30 April 2009


30 April 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release

thirty-first session of committee on information


to be held at headquarters, 4-15 may


The thirty-first annual session of the Committee on Information, the intergovernmental body charged with reviewing progress in the field of United Nations public information, will take place at Headquarters from 4 to 15 May.

During the two-week session, delegations were expected to undertake a wide-ranging review of the Department of Public Information and three of its subprogrammes ‑‑ Strategic Communications, News Services and Outreach Services ‑‑ during the July 2008 to February 2009 reporting period.

The Secretary-General observes, in his report on strategic communications services, that “the story of the United Nations is an enduring one”.  Conveyed through print, audio, video and the Internet, the story must be told to the widest possible audience in a form best suited to local populations.  To tell this story, the Department is pursuing well-defined, targeted delivery of information products and activities.

Moreover, the report continues, by building partnerships with its constituent entities through the United Nations Communications Group established in 2002, the Department has found practical ways to coordinate messaging and eliminate duplication.  The Organization’s network of Information Centres, located in 63 countries, has brought the story to local audiences through efficient use of new information and communications technology and command of local languages.

Similarly, in his report on news services, the Secretary-General notes that, in a rapidly changing media and information technology environment, the Department of Public Information has adapted its products and enhanced its delivery systems to ensure that it continues to meet client needs in all regions.  While maintaining traditional forms of distribution, its quick adoption of information and communications technology has enabled it to spread key messages via radio, television and the Internet in a cost-effective manner.

Increased traffic to the United Nations website was a clear sign of its usefulness, characterized in part by more than 1 million page views per day, the report says.  The United Nations News Centre alone attracted an average of nearly 1 million unique visitors per month in 2008.  With Member States calling for parity among all official languages, the Department will continue to work with the Secretariat to make the United Nations home page a truly multilingual source of information.

Finally, in his report on outreach services, the Secretary-General notes that “the foundation of all the UN’s work is accountability”.  As such, the Department’s outreach services must be an instrument of that accountability to the peoples of the world who have, through their direct participation and questioning, helped define the Organization’s aspirations and activities as assuredly as the Member States who ensure their institutional representation and provide legislative direction.  The Organization must become faster, more flexible and more effective ‑‑ in other words, “more modern”.

In the past year, the Department has diversified its programmes, products and services for Member States, civil society, youth and the public, the report says.  With “fresh energy and purpose”, it has taken advantage of both traditional outreach methods and newer means, including electronic communications.  Further, a new structure has allowed the Outreach Division to focus on projects that are global, coherent and sustainable.

According to the report, four key elements will continue to inform the Department’s mission as it plans its outreach programmes and partnerships in the year ahead:  strategy ‑‑ ensuring that activities corresponded to priorities; impact ‑‑ ensuring that activities reach the most people; creativity ‑‑ effectively capturing and engaging audiences in a competitive environment; and diversity ‑‑ ensuring broad participation in the Department’s activities.

Established in 1978, the Committee on Information examines United Nations public information policies and activities in light of evolving international relations, and evaluates the Organization’s progress in the information and communications field.  The 112-member Committee is also mandated to promote a more effective global information and communications order to strengthen peace and understanding.

Report Summaries

According to the Secretary-General’s two-part report Activities of the Department of Public Information:  strategic communications services (document A/AC.198/2009/2), the strategic communications services are responsible for supporting substantive United Nations goals by devising effective strategies on priority issues and carrying out campaigns to broaden understanding of the Organization’s work.  To achieve the greatest public impact, strategic communications services adopt an approach that calls for actions that matter most in areas where they can achieve the greatest impact.

The first part of the report covers the Department’s communication campaigns, which support the three pillars of the world body’s work ‑‑ development, human rights and peace and security.  In the area of peacekeeping, the Department, working with peacekeeping missions, has disseminated more than 100 press releases in some 30 troop- and police-contributing countries.  On the question of Palestine, and specifically with reference to the special information programme on the recent crisis in Gaza, the News and Media Division provided thorough print, radio, television and photo coverage of events surrounding the crisis, including emergency sessions of the Security Council.

Other thematic communications strategies detailed in the report focus on human rights; the Rwanda genocide; the Millennium Development Goals; financing for development; dialogue among civilizations; climate change; violence against women; follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society; and Africa, with special emphasis on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

The second part of the report highlights the work of the 63 United Nations Information Centres that give “local accent” to the Department’s global communications.  In recent years, their work has focused on closer partnership with the United Nations Resident Coordinator and country team at the national level, strengthened cooperation at the regional level, increased use of local languages, and expanded use of new information and communications technology.

According to the report, ongoing challenges include the physical condition of Information Centre premises, bringing the United Nations message to countries not covered by the Information Centres, and meeting the communications needs of Portuguese-speaking countries.

The Secretary-General’s report on Activities of the Department of Public Information:  news services (document A/AC.198/2009/3) outlines progress in promoting the United Nations work through print, radio, television and webcast, as well as audio and visual products.  United Nations Radio continues to harness new technologies for news delivery, including through the Internet, allowing clients to receive more timely material in the form of MP3 files with better audio quality than traditional telephone distribution.  The Chinese, Kiswahili, Portuguese and Spanish language units are now distributing all content via the Internet.

United Nations Television provides live coverage of events at Headquarters, which are accessed directly by major international television news agencies, the report states.  In 2008, UNifeed, an inter-agency platform that provides broadcasters with single-source access to video news stories from all members of the United Nations Communications Group, launched a website offering stories for download in broadcast-quality PAL and NTSC via the Internet.

The report goes on to note that access to United Nations webcast material in 2008 rose by more than 30 per cent to some 21 million video views, up from 16 million in 2007.  The United Nations News Centre, long one of the most popular portals on the Organization’s website, has introduced features, including the Newsmakers segment, and a photo series, “Year in Review 2008:  Pictures from the UN”.

In the area of press release distribution, the Department’s Meetings Coverage Section produced 2,482 releases ‑‑ 13,357 pages in English and French ‑‑ including year-end round-ups of the Security Council and General Assembly.  That output, available in hard copy at Headquarters and distributed worldwide via the Internet and the United Nations Information Centres, also included:  430 releases on the sixty-third regular session of the General Assembly; 238 on meetings and statements of the Security Council; and more than 700 on statements by, and messages from, the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General.

There was also a “significant” increase in access to the press releases on the United Nations website, the report states.  The July-December 2008 period saw a 114 per cent increase in the number of page views over the same 2007 period, from 84,400 to 181,000.  The Department of Public Information is implementing a newly structured website and sophisticated database search function in response to suggestions from Member States.

Also covered in the report are other services ‑‑ such as support to the media, placement of op-ed articles and “Ten stories the world should hear more about” ‑‑ as well as progress made on the United Nations website and planning to ensure business continuity during the Capital Master Plan period.

Finally, the Secretary-General’s report on Activities of the Department of Public Information:  outreach services (document A/AC.198/2009/4) details work geared towards students, teachers and civil society, summarizing progress towards achieving multilingualism.  It also examines the impacts of the Capital Master Plan on the Department’s outreach services.  Annexed to it is a progress report on the Department’s proposal for a news magazine, UN Affairs.

The reports highlights several initiatives launched in 2008, including the “UN4U” project, which took the United Nations story to 21 New York City public high schools; “UN Book Days”, which showcases 30 agency publications; and “Txt4Peace”, a global text-messaging campaign and website to commemorate the International Day of Peace.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library has developed the “United Nations Member States Wiki” research tool to access information on the activities of Member States, the report says.  An online Yearbook of the United Nations was launched in October, and an Academic Impact programme, to begin in 2009, will create a global university network to promote United Nations priorities.

Turning to younger audiences, the report describes the first annual Global Model UN Conference, to be held in early August, as a “dynamic” event that promises to be the most extensive youth outreach project undertaken by the Department.  With planning launched in September 2008, invitations have been extended to 323 university-level Model UN programmes around the world.

According to the report, activities designed to build on past successes include the Department’s invitation, for the twenty-eighth consecutive year, to young journalists from developing countries to participate in the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme.  It also organized the “Stand Up and Take Action against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals” campaign on 24 October 2008.

In the area of human rights, actress Charlize Theron was chosen as a new Messenger of Peace to support an end of violence against women, the report states.  New partnerships with the Holocaust Education Development Programme, among others, fostered Holocaust-related activities across Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Western Europe.

As for library services, courses were updated to enable attendees to identify, evaluate and use library resources.  United Nations libraries continued to work together on such issues as common indexing policies, digitization operations and United Nations Information Centres.  In the area of multilingualism, the launch of the International Year of Languages reached a broad audience.

The report notes that the Capital Master Plan would affect the Department’s outreach services “to some degree”, but many are expected to operate without undue disruption.

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