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23rd Session (2001)

General Debate: Netherlands on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group

Statement by the Representative of the Netherlands on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group (1 May 2001)

Mr. Chairman,

I have the pleasure to speak on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group, that includes the countries of the European Union. Although some members will speak on a national basis, all have agreed with this statement.

First I would like to congratulate the new members of the Bureau on their election. They have the unenviable task of improving on the performance of their predecessors, but I think the new Bureau is well capable of doing that. I take the opportunity here to thank the former Under Secretary General Mr. Kensaku Hogen for all the work he has undertaken, while at the same time welcoming Mr. Tharoor as the Interim Head of DPI and thanking him for the statement he made on the activities of DPI.

This session of the Committee on Information will be very important for the future course of the public information by the United Nations and DPI in particular. I emphasise that our Group remains fully supportive of the important role that DPI has to fulfil in order as we continue to realize that the United Nations cannot achieve its purposes if the peoples of the world are not fully informed of the aims and activities of the United Nations.

We will have to take into consideration the technological changes that are reshaping the way information is distributed, shared and consumed, which continue to create new challenges for DPI. At the same time we must not forget the traditional tasks of DPI, as media such as radio continue to reach millions of listeners all of the world. We will have to determine what we think are the core activities of DPI. We will need to formulate policies to strengthen DPI’s effectiveness and efficiency in order for DPI to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century and that the United Nations reaches out to key disseminators of information, especially the media and non-governmental organisations, utilizing the latest technologies. We need a DPI that realizes the slogan: "Global Vision, Local Voice".

Technological changes seem to be happening at increasing speed. What was deemed impossible a year ago, became technologically feasible today; mobile phones, portable computers, hundreds of satellite channels and millions of webpages are available for more and more people affecting and changing their lives and the manner is which they get their information. It must immediately be said that not all people are benefiting to the same extent of these developments. Regretfully significant groups of people are still deeply mired in poverty and lack basic needs such as water, education and health care and for them these technologies and the internet are still a distant dream. Although the internet cannot substitute a sound poverty eradication programme it is clear that developing and developed nations will need to work together to try to bridge this divide as otherwise poor nations could be left behind. On the approach to be pursued elsewhere in the United Nations very important discussions are taking place.

In this changing environment of new technologies and opportunities the United Nations will have to try to bring across its important message to as many people as it possibly can. This surely is a daunting task and it underscores the need for further and continued reform and improvement in the manner the UN disseminates its information. In our view reform is more than simply reducing costs and improving efficiency, although necessary, but the overall objective should be to enhance the effectiveness of UN information activities. It is necessary to move further away from the approach of trying to do it all, but to develop new strategies and approaches.

In our view its is essential for the United Nations to make communications and information strategies an integral part of the strategic management of the organisation. Not only DPI but also other UN departments can and must contribute to informing international audiences of the goals and achievements of the United Nations.

The question is where do we go from here. As we said earlier the challenges posed by the new technologies need to be addressed. The importance of the website will continue to grow in the future. There are costs involved in the further development of the site, as mentioned by the secretariat in its report. However we feel that the further development of the website cannot be seen separately from the other activities of the DPI.

Therefore we continue to encourage the DPI to prioritise and to apply its resources to ensure that the UN's message is delivered with the right technology, geared towards the correct audiences, with the appropriate mix of communications tools. At the same time UN has to be aware of the fact that not all audiences have the same demands nor are they able to receive the same information. In prioritizing the DPI should differentiate between the different ‘markets’ that it is trying to serve.

I would like to make a few remarks about the use of languages within public information. Although the United Nations has six official languages our Group is worried about the gap between the use of English and the other official languages, which is evident in the development of the UN website. The United Nations needs to take steps to ensure at multilingual approach to the availability of public information, with a focus on the needs of constituency audiences and within budgetary constraints. We continue to point out that through organizational steps it is possible to utilize and even strengthen existing content creation and development throughout the UN to improve the multilingual character of the website.

During the discussions on the resolution the Western group would like to focus on formulating concrete steps for DPI to undertake to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. Before mentioning a few I would like to say that we have taken good notice of great importance several delegations still attach to part A of the resolution, as they expressed in their statement. Returning now to a few of our suggestions.

For the website the Optical Disk System should be linked as soon as possible to the United Nations Website, as this would greatly enhance the multilingual character of the website. We feel that such information should be freely available to all.

My group fully supports the initiative of the Secretary-General to develop UN-Houses, as bringing together physically and organisationally the public information activities of the UN in one region would greatly improve their efficiency and effectiveness and we call for an in-depth evaluation in this regard.

We need to support the development of the United Nations libraries, such as the Dag Hammerskjold Library, in becoming modern, integrated libraries accessible to all audiences.

Given the importance of peacekeeping operations, on which important discussions are ongoing, we feel that DPI should continue to strengthen its involvement in this field through active co-operation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

We are concerned about hate media, an issue mentioned during the open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in the Security Council recently and we call on DPI to develop programmes in radio and television address in the harmful effects of hate media of peace and security

These are several of the proposals we will make during the discussions on the resolution in the coming weeks. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that all of these proposals aim at strengthening the work of DPI and improving its outreach to more and more communities all over the world. It is also worthwhile mentioning that my Group feels that we should intensify the dialogue with DPI during the year and not limit ourselves to these two weeks in May. We propose to have regular meetings between representatives of the different regional groups and the DPI, perhaps once every three months, to discuss the implementation of the recommendations contained in our resolution.

Finally I would like to make a few remarks about the role of a free press in society as we will be celebrating World Press Freedom day on 3 May next. As I have done over the past years it is necessary to reiterate the old adagium of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right of freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers. It is regrettable that in many nations in the world a free press does not exist and that the exchange of information is controlled and limited.

We strongly condemn the use of violence to silence journalists or otherwise obstructing their work and more in general we condemn attempts to control or influence the media with the aim of distorting or suppressing information and opinions or to use the media for purposes of propaganda, for example inciting ethnic hatred and violence. We mourn those journalists that gave their lives in doing their job in countries all over the world.

In conclusion Mr. Chairman I reiterate that our Group is looking forward to the discussions within the Committee. We hope that our discussions will take place in the usual spirit of co-operation and be aimed at seeking consensus at this 23rd meeting of the Committee on Information.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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