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Hungary (on behalf of the European Union), Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Belarus, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Cuba, Brazil and Peru. 

Most speakers expressed support for the efforts of the Department of Public Information to make its work more efficient and reach broader audiences through partnerships and through the use of new media.  Some speakers stressed the need to simultaneously continue to enhance traditional media, particularly radio, in order to reach audiences that lacked access to new technologies, while others highlighted the need to strengthen efforts to reach parity of services in all six official United Nations languages.

Also today, the Committee adopted its agenda and elected by acclamation Stephane Crouzat of France and Gheorghe Leuca of Moldova as Vice-Chairpersons and MohammadReza Sahraei of Iran as Rapporteur. 

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 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-third annual session today, during which delegations were 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/1976 of 26 April).

Opening Statements

EDUARDO ULIBARRI (Costa Rica), Committee Chairman, said the United Nations had made substantial progress in public information and management in recent years.  He pledged to maintain that record and to effectively and constructively face future challenges.  Public communication and information must play a central role in strategically managing United Nations information flows.  Information and communications were at the heart of current social, economic and political processes.  The Organization’s information policies must be approached with greater vision and effectiveness.  He called on the Committee to consider the Secretary-General’s reports with sensitivity and discipline, to conduct its interaction with the Department in a more coordinated and focused manner, and to make progress in the area of decision-making in order to make the United Nations more relevant in the communications realm.  Costa Rica would do its part in that regard by carrying out its responsibilities transparently.

KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, introduced the reports of the Department of Public Information, adding current updates.  He stressed the high demand for United Nations information services amid the quite clear financial emergency, which demanded of his department “a new agility”.  “We cannot compromise on our responsibilities, but we can better address them with creative partnerships and the enlargement of areas of collaboration, with Member States, with a broad spectrum of civil society and within the Organization itself.”

It was Member States, he continued, that had emphasized the important role of public information in helping the United Nations form the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world.  He looked to Member States, therefore, to equip the Department and to fashion mandates in the most effective way to allow it to fulfil that purpose. 

In that light, he said that United Nations information centres performed the invaluable function of informing and engaging stakeholders at a national and sometimes regional level, with the ability to communicate in local languages.  He expressed gratitude to those countries that were continuing to provide support for such centres, but noted that costs were rising due to security and other factors while monetary assistance had declined by as much as 20 per cent since 2008. 

This year, in that context, his appeal for United Nations information centre hosts to provide rent-free or subsidized premises, as well as other forms of support, would be “more acute than ever”, while the Department continued to look for creative ways to reduce expenditure and ensure the effectiveness of those facilities.  As part of the efforts to rationalize and strengthen communications, the number and locations of information centres would be reviewed and discussed with Member States.

The Department, he said, also remained committed to promoting multilingualism.  To date, information centres had produced materials in more than 150 languages and currently had the capacity to work in 48 tongues, including indigenous languages, maintaining websites in 29 languages.  Referring to a separate report of the Secretary-General on multilingualism, he said that the Department was determined to make the most of new technologies to enhance its multilingual presence in the world.

On collaboration with Member States, Mr. Akasaka expressed gratitude for support from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union for this year’s commemoration of victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade; cooperation with Bangladesh, Israel, Mongolia and the United States on World Autism Day; support from Rwanda and the African Union for commemoration and outreach on the Rwandan genocide; a screening sponsored by the United Kingdom as part of the Holocaust outreach programme; and Turkey’s support for coverage of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries.

He also highlighted Hungary’s hosting of this year’s international media seminar on Middle East peace, as well as strong support from Member States and the Observer Mission of Palestine for the special information programme on the question of Palestine, now in its twentieth year.  In addition, he said that the Department’s third annual Global Model United Nations Conference would be held in partnership with Incheon, Republic of Korea, and the United Nations Association of that country this year, focusing on engaging young people on sustainable development in the lead-up to Rio+20 in 2012.  The upcoming, sixty-fourth Department of Public Information/Non-Government Organizations (NGO) Conference would also focus outreach for Rio.

Collaboration within the United Nations system was also continuing to deepen, through local United Nations Communications Groups and worldwide networking.  The Department also continued to work closely with the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support and Political Affairs in shaping the response to rapidly unfolding events, including, most recently, those in North Africa and the Middle East, with information centres playing a large role.  The Department provided communications support to the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), which itself had become a target of a hostile media campaign.

The Department, he said, worked with internal and external partners to maximize the impact and exposure of international conferences, such as the upcoming Conference on Least Developed Countries, the June high-level General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDs, and the high-level Assembly meeting on non-communicable diseases in September, using its broad multimedia capabilities.  It had already begun strategizing with partners for a system-wide communications campaign for Rio+20.  The Academic Impact initiative, launched last November to serve as a means for research institutions to contribute to the Organization’s awareness and analysis efforts, was already feeding into the Rio communications process.

Among cinematic collaborations, earlier this month, the third annual Envision festival had taken place, with a focus on poverty and hunger, and in February, the Secretary-General had appeared at the Global Creative Forum in Los Angeles.  It aimed to increase United Nations exposure in the American media industries, resulting in three new documentary projects and a dramatized series featuring the work of United Nations staff in the field. 

Turning to the Dag Hammarskjold Library, he highlighted special digitization projects, including those on the history of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, documents related to the 1948 Genocide Convention and early International Law Commission reports.  The planned digitization of the Department’s historic collection of audio and visual materials, dating back to the League of Nations, would take several years and a great deal of investment, which could not come from the regular budget. 

Pointing to the role of the Internet and social media in recent events in North Africa in the Middle East, he said that the logic and pace of current communications made those tools essential for the United Nations on a wide range of issues, to keep journalists quickly informed of developments and to build better-informed and more inclusive communities and coalitions for change. 

To that end as well, the Department’s radio and television activities had continued to expand, with encouraging results.  The UNifeed system, created to distribute short videos, had nearly doubled its daily pick-ups of news packages, and more than 3 million audio clips of meetings and United Nations radio programmes had been downloaded in 2010.  United Nations videos on Youtube had been viewed more than 2.5 million times, and its photographs on Flickr had recorded a million viewers in the past two years.  The Department had also made further progress in leveraging existing technology to expand the availability of United Nations publications in the form of e-books available for electronic readers. 

Affirming that the Committee on Information had a special responsibility to promote and defend the freedom of expression in all media, he said in conclusion that he looked forward to using this year’s World Press Freedom Day and the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration to draw attention to the need and responsibility of all States to defend those fundamental human rights as the basis for peace, development and democracy.

General Debate

MARCELO SUÁREZ SALVIA (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that as many developing countries lacked the resources and technical means to access information, the Department must reach out to the widest possible audience and project worldwide the United Nations important accomplishments in order to promote greater understanding and goodwill.  He fully supported the Department’s continued information campaigns, including the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, and called for them to be enhanced and reinforced.  All possible steps must be taken to strengthen the information centre network, which was a vital source of information that helped bridge the gap in access to information and communications technologies between developed and developing countries.  He lauded support by some developing Member States to provide rent-free premises for United Nations information centres, but said such support should not substitute their full financial resource allocation from the United Nations budget.

He said that any decision to reorganize the information centres must be made in close consultation with the host countries and take into account the centres’ respective geographical, linguistic and technological needs.  He called on the Secretary-General to take the necessary steps to promptly establish an information centre in Luanda, Angola, to service Portuguese-speaking Africa and to report to the Committee’s thirty-fourth session on progress towards that end.  He was concerned over the disparity in language content on United Nations websites, and urged all content-providing offices in the Secretariat to translate all English-language materials and databases into all official languages and make them available on the respective language websites.  More resources should be allocated for that purpose.

ATTILA ZIMONYI (Hungary), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that recent months had seen the dawn of a new information order, with ordinary citizens harnessing social media for social change, but “Tweets and Facebook messages could complement but not replace good, old-fashioned journalism and its editors and fact-checkers.”  Unfortunately, in many countries journalists could not properly do their work, he said, noting that at least 42 journalists around the world were killed last year.  On 6 May, the Union would be hosting a conference on freedom of expression, which was crucial to attain all United Nations goals.

Welcoming the expanded use of social media by the Department of Information, he encouraged expansion of their reach in as many languages as possible.  In all areas, multilingual considerations must be “front and centre” in the development of webcasting and other multimedia tools.  Partnerships with academic institutions should increase for that purpose, since they had proven an efficient way to increase the number of web pages available in the six official languages.  The website had also proven to be an asset, with heavy worldwide traffic.  Praising the reports on information, he said, however, that he would like to see more information on what the Department did to promote human rights.  He commended the network of information centres for their many events marking Human Rights Day.

In general, he said, the centres were valuable in serving local needs.  He looked forward to the establishment of the centre in Luanda to strengthen the ability of the United Nations to engage the Portuguese-speaking audience throughout Africa.  Welcoming the efficiency measures in regard to the information centres and other programmes, he encouraged the Department to do its best to do more with less through pragmatic and cost-effective mandate implementation.  The object of the Committee this year should be a focused resolution that allowed the Department to effectively support the Organization’s core business of promoting peace and security, development and human rights.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile), on behalf of the Rio Group, recognized the Department’s valuable efforts in conveying a better understanding of the objectives and work of the United Nations, as well as to improve the quality, effectiveness, efficiency and reach of its own work.  He agreed it was necessary to utilize new media platforms as part of that effort, but expressed concern over the digital divide between developing and developed countries.  For that reason, traditional media, such as radio, television and print should continue to be employed. 

He also recognized efforts by the Department to strengthen its interaction with other organs of the United Nations system.  He reaffirmed the need for media to be used with full respect for international legal frameworks, and expressed concern over the violation of radio-electronic frequencies, reiterating the need for such frequencies to be used in favour of public interest.  He stressed the importance of the United Nations information centres and encouraged the Department to continue supporting them through the effective use of available resources.  In that light, he hoped that the proposed information centre in Luanda would be fully operational by the end of the year.

Welcoming the Department’s efforts to achieve the important goal of language parity, he expressed concern that the inequality between language use, particularly English and Spanish, had become more serious.  He called for the distribution of information, particularly through radio, in as many languages as possible, including indigenous ones and Portuguese.  Welcoming efforts to ensure access to information services by persons with disabilities, he invited the Department to continue its work in that area.  In conclusion, he called for full maintenance of the Department’s services during the period of the Capital Master Plan.

ANDREI SAVINYKH, Director, Information Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belarus, stressed the need for well-planned and well-developed regional strategic communications campaigns.  Economic, social, environmental and other challenges varied among regions, making it difficult to achieve results worldwide by communicating one message from one global source.  But results could be achieved through regional strategies that focused on the problems and development issues within a specific region and took into account the level of development of its mass media and information society.  Messages tailored to a region’s priorities and needs, the demands of its nations’ Governments and the aspirations of its people would have a stronger impact.  Regional strategies would enable the Department to continue to build partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters, as called for in General Assembly resolution 65/107.  It would also make it easier to implement the ongoing journalist training programme.

He said that Belarus and neighbouring countries had too few journalists with a solid understanding of current United Nations affairs, procedures and work methods.  Training them at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Vienna and Geneva was very expensive, and thus, regional training was needed.  Through regional strategies, the Department could more effectively encourage host countries to respond to the needs of the International Centres as partners in promoting national development plans.  Instead of viewing the Department as a source of information for local media about United Nations activities, local media should be made the main information source.  Through such an approach, the United Nations websites and the Department itself could become recipients of huge volumes of nationally produced information on the Organization’s activities locally.  Such information could be added to the Organization’s global information resources.  He also suggested giving the best writers of a region the title of distinguished United Nations journalist.

YUSRA KHAN (Indonesia) said the Department should be in the driver’s seat in sensitizing the global media on the need to project a culture of peace and tolerance among nations, peoples and religions and the need to end media stereotyping.  He strongly supported the Department’s efforts towards that goal.  He called on the Department to continue implementing its media programme on the question of Palestine.  It was essential to continue to sensitize people worldwide about the suffering of Palestinians under occupation and the siege and unjust collective punishment to which they were subjected, in violation of international law.  As a troop-contributing country, Indonesia believed that continued coordination and collaboration between the Department and the Organization’s Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support and Political Affairs in promoting the work of peacekeepers would enhance the Organization’s image and the peacekeeping missions’ effectiveness.

He supported the Public Information Department’s efforts to disseminate information through as many media channels as possible, including through unofficial languages.  He lauded the success of “United Nations Week” and noted the growing number of United Nations-related community and academic activities that resulted from it, thanks to the use of local languages in carrying out those activities and publishing United Nations documents.  The work of the Information Centre in Jakarta was highly commendable, including its cooperation with institutions of higher education; he noted the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between the United Nations Information Centre and Budi Luhur University.  He encouraged information centres everywhere to engage various parties, including in the private sector.

MIAN JAHANGIR IQBAL (Pakistan), aligning himself with the statement made by Argentina on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, recognized the enormity of the task and challenges faced by the Department at a time of crucial world developments and at a time when the international community was beset with misunderstandings between societies.  He stressed that freedom of expression was a universal right but that it should not be misused to insult religions or create misunderstandings.  He said that the deplorable desecration of the Koran in Florida highlighted the need for a more active role of the United Nations to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding and mutual respect.  He urged the Department to encourage discussions at regional and international levels, present exhibitions and hold seminars, and publish information towards those noble ends. 

He praised the Department for having efficiently covered issues of importance to the international community, such as United Nations reform, climate change, human rights and a raft of others.  As Pakistan was the largest contributor of troops for peacekeeping operations, he hoped that the Department would adequately convey the constraints and challenges facing peacekeepers.  On 25 April, Pakistan’s Mission to the United Nations had organized a photographic exhibition to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Pakistani participation in peacekeeping.  He urged all possible measures to strengthen information centres and, in relation to the provision of rent-free facilities, to keep the economic conditions of host countries in mind. 

He also urged the Department to continue to broaden its efforts in multilingualism, technology and partnerships.  He supported outreach to civil society, improved accessibility of library services and the strengthening of journalist training initiatives.  Finally, he said he expected the Secretariat to accede to Member States’ long-standing request for additional passes for national press officers during the high-level segment of the General Assembly.

HU BO (China) said the Organization should carry out information activities in its official languages in a balanced manner in order to expand its influence globally.  In 2010, traffic on the Arabic, Russian and Chinese websites accounted for just 17 per cent of total United Nations website traffic, which was too low compared with the other United Nations official languages.  That was due to slow updating of the web pages in those languages, the relatively small amount of information posted on them and their less-than-satisfactory content.  He called on the Department to provide information in a balanced way in all official languages and to use the websites as a platform for improving information services for audiences worldwide.  Construction of the websites and the quality of their information should also be improved.  Despite enhancements in the websites’ design, functions, operability and user-friendliness, there was still room for improvement. 

He said that attention must be given to the special needs of developing countries and to enhancing their information services.  The United Nations efforts to use social networking websites and other innovative information and communications technologies had opened new channels to better serve younger audiences and educate them about the Organization’s work.  Most people in developing countries, however, continued to rely on traditional media.  In the field of information, the United Nations should bear in mind the access needs of people in developing countries, avoid widening the information access gap, increase cooperation with developing countries’ media and bolster aid to them.

RODOLFO ELISEO BENÍTEZ VERSÓN (Cuba) said it was not possible to talk seriously about an informed and participatory global society without first guaranteeing a world free of hunger, ignorance, insalubrity and exclusion.  “What do the 759 million adult illiterates and the 72 million children with no access to education need the new information technologies for?  What can the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty and the 759 million hungry people do with a computer?” he asked.  While the number of people connected to the Internet was at a historic high, in 2010, a total of 63 per cent of the world’s 1.97 billion Internet users lived in industrialized nations, home to just 15 per cent of the global population.  Developed countries owned 75 per cent of the world’s Internet infrastructure and widely controlled hardware and software industries and the production of their content, 70 per cent of which was produced in English.  More than 90 per cent of news worldwide was produced by a small group of transnationals.  The achievements of countries of the South were often distorted or silenced.  Labels were used and stereotypes were created according to the interests of the transnationals.

He said significant investments were needed to access the “freedom” of the information market.  Alternative media did not have the resources for such investments, leaving them marginalized and with little influence.  A new world information and communications order could not be postponed.  Multinational projects were urgently needed, both regionally and internationally.  Venezuela’s Telesur project, which was promoted by various Latin American countries, was a viable alternative.  The continued practice of the United States of broadcasting radio and television services in Cuba intended to “promote the naïve intention to annex the island” was illegal, unjustifiable and violated international instruments and regulations of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to which the United States was a party.  He demanded an immediate end to that aggression.

SÉRGIO RODRIGUES DOS SANTOS (Brazil), associating himself with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, stressed the importance of communicating the United Nations message in as many languages as possible.  In that context, he commended once again the efforts of the Portuguese Unit of United Nations Radio despite the limited human and financial resources available to it.  He also reiterated support for the Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro, describing its recent initiatives.  Pointing to the synergy between new and traditional media during the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, he said that the mutually reinforcing combination of media should be used to raise world awareness of all current pressing issues, particularly in the lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development planned for Rio in 2012.

He encouraged the Department of Public Information and Member States to work together to explore creative ways to ensure support and strengthening of the critical network of information centres.  He expressed hope that the planned centre in Luanda, Angola could be operational by the end of 2011 to address the special needs of Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.  The host country had offered to provide rent-free premises, as Brazil had.  He encouraged other States that hosted the centres to consider offering such facilities and other support, if they were in a position to do so.  He finally reiterated support for the special programme on the Question of Palestine and stressed the importance of preserving the historical archives of the United Nations, saying that digitization efforts must be combined with the preservation of documents, photographs and other materials, with appropriate access given to them.  He urged financial support for such efforts as well as special care during the Capital Master Plan.

MILAGROS MIRANDA ROJAS ( Peru) lauded the Department’s efforts to achieve the widest level of information dissemination.  The Department must have the necessary resources to properly use new information and communications technologies and media platforms, while maintaining traditional communications means.  Only that way could it broadcast information in a timely, consistent and impartial way.   The Internet, new technologies and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had an ever growing role in strategic communications and in reducing technological or digital gaps between developed and developing countries.  She pointed to the Organization’s increased use of social media platforms to broaden the user base, the inauguration in October 2010 of the United Nations visitors’ website and the efforts of the United Nations Library to provide information in digital format. 

She also welcomed United Nations Radio’s efforts to broadcast in eight languages and its efforts to disseminate information about the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, with a strong emphasis on protection of women and civilians, as well as its information campaign to promote realization of the Millennium Development Goals.  Both topics were priority areas of information and should remain part of the United Nations strategic approach.  Language parity on the United Nations website was essential to guarantee equal treatment and coverage of all United Nations activities.  The press releases and meetings coverage summaries should be produced in all six official languages, and not just in English and French.  She expressed concern that many documents were only published in English and that there was a delay in translating materials, which could widen the existing gap between content available in English and the other languages.

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