Language Parity Emphasized amid Continuing Debate on Information Questions
While the Department of Public Information’s emphasis on the latest advances in information technologies would broaden the reach of the United Nations, conventional media remained the primary means of communication in many developing countries, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today, as it continued its general debate on questions relating to information.
Many speakers expressed support for the Department’s focus on harnessing the various communications technologies at the Organization’s disposal and its use of social media platforms while urging it to be mindful of the technological gap within and across countries.
In that vein, Cuba’s representative said the image of the United Nations must not only be bolstered through online channels, but also through radio, television and print media. Pointing out that 793 million people around the world did not know how to read or write, he emphasized that the new platforms were no substitute for traditional media.
Echoing that sentiment, Paraguay’s representative stressed that most of the world’s population could only be informed about the Organization’s work through traditional media. Technological progress was critical for equitable growth, he said, adding that equal access to new technologies had the potential to provide better economic opportunities.
In addition, some delegations voiced concern about the politicizing of public information and possible inappropriate use of information and communications technology to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States. Iran’s representative said that while digital media platforms were effective in connecting peoples of different faiths and cultures around the world, they also ran the risk of falling afoul of misuse, warning that distorted information could have a negative impact on States and their citizens. The use of such technologies should, therefore, be fully compatible with the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States, he emphasized.
In similar vein, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said the role of the Public Information Department was becoming increasingly valuable as terrorist groups used modern technology to spread hatred and recruit foreign fighters. Commending the Department’s efforts in the field of counter-terrorism, he emphasized that a platform for moderate voices must emerge to reject terrorist practices.
Other speakers, associating themselves with the Group of Friends of Spanish to the United Nations, reiterated the Secretariat’s responsibility to respect multilingualism in all its activities on the basis of equity for all six of the Organization’s official languages.
In that regard, Mexico’s delegate called upon the United Nations to expand content and increase accessibility to information materials in Spanish, while expressing her country’s readiness to help identify solutions that would enable the Organization to publicize its work. Echoing that sentiment, Costa Rica’s representative said that in order to achieve true multilingualism, the Department must publish press releases in Spanish, in addition to its French and English language coverage.
Also today, many speakers praised the efforts of the 63 United Nations information centres around the world in disseminating messages about the Organization’s work.
Japan’s representative pointed out that the centre in Tokyo had played an active role in promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and had recently organized a student photography contest that had received 600 entries from 50 countries. Similarly, Lebanon’s delegate said the information centre in Beirut continued to shed light on the efforts of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to celebrate international days and to publish articles in Arabic on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Also speaking today were representatives of South Africa, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Ukraine, Nigeria, India, El Salvador, Libya, Cameroon, Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation.
The representative of Ukraine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 19 October, to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information.
The Fourth Committee convened this afternoon to continue its general debate on questions relating to information. For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/615.
ROLANDO CASTRO CORDOBA (Costa Rica), reiterating his country’s commitment to freedom of expression, emphasized that citizen participation played an essential role in strengthening democratic coexistence. While doing so, it was critical to generate opportunities for all, promote innovation and combat corruption. Calling attention to the technological gap within and across countries, he stressed the need to maintain the use of conventional media while capitalizing on the latest advances in information and communications technologies. He said the Department had improved its cooperation with actors within and outside the United Nations system, including Member States, civil society organizations and academia, through the use of new technologies. While commending its measures to improve its website and content, he underlined the need to publish press releases in Spanish in order to achieve true multilingualism.
LORENA ALVARADO QUEZADA (Mexico), emphasizing the importance of multilingualism and language parity, called upon the United Nations to expand content and increase accessibility to information materials in Spanish since it was the second most spoken language in the world. Mexico stood ready to help identify solutions that would enable the Organization to publicize its work. She went on to acknowledge the Department’s proactive efforts in using new technologies, while stressing that millions of people still used traditional media to obtain information. Drawing attention to the digital divide between developed and developing countries, she said no tool would be a substitute for a presence on the ground, adding in that regard that it was critical to improve coordination among various actors.
CAROLINE ZIADE (Lebanon), acknowledging the Department’s evolving role in maintaining the highest level of awareness about the work of the United Nations, expressed support for its strategic approach in capitalizing on the latest Internet and social media advances to facilitate access to information. The Organization’s youth and educational outreach programmes enabled young people to engage in discussion and to find solutions to current problems. Regarding strategic communications, she emphasized that the success of information campaigns hinged upon collaboration and partnership with academia and civil society organizations, and in that respect, it was critical to use the six official United Nations languages as well as both traditional and digital media. She said the information centre in Beirut continued to shed light on the efforts of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to celebrate international days, and to publish articles in Arabic on the Sustainable Development Goals.
OYAMA MGOBOZI (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted his country had been a beneficiary of the promotion by the United Nations of global awareness and public action against apartheid. Today, South Africa worked with the Department on the global promotion of Nelson Mandela International Day. Emphasizing that the question of Palestine deserved special attention, he welcomed the Department’s work in training Palestinian journalists and commemorating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. He recalled that his country, in partnership with the United Nations, had recently co-hosted the International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, which had helped to heighten awareness of the question of Palestine in a balanced and objective manner, he said, encouraging the Department also to disseminate information on Western Sahara because it was important to publicize the plight of that Non-Self-Governing Territory’s people.
U AUNG LYNN (Myanmar), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed support for the Department’s efforts to use social media platforms to complement traditional media, but warned that words of intolerance, hatred and hostility, as well as extremist ideas, could have harmful effects. Myanmar would work with the Department to promote interreligious dialogue and tolerance and to counter the spread of extremism. He noted people in countries where none of the official United Nations languages were spoken had to rely on their Governments for information about the Organization’s work. He encouraged Member States to help promote that work by disseminating information in local languages.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) encouraged the Department to continue promoting a culture of peace and non-violence as part of its outreach to the public, particularly to young people. Sustained investment in education and awareness was required to build resilience against war, violence and hatred. The Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism had been an important addition to the Organization’s efforts to implement the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and the Department could further build its partnership with the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force in order to inform national and regional dialogue. Its expertise could represent a useful resource offering viable alternatives to terrorist ideologies and narratives. He expressed appreciation for the role played by the Dhaka United Nations information centre in disseminating critical messages concerning sustainable development, migration, peacekeeping, human rights as well as general and complete disarmament.
COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), while welcoming the Department’s focus on harnessing the various communications technologies at the disposal of the United Nations and its use of social media platforms, urged it to be mindful of the technological gap within and across developing countries. Sharing national efforts, he said that his country’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Information was reviewing plans to modernize its information and communications technology framework. The review would include the development of a funding model for sustainable public broadcasting operations, and the existing legislative framework for electronic media would be amended. Jamaica had partnered with the Department on numerous projects, most notably the initiative to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, he said.
MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, observed that the media had great influence on public opinion and their importance was growing. However, some in the media did not respect the norms of conventional journalism and were instead trying to make political statements. In conflict situations, the United Nations must be able to rely on credible media sources, he emphasized, while condemning attacks on journalists as well as actions by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and other terrorist groups against media practitioners. He went on to urge the Department to redouble its efforts to address the question of Palestine and provide information on the Palestinian people’s suffering, noting that the occupying Power had committed human rights violations, including attacks targeting journalists and human rights advocates. The Department should also ensure equality among the six official United Nations languages and strengthen the status of Arabic within the Organization, particularly on its website. Freedom of expression must be respected, but not used to attack the beliefs of others or to denigrate their cultures or faiths, he stressed.
ASSIA JAZAIRY (Algeria), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that the selection and appointment of the ninth Secretary-General, António Guterres, had been guided by improved transparency and inclusivity. However, the global audience could have been better educated about the General Assembly’s role so that the recommendation contained in Security Council resolution 2311 (2016) was not seen as the end of the selection process. The Department could deepen understanding of the General Assembly’s role more broadly, thereby promoting the revitalization of its work. She expressed concern over the potential for politicizing public information and possible inappropriate use of information and communications technology to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States. While the Department’s emphasis on social media would broaden the Organization’s reach, particularly among youth, conventional media was the primary means of public communications in many developing countries, she emphasized. It was also important to use all the official United Nations languages, particularly Arabic, and to ensure their full and equitable treatment in the Department’s activities. She expressed regret that the Department’s coverage of the Fourth Committee, in particular its French-language press releases, did not always reflect facts.
RIADH BEN SLIMAN (Tunisia) reaffirmed his country’s support for the Department’s dissemination of information and acknowledged its cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Capitalizing on advances in information and communications technologies, the Department had raised public awareness of various issues, including violent extremism, food security and pandemics. He emphasized that in order to reach as many people as possible the United Nations must ensure parity among all six of its official languages.
HASSAN IDRISS (Sudan), expressing concern about the imbalance among the six official United Nations languages, urged the Organization to ensure that multilingualism prevailed in all its activities. “We need to bridge this gap,” he said, emphasizing that language parity would create better understanding of United Nations activities. Acknowledging the key role played by the information centres, he said the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter was essential in reaching out to communities. However, that should not prevent the United Nations from using conventional media since millions of people lacked access to the Internet, he pointed out.
HAJIME KISHIMORI (Japan), recalling that his delegation had participated in the Peace Bell Ceremony on 16 September, thanked the Department for its annual efforts to promote that event. He said the United Nations information centre in Tokyo played an active role in promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and had recently organized a student photography contest which had received 600 entries from 50 countries. Japan appreciated the Department’s efforts to promote the 2030 Agenda, but neither the Department nor Member States should forget the importance of multiculturalism. He emphasized that the popularity and success of characters like Wonder Woman might not automatically translate in places like Japan and the wider East Asia, where characters such as Doraemon may be more familiar. He urged the Department to take a more tailored approach, stressing the role that information centres could play in that regard. The principle of multilingualism should also be extended beyond the official United Nations languages, he added, pointing out that Africa Renewal, the Department’s only printed magazine, could be translated into more languages, thereby providing opportunities for students all over the world to learn about Africa’s development initiatives in their own languages.
HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Friends of Spanish to the United Nations, said the Department’s message should be accessible to all, eliminating the language barrier and the digital divide. The plan to increase resources in order to expand the Department’s multilingual capabilities was vital to parity and respect for all six official United Nations languages, he said, adding that financial and human resources earmarked for the Department should be adequately distributed among them. Noting the rise of new information and communications technologies, he emphasized that they were no substitute for traditional media. As noted by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 793 million people around the world did not know how to read or write. The image of the United Nations must be bolstered not only through online channels, but also through radio, television and print media, which represented the main sources of information in many countries. He also expressed concern about covert and illegal use by individuals, organizations or States of the information systems of foreign States to do harm to other countries. Such actions represented a violation of international norms, the effects of which could generate tensions, he cautioned.
OLEG NIKOLENKO (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, said that some Governments continued to build State-sponsored information campaigns to bring chaos to other nations. Since the beginning of the Russian Federation’s illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014, journalists had been regular targets for attack. They had been detained, beaten, deprived of their jobs and expelled from their native lands. Ukraine regretted that the same methods were being used in its Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the Russian Federation and its proxies were waging military aggression. Independent media outlets had been forced to close and leave the conflict-affected zones, he said, condemning such actions as being in contravention of international norms, including freedom of speech and expression. The “hybrid war” against Ukraine, involving State-controlled media, was a direct threat to United Nations values, he said, calling upon the international community to draft a legal instrument prohibiting international propaganda in order to protect societies from State-led information wars.
ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria) acknowledged the Department’s collaboration with the departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support and Political Affairs in disseminating information about United Nations peacekeeping efforts. He also commended its reporting of Boko Haram’s terrorist activities in north-eastern Nigeria’s region and the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force — comprising forces from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin — to combat the extremist group. While technology offered extensive channels for dispersing information about the Organization’s work, information systems in most developing countries remained at a basic level, he noted. That emphasized the need to balance the use of newer digital products with traditional means of communication, such as radio and television and radio. Commending the Department’s Africa Renewal, published in English and French, for raising global awareness of and support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), he underlined the need to strengthen the communication and delivery of media products in all six official United Nations languages.
SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) said that his country’s commitment to both the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change had been reflected in two events organized by his delegation: the International Day of Yoga and the ratification of the Paris Agreement on the occasion of Mahatma Ghandi’s birthday, which was celebrated every year at the United Nations as the International Day of Non-Violence. He especially commended the Department’s coverage of the first event, noting that it had been important in promoting the contributions of yoga to holistic health care. India noted with satisfaction the Department’s engagement with United Nations counter-terrorism initiatives, and hoped they would contribute to building a consensus around the adoption of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, he said. He also commended the Department’s various efforts to raise awareness of the unprecedented refugee crisis, including the humanitarian situation of Syrian refugees. Regarding multilingualism, he urged the Department to pay greater attention to languages in South Asia, adding that the country could build on its partnerships with universities in the region to develop the required language capabilities.
CARLA ESPERANZA RIVERA SÁNCHEZ (El Salvador) emphasized that the Department must focus on providing accurate, relevant and timely information about the work of the United Nations. Turning to multilingualism, she encouraged the Department to develop its information products, including webpages and press releases, in the six official United Nations languages in a cost-neutral manner in order to reach audiences all over the world.
MOHAMED H.S. ELMODIR (Libya) commended the Department for providing updated information on the work of the United Nations and for its continued partnership with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The Department was responsible for covering the challenges that the world faced, he noted, emphasizing that it must be cautious and promote a culture of dialogue among nations. Given the digital divide within and across States, it was essential to maintain conventional media to ensure that all people had access to information about the Organization. Financial instability in Libya had disrupted the work of the United Nations information centre in Tripoli, but the authorities were working to address that situation, he said.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) encouraged the Department to continue focusing on matters of international peace and security, including occupation, violence and terrorism, which had claimed countless lives. In that regard, he called upon the Department to help explore ways in which to promote the General Assembly resolution on “A World against Violence and Violent Extremism”. Concerning social media, he said that while they were effective in connecting peoples of different faiths and cultures around the world, they also ran the risk of misuse, warning that distorted information could have a negative impact on States and their citizens. The use of such technologies should therefore be fully compatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law, in particular the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States, he emphasized.
JOSE OSVALDO SANABRIA RIVAROLA (Paraguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Friends of Spanish to the United Nations, noted that most of the world’s population could only be informed about the Organization’s work through traditional media. Technological progress was critical for equitable growth, and Paraguay was concerned about the growing digital divide. Equal access to new information and communications technologies had the potential to provide better economic opportunities for individuals, and in that regard, developing countries needed more financial and technical cooperation on transferring knowledge and building capacity. He went on to emphasize the importance of multilingualism and language parity among the six official United Nations languages, calling for real-time information to be made available in Spanish. He also encouraged the Department to continue disseminating information on peacekeeping missions, the peacekeeping architecture and special political missions.
MOHAMED AHMED ALALI (United Arab Emirates) said the Department should continue to develop its services in the areas of awareness-building, public engagement, knowledge-sharing and partnerships. With terrorist groups using modern technology to spread hatred and recruit foreign fighters, the Department’s role was becoming increasingly valuable. A platform for moderate voices must emerge to reject terrorist practices, he said, commending the Department’s efforts in the field of counter-terrorism, including the design of a new online hub. He went on to applaud other activities undertaken by the Department, including the annual International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, noting that the Department’s coverage of international events relating to such issues had helped in reaching new audiences.
MAMOUDOU MANA (Cameroon) said that numerous United Nations resolutions called for improving access to information for all, but a monopoly over technologies maintained by a small number of countries persisted. Cameroon did not intend to remain outside the technological revolution and wished to be part of the information society, he said, adding that the country had a strategic plan that involved establishing multipurpose community telecentres to provide Internet access to people in rural areas. The Government would provide incentives to encourage entities working on closing the digital divide. United Nations actions could have greater impact if information were made available to the international community in real time. Despite the hesitancy of some who deemed such initiatives too expensive, additional efforts should be made to ensure that materials were provided in all official languages, he said, emphasizing that there should be no delays between publishing in one language and publishing in another.
LIM HOON-MIN (Republic of Korea) said the Department’s strides in new media were appreciated, but many delegations had expressed concerns about multilingualism, which could be addressed through the enhanced use of information centres. They could directly involve people around the world in their own local languages and help to form comprehensive local partnerships. Multi-stakeholder partnerships were critical in promoting various initiatives, particularly the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Republic of Korea had participated in such efforts by hosting the United Nations Public Diplomacy Symposium in April, as well as the sixty-sixth Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations Conference in May.
FEDOR STRZHIZHVSKIY (Russian Federation) said that in order to guarantee language parity, the United Nations must step up efforts to translate information products into various languages, including Russian. Equally important was the need to ensure that United Nations information centres were fed updated information on the Organization’s activities. Turning to the safety of journalists, he emphasized that it was unacceptable to turn a blind eye to Ukrainian aggression. Expressing concern over the killings of journalists, he said Ukrainians “must sort out the situation in the country before lecturing others”. It was unfortunate that the country’s Government was preventing broadcasts in the Russian language.
Right of Reply
The representative of Ukraine, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, condemned attacks against journalists, emphasizing that their safety must be guaranteed. The Government of Ukraine aimed to protect its citizens while facing aggression from another Member State, he said, adding that temporary measures had been undertaken, including steps to ensure the maintenance of public order.