Global Digital Gap ‘Sobering Reality’, Say Speakers in Fourth Committee, Spotlighting Value of Traditional Media, Transparency, Impartiality

GA/SPD/565
23 October 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 13th Meeting (PM)

Global Digital Gap ‘Sobering Reality’, Say Speakers in Fourth Committee, Spotlighting Value of Traditional Media, Transparency, Impartiality

Texts on Gibraltar, Outer Space Sent to General Assembly for Adoption

Data and information were “transformative” tools that could empower individuals, communities and societies, and bring all together to chart the direction for the future, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today, as it concluded its discussion on questions relating to information.

At the same time, sounding a note of caution, the representative of the Philippines said that the United Nations Department of Public Information should be mindful of the “global digital gap”, a sobering reality that underscored the continued importance of traditional media channels.

The representative of Lesotho said the current period in human history was characterized by the evolution of rapid communications systems, with a growing use of information and communications technologies in all areas of life.  However, the development of those technologies remained highly uneven among countries.

Voicing his appreciation for the volume of information on the website of the United Nations, the representative of Cameroon, however, said that the digital divide made information inaccessible to most populations.

Strengthening that position, the representative of Bahrain said the Department should continue to pay attention to traditional media, recalling that the International Day of Broadcasting was a way to show the importance of traditional media.

Another way to bridge the digital divide was to provide information in a transparent, equitable, and non-discriminatory way, based on the principle of parity, said the representative of Ecuador.  The Department should disseminate its work in all official languages, he added, in a sentiment that was echoed by several countries.

Several speakers cited the importance and relevance of the services provided by the United Nations Information Centres.  The representative of Burkina Faso, for example, said that those played an important role in addressing country-specific issues.  They also provided real-time information to developing countries, added the representative of Myanmar.

In brief concluding remarks, Maher Nasser, Acting Head of the Department of Public Information, speaking in Arabic, pledged to work with Member States to find solutions to issues and challenges raised, and to meet the hopes and aspirations expressed.  He urged Member States to continue working together in building a better United Nations for a better world.

Also today, the Committee approved, without a vote, a draft decision on the “Question of Gibraltar”, and a draft resolution on “International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space”, sending them to the General Assembly for adoption.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Colombia, India, Algeria, Oman, El Salvador and Nigeria.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Friday, 24 October to begin its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to conclude its debate on questions relating to information.  Action on related draft resolutions A and B (document A/69/21) would be scheduled once the Secretariat has concluded its examination of the text.  Action was expected, however, on two drafts in connection with items on the Committee’s agenda.

Action on Texts

The Committee first turned its attention to a revised draft resolution, submitted under agenda item 49, entitled “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” (document A/C.4/69/L.2/Rev.1).

Acting without a vote, it approved L.2/Rev.1, which had been submitted by Algeria, in its capacity as Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. 

By the terms of the wide-ranging text, the General Assembly would endorse the report of the Outer Space Committee on the work of its fifty-seventh session; it would also agree that the Legal Subcommittee, at its fifty-fourth session, should continue substantive items and reconvene the working groups recommended by the Committee, taking into account the concerns of all countries, in particular those of developing countries.

The Assembly would request the Outer Space Committee to continue to consider, as a matter of priority, ways and means of maintaining use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

It would welcome the fact that the Outer Space Committee agreed, at its last session, to consider the broader perspective of space security and associated matters that would be instrumental in ensuring the safe and responsible conduct of space activities.  Also, it would identify effective tools that could potentially provide that Committee with new guidance.

It would urge States that had not yet become parties to the international treaties governing the uses of outer space to consider ratifying or acceding to them, as well as incorporating them into their national legislation.

In a related provision, the Assembly would urge all States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space, as an essential condition for the promotion of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

The committee then turned to the draft decision, submitted by the Chair, entitled Question of Gibraltar (document A/C.4/69/L.5), approving it without a vote.

That text would have the Assembly urge the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom — while listening to the interests and aspirations of Gibraltar that are legitimate under international law — to reach, in the spirit of the Brussels Declaration of 27 November 1984, a definitive solution to the question of Gibraltar, in the light of the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and applicable principles, and in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.

The Assembly would take note of the desire of the United Kingdom to continue with the trilateral Forum of Dialogue on Gibraltar.  It would also take note of the position of Spain that the Forum does not exist any longer, and should be replaced with a new mechanism for local cooperation, in the interest of the social well-being and regional economic development, in which the people of the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar are represented.

The Assembly would also take note of efforts made by both parties to resolve current problems and to engage in a flexible and responsive form of dialogue between all relevant and appropriate parties, on an informal, ad hoc basis, in order to find common solutions and make progress on issues of mutual benefit.

Thematic Debate on Information

DIANA LUCÍA RENGIFO (Colombia), associating with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and Group of Friends of Spanish, said modern technologies played an increasing role in disseminating information about the United Nations.  However, sections of the global population did not have access to such technology, and, therefore, the Department of Public Information should continue to pay attention to traditional media such as radio, television, and newspapers.  The United Nations Information Centres had conscientiously carried out their mission and should continually be supported.

She said linguistic parity between the six official languages was also important, adding that substantial progress needed to be made in issuing daily press releases in all languages.  The mandate had been to seek creative solutions to achieve that objective, and the Department should proceed accordingly forthwith.  Although Spanish was the second, most-visited language on the United Nations website, content was limited.  Future reports from the Committee on Information should include disaggregated statistics that would provide greater clarity to help make appropriate decisions.

SIMPLICE HONORÉ GUIBILA (Burkina Faso) saluted the quality of the work done by the Department and encouraged it to continue its efforts.  Information was a tool to help communities face the challenges of development.  With the advent of new technologies, communication diversified, which created a digital divide between the North and South.  His delegation was satisfied with the use of new technologies by the Department; however, he was preoccupied by the global disparities regarding access to information, and he asked the United Nations to narrow the divide by giving assistance to developing countries.

His delegation, he said, was convinced of the importance of traditional media still broadly used in developing countries, and he urged the Department to continue to use both traditional and new media.  He also encouraged the Department to offer impartial, balanced, and up-to-date information through the United Nations Information Centres so as to sensitize public opinion about the Organization’s activities.  The Information Centres played an important role in addressing country-specific issues.  Burkina Faso condemned violence against journalists and called for the implementation of a mechanism to protect them.  His delegation also called on the Department to improve multilingualism in the United Nations system, and promote respect for the principal of parity in the official languages.

KELEBONE MAOPE (Lesotho) said the current period in human history was characterized by the evolution of rapid communications systems, with a growing use of information and communications technologies in all areas of life.  However, the development of those technologies remained highly uneven among countries; that necessitated its management in a multilateral, transparent, and democratic way.  The United Nations could not afford to do business as it did in 1945, when it was formed.  For it to resonate with modern society, the Organization had to adapt to new methods of disseminating information in a globalized world.  And, in order to more effectively promote global awareness and greater understanding of the work of the United Nations, it must be fully resourced.  The Organization had to be closer to the people it served, more today than ever before.  It was in that spirit Lesotho had constructed an office complex in 1994 and donated it to the United Nations to house its country programmes, agencies, and Information Centre.  The Centre in Lesotho and elsewhere, must be strengthened to achieve its mission, and robust engagement with the host countries must be upheld.  Member States should be respected for who they were, and small nations must not be marginalized in favour of big ones.

MAMOUDOU MANA (Cameroon) advocated for the promotion of freedom of information and access to knowledge, as an aid to peace and development.  Broader access to science and information and communications technologies in his country had received the Government’s help.  Cameroon had undertaken a broad programme to construct television centres, aimed at improving access to the Internet in rural communities and encourage the effort to reduce the digital divide.  He expressed  appreciation for the Department’s efforts to ensure that the information society truly became a global village.  His delegation welcomed, in particular, the Department’s dissemination of impartial information, in sharing the goals and ideals of the United Nations.  Information, however, should be available in real time for everyone.  For that to happen, equal treatment of information in all United Nations languages and online services was necessary.

He voiced appreciation for the volume of online information, but recalled that the digital divide made it inaccessible to most populations.  Print publication for a large population was the only way to spread credible information and, in that regard, he paid tribute to the work of the United Nations Information Centres and their multidimensional mission.  His country hosted a Centre, which enabled journalists, authorities, civil society, students and researchers to have access to a reliable source of information.  The Centres must have staff and programmes to carry out their mission, and he asked the Department to take appropriate measures for that to occur.

V. SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) expressed full support for the Department’s work in promoting and advancing the goals of the United Nations through campaigns on issues of importance to the international community.  Specifically, India appreciated the United Nations Academic Impact programme, which supported the work of educational institutions around the world.  In that context, he recognized the Department’s Holocaust Outreach Programme as an educational initiative to prevent future genocides.  His country was also pleased with the Department’s initiative on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a programme that recognized the brutality of the trade while, at the same time, paying tribute to the resilience of the victims.  Another project of note was the “Music for Peace” event.  Looking ahead, India would like to see more collaboration between the departments of Public Information, Peacekeeping Operations, and Field Support, to showcase success stories and highlight activities of United Nations peacekeepers in strife-torn areas.  India was also pleased with United Nations radio programmes in Hindi and Urdu.  Further engagement and focus on South Asia was still needed, given the region’s significant contribution to the Organisation’s peacekeeping efforts.

XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador), associating with CELAC and Group of Friends of Spanish, said it was the constitutional duty of States to promote universal access to information and communications technologies.  Another way to bridge the digital divide was to provide information in a transparent, equitable, and non-discriminatory way.  It was the right — as well as the need — of the international community to know what the Organization was doing.  Based on the principle of parity, the Department should disseminate its work in all official languages, and budgetary constraints should not be used as a pretext for inaction.  The guiding principle of multilingualism was based on facts, he said, reiterating that Spanish was the second most widely used language.  Currently, vast sections of the world’s populations were being excluded from enjoying the rights of parity and equity.  A dissemination strategy based on one language was inconsistent with the principles and ideals of the United Nations, he said, urging the Organization to engage with States to redress the disparity.  In closing, he said States must not violate international laws governing information on the pretext of security, through such acts as surveillance.

LIBRAN N. CABACTULAN (Philippines), aligning with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that data and information were “transformative” tools that could empower individuals, communities, and societies.  They helped everyone better understand the past, draw lessons from the present, and bring all together to chart the direction for the future.  However, data and information could be used for exactly the opposite reasons.  They could misinform individuals, generate divisions, and foster hatred around the world.  In that context, credible institutions were critical in providing accurate, timely, and reliable information.

Towards that end, he said, the Department actively fed into a global information system aimed at achieving a more peaceful, progressive, and prosperous world.  He commended its accomplishments and activities, noting that countless documents, records, photos, and videos were readily available online.  Still, certain areas required attention.  While efforts should be sustained to develop its capabilities, the Department should be mindful of the “global digital gap”, a sobering reality that underscored the enduring importance of traditional media channels.  He also highlighted the need for the Department to play a more meaningful role in the global understanding of pressing issues such as Ebola.

FAISAL AL ZAYANI (Bahrain) said the Department became a mirror that reflected the diverse activities of the United Nations, and no efforts should be spared in reporting them.  The United Nations was the only forum to take collective decisions on issues facing the international community, and the Department communicated broadly with the public in that respect.  In particular, the Department had a central role in promoting sustainable development and climate change.  The Information Centres were essential in sensitizing the public about International Days; they were the voice of the United Nations to the public.

Although technological innovation was welcome, he said, traditional media was still important to developing countries.  Promotion of the International Day of Broadcasting showed the importance of traditional means of communication, which was the best way to attract the public and offer easy access to information.  In order for the Department to fulfil its mission, there must be parity among the six languages of the United Nations.  Also essential was to work towards reducing — if not eliminating — the digital divide.  Apart from that, the Department had succeeded fully in all its activities.  His delegation thanked it for covering issues concerning the question of Palestine, and looked forward to the continuation of those activities until a fair solution was found.

KYAW MYO HTUT (Myanmar), associating with ASEAN, said that the Department’s work had become even more relevant as Member States pushed for the post-2015 development agenda, and ushered in a year of action on many challenging global issues.  Information sharing between the United Nations and Member States would go a long way towards making informed policy decisions.  Closer cooperation between the Department, client departments, and field offices would facilitate more effective and targeted delivery of information.  The Information Centres played an important role in providing real-time information to developing countries.  Through information technology, those Centres should extend their outreach to rural areas.  In a similar vein, his Government was trying to promote an “e-Government” system using information and communications technologies to rapidly bring efficient public service and benefits to citizens.  As part of a wide range of Government- initiated reforms, media freedom had been recognized as one of its most visible achievements.  The country had abolished press censorship in 2012, but still faced challenges in ensuring that those new freedoms were used in a responsible and accountable manner, he said.

MOURAD MEBARKI (Algeria) stressed the role played by United Nations radio, television, and print publications, which were indispensable avenues of communication.  Algeria also recognized the growing role of new media platforms, but emphasized the urgency of ensuring they were used in accordance with United Nations policies.  The Department should promote the causes espoused by the Organization since its founding, as well as the priorities that evolved over time.  The Department’s activities aimed at raising awareness of the Palestine question should be guided by the international quest for a two-State solution.  More energetic work was needed to establish parity in the use of all six languages in disseminating information about the Organization.

Ms. AL-HAJRI (Oman) expressed her appreciation to the Department.  Mass media was the mirror that reflected events in all countries.  There was no doubt that intellectual diversity was a characteristic of this Organization.  Her delegation stressed the importance of using new technology to promote all activities, as that paved the way to reach out to new groups such as the youth.  Providing assistance to developing countries to narrow the digital gap was very important.  She supported the call made by other delegations to double the efforts to provide support to developing countries in the field of information.  She thanked the Department for its efforts in disseminating information, and raising awareness about the Organization’s activities among the public at large.

RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating with CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, stressed the need for measures to ensure the use of information and communications technologies in a reliable, secure, and orderly way.  Such initiatives should have clear operational mechanisms and frameworks for evaluation, and they should respect national sovereignty, equality, non-interference in internal affairs, democracy and human rights.  He emphasized the importance of the Committee on Information in the establishment of a new, equitable, and just international information order.  He firmly supported calls to ensure multilingualism in the dissemination of the Organization’s work.

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria) commended the Department’s efforts in supporting the public information components of United Nations peacekeeping and special missions in developing communication and information policies that promoted a “culture of peace”.  The task of reaching out to a global audience, in different languages, was indeed a challenging one, he acknowledged.  He endorsed the use of social media and other relevant forms of information technology for raising awareness of the work of the United Nations.  In that context, the advancement of information technology had broadened the landscape for the transmission of information, and provided outlets for dissemination to a wide range of people, communities, and cultures.  However, those systems were still rudimentary in some developing nations.  That said, there was a need for continued use of traditional media in developing nations, particularly in Africa.  In the spirit of balanced reporting, Nigeria supported the view that United Nations journals, publications, and press releases be produced in all six official languages, and he advocated for greater use of local languages. 

For information media. Not an official record.