Committee on Information Opens Annual Session at Headquarters 26 April amid Public Information Department’s Push to Improve Services

23 April 2010

Committee on Information Opens Annual Session at Headquarters 26 April amid Public Information Department’s Push to Improve Services

23 April 2010
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release

Committee on Information Opens Annual Session at Headquarters 26 April


amid Public Information Department’s Push to Improve Services


The wide-ranging efforts of the United Nations to better communicate with the world public will be reviewed in the thirty-second annual session of the Committee on Information, taking place at Headquarters from 26 April to 7 May.

During the two-week session, delegations will review the activities of the Department of Public Information and its three subprogrammes -- Strategic Communications, News Services and Outreach Services [see respective reports, below] -– in the period July 2009 to February 2010.

The Committee will then submit its recommendations for the future operations of the Department to the General Assembly, through a resolution to be considered by that body’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) at the coming session.

In recent sessions, the intergovernmental body called on the Department to continue to increase awareness of a raft of current issues among the Organization’s main concerns of peacekeeping, development and human rights, and to improve its technological capabilities and multilingualism, particularly on the Organization’s website.

“The Department of Public Information is committed to promoting the work of the United Nations by providing timely, accurate, impartial, comprehensive and coherent information to the widest possible global audiences,” the Secretary-General states in the report on strategic communications.

To better accomplish that goal, he says, the Department has been reaching out through media on the Internet –- including now social media such as Twitter in the past year to better reach young people -– as well the more traditional print and broadcast media, such as radio, which better serve many local populations.

The Department is also increasingly reliant, he adds, on its network of Information Centres, located in 63 countries around the world, by better integrating them into its overall strategy to speak to local communities, using both improved technology and local languages.

To respond to last year’s directive to increase awareness of current thematic issues, the Department carried out coordinated communications campaigns to reach a global target audience, both directly through outreach activities carried out by Information Centres, and through the international media, on such areas as peacekeeping operations, the Haiti earthquake, disarmament, the question of Palestine, human rights, climate change, achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), among other topics.

In addition, the Department has been able to improve the speed, coverage and distribution of day-to-day news delivery and bring innovation and variety to its work by forming more partnerships with radio and television broadcasters for its audio and video products, including raw feeds and streaming from meetings and the field, as well as fully produced programming, according to the report on news services.

The report says that the number of visitors to the web-based United NationsNews Centre, which covers the entire United Nations system, continued to grow –- all language versions combined received a total of some 12 million page viewsin December 2009, a 31 per cent jump from the previous December –- and the Meetings Coverage and Press Release site, which provides summaries of meetings and press conferences, and statements by officials and units, was redesigned to improve browsing and search functions.

Following a redesign of the United Nations homepage in May 2009 (, the website has moved towards a more coherent structure, for easier research and browsing, the report says.  It adds that, while every effort was made by the Public Information Department to enhance multilingualism on the site, as per the Assembly directive, it faced a widening gap between content available in English and other languages as authored by the departments and offices across the Organization.

The Outreach Division, the Secretary-General says in the report on its programmes, continued to widen the audience for the United Nations message, not only by using new communications tools, but by targeting specific constituencies, such as talented young people, scholars and teachers -- including participants in “Global Model United Nations” events -- non-governmental organizations, Governments, research institutions, the media and the creative community.  Musician Stevie Wonder and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai were added to the roster of Messengers of Peace.

“There can be no defined limit to the extent, nature or methods of United Nations outreach,” according to the Secretary-General.  “In the end, the only true measure will be that of how readily an extended hand is grasped and how often a hand is extended in response,” he concludes.

Besides reviewing United Nations information policies and activities, the 113-member Committee on Information, established in 1978, is also mandated to promote a more effective and equitable global information and communications order, to strengthen peace and understanding.  Towards those goals, its annual outcome document is also expected to address press freedom and the so-called “digital divide” between developed and developing countries.

Report Summaries

According to the Secretary-General’s report on Activities of the Department of Public Information:  strategic communications services (document A/AC.198/2010/2), the Strategic Communications Division is 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.  The Division also manages the worldwide network of United Nations Information Centres.

The first part of the report covers the Department’s communication campaigns, which supports the three pillars of the world body’s work.  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.  Major improvements in the reporting period of English and French-language peacekeeping websites, as well as content assistance, have pushed them to the fore in search engines and increased coherence.

Following the January earthquake in Haiti, the Department helped set up video-conferencing capabilities and other new media platforms to assist in communications with Headquarters and to inform the general public, the report says.  It also loaned staff to the emergency effort, issued information in its variety of media and kept “live” the website of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Information Centres were mobilized to raise awareness of the tragedy and to place the Secretary-General’s op-ed article “Haiti is not alone” in more than 50 media outlets in some 15 languages.

Other thematic communications strategies detailed in the report focus on human rights, disarmament, the question of Palestine, the Rwanda genocide, the Millennium Development Goals, financing for development, climate change, follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, and Africa; the latter, with special emphasis on NEPAD.

The second part of the report highlights the work of the 63 United Nations Information Centres, which, it says, are now fully integrated into the work of the strategic communication services.  Through realignment of resources, upgrading information and communications technology, staff training, partnership-building and regular interaction with Headquarters, United Nations Information Centres are now better prepared to act as the “public voice” of the Organization, it stresses.

Also according to the report, ongoing challenges include those related to the physical condition and security of information centre premises, and providing, maintaining and updating necessary computer equipment.

The Secretary-General’s report on Activities of the Department of Public Information:  news services (document A/AC.198/2010/3) outlines efforts to better promote the Organization through print, radio, television and webcast, as well as audio and visual products.

It says that United Nations Radio continues to enhance its news and feature programming while using a combination of traditional and multimedia delivery platforms, utilizing Digg, Yahoo, Ping and Delicious bookmarking, and developing Facebook pages, for example.  It continued to increase its network of broadcasting partners, particularly in developing countries, and to provide material in more flexible formats; since July 2009, nearly 60 additional broadcasters have been added to the list of media outlets receivingUnited Nations Radio material, which now total 368 in 126 countries.

United Nations Television continued to enhance its live coverage of events at Headquarters, which are accessed directly by major international television news agencies, the report states.  More than 40 United Nations agencies, funds, peacekeeping missions and other entities now provide video to UNifeed, a single-source platform for broadcasters.  Within one week of the earthquake in Haiti, UNifeed collaborated with MINUSTAH to produce 67 stories that were picked up a record 12,660 times by 309 broadcasters, the report states.

Continuing to produce a wide range of feature programming on United Nations priority themes, the Department won several awards in 2009 for the 21st Century monthly news magazine, according to the report.  With 11 million video views during the reporting period, webcasting is better able to reach developing countries by utilizing advances in streaming technology.

All video material gained distribution partners and a broadened presence on cable systems, and the Department continued to expand the range of material posted on the United Nations YouTube channel, garnering more young viewers through a contest and other outreach.  A redesigned photo page was also launched.

TheUnited Nations News Centre, which covers the latest news from the entire United Nations system, continued to gain visitors in all language versions; in December 2009, combined page views exceeded 12 million, representing a 31 per cent increase over the same month in the previous year, and articles were consistently reprinted by press outlets the world over.  Frequentlyupdated thematic features and interviews with high-level officials continued to put developments in context; a focus page created immediately after Haiti’s earthquake became a repository of key resources and links related to the United Nations response to the emergency.

In order to provide quick, in-depth information on developments at Headquarters and elsewhere, the Department’s Meetings Coverage Section increased its output to 2,764 press releases -- 14,492 pages in English and French -- including summaries of all public meetings of the Security Council, General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and their committees, released soon after adjournments.

That output, available in hard copy at Headquarters and distributed worldwide via the Internet and the United Nations Information Centres, also included year-end round-ups of Security Council and General Assembly actions and coverage of statements by the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General, and Headquarters news briefings.  A revamped website, easier to browse and research, was put in place 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, as well as progress made on the United Nations website and efforts to ensure that the flow of news was not interrupted as facilities were moved due to the renovation of Headquarters buildings during the reporting period.

Finally, the Secretary-General’s report on Activities of the Department of Public Information:  outreach services (document A/AC.198/2010/4), notes that the mission of the Outreach Division is “to engage and educate people and their communities worldwide to encourage support for the ideals and activities of the United Nations”.

In that effort, in the past year, it has enhanced and diversified the range of its programmes, products and services for Member States, non-governmental organizations, young people and the general public.  Use of new technologies, the report adds, has given the Department the capacity to listen to, and learn from, those varied constituencies.

In regard to outreach by non-governmental organizations, the report highlights the 2009 DPI/NGO Conference, on the theme of disarmament, held in Mexico in September and attracting some 1,300 people representing 55 countries and 340 such organizations.  The Conference greatly strengthened engagement with those groups in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report says.

To improve outreach to youth, the first ever Global Model United Nations Conference was held in Geneva in August on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, with the diverse and gender-balanced participation of 350 youth leaders from 57 countries.  The second annual such event will be held this year in Malaysia.

Student conferences and video conferences organized in conjunction with United Nations observances also grew last year, the report states.  The second “UN4U” programme, in observance of United Nations Day 2009, took the United Nations story to 178 educational institutions in New York City and around the world, doubling last year’s participation.  The focus on the Holocaust and the fight against intolerance continued, with new live and cyberspace events.

To take advantage of the outreach potential of the arts and entertainment industry, the Secretary-General’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative also expanded, the report says, fostering greater depictions of United Nations locations and activities in major productions.  Art events last year included the first United Nations Day concert with a special theme, paying tribute to peacekeeping.

Celebrity Messengers of Peace named during the year were Grammy award-winning musician Stevie Wonder, with a focus on persons with disabilities, and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, with a focus on the environment.  At present, there are 12 such Messengers and 189 Goodwill Ambassadors named by individual agencies, funds, programmes and partnerships.

To strengthen academic outreach, the report says, a new initiative called “Academic Impact” has been formulated to channel innovative ideas and projects conceived at institutions of higher learning and research towards their practical application in the field, in support of United Nations objectives.  More than 300 institutions of higher education and research, from a wide variety of nations, have signalled their intention to join the endeavour, which will be formally launched in 2010.

The report also notes a wide variety of efforts to engage the general public, with briefings and speaking engagements reaching more than 45,000 individuals in North America and almost 1 million viewing some 17 rotating exhibitions in the Headquarters visitors’ lobby.  Efforts to revitalize guided tours, conducted in at least 12 languages at New York Headquarters and the Geneva and Vienna Offices, continued, with pre-recorded audio tours introduced in October.

In addition, a video contest, “Citizen Ambassadors to the World”, was launched on the United Nations YouTube channel in September.  Remembrances of the Holocaust and the slave trade continued to grow in impact.

The report also describes the year’s programme for the Reham Al-Farra journalists’ fellowship programme.  The fruition of efforts to make the United Nations Yearbook available online is also portrayed.  Among other efforts in digitalization and web availability, the UN Chronicle website was launched in December 2009, and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library was affording increasing access to information online, at the same time as it strengthens its relations with libraries in 145 Member States.

Developments in internal communications and multilingualism are described as well.  The report says that the Outreach Division responded to the Haitian earthquake by providing updates on the situation to staff and delegates through its internal communications tools of iSeek and deleGATE, which were all the more crucial following the devastating impact on United Nations staff members.

Finally, implications of the Capital Master Plan are laid out as well; although most areas of the Department’s outreach services have been neither displaced nor affected by the renovations, measures have been put in place to ensure that services are maintained, the report states.

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