Under-Secretary-General, in Fourth Committee, Pledges to Work with Member States to ‘Project Common Vision for United Nations, Its Strength and Its Promise’

23 October 2012
GA/SPD/513

Under-Secretary-General, in Fourth Committee, Pledges to Work with Member States to ‘Project Common Vision for United Nations, Its Strength and Its Promise’

23 October 2012
General Assembly
GA/SPD/513
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Fourth Committee

11th Meeting (PM)

Under-Secretary-General, in Fourth Committee, Pledges to Work with Member States

 

to ‘Project Common Vision for United Nations, Its Strength and Its Promise’

 

Speakers Say Report Offers ‘Impressive Snapshot’

Of Public Information Department’s Innovative, Far-Reaching Programming

In a fast-changing media and communications environment, the Department of Public Information continued to find new ways to operate and adapt, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, told the Fourth Committee today, pledging to work with Member States to “project the common vision for the United Nations, its strength and its promise”.

Addressing the Fourth Committee for the first time in his new capacity at the helm of the United Nations public information effort, the Under-Secretary-General said the responsibility of the Department was to explain the work and value of the Organization, which was best accomplished by working hand in hand with Member States, whose essential faith in the United Nations had not wavered, even in moments of “deep fiscal challenges and economic uncertainty”.

Both the Organization and its Members, he said, must work even closer together to ensure that the peoples of the world shared that faith, as they were the ones who must be convinced that the United Nations represented “the possibility of both immediate and long-term hope”, and that the financial contributions that they underwrote could fulfil those aspirations.  That was where the missions of the Department and that of Member States converged.

In the course of today’s evolving media and communications landscape, he said, the Department responded rapidly to peace and security crises around the world, working to ensure that United Nations entities — especially those dealing with the Sahel, and Mali in particular — had the communication support they needed.  As the crisis in Syria continued to unfold, the Department was using its Information Centres across the Middle East and North Africa to provide support, particularly in the form of Arabic-language outreach and media monitoring.

Media services provided by the Department during the General Assembly’s annual debate had been extensive, he said.  Some 250 news stories had been published on the United Nations News Centre in English and French alone, 310 events had been covered by United Nations Photo.  There had been “gavel-to-gavel” live streaming of the debate and some 180 high-level events by UNTV and its webcast team.  He had received positive feedback from Member States, particularly about the press releases, which aimed to provide a succinct and timely summary of the meetings.

Social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, were helping to amplify key messages, extend the impact of traditional products and encourage global participation, he said.  The official United Nations Twitter account had welcomed its 1 millionth follower last month, and the Organization counted large numbers of fans on both Facebook and Twitter in the developing world, particularly in Brazil, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Mexico.

Pinterest, another popular social media platform, which allowed images to be grouped by theme, had been used to illustrate the United Nations work during its high-level meeting on the rule of law in September, he said.  Google+, which had recently gained its 600,000th follower, had allowed young people to take part in online “hangouts” on issues relevant to them, he said.

Nonetheless, social media was a complement and not a replacement for traditional media, he said.  That sentiment was shared by many delegates, who welcomed the new Under-Secretary-General and commended the Department’s efforts in providing comprehensive coverage of the General Assembly and in raising the profile of a variety of issues, ranging from the Millennium Development Goals to United Nations peacekeeping operations and the Question of Palestine.

The report of the Secretary-General on the Department’s work, before the Committee, offered “an impressive snapshot” of an entire year dedicated to a variety of innovative and far-reaching worldwide programming, said speakers.  One noteworthy example was the public outreach around the recent Rio Conference.

Delegates also highlighted remaining challenges, including the digital divide between developed and developing countries.  They said that although the science of communications had developed at a “dizzying speed”, only 37 per cent of the world’s population had Internet access.  Another concern was the insufficient support for the United Nations information centres, often described as the first-ever field presence in many Member States.  Attention was also drawn to the need for multilingualism, as delegates pressed for material in all official United Nations languages.

The Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, Reza Sahraei, introduced that body’s report.

Speaking in the discussion were the representatives of Algeria, Thailand, Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, Sudan, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. 

A representative of the European Union delegation also spoke.

General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić addressed the Committee before it took up questions relating to information.

The Committee will meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 24 October, to continue its consideration of questions relating to information.

Background

The Committee had before it the report of the Secretary ‑General on questions relating to information (document A/67/307), which highlights recent communications campaigns undertaken by the Department of Public Information on key issues such as sustainable development, the Millennium Development Goals, peace and security, human rights, the question of Palestine and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.  The report also reviews the activities of the network of United Nations information centres, and the media-related services of the Department.  Further, the report provides an update on the outreach services of the Department, including its work with the creative community.

The thematic issues pertaining to the Department’s strategic communications services included the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the Millennium Development Goals, gender issues and International Women’s Day, commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda, and United Nations peacekeeping, among others.  During the reporting period, the media and public outreach campaign for Rio+20 was a top priority for the Department, which succeeded in mobilizing large-scale awareness and participation.

In the months leading up to that Conference, the Department issued a comprehensive media advisory, and regular press releases were distributed to journalists around the world, as well as an online press kit in the six official languages and in Portuguese.  “The future we want,” the tagline for the Conference, which was proposed by the Department, gained wide acceptance as a positive and forward-looking message that was successful in conveying the relatively abstract concept of sustainable development to broad audiences and was chosen to be the title of the summit’s outcome document.

United Nations information centres carried out a number of campaigns in collaboration with local partners, including a tree-planting campaign in a remote mountainside village in Lebanon and the “Lend your leg” mine-awareness campaign in Jakarta, as well as an advertising campaign against racism at bus stops nationwide in Panama City.  The information centres and offices also developed a range of new products and websites, such as in Mexico City, a multilingual glossary with 20 essential terms and definitions, in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, related to sustainable development. A number of information centres also organized travelling exhibitions.

In news services, the Department had focused on revamping parts of its website with updated content, improved navigation and expanded use of common branding elements.  Most of the new web pages ensure accessibility by persons with disabilities, with content in the six official languages, as mandated by the General Assembly.  The United Nations News Centre portal (www.un.org/news) continued to provide seven-day coverage of news on priority issues across the United Nations system, also in all official languages.

United Nations Webcast continued to improve its services to its global audience, launching a redesigned website, which provided an enhanced user experience with live and on-demand video content, including higher video quality, improved performance and structure, and tools for sharing videos through social media.  Between 1 February and 15 July 2012, the Meetings Coverage Section produced 1,960 press releases in English and French.

The Department’s outreach services included its continuing 22-year partnership with New York Festivals, at which annual awards were handed out for film and television programming, public service announcements and radio programming.  Further, the Department worked with the producers of the reality television fashion design show, Project Runway All Stars, on the filming of an episode at the United Nations, which aired on a network in the United States in February.  The episode was watched by approximately 2 million viewers in the United States.  The Department also continued to support model United Nations programmes, which engages hundreds of thousands of students around the world each year.

In publishing, the most recent edition of Basic Facts about the United Nations was published in February in French and in July in Spanish under commercial co-publishing arrangements, while a Japanese version was published in June by Kwansei Gakuin University, a member of the United Nations academic impact

programme.  A special double issue of the United Nations Chronicle, published in May, focusing on the Conference on Sustainable Development was made available as an iPhone and iPad application.  The Department continued to develop its e-publishing programme while maintaining a strong physical book offering.

Concluding, the report notes that the continuing crisis in Syria, the situation in the Sahel and acts of terrorism and insurgency worldwide were among the issues on the global landscape during the reporting period.  The response of the Department to those events had been “agile” as it served in a twin role as a vehicle for accurate facts as well as an aid in the larger goal of humanitarian well-being.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Committee on Information (document A/67/21), covering its thirty-fourth session, from 23 April to 4 May 2012.  It contains draft resolution A, on Information in the service of humanity, by which the Committee would have the General Assembly urge all countries, to cooperate with a view to reducing existing disparities in information flows at all levels, to ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of their professional tasks and condemn resolutely all attacks against them, and to provide all possible support and assistance to developing countries and their media.

The report also contains draft resolution B, on United Nations public information policies and activities.  By that text, the Committee would have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to continue to implement fully the recommendations contained in relevant resolutions in respect of those policies and activities.  Furthermore, it would have the Assembly request the Department of Public Information to continue to evaluate its products and activities with the objective of enhancing their effectiveness, and to undertake other endeavours related to bridging the digital divide, strengthening information services, and supporting peacekeeping missions, among others.  The resolution would also have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to continue to exert all efforts to ensure that information services of the Secretariat contain information in all official languages, and to take other measures, including those related to taking full advantage of developments in information technology in order to improve the dissemination of information in a cost-neutral manner.

Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General (document A/67/62) transmitting to the General Assembly a letter dated 26 January 2012 from the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and an attached resolution adopted by the General Conference proclaiming 13 February as World Radio Day.  The letter describes the origin and rationale behind the Day, and explains its objectives, which are to raise awareness in the general public and media of the value of the radio, improve international cooperation between radio broadcasters and encourage decision-makers to create and provide access to information through radio, including community radio, thus contributing to sustainable development.

Statement by General Assembly President

VUK JEREMIĆ, President of the General Assembly, addressing the Committee before it took up Questions relating to information, said that he was gratified that the Committee was proceeding with its work efficiently and in a timely manner.  The Committee had already completed seven out of its 12 agenda items.

In 1945 when the United Nations was established, almost a third of the world’s population lived under colonial administration, he said.  The international community was slowly bringing to an end a long process of liberation and emancipation.  With the “unstoppable flow of history”, only 16 Territories, with 2 million people living in them, were officially classified as non-self-governing.  The Committee’s efforts to bring the issue to closure were truly praiseworthy.  He hoped that the Third International Decade would be the last.

Recalling his address to the General Assembly at the opening of the session, he said he had spoken of the need to strengthen the role of United Nations peacekeeping, as that was an indispensable instrument for peace.  The Secretary-General had underlined the fact that 60 years of peacekeeping had cost less than six weeks of current global military spending.  The international community must continue to support those who served under the United Nations flag in conflict-prone areas.  Contemporary United Nations peacekeeping was complex and evolving, and he spoke of the growing role of the African Union in conflict prevention and resolution across the continent.  Other regional actors such as the European Union were also active and, as Assembly President, he encouraged such initiatives.

Turning to the situation in the Middle East, he recalled that during the general debate, numerous delegations had raised the issue of Palestine.  There was resounding support for the two—State solution taking into account the legitimate concerns of Israel and Palestine.  Some Member States had called for the United Nations to play more decisive role.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) played a vital role in providing basic services to a community of approximately 5 million registered refugees scattered throughout the Middle East, he noted.  However, the Agency was underfunded and there was a serious cash deficit.  As a result, UNRWA was increasingly unable to keep pace with the growing needs of the community it served.

Continuing, he said that UNRWA worked with families unable to meet basic food needs; $30 fed one of those families for a week.  UNRWA also provided basic health services and emergency household kits.  A doctor’s daily wage was around $40 and an emergency housing kit cost around $50.  Though he was well-aware of the budgetary constraints of the Member States, he also wanted to remind them that “millions of Palestinian refugees depended on their generosity”.  There were several political aspects to the problem, but it was also vital to focus on the humanitarian one, he added, urging Member States to contribute financially to UNRWA’s work.  In conclusion, he encouraged the Fourth Committee to continue to reach compromise solutions.

Introduction of Report

REZA SAHRAEI, Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, said that the report adopted at the end of the thirty-fourth session included four chapters, with the first two dealing with organizational issues, while chapter three provided a summary of the general debate and chapter four presented two draft resolutions, adopted at the end of the thirty-second session.

He said that the Information Committee heard an address by its Chairman, Eduardo Ulibarri of Costa Rica, followed by a comprehensive presentation by the Acting Head of the Department of Public Information.  During three days of general debate, members focused on a wide range of issues, including the central role of the United Nations in global affairs and of the Department of Public Information as its public voice, as well as the role of new information and communications technologies, including new media, in promoting the United Nations work.

While several speakers emphasized the need for closing the gap between developed and developing countries in the area of digital technology, he added, speeches also had stressed the importance of freedom of press and expression.  Many members had asked for more linguistic parity in the work of the Department.  One speaker, warning against Islamophobia, had called on the Department to counter that phenomenon and to facilitate dialogue between cultures and civilizations.  Several speakers had commended the work of the United Nations information centres and called for their operations to be strengthened.

PETER LAUNSKY-TIEFFENTHAL, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, introducing himself and addressing the Fourth Committee for the first time in his new capacity, said that most of his professional life had been spent working as a diplomat for his native Austria.  He had joined the United Nations in August, and prior to that, his most recent assignment had been as the Spokesperson and Head of the Department for Communication and Information of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs.  Since joining the United Nations, he had tried to gain a better understanding of both the challenges and opportunities in public information.  The Fourth Committee and the Committee on Information played an important role in guiding the Department, and he sought to strengthen and advance those partnerships in practical and meaningful ways in order to reach the widest possible audience and ultimately achieve greater understanding and cooperation among nations and peoples.

For any public information and communications programme to be successful, he said, it must be strategic, results-oriented, and transparent.  Those goals were reflected in the Department’s motto:  “Inform. Engage. Act.”  The Department’s mission — to tell the world about the United Nations and what it was doing every day to make a difference in peoples’ lives — was accomplished through a range of activities, innovative alliances, global dissemination and local outreach, and it was guided by three strategic considerations.  First, it sought to harness the power of all media, including social media, digital platforms, print, radio, television and opportunities for direct communication.  Second, it aimed to strengthen international support for the United Nations by engaging in an interactive dialogue with Member States and their peoples, as well as with global constituencies such as civil society and youth.  Third, it prioritized multilingualism, and encouraged content-providing departments and offices to produce materials in all six official languages.

Sharing some examples of the Department’s activities that had taken place since the latest report of the Secretary-General, he drew attention to the opening of the General Assembly’s sixty-seventh session, along with the many parallel high-level events, saying those had offered an opportunity for the Department to work with Member States to spotlight critical issues on the common agenda.  Among other examples of that cooperation, he cited the launch by the Secretary-General of the report of the Millennium Development Goal Gap Task Force, which had resulted in the publication of more than 400 articles being published worldwide in the first 24 hours alone.  More recently, the Department had worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Millennium Campaign, and other partners to raise awareness about Millennium Development Goal successes and opportunities for 2015 via social media.  In three days, #EndPoverty had reached more than 9.6 million people via Twitter.

Continuing, he said that media services provided by the Department during the Assembly’s annual debate and the high-level events had been extensive.  He highlighted a series of statistics, including, among others, that 250 news stories that had been published on the United Nations News Centre in English and French alone, 310 events had been covered by United Nations Photo, and there had been “gavel-to-gavel” live streaming of the debate and some 180 high-level events by UNTV and its webcast team.  He was pleased by the positive feedback received from Member States, particularly about the Department’s press releases, which aimed to provide a succinct and timely summary of the meetings.

In addition to traditional media, the Department made extensive use of online social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, which helped amplify key messages and extend the impact of traditional products such as audio interviews, photographs and news stories.  The official United Nations Twitter account had welcomed its 1 millionth follower last month, and the Organization counted large numbers of fans on both Facebook and Twitter in the developing world, particularly in Brazil, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Mexico.  Pinterest, a popular social media platform for grouping images by theme, had been used in September’s High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law to post photos with captions and links to United Nations activities around the world that illustrated the rule of law.

During the General Assembly, he noted, a new blog had informed people how they could watch and take part in various activities and events.  Other social media accounts such as Google+, which had recently passed the 600,000-follower milestone, allowed young people to take part in online “hangouts” on issues relevant to them in the lead-up to World Youth Day.  Nonetheless, social media was a complement and not a replacement for traditional media, and while the modes of communication could be debated, the Department remained fully committed to freedom of the press and freedom of information, as well as to the critical importance of an independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

Turning to the topic of the Organization’s website, he said that the United Nations News Centre portal, one of the most heavily visited areas, had been redesigned and was now more visually attractive, simpler to navigate and easier to use on handheld mobile devices.  The changes had been implemented in the English and French versions of the website; work on other languages was expected to be completed by the end of the year.  The Security Council website had also been re-designed in all six official languages.

To further enhance multilingual access to information, the Department’s webcast coverage of intergovernmental meetings was now available in the language of the speaker and in English translation, and some videos on the UNTV website and on the United Nations Channel on Youtube contained “closed captions” in six languages.  Moreover, the Department had expanded its global multilingual reach through innovative partnerships to deliver products in various media outlets and programmes around the world.  Among those partners were Deutsche Welle, PBS News Hour, USA Today, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and the United Nations Foundation.  In addition to the six official United Nations languages, UN Radio had also increased its output in Kiswahili and Portuguese after having been given more resources to do so during the last budget process.

Educational outreach to young people remained a key priority for the Department, he said, citing the Model United Nations workshop held at Headquarters in August, which had brought together more than 50 participants from 28 countries to learn about the role and work of the General Assembly and its Committees.  There were plans to add an annual workshop away from Headquarters to work with Model United Nations simulations around the world.  The International Day of Peace on 21 September was another activity that had targeted students and youth, during which he had had the pleasure of moderating a student videoconference, which had involved both celebrity advocates and local students present on the occasion as people participating via video from Liberia and South Sudan, thanks to the United Nations peacekeeping missions in those countries.

The Department was always looking for different ways to introduce the United Nations to the public, he said.  The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) was working with computer programmers at Rutgers University and United Nations language experts to develop learning tools that could be used in mobile devices — teaching both a language and facts about the United Nations.  Through UNAI, other robust partnerships had been developed with the universities and research institutions throughout the world.

The youngest supporters of the United Nations — and future leaders of the world — were also included in outreach efforts, he said.  A special tour aimed at children had been developed, featuring six special “UN Kids” characters from around the world, and an activity pack that presents the work of the United Nations in an accessible and interactive way.  He also noted that the United Nations Guided Tours programme would celebrate its sixtieth anniversary next week.

Concerning non-governmental organizations, he said that the relevant website had been redesigned and its navigation had been improved in full compliance with accessibility requirements.  New formats were also being explored to expand the reach of the regular Thursday briefings.  Following successful United Nations Department of Public Information/non-governmental organization conferences in Paris, Mexico City, Melbourne and Bonn, he called upon Member States to consider hosting the next conference in 2013 and in the years to come.  A few States had expressed interest.  He looked forward to receiving a formal commitment.

One area where the Department had tried to provide service to Member States was through the information briefings arranged by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, he said.  The latest series of briefings had focused on United Nations documentation and were attended by about 130 delegates.  He was eager to hear ideas on how to make the briefings even more effective and tailored to the needs of Member States.

He said he was pleased to mention that more than 30 representatives of United Nations Member States had joined the Deputy Secretary-General and himself to honour the life and legacy of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York last month.

He also mentioned the Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme for young journalists from developing countries or countries with economies in transition, which, he said, had long enjoyed great support among Member States.  For the first time this year, the fellows had also travelled to Geneva to learn about the humanitarian, human rights and health work of the United Nations.

The Department continued to find new ways to operate and adapt in today’s “fast-changing” media and communications environment, and it must modernize its services and systems while also reducing costs.  In that regard, progress was being made, including in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, which, like libraries worldwide, was redefining how best to provide its services.  Another example was the use of print-on-demand technology, which ensured that United Nations publications were readily available to clients who requested them at significantly reduced costs.  Traditional publications continued with web-based versions, including the United Nations Yearbook and the United Nations Chronicle.  In addition, working on behalf of the United Nations family, the Department had pursued and signed 33 agreements with local publishers for the translation or co-publication of 38 United Nations publications in 17 languages, at zero or negligible cost to the Organization.

Furthermore, he said that the Department responded rapidly to peace and security crises.  It was working closely to ensure that the United Nations entities dealing with the Sahel, and Mali in particular, had the communication support they needed.  As the crisis in Syria continued to unfold, the Department was using its United Nations information centres across the Middle East and North Africa to provide communications support, particularly in the form of Arabic-language outreach and media monitoring.

The global network of 63 United Nations information centres served as a vital link connecting people to the United Nations, and giving the Organization a local face, he said.  The centres worked in the six official languages, and produced information materials in 39 other languages, including websites in 29 of those languages.  Nonetheless, in many locations, security remained a major concern, with several centres having to find alternatives premises or invest significantly in security upgrades.  The Department was constantly looking for options to find more secure premises and ensure the safety of its staff.

In conclusion, he said that the responsibility of the Department of Public Information was to explain the work and value of the United Nations, and that was best accomplished by working hand-in-hand with its partners, the Member States.  At moments of “deep fiscal challenges and economic uncertainty”, their essential faith in the United Nations had not wavered.  But they must work even closer together to ensure that the peoples of the world shared that faith, as they were the ones who must be convinced that the United Nations represented “the possibility of both immediate and long-term hope”, and that the financial contributions that they underwrote could fulfil those aspirations.  That was where the missions of the Department of Public Information and that of Member States converged.  He pledged to work with Member States in projecting the “common vision for the United Nations, its strength and its promise.”

Interactive Dialogue

Responding to the statement made by the Under-Secretary-General, the representative from Algeria said that he was pleased with the cooperation his country had enjoyed with the Public Information Department in highlighting aspects of the United Nations work that were intimately linked with peace and security, as well as to tolerance and reconciliation.  In particular, there had been an opportunity to cooperate on a document along those lines, and he had witnessed how dedicated the Department was when it came to assisting Member States and raising the profile of the Organization’s work.  He highlighted the important role of accredited press correspondents at United Nations Headquarters.  They, too, were partners in raising the Organization’s profile.  Given their growing number and the fact that Member States, as far as he knew, did not have an instrument allowing them to instantly identify those correspondents, he proposed a brochure or an electronic bulletin containing the names and photos of the correspondents, the bodies that they represented, and contact information.

The Under-Secretary-General thanked the representative for recognizing the Department’s efforts and for making the suggestion regarding the brochure, which would allow States to easily identify the correspondents.  He would look into it.

MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that notwithstanding the important progress that had been made in the field of public information, many developing countries — due to the lack of resources and technical means — struggled to access information on United Nations activities.  He urged the Department to continue working to overcome those challenges.  He underscored support for the Department’s various campaigns on issues of great importance to the international community, in particular, on the question of Palestine, and he encouraged it to promote the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism and to continue taking measures to enhance public awareness of the work of the General Assembly.

He said he was concerned by the challenges faced by United Nations information centres in terms of ageing office equipment and the lack of cost-effective access to enterprise-level tools.  He welcomed offers by member States of rent-free premises for the centres, but cautioned that such support was not a substitute for full funding within the United Nations budget.  He also called for the prompt establishment of the information centre in Luanda.

Despite the efforts of the Department towards greater multilingualism, he said the disparity among the use of the official languages continued to deepen, including the issuance of daily press releases, and he encouraged the Department to design a strategy employing “creative schemes” to deliver the releases in all six official languages, within existing resources.  In conclusion, he underscored the need to improve the operations and services of the Dag Hammarskjold Library, and called for the establishment of an institutional digital repository.

NORACHIT SINHASENI (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the activities undertaken by the Department of Public Information during the months of February to July this year as illustrated by the report offered an impressive snapshot of an entire year dedicated to a variety of innovative and far-reaching worldwide programming.  In particular, ASEAN applauded the efforts of the Department, with regard to Rio+20, in promoting a communications strategy from the time leading up to, during, following that historic meeting.  Further, as ASEAN members had invested a great deal in United Nations peacekeeping operations, as well as the Organization’s peacebuilding activities, the group attached critical importance to the Department’s role in raising awareness on such operations and initiatives.

ASEAN believed that promoting multilingualism was of particular importance to the United Nations in its efforts to promote access to information, he said.  Important documents must appear in the Organization’s six official languages and should be made available through the United Nations Website without delay.  ASEAN fully supported all initiatives to ensure that the Website was accessible by persons with different types of disabilities.  Although new media and digital platforms had presented exciting and effective opportunities to reach more people, the need for traditional media, particularly in developing countries, was still high and must be met.  Noting with appreciation the Department’s role in bridging that digital divide, he reaffirmed ASEAN’s support for initiatives such as UN Radio.

OCTAVIO ERRAZURIZ (Chile), speaking on behalf of Community of Latin American Countries (CELAC), highlighted the Information Department’s work in promoting the ad hoc thematic debates held by the General Assembly and said that it was vital to maintain “objectivity, impartiality, precision and coherence” in the messages conveyed by the United Nations.  CELAC also called on the Department to continue updating its communications network in order to encourage coherence and effectiveness of the United Nations system’s protocol for coordination and response, thus advancing multilateral action and avoiding the eventual adoption of unilateral measures.  Further, while CELAC supported the “spontaneity and agility” of electronic communication and its high potential to create exchanges in multiple ways, it was also concerned about the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries.  Traditional media, such as radio, television, and written press should continue to be employed in order to convey the messages of the United Nations.

Much remained to be done in order to reach the necessary parity among all six official languages, he continued.  CELAC believed that the time had come to make progress in that regard, and, as a first step, all press releases should be available in all official languages.  A clear distinction should be made between working and official languages in the public dissemination through the Organization’s Webpage.  Requesting the Secretariat to design a mechanism for disseminating the press releases in all official languages, he added that CELAC welcomed that the draft resolution to be adopted made room for that concern.  In the initial phase, in order to overcome the current unfair situation in the face of financial constraints, creative schemes such as the rotation of languages could be set up, he concluded.

RODNEY CHARLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), commended the Information Department for the progress it had made with respect to its multimedia Website, as well as the activities carried out to promote awareness about the Rio+20 summit and the Organization’s activities related to the Millennium Development Goals.  He regretted that the Secretary-General’s report had not reflected the many important initiatives conducted by the United Nations information centre (UNIC) in the CARICOM region.  During the 2011-2012 period, that UNIC, located in Trinidad and Tobago — which served 19 territories in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean — had continued to publicize and promote United Nations campaigns and observances on the Organization’s calendar.  Its areas of focus included providing media liaison support for the United Nations Office on Disarmament Affairs during its training of Caribbean security personnel and activities related to the Let’s Fight Racism campaign.

Expressing appreciation to the Department for the support provided to commemorate the current year’s celebration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, he added that it was important to continue disseminating information on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases which continued to impact the social and economic development of the region.  Finally, recognizing the invaluable contributions of women in the promotion and maintenance of peace and security, CARICOM believed that additional efforts should be made by the Department to disseminate information on, as well as promote, the role of women in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.

JACQUELINE FRANCESCA RIDDY-O’DOWD, speaking on behalf of the Delegation of the European Union, commended the Information Department’s continued efforts to carry out its work and promote the ideals of the United Nations in a manner that was understandable and accessible to all.  One particularly noteworthy example was the public outreach around the recent Rio Conference, which had successfully mobilized large-scale awareness and participation, particularly via social media platforms.  United Nations information centres had helped to multiply the impact of that effort, and she encouraged even more collaboration by them with local partners as a means to promote a strong and clear United Nations voice.

Looking ahead, she said she supported the Department’s planned focus on priority areas for the Organization, such as the process of elaborating a post-2015 development agenda, in which the use of social media would be instrumental.  Cooperation with other departments, especially those who brought to fore voices from the field, was another area that called for particular attention.  New information and communication technologies and social media were powerful means of enabling citizens and interested groups to disseminate information, spread awareness, organize action and put pressure on decision-makers, she said, adding that the United Nations Website was a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly and accessible tool.

In conclusion, she stressed that in all its activities, the Department should be guided by the principles of the United Nations regarding to freedom of expression and information, and the principles of the independence, pluralism and diversity of the media.  She also reiterated the importance of multilingualism, which was a “fundamental feature of multilateralism”, and called for further exploration of partnerships to advance that goal, along with that of accessibility, including for citizens who accessed information on mobile platforms or who lacked reliable broadband access.

ABUZIED SHAMSELDIN AHMED MOHAMED (Sudan), aligning with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that news had at times contributed to world events, even becoming a maker of events.  Information had become a decisive factor in politics and economics.  Thus, the role played by the Department of Public Information and the information centres in spreading information about decolonization, the culture of peace, Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development was even more crucial today.  Sudan was concerned about the expanding digital divide between developing and developed nations, which promoted social disparities.  He called on the Department to intensify efforts to achieve linguistic parity between official languages, especially in the press releases.

In today’s world, he said, information was often misguiding and selective, and served ulterior purposes.  It was necessary, therefore, to counter the effects of photography, writing and art that attacked human dignity or denigrated religion and religious symbols.  That hindered tolerance and mutual respect, for which the United Nations stood.  It was important that the Department seek to develop a culture of peace.  Just as there were campaigns to combat racism and violence against women, the international community should launch a similar campaign against denigrating religion and religious symbols.  Sudan appreciated the Department’s commitment to the question of Palestine and called for the intensification of efforts in that regard.

OSCAR LEON GONZALEZ (Cuba), aligning with the statements of CELAC and the Group of 77 and China, stated that the science of communications had developed at a dizzying speed in the last few decades.  However, the use of such technologies could mean a threat to international peace and security and the principles of the United Nations Charter, as its benefits were still far from reaching the majority of the world’s inhabitants.  Only 37 per cent of the world’s population had Internet access.

He said that the International Telecommunication Union had confirmed that digital divide.  Even if there was universal access to information communication technologies, it would not help the 793 million people without literacy or the 759 million who were hungry, or, for that matter, the 1.5 billion without electric power.  Even a small part of the colossal amount spent on weapons could help bridge that divide.  The use of radio should be enhanced to provide information to the large illiterate populations in the Southern countries.  Cuba denounced the radio and television aggression exercised against it by the United States Government and demanded that that Government cease its illicit broadcasts.  That aggression was part of the United States’ policy of economic blockade against the Cuban people.

ERIKA MARTINEZ (Mexico), aligning with the statement made on behalf of CELAC, said that it was only with timely, objective and accurate information that the work of the United Nations could be understood by the international community.  She acknowledged the efforts being made to reach people through social networks and said she supported the use of new means of communication in order to achieve a multiplying effect of information that was broadcast.

While such new technologies should certainly be used to the maximum extent, she was nevertheless concerned about the digital divide.  Therefore, she urged the United Nations to continue to use traditional media in order to ensure that its communications were fully accessible.  Calling for greater effort to enhance multilingualism in all communications products, she sought, in particular, an increase in Spanish-language material.  Given the high degree of technical detail in the issues addressed during thematic debates, the Organization should continue to provide multilingual glossaries and definitions.  In that regard, she acknowledged the effort made by the UNIC in Mexico City, which had produced a multilingual document that had been of great use during the Rio Conference.

SERGIO RODRIGUES DOS SANTOS (Brazil), aligning with the statements made on behalf of the G-77 and China, said that in order to reach out to a linguistically diverse world, the United Nations message needed to be disseminated in as many languages as possible.  Commending the dedicated work of the Portuguese unit of UN Radio, he reiterated his country’s support for the work of the UNIC in Rio de Janeiro.  He also pointed out that United Nations information centres were often the first ever field presence of the Organization in many member States.  Those centres remained an essential element of the public information activities of the Organization, especially in developing countries.  Also commendable was the Department’s media campaign on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Brazil, he went on to say, was convinced of the importance of promoting both traditional and new media.  Traditional means of communication were still the most far-reaching vehicle for the messages of the United Nations.  New media, on the other hand, had established itself as a dynamic asset for improving the networking capacity of the Organization and for providing information in a timely manner to a variety of actors.

Finally, he said, the Department had an important role to play in “preserving the historical memory” of the United Nations.  He expressed support for the efforts of the Department to increase online access to information, such as the “United Nations Member States: on the record” initiative, as well as for the progress in the retrospective digitization of the Organization’s documents.  Preserving institutional memory and learning the lessons derived from it would be instrumental for the Organization’s future work.

IDIT ABU (Israel), commending the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, stated that, with Holocaust denial still being voiced even in respectable forums, Israel was painfully reminded of the importance of the Holocaust education programme.  Highlighting the iWitness website, which had been showcased by the Programme in July, and allowed students from around the world to learn the personal stories of more than 1000 victims, she stressed that the international community must make every effort to preserve and strengthen that Programme.

Israel was concerned, she added, about the Palestinian Information Programme, which had been created by an anti-Israel resolution and which set forth a one-sided narrative to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The resolution ignored the conflict’s complex nature and promoted the dissemination of biased and misleading information that only served to deepen animosity between the parties.  Given the one-sided mandate, she stated in conclusion, Israeli Government officials would neither attend nor participate in those seminars until a more even-handed approach was adopted.

ABDALLAH MANSOUR (Lebanon) echoing the words of the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said that information was “liberating”, and today the world was witnessing new mechanisms enabling the rapid and free spread of information.  The Information Department should balance those new arenas with traditional media when conducting its communications work.  He recalled the principles of the freedom of the press and information, condemned attacks against journalists, and urged all Member States to ensure that they could work freely and effectively.

He commended the Department’s successful work around the Rio Conference, and recalled that his country, in cooperation with the UNIC in Beirut, had helped promote a week-long campaign called “Change Your Habits, Save Your Energy.”  They had also collaborated to promote the International Year of Forests, launching a tree-planting campaign.  Lebanon also attached great importance to raising awareness about United Nations peacekeeping operations, noting an exhibit that had taken place in Beirut on the subject, and welcoming the availability of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations Website in all six official languages.  He also urged the Information Department to intensify its efforts to raise awareness on the question of Palestine, and to dispatch news teams to the region to convey the situation on the ground.

In conclusion, he declared that over the past year, Arab youth had capitalized on information tools and used social media as platforms to call for freedom, dignity, democracy, and a better future.  Journalists, too, had played an important role in mobilizing people and galvanizing support.  He noted that Tawakul Karman had been awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, attesting to women’s vital role, and illustrating her point that “no voice can drown out the voice of freedom and dignity”.

AHMED ALDHMANOI (United Arab Emirates) stated that balance of information was key to strengthening the principles of peace and sustainable development.  The United Arab Emirates wished to stress the responsibility of developed countries and international organizations responsible for media affairs in providing assistance to developing nations so they could benefit from modern technologies.  His country called for the drawing up of an international charter on information that would define legal criteria in the field of disseminating information that could guarantee “objectivity, transparency and credibility”.  It should also guarantee respect for all religions and heritages and reject extremism.

Welcoming the efforts of the Department to convey the noble message of the United Nations and calling for the development of the powers of Department, he added that it was necessary to expand the dissemination of knowledge by television and radio as well as use of websites.  United Arab Emirates also stressed the need for using six languages, particularly Arabic, in all its activities.  Convinced of the role of information in people’s consciousness, his country had adopted a systematic and balanced media policy that aimed to develop technological research while addressing national and regional humanitarian issues.

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