Pivotal Role of Department of Public Information as ‘Messenger of Peace and Tolerance’ Spotlighted in Fourth Committee

25 October 2012
GA/SPD/515

Pivotal Role of Department of Public Information as ‘Messenger of Peace and Tolerance’ Spotlighted in Fourth Committee

25 October 2012
General Assembly
GA/SPD/515
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Fourth Committee

13th Meeting (PM)

Pivotal Role of Department of Public Information as ‘Messenger of Peace

 

and Tolerance’ Spotlighted in Fourth Committee

 

Debate Concludes with Approval of Related Draft Resolutions, Decision

More than any other institution, the Department of Public Information understood that the media could either be the messenger of peace and tolerance or of misunderstanding and hatred, the Fourth Committee was told today as it concluded its consideration of questions relating to information, with the approval of two draft resolutions and one draft decision.

By “Draft Resolution B”, concerning the public information policies and activities of the United Nations, the Committee would have the General Assembly emphasize that public information and communications should be placed at the heart of the strategic management of the United Nations and that a culture of communications and transparency should permeate all levels of the Organization.

Also by the terms of that text, the General Assembly would request the News and Media Division to continue to take full advantage of the technological infrastructure made available in recent years and the Department of Public Information to continue building partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to extend the United Nations message to all the corners of the world in an accurate and impartial way.

In that connection, the General Assembly would welcome the Department’s ongoing efforts to enhance multilingualism in all its activities, and stress the importance of ensuring that the texts of all new public United Nations documents in all six official languages, information materials and all older United Nations documents are made available through the United Nations website and are accessible to Member States without delay

At the same time, the Assembly would reiterate its concern that the issuance of daily press releases had not been expanded to all official languages, as requested in previous resolutions, and request the Department to design a strategy to deliver daily press releases in all six official languages through creative schemes, within existing resources.

Further provisions of that text would emphasize that the activities of the Department should contribute to bridging the existing gap between the developing and the developed countries in the crucial field of public information and communications.

The Assembly would also emphasize the importance of the network of United Nations information centres in enhancing the public image of the United Nations, and reaffirm that the rationalization of the centres must be carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all concerned.  The Assembly would recognize that the network of centres, especially in developing countries, should continue to enhance its impact and activities, including through strategic communications support.

A related term of the text would have the Assembly stress the importance of efforts to strengthen the outreach activities of the United Nations to those Member States remaining outside the network of United Nations information centres, and invite the Department of Public Information to continue to encourage and facilitate dialogue among civilizations.

On the issue of peacekeeping, the text would have the Assembly request the Department of Public Information, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support to continue their cooperation in raising awareness about the successes and challenges of peacekeeping operations.

By the provisions of “Draft A”, on information in the service of humanity, the Assembly would urge all countries and organizations of the United Nations system to cooperate and interact with a view to reducing existing disparities in information flows at all levels by increasing assistance for the development of communications infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries.

That text would also have the Assembly reaffirm the principles of freedom of the press and freedom of information, as well as those of the independence, pluralism and diversity of the Media, and would urge all actors to ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of their professional tasks and condemn resolutely all attacks against them.

The Committee also forwarded a draft decision on increasing the membership of the Committee on Information from 113 to 114 and to appoint Oman as a member of the Committee on Information.

Prior to taking action, delegates concluded their general debate on information, reiterating the crucial role of the Department in building a culture of peace.  The representative of Indonesia said that, at a time when the international community was witnessing outbursts of anger and political unrest, the Department had the challenging task of sensitizing the global mass media about the need to respect the value of tolerance and cultural diversity.

Other delegates commended the United Nations information centres for their decisive role, including the representative of Bahrain, who called the centres “beacons that guide the public”.  The representative of Burkina Faso highlighted the advocacy role played by the Centre in Ouagadougou vis-à-vis the concerns of the four countries it served.

Attention was again drawn to multilingualism, with the representative of Argentina urging the Department to “be guided by its own statistics” regarding online visitors to enhance the United Nations Spanish website.  Echoing those words, the representative of Gabon stated that the equal treatment of all United Nations languages was not only a legal requirement but also encouraged dialogue between nations of the world.

Speakers reiterated the value of using “360-degree communication”, involving the widest range of methods, traditional and digital, to ensure that the Department’s work was accessible to all.  While new media was particularly useful to reach out to young people, traditional media still played a pivotal role in many parts of the world.

Also speaking during today’s debate were the representatives of India, Guatemala, Iran, Nigeria, Bahrain, Venezuela, the Russian Federation and Egypt.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 29 October, to begin its comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of questions relating to information.  For more information, please see Press Release GA/SPD/513.

Statements

DEREK OBRIEN ( India) said that the Department of Public Information had played an important role in spreading awareness about sustainable development and mobilizing support for the Rio+20 Conference, as well as other important issues such as gender equality, the development agenda beyond 2015, racism and counter-terrorism.  It was heartening to see the collaboration of the Department with that of Peacekeeping Operations, he said, adding that their relationship should be strengthened.  He reiterated the crucial role of the United Nations information centres in enhancing the Organization’s public image and in disseminating information, particularly in developing countries, and called for adequate budgetary resources for them. 

While he said that new information technology and social media were important, he stressed the value of using “360-degree communication”, involving the widest range of methods, to make sure that the work of the Department was accessible to all.  It was important not to treat the digital media - which in many countries catered to a different segment of society - differently from traditional media, as that would be divisive.  Traditional communication means, such as radio, television and print media, should not only continue to be used, but they should be enhanced.  Among those, radio held a special place, as it was widely used in the developing world.

He appreciated the Department’s work in regard to remembrance of the Holocaust, victims of slavery, and International Jazz Day.  He also commended the Department’s activities under the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, to which India had been a committed contributor.  He assured the Department of his country’s continued support.

GABRIEL ORELLANA ZABALZA (Guatemala), aligning with Group of 77 countries and China, as well as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), expressed concern about the gap between developed and developing countries and the lack of access by the latter to new technologies.  It was important to use traditional media, such as radio, television, and print, to enable developing countries to continue to obtain information.

Regarding multilingualism, he said, the information structure of the Organization should be “altered” to adequately reflect the world’s diversity.  The Department must study measures to improve the language gaps in its dissemination of information.  Guatemala appreciated the outreach activities it carried out in peacekeeping, which enhanced the multidimensional nature of that activity.  Further, Guatemala reiterated the need to protect the freedom of press and the right to freedom of expression.  While those rights were empowering, they should be exercised responsibly.

GERARDO DÍAZ BARTOLOMÉ (Argentina), aligning with the statement made on behalf of CELAC as well as the Group of 77 and China, stated that his country promoted multilingualism, which was an issue inherent to the very existence of the United Nations.  In that vein, he was concerned that the Secretary-General’s report did not refer to it.  Also essential was to have disaggregated statistics as well as information on the use of local languages in the United Nations information centres.  Argentina was pleased that the Department had expanded its outreach through the use of social media, in all official languages.

He said his country was also pleased that the United Nations website in Spanish had expanded in recent years, as evidenced by the growing number of visits to it.  In fact, after English, Spanish had once again been the language with the highest number of visits in 2011 and 2012, which accounted for 15 per cent of the total.  Yet, despite the force of those statistics, available content on the Spanish website remained much lower than that on the English website.  Argentina asked the Department to “be guided by its own statistics” and adjust the linguistic content of the website to the true demands of the public.  The country also remained concerned at the lack of progress in the dissemination of daily press releases in only two of the six official languages.

ELLEONORA TAMBUNAN (Indonesia), aligning with the statements made by the Group of 77 and China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that while the United Nations needed to strengthen its use of new media, particularly to reach out to young people, traditional media still played a pivotal role in many parts of the world, and its use should be maintained.  In that vein, the Organization should work to narrow the digital divide.

She said that perhaps more than any other institution, the Department of Public Information understood that the media could either be the “messenger of peace and tolerance” or of “misunderstanding and hatred”.  The international community had witnessed outbursts of anger and political unrest generated by irresponsible communication and media.  The fundamental human right of freedom of expression should be exercised in awareness of cultural diversity.  The Department had a challenging role to play in sensitizing the global mass media about the need to project a culture of peace and the values of tolerance.

Touching on other points important to her delegation, she said that the Department should continue raising awareness on the question of Palestine.  Also, Indonesia, as a troop-contributing country, was pleased at the cooperation between the two Departments of Public Information and Peacekeeping Operations, and believed that better public understanding of the constraints and challenges faced by peacekeepers would both enhance the Organization’s image and improve the effectiveness of its missions.  She suggested that the Department look into engaging United Nations information centres and peacekeeping training centres to extend messages concerning peacekeeping, as well as about the strategic role of the Peacebuilding Commission in post-conflict recovery.  In conclusion, she called for the use of all official United Nations languages in publications, as well as the use of non-official languages for important documents and materials.

MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI ( Iran), aligning with statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, stated that developing countries were suffering because the world of media was “unjust, inequitable, partial, and monopolized”.  It was regrettable that certain developed countries were taking advantage of their monopoly of modern communication technology to distort facts and fabricate realities.  Condemning the ban on the broadcast of 19 Iranian satellite televisions and radio channels in Europe, he urged the countries that had imposed the ban “to respect the principles of freedom and democracy and revise that illogical decision”.

He said that Iran also denounced a “blasphemous and anti-Islam movie, which insulted the deep-seated religious feelings of Muslims around the world,” and he called on the Department to use its worldwide presence to foster respect for all religions and cultural values.  The Department also had the important responsibility of raising international awareness on the question of Palestine.

IBRAHIM B. RABIU ( Nigeria) encouraged the Department to continue with its laudable work, which would no doubt call for greater deployment of resources, especially in the area of information and communication technology.  That deployment should take into account the varying state of development of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in different regions of the world.  It was important that traditional means of communication and outreach were not “abandoned suddenly”.

He expressed appreciation for the role of the Department in raising awareness of the Rio+20 Summit, especially through “The future we want” campaign, and the work that had been done to enlighten the public about the Millennium Development Goals.  He also stressed the importance of the Department’s work in promoting awareness of peacekeeping activities, and called for close cooperation with the two Departments to further sensitize the public to the achievements, challenges and issues the peacekeeping operations faced.

RI KWANG NAM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), aligning with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that while several countries were cooperating with each other successfully in the area of public information, some were taking advantage of the latest information and communication technology to spread their values and alien lifestyles and even instigate regime change.  The so-called “Radio Free Asia” was one such example that targeted Asian countries including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The United States had put that in operation to launch psychological warfare aimed at internal unrest under the guise of “freedom of speech”.

Another issue that warranted attention, he said, was the ever-widening gap between the developed and developing countries.  Due to economic depression and lack of financing, the public information capacity of developing countries had not reached the desired levels.  Developed countries should assist developing countries through such activities as modern information and communication technology transfers.

FAYSAL AL ZAYANI ( Bahrain) said that the approaches adopted by the Department of Public Information were in keeping with the Secretary-General’s proposals to transform the United Nations into an institution that reflected the collective hopes and realities of the world.  The Department had always strived to find the means to overcome difficulties and was inspired by a culture of regular assessment.  Its “exceptional performance” was due to its commitment to make people aware of major issues, including United Nations reform, the Millennium Development Goals, climate change, dialogue among civilizations, the culture of peace and the question of Palestine.

As the voice of the Organization, the Department, he said, should seek to achieve parity among the six official languages in the production of all materials.  When possible, products in other languages should also be made available.  He highlighted the decisive role played by United Nations information centres, including the one in his country, which organized various activities around events such as International Nelson Mandela Day.  The Centres functioned as “beacons that guide the public”.  He encouraged the use of new media, while adding that many countries badly needed to develop their information and communication technology systems, which meant that traditional media continued to play a critical role.  In that respect, he called for efforts to reduce the digital gap between developed and developing countries, and to enhance the requisite human and technical resources in developing countries.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO ( Venezuela), aligning with the Group of 77 and China as well as CELAC, said that the Organization’s message should be delivered in its six official languages.  Venezuela was also concerned over the gap that separated developed and developing countries with respect to the use of information technologies.  The seventh conference of the Ministers of Information of the Non-Aligned Movement, held in Venezuela, had stressed the need for a development-based information society.  Noting the imbalances at the global level, the Margarita declaration, adopted in 2008, drew attention to the importance of using communication technologies for the benefit of all.  That declaration was even more relevant today because of the dizzying progress in new technologies.  To enhance the access of developing countries, it was also necessary to prepare technical and human resources bearing in mind the specificities and needs of every State.

He said that certain media conglomerates, motivated by profit, were deceiving public opinion.  Venezuela was concerned about biased campaigns launched by powerful international media at the service of imperial Powers to distort the realities of developing countries.  Media was a powerful force if used to promote fraternal ties among people, but it could be harmful if it promoted neo-colonial domination.  In Venezuela, freedom of expression was assured as had been illustrated in the recent election, in which Hugo Chavez had been re-elected.

ANTON USPENSKY (Russian Federation), noting the constantly increasing number of issues being dealt with by the United Nations, said that that was not easy in the context of limited resources.  Thus, it was important to ensure full coordination of communications efforts among all United Nations entities.  Further, the guiding principle for all communication activities should remain the dissemination of the common human values that underpinned the Organization, including social fairness and equality.  Also crucial was to preserve the lessons of history and the Second World War, which led to the creation of the Organization.  He noted with concern that some countries recently had shown increasing signs of racism and religious and social intolerance, sometimes even promoting those at the State level.

He called for a balanced approach between new and traditional media, which reflected national and regional realities.  In that, he noted that the Department of Public Information had good representation on the ground through its network of information centres.  He welcomed the work of the centre in Moscow, and noted that information in Russian was in high demand in multiple countries.  Working with youth was one of the most important components of the United Nations information efforts, and in that regard, he was pleased that the Academic Impact initiative was becoming increasingly popular.  He looked forward to the continued development of that initiative, as well as of other youth-oriented projects.

DER KOGDA ( Burkina Faso), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, stated that the ICT revolution had provided numerous opportunities to strengthen social growth and eliminate poverty in developing countries.  The various stakeholders should step up their efforts to bridge the digital divide and promote better access to those new technologies for the South, especially Africa.  However, promoting the new technologies should not be to the detriment of traditional media, which also deserved support.  Burkina Faso welcomed the proclamation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of the International Day of the Radio, on 13 February, which corresponded to the day United Nations Radio was established in 1946.  Radio was capable of reaching people in the remotest parts of the world, he pointed out.

United Nations information centres were another essential element in the Department’s ability to reach people all over the world, he added.  Burkina Faso had hosted a Centre for several decades, which also covered Mali, Niger, and Chad.  The Centre in Ouagadougou played a major advocacy role vis-à-vis the specific concerns of the four countries, such as managing disasters and combating poverty.  The Centre also distributed United Nations documents in the languages of the region.  He reiterated Burkina Faso’s appeal to strengthen the United Nations Information Centre in his country to enable it to consolidate achievements and step up its activities.

AHMED MOHAMED SHARAF ( Egypt), associating with the statement made by the Group of 77 and China, said that the Secretary-General’s report on questions relating to information highlighted the Department’s important role in strategic communication.  He expressed appreciation for the Department’s efforts to draw attention to several important priorities, including the situation in Palestine, the Millennium Development Goals, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), climate change, sustainable development, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), peacekeeping, and UN Women.

Underlining the need for a “more just and fair information order”, he called on the Department to accelerate its efforts to promote a culture of peace and tolerance, and to continue to pay attention to traditional media, such as radio, especially in Africa and the Middle East.  He also stressed the need to achieve a balance among the six official languages of the Organization, especially on the website, where there was a “certain lag”.  He urged the Department to continue its information programme on Palestine and to contribute to achieving a just and lasting peace in all Arab territories.

FRANKLIN JOACHIM MAKANGA ( Gabon) said that his country was deeply attached to the principle of multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations as the only universal and representative body of the world.  Gabon remained concerned about the fate of the 16 countries that had not yet gained their autonomy even as the international community started the Third International Decade.  It was important, therefore, for the Organization to step up its efforts to improve their situation, and Gabon strongly supported the actions of the Department in that respect.

Acknowledging the cross-cutting work done by the Department in all areas of the United Nations, especially with regard to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals, he encouraged it to provide factual information on conflict situations, which were destroying peace and security in Africa.  Further, the equal treatment of all United Nations languages was not only a legal requirement but also encouraged dialogue between nations of the world.  In conclusion, he stated that freedom of expression was guaranteed by the Gabonese Constitution.  The country had a vibrantly plural society and was making efforts to further improve its media landscape.

Action

Following the conclusion of its general debate on information, the Committee proceeded to the consideration of two draft resolutions and a decision, approving, without a vote, draft resolution A, entitled “Information in the service of humanity”, and draft resolution B, entitled “United Nations public information policies and activities”, as well as a decision by which the General Assembly would increase the membership of the Committee from 113 to 114 and appoint Oman as a member (document A/67/21).

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