As delivered

Statement by Mr. Shashi Tharoor
Interim Head of the Department of Public Information
at the opening of the twenty-fourth session
of the Committee on Information
22 April 2002

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,
ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your most generous words in launching our meeting. Your kindness towards the Department of Public Information, and to me personally, only accentuates how great a pleasure and a privilege it is for me to address the Committee on Information as it begins its twenty-fourth session. I am honoured once again to work with our distinguished Chairman, His Excellency Mr. Milos Alcalay, who has assumed additional responsibilities this year as Chairman of the Group of 77. I would especially like to thank him and the distinguished members of the Committee's Bureau for their support throughout for the work of the Department. You may recall that when I addressed you last year, I had served as the Interim Head of the Department of Public Information for only a few months, following the departure of my distinguished predecessor, Mr. Kensaku Hogen. With the experience of, and insight into, the Department's work which I have gained over this last year, I hope to address constructively with you the issues which are foremost on your minds - and to gain your understanding and support for a newly-focused department. Under the Chairman's guidance, and with the active participation of all members, I am confident that the Department will be steered in the right direction, one which will permit it to achieve the mandate for which it was created in 1946, by General Assembly resolution 13 (I): "to promote to the greatest possible extent, an informed understanding of the work and purposes of the United Nations among the peoples of the world".

Mr. Chairman,

We are meeting at an unusually interesting time in the history of the Secretariat, in the first year of a successful Secretary-General's second term in office, as the Organization repositions itself for even greater relevance as the indispensable global institution of our globalizing 21st century. The Department of Public Information is key to this continuing transformation. At the same time, many Member States have called for changes in DPI, some suggesting a streamlining of its operations, others asking for it to do more, particularly in the developing world. This debate, I regret to say, is not a new one. Over the years, the work of the United Nations in the field of public information has often come under the close scrutiny of Member States, who have historically been divided on the subject. It may amuse you to note that in 1960, Professor Leon Gordenker of Princeton University wrote an analysis of what was then the Office of Public Information (OPI) in the American Political Science Review. He noted that soon after the UN was established, the policy and budget of this forerunner of DPI became "the perennial centre of a complex debate", with the level of expenditure for public information activities being challenged in the budgetary committees as early as 1948. In this debate, a clear "clash" emerged on issues of substance, priorities, and funding. In Professor Gordenker's words, "those governments which stood primarily for economy joined others, which objected to the content of the OPI program, to demand lower information appropriations. They were opposed by a majority, including all the Latin American states and many underdeveloped countries, which supported both the substance of the information programme and the budget". However, despite the repeated debate and attacks, Professor Gordenker observed that the Office proved "enduring and resilient". He wrote this 42 years ago.

As the French like to say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Some Committee members may not be aware that since that time in the Department's history, and particularly in the last 20 years, it has been the subject of at least seven periodic reviews and reappraisals, with a major restructuring carried out in 1987-1988. Yet, despite these attempts at reform, the Department continues to face criticism, often characterized by the point of view that the Department's functions are not central to the purposes of the Organization and may therefore be curtailed. Obviously this point of view is not widely held in this Committee, but it often prevails in the financial and administrative bodies, where some delegates prefer to give priority to funding other activities of the Organization. As a result, we have been caught in the paradoxical situation of receiving specific mandates from the Committee on Information in the annual draft resolutions submitted to the General Assembly, while, in the same session, attempts are made in other legislative bodies to curtail the resources required to fulfil these very mandates.

As you know, this critical view of the Department climaxed last December during consideration of its programme budget for the biennium 2002-2003. While, in the end, the General Assembly approved the relevant section of the programme budget, in the same resolution, resolution 56/253 of Christmas Eve 2001, it requested the Secretary-General to conduct a comprehensive review of the management and operations of the Department. We in the Secretariat, and I personally, embraced the proposal for a review as an opportunity to examine DPI's overall effectiveness and efficiency, its focus on the substantive priorities and mandates of the Organization, and the need for greater coordination within the Secretariat on public information activities. The Report of the Secretary-General on the "Reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications" (A/AC.198/2002/2), which is before the Committee, therefore sets out the Secretary-General's vision for the direction in which he hopes to take a "transformed" DPI - one with renewed focus and a greater clarity of purpose.

Monsieur le Président,

Je sais que dans cette enceinte, il est à peine besoin de rappeler que l'étude d'ensemble du Département fait partie d'une deuxième grande série de réforme lancée par le Secrétaire général au début de son second mandat. En vue de renforcer et de revitaliser l'Organisation, l'ensemble du Secrétariat procédera à une étude franche de toutes ses grandes activités. L'étude de notre Département s'inscrit dans ce processus global de réforme et ses résultats seront reflétés dans le rapport d'ensemble que le Secrétaire général présentera à la cinquante-septième session de l'Assemblée générale à la fin de cette année, et dans lequel il proposera des améliorations institutionnelles, programmatiques et administratives de notre travail.

Il ne fait, en outre, aucun doute que les résultats des différentes autres études, qui sont entreprises indépendamment du Département de l'information, y compris celles sur les services bibliothècaires du système des Nations Unies, les publications du Secrétariat, et les activités commerciales de l'Organisation auront un impact sur le travail de notre Département. Une étude effectuée par le Bureau des services de contrôle interne est également en cours sur les Centres d'information des Nations Unies et le rapport devrait paraître bientôt. Dans la perspective de cette série d'étude, il est plus que jamais essentiel que le Comité de l'information donne ses conseils avisés sur ce qu'il perçoit comme étant l'essence des fonctions de communication du Département.

Le Secrétaire général m'a confié la charge de définir les grands axes et les procédures nécessaires pour la conduite de l'étude d'ensemble du Département. Ce faisant, je souhaite donner au Comité les assurances qu'en travaillant à la réforme, je n'ai été à aucun moment motivé par des considérations d'ordre budgétaire. La réforme n'a pas non plus été conçue comme un exercice de réduction des coûts. L'étude vise à une plus grande efficacité et un plus grand impact. Si au cours du processus, il s'avère possible de réaliser des économies, les mesures qui en découlent seront bien entendu mises en oeuvre. Mais ce qui est essentiel ici, c'est que le Département démontre sa capacité à s'adapter à un monde en mutation, fasse preuve de la volonté d'apprendre et de changer, et déploie des efforts réels afin d'utiliser ses ressources pour obtenir les meilleurs résultats possibles.

Mr. Chairman,

In carrying out the comprehensive review, and with the expert pro bono assistance of a highly-regarded management consulting firm, we made a serious effort to ask ourselves the following question: if we had to reinvent the Department from scratch, how would we do it? Which activities would we emphasize, and why? What are the functions that most Member States would want to see us perform in the service of the substantive goals of the Organization?.

Some answers are obvious. Even if DPI were abolished, the United Nations would still need the ability to convey news of its work to the mass media; to provide authoritative accounts of its deliberations and actions to the press, public, governments and academia; to set up facilities to accredit, house, supply and guide the media based at United Nations Headquarters locations; to provide written information, visual images and sound to those media not based at such locations; and to respond to queries from media and members of the public across the world. Today, we must add to this the capacity to maintain an attractive and functional website on the Internet. These core tasks are inescapable, and not even our severest critics would suggest that the United Nations could survive without the capacity to perform them. But how we perform them, and to what extent, are matters for judgement. Do we, for instance, issue press releases covering every official meeting that takes place at the United Nations, or should we confine ourselves to major events and conferences? If the latter, how do we decide what to cover without causing offence to Member States? Do we provide audio-visual coverage of every statement made by every delegate, or only film, record and photograph those speakers in whom there is prior evidence of media interest? If we were a purely commercial press relations agency, our decisions would clearly differ from the ones we would be inclined to make as a politically-conscious Secretariat, responsive to the wishes of Member States.

The issues become more complicated as we move beyond the unavoidable functions to the desirable ones. In order not to be merely reactive to events, do we need a capacity to elaborate a communications strategy? If so, do we need communicators with background knowledge in each of the major priority areas of the Organization, who are able to convey to ordinary people the nuances of our efforts in promoting such issues as sustainable development and disarmament? Given the importance of the various conferences and special sessions called by the General Assembly, do we need a capacity to advocate their goals? My inclination would be to answer "yes" to these questions.

Then come the traditional activities, which to use an American expression come "with the territory" - guided tours for visitors, briefing programmes for visiting school and college groups, a capacity to arrange exhibits prepared by UN bodies and outside groups here at Headquarters, and staff capable of mounting seminars, concerts or commemorations of special occasions. No comparable Organization or ministry anywhere in the world can do without such elements. Add to them administrative staff to help manage the personnel and budgets of the Department, and you suddenly find you have three-quarters of the Headquarters structure of DPI.

What do you not have, in this imaginary exercise, which the existing DPI possesses in reality? The list is short: a library, established by the General Assembly and aimed principally at serving delegations and the staff; a cartographic section, housed in DPI but serving principally the political and peacekeeping departments; and several publications, some as old as the Organization itself. Of course, the Library is also mandated to oversee a system of depository libraries and to provide reference tools for the public at large; the cartographers' maps are accessible to the public; and our various publications are information tools with wide-ranging audiences. Finally, there are the Information Centres around the world, themselves created by the General Assembly to bring the Department's outreach directly to the peoples of nations far removed geographically from United Nations Headquarters.

In other words, you end up with something very much like the present DPI.

If these, the basic elements of DPI, are therefore largely immutable, what should we do differently? For the last two and a half months, my senior colleagues, with whom I have worked closely in the course of this review, and I have grappled with all these questions, assisted by the expert consultants, who conducted over 70 interviews with DPI staff, senior Secretariat officials, representatives of Member States, and many individuals representing a range of the Department's clients, including other Departments and Offices, diplomats, media and NGO representatives. The report before you spells out our principal findings and insights. Now it is up to you, members of the Committee, to give us your thoughts on these matters, to tell us what you expect from DPI.

Mr. Chairman,

The Secretary-General has put forward his vision on how to position DPI for greater impact in the report on the reorientation that you have before you. This report, which represents a first step in the comprehensive review of DPI, outlines several important issues and questions which emerge from the in-depth analysis and assessment of the Department which has just been completed. These relate to a lack of clarity around DPI's mission; the existence of fragmented activities with unclear linkage to a coherent overall strategy; a limited capacity to understand whether our programmes and activities match "customer" needs, and an organizational structure which does not make clear to external constituencies who does what in DPI, and how its components and relevant parts of the rest of the Secretariat work together. The aim of the Report is to highlight the main issues and findings which have emerged so far, and to define new directions and the broad areas of focus for the Department. It does not contain proposals for changes in organizational structure which may result from the review, as these still remain to be elaborated. In continuation of the "town hall" meetings which I have held over the last year with DPI staff, I have asked them to join me in another meeting at the conclusion of this session, so that I may brief them on the Committee's views on our reform process and obtain their input and ideas as to the way forward. It is the strong view of the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General that the participation of staff in the reform process is essential, and that they must feel they are first-string players on a strengthened team, if we are to be successful in transforming the Department.

In the present circumstances, Mr. Chairman, it did not seem appropriate to set out a long list of the Department's successes, of which we continue to be proud. These can be found in last September's Report of the Secretary-General on Questions Relating to Information, A/56/411. The Committee's support for DPI's many activities and products is also reiterated in General Assembly resolution 56/64. However, in order to update you with regard to some of our most recent innovations, and to give you a picture of our current work, I would like to invite the members of the Committee to join us this afternoon in Conference Room 5 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for an informal briefing which I trust you will find informative.

In the context of the review of DPI, we asked ourselves the most fundamental and searching questions. Why, for example, is it important for the United Nations to have a DPI? The basic justification for establishing an information structure within the Secretariat can still be found in General Assembly resolution 13 (I) of 13 February 1946, which I quoted at the beginning of my statement. To achieve its objectives, the United Nations relies on an understanding of its activities on the part of the public at large. As the Secretary-General has frequently pointed out, the United Nations Charter begins with the words "We the peoples" and it is in the support of the peoples of the world that the United Nations' survival lies. Strong communications outreach is therefore critical for the Organization. From my first days in DPI I have said to my staff that they do not come to work here to write a press release, design a poster or put up a website. They come to work in DPI, I tell them, because without their work the substantive purposes of the United Nations would not be fulfilled. Peacekeeping would not succeed if people did not understand what the peacekeepers were trying to do and how they were doing it; the battle against poverty would not be won if people in the developed world were not aware of the great challenge of development and people in developing countries could not appreciate the United Nations' efforts to help resolve their problems. The activities of DPI are not, in other words, ends in themselves; they serve as a means to help the United Nations fulfil its substantive goals.

Some delegations have pointed out to me that their own countries have dispensed with their old Ministries of Information; they argue that the United Nations perhaps does not need one either. But the Department of Public Information is working to reach people in every region of the world, to garner their support for the work of the Organization. This is especially relevant in developing countries where vast segments of the population still are not part of the information and technology revolution. In this outreach, we must also fulfil a multitude of mandates, as well as win intergovernmental support for the specific actions we are taking.

The challenge is how to organize the Department to work most effectively on the broad front expected of it. While there is no question that our specific objectives can be refocused, and our working methods improved, we in the Department are seeking the continuing support of the Committee for the important role of communications and public information in the life of our Organization. Your renewed commitment to the need for enhanced communications in a new information age, and to developing a culture of communications within the Organization, is essential for us to succeed. I am confident that if we work together we can find solutions to give the United Nations the "voice" that the world must be able to hear. At the same time, this voice risks being muffled in a multitude of mandates, and we seek your understanding in helping us focus our energies on the most crucial of them.

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of my Department, I am calling upon the Committee on Information, at this first stage of the comprehensive review, to endorse the broad directions of our reorientation, embodied in particular in the redefined aspirations of DPI. These are captured in the following proposed mission statement, which you will find in paragraph 19 of the Secretary-General's Report. It reads and I quote: "The Department of Public Information's mission is to manage and coordinate United Nations communications content-generated by the activities of the Organization and its component parts-and strategically to convey this content, especially through appropriate intermediaries, to achieve the greatest public impact."

These words may not be poetry, but this mission statement is built around the concept that the content which the Department must communicate is generated by the substantive work of the Organization - and not by the Department itself. DPI, as the manager and coordinator of United Nations communications strategy, is responsible for connecting the work of the substantive departments with those best positioned as disseminators. As a result, it is not the responsibility of the Department to create the substantive content, or to reinvent the priorities of the Organization. These you will find summarized in paragraph 22 of the Report, and they are established by the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, in accordance with those set out in the Millennium Declaration. Instead, the critical work of the Department of Public Information is to disseminate throughout the world the core messages of the Organization. In this effort, the Department's communications outreach will include all the breaking news from the Organization, as well as the focus on the long-term challenges faced by humankind and how the United Nations will address them in the framework of the Millennium Declaration. In the context of this mission, DPI will be expected to conceptualize and strategize, to "market" if you will, these priorities, using intermediaries, such as the mass media, to the greatest possible effect. All of our efforts will be judged against this template. And through the United Nations Communications Group, we will strengthen our partnership with the information offices of the rest of the United Nations system to ensure that we build on each other's efforts and speak with one voice.

Monsieur le Président,

Le Département utilise les médias traditionnels et l'Internet, par exemple, comme le programme de radio en direct, qui a un potentiel énorme en matière d'audience et le Centre des Nouvelles des Nations Unies (en anglais et en français) ainsi qu'une nouvelle initiative lancée il y a deux semaines, une liste des adresses électroniques des correspondants interessés à recevoir nos nouvelles . Le Département a également enregistré des progrès dans l'enrichissement des sites Web des Nations Unies avec comme objectif privilégié, celui de réduire le fossé entre l'utilisation de l'anglais et des cinq autres langues officielles de l'Organisation.

Le multilinguisme dans l'information s'est avéré être une question prioritaire du Comité, l'année dernière. Les problèmes et les contraintes financières qui ont limité notre capacité à vous satisfaire pleinement en la matière sont bien connus. Pour faciliter la discussion, je suis heureux de vous annoncer que nous avons distribué ce matin, conformément à la requête de l'Assemblée générale dans sa résolution 56/64, un document de travail sur l'utilisation et la maîtrise de toutes les six langues officielles par le personnel du Département de l'information.

La nouvelle définition de la mission du Département a inspiré la première phase de notre réforme et nous sommes actuellement en train d'évaluer nos activités et nos méthodes de travail en fonction de ce nouveau paradigme. Dans le cadre de cette analyse, des options de politiques sont présentées pour lesquelles les directives du Comité seront les bienvenues. Ces questions sont expliquées en détail dans le rapport du Secrétaire général mais je voudrais en relever trois parmi les plus importantes : nos audiences ou groupes cibles; le travail des centres d'information des Nations Unies; et l'évaluation de la performance des programmes et des activités du Département.

D'abord, le Département doit mieux identifier ses audiences cibles. Conformément à notre nouvelle approche, nos cibles prioritaires doivent davantage être les "intermédiaires externes", les médias et la société civile par le biais desquels nous cherchons à toucher le public à travers le monde. Le Rapport sollicite l'avis du Comité sur le rôle qui devrait être celui du Département quant aux activités destinées aux autres "clients", notamment les délégations.

Afin d'affecter nos ressources au mieux et de parvenir à une plus grande efficacité dans la mise en oeuvre de nos programmes, des décisions et des choix difficiles doivent être faits. Certaines activités devront peut-être être supprimées ou réduites considérablement. Parallèlement, il peut y avoir des cas où certaines activités devront être transférées ailleurs dans le Secrétariat. Au sein du Département lui-même, la consolidation de certaines fonctions peut se révéler nécessaire.

Des questions concernant certaines des activités traditionnelles du Département ont été mises à jour au cours de l'étude d'ensemble. Par exemple, nous devons nous assurer que nos principales publications telles que l'Annuaire et la Chronique des Nations Unies, ainsi que nos activités de relations publiques à destination du grand public comme les commémorations, les expositions et les visites guidées du Siège et des Bureaux des Nations Unies ont l'impact souhaité, en relation avec le niveau des ressources qui leur sont allouées. Dans certains cas, ces activités ne touchent qu'une audience limitée. D'autre part, les Etats membres apprécient et se sont habitués à certaines de ces activités et estiment qu'elles en valent la peine pour des raisons étrangères à la stricte question des coûts. Le point de vue du Comité sera précieux en la matière au moment où le Département évalue l'importance exacte de ces activités.

Le deuxième domaine particulier de l'étude d'ensemble concerne les centres d'information des Nations Unies. Etant donné qu'ils représentent environ 35% du budget du Département et qu'ils revêtent un intérêt particulier pour de nombreux membres du Comité, ils méritent un examen détaillé. Ces centres d'information sont la voix des Nations Unies sur le terrain et, en tant que tel, ils sont au coeur de la capacité du Département à transmettre l'information de manière convaincante au niveau local et national, à travers le monde. Toutefois, les activités de ces centres s'effectuent désormais dans un environnement en mutation en raison de la disponibilité immédiate et presque universelle de l'information assurée par les médias électroniques. Et lorsque notre audience cible est constituée par les mass médias ou les grandes institutions de la société civile et non seulement par les gens ordinaires, nous pouvons sans crainte utiliser l'Internet comme un moyen de communication et de diffusion dans pratiquement chaque pays du monde. Le site Web des Nations Unies, présenté dans les six langues, a, par conséquent, contribué, dans beaucoup de pays, à répondre aux besoins en matière d'information. Il sera donc nécessaire d'analyser les coûts et les bénéfices des centres d'information en relation avec les besoins de leur audience locale. La création d'un réseau de centres régionaux d'information mérite de retenir l'attention. Il faudra aussi examiner la question des dépenses élevées de location dans les pays développés étant donné que nous cherchons à utiliser et à tirer le maximum des ressources limitées dont nous disposons.

Comme l'explique le Secrétaire général dans le Rapport sur la Réorientation, le suivi des résultats obtenus doit faire partie de tous les grands programmes et activités du Département d'Information et j'ai l'intention de placer davantage l'accent sur l'évaluation de l'impact de nos activités. Ceci est particulièrement important au regard de la nouvelle culture de l'Organisation qui veut que le budget se fonde sur les résultats et l'évaluation des programmes. Comme mesure importante dans cette direction, le Département a été le premier département à organiser, en janvier de cette année, un atelier sur les techniques d'évaluation pour son personnel dirigeant. J'ai aussi proposé de mener un programme annuel d'étude d'impact afin d'identifier les programmes qui doivent être maintenus, élargis ou supprimés. Ceci nous permettra d'évaluer plus précisément le retour sur l'investissement et de mettre en lumière les activités à fort impact et à faibles coûts dans la conduite de nos tâches. Dans l'avenir, cette nouvelle approche offrira au Secrétariat et aux Etats membres un instrument leur permettant de faire des choix éclairés sur les services d'information fournis par le Département.

Mr. Chairman,

To bring this excessively long oration to a conclusion, let me stress that the Committee on Information has a key role to play in the reform of DPI. After this session of the Committee, taking into account your views, I will be in a position to finalize the proposed plan for the reform of the Department and prepare recommendations for the consideration of the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General will then take decisions on the next steps, and for those measures which are under his authority, implementation will begin immediately. For those measures requiring legislative approval, and as a second stage, proposals will be included in his report on the comprehensive review of the entire Secretariat to the next session of the General Assembly. The final results of the reform process will become a road map for the preparation of the Proposed Programme Budget for 2004-2005, and a revision as required of the Medium Term Plan for 2002-2005, which was prepared, of course, back in 2000, at a time when we worked under very different assumptions.

Reform, as the Secretary-General has often pointed out, is a process, not an event. I have no illusions, and nor should you, that we can reinvent DPI overnight. When all is said and done, and the changes we have begun are implemented, it is my expectation that DPI will be a very different department from the one which I headed when the COI met last year. The Department will be repositioned to work more strategically, as an effective vehicle to communicate the work of the United Nations. There will be greater clarity in its work, and more effective integration with other parts of the Secretariat. To achieve this, we will dedicate our attention to departmental communication strategies on priority themes, we will provide focussed communication guidance to the departments and we will set out DPI's roles and responsibilities in a clear manner to all our clients. The staff of the Department will have the opportunity to be trained to carry out new functions, where necessary, and will be better integrated with their colleagues working in other areas of the Department. The repositioning of DPI will not come without some transitional pain, and a certain amount of re-learning, but we think it is the best way to ensure that the United Nations has the most effective communications mechanisms in place, and to ensure that DPI becomes a leading voice in communicating the work of the United Nations to the world's public. Even as this vision is being shaped, it is essential that we work together with the members of this Committee, to make this a reality.

Mr. Chairman,

In concluding, I must express my personal hope that, after this comprehensive review, Member States will give us the necessary time to implement what we have set out to do. Many of my able and talented staff feel they have been collectively targeted by being subject to continuous criticisms and reviews which their colleagues in other departments have not been obliged to endure. You will understand that continuous criticism, particularly if it appears to be based on extraneous considerations, can have a demoralizing impact on hard-working colleagues. Let us recognize the good work they are doing, and let us give them a chance, through this process, to do even better what the Organizations wants them to do. This will require a team effort by all concerned - from DPI staff, to Secretariat colleagues and our key partners, most importantly Member States.

The reformed - or I should say - transformed DPI, will be one which is a stronger, faster, and more efficient operation than in the past, more in tune with the needs of the United Nations and its Member States. I am hopeful that the positive and creative results of this session will help give a new direction to the Department, and I will listen attentively. And with your support, perhaps we can once and for all put an end to the incessant criticism about DPI, and empower the Department to live up to the expectations that you, and the public at large, have of our important information and communications work.

It is in this frame of mind, that my staff and I eagerly look forward to hearing your views, and, in the process, to further strengthening the spirit of cooperation between the Committee on Information and the Department of Public Information in pursuit of our common objectives.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.