United Nations Remains ‘Repository’ of Information for Advancing Humanity’s Cause, Under-Secretary-General Says, as Committee Concludes General Debate

29 April 2014
Thirty-sixth Session, 2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

United Nations Remains ‘Repository’ of Information for Advancing Humanity’s Cause, Under-Secretary-General Says, as Committee Concludes General Debate

Delegates also Highlight Role of Traditional Media, Need to Bridge Digital Divide

Despite expanding mandates and expectations and shrinking resources, the United Nations remained the “repository” of historic and current information for Governments, children, women and men to use to advance the collective human cause, the Organization’s senior communications official told the Committee on Information as it concluded its general debate.

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, told delegates that “this year’s debate was a clear renewal of our commitment to promote and protect the collective human cause”.  As the two-day debate ended after hearing from almost 40 speakers, Mr. Launsky-Tieffenthal replied to questions on more than a dozen themes, ranging from multilingualism to United Nations information centres.

To further address widespread concerns about multilingualism and the use of the United Nations six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish), he suggested creating a mechanism that would host a continued debate on the issue following the Committee’s formal meetings.  Answering a range of queries on information products in the official languages, he said the Department was, among other things, investigating new technologies to minimize online storage costs for webcast archives in all official languages and had begun to include more disaggregated language-based figures in reports on its work.

Summing up a common theme threading through the debate, a representative of Costa Rica, speaking in her national capacity, said that, even though the voice of the Organization must be projected in as many languages as possible, there was no magic solution to the problem of lagging language parity.

Concerned that the Organization’s website and the Department’s press releases did not comply with the language parity principle, she called on the United Nations to take steps to rectify the situation, while recognizing that it had limited resources.  She also said all States must be current on the assessed contributions to the Organization and set realistic expectations and mandates.

Expressing another view, a representative of Belarus said that since it was important to speak in a language everyone understood, figuratively and literally, it was important that the United Nations issues the daily Journal and all official documents in all official languages, which were spoken by 2.2 billion people.  Other speakers mentioned that the quantity of English materials exceeded those for Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and other languages.

While some speakers welcomed strides made in the field of social media, with the Russian Federation’s speaker applauding broad initiatives developed without additional funds, a number of speakers pointed out that most people in the world lacked access to the Internet and the modern tools that were increasingly being used.  Raising a related point, a representative of Burkina Faso said that, despite gains in using new communications technologies, traditional media remained the best means of reaching the largest number of people living in developing countries.

In a similar vein, several speakers addressed concerns about inequalities in access to technology.  Since most of the 193 United Nations Member States were developing countries, China’s speaker said information work should focus on giving voice to those nations to promote progress and to highlight their special needs, including addressing the widening digital gap.  Venezuela’s speaker called for the adoption of measures that would ensure the democratization of technology.  Several speakers echoed her concern, cautioning against the misuse of technology against the sovereignty of any State.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Pakistan, Spain, Ecuador, Jamaica, Algeria, United States, Congo, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Israel, India, Bolivia and Costa Rica (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).

The Committee also heard from observers for the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and the State of Palestine.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

The Committee on Information will conclude its thirty-sixth session on Friday, 9 May.


EDUARDO ULIBARRI (Costa Rica), associating himself with the statements made by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish at the United Nations, said that it was important to have outreach activities on the post-2015 development agenda and climate change.  The Department’s efforts to make its website available to disabled people was welcomed.  The voice of the Organization must be projected in as many languages as possible.  Noting the importance of multilingualism at the United Nations, he expressed concern that new pages of the Organization’s website and the Department’s press releases did not comply with the principle of language parity.  He called on the Organization to take steps to rectify that, while recognizing that the Organization had limited resources and there was no magic solution to the problem.  All States must be current on the assessed contributions to the Organization and set realistic expectations and mandates.  The digital divide must be overcome by investing in infrastructure and universal access to communication tools.  The neutrality of information networks and the integrity and privacy of the media must be respected.

YASEEN ANWAR (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the Department’s increased use of social media.  His country supported the allocation of adequate resources to fund the United Nations, especially in developing countries, and the move by United Nations information centres to translate documents into the six official languages and others.  He called for appropriate funding to ensure the Organization’s audiovisual archived materials were digitalized.  The Department should diversify its partnerships, as well as encourage regional and international discussions to foster interfaith harmony and promote peace and stability.  As a major troop-contributing country, Pakistan welcomed efforts of the Department to create awareness about the efforts and challenges of peacekeeping.

WANG GANG (China) said the Department had enhanced efforts in both new media and its archive system.  New platforms, including blogs, had been used by the Secretary-General to conduct discussions and efforts had been made to translate films into Chinese.  The Department should continue to increase its capacity for information dissemination and to strengthen its relationship with Member States, who should, along with United Nations agencies, actively support its work.  Since most of the 193 Member States were developing countries, information work should focus on giving voice to those nations to promote progress and highlight their special needs, including addressing the widening digital gap.  While multilingualism efforts were supported, there was unequal use of English at the Organization.  The use of Chinese, the most spoken language in the world, lagged at the United Nations, he said, adding that all official languages should be used equally.

ALEXEY ZAYTSEV (Russian Federation) said a significant increase in the presence of the Organization in the social media arena had been achieved without using additional resources.  In terms of radio, partnerships with the Russian unit should broaden.  Digitalizing historical materials now succeeded in making United Nations history accessible worldwide.  The core of the work of the United Nations must be multilingualism and there should be full implementation of that principle through using the six official languages equally.  Efforts made by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management to strengthen its system were supported, as well as the trend of signing memoranda with learning institutions for languages services.  Turning to the Paper Smart system, which had not been approved by Member States during the General Assembly’s sixty-eighth session, that effort should not entirely replace access to printed documents as some delegations lacked access to the required devices.  Briefly mentioning the situation in Ukraine, he said armed forces were putting down peaceful protesters.  In closing, the Russian Federation would continue to work with the Department on its continued efforts to disseminate information about the work of the Organization.

FLORENTINO SOTOMAYER (Spain) said that on 3 November 2011, the Spanish Radio Academy launched the International Day of Radio to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary of United Nations Radio.  In February of this year, the Academy presented its international prize to United Nations Radio in recognition of the latter’s work over the years.  Radio was an indispensable means of communications in developing and developed countries alike, particularly during disasters.   He hailed creation of the Group of Friends of Spanish at the United Nations to promote multilingualism.  That Group recently organized a round table on multilingualism.  Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking countries attended, demonstrating the interest in creating a world in which languages were not barriers, but rather united people and cultures.  It was necessary to treat multilingualism at Headquarters in line with the Assembly’s 16 May 2007 resolution.  It was necessary to find new technologies to confront such challenges without sacrificing quality.  He supported the digitalization of the United Nations audiovisual archives.

SIMPLICE HONORÉ GUIBILA (Burkina Faso) said that, while the Department of Public Information had made many inroads in new communications technologies, traditional media remained the best means of reaching the largest number of people living in developing countries.  The Department had made great efforts to promote multilingualism and should maintain that dynamic to mobilize supplementary resources to ensure language parity with regard to the six official languages.  Turning to the important role of United Nations information centres, he highlighted some of the Ouagadougou Centre’s achievements, which included disseminating materials on the work of the Organization and translating them into local languages.

JOSÉ EDUARDO PROAÑO (Ecuador) said his country’s Constitution had proclaimed equal access to information for all, which was not the case in many developing countries.  The Department’s efforts to reach broad audiences played an important role in disseminating information about the Organization’s work and multilingualism and language parity were essential.  While Spanish was the second-largest accessed language on United Nations websites, not all materials were being made available.  The United Nations must help to rectify structural imbalances in the economic and social areas, and the effective and equal dissemination of information was crucial in that regard.  Without such efforts, the digital divide could deepen.  Highlighting the recently discovered massive and indiscriminate spying system that had triggered the General Assembly to adopt a resolution on respecting the right to privacy, he said, in conclusion, that those principles must be honoured to ensure international peace and stability.

KURT DAVIS (Jamaica) commended the Department for making strategic use of new media platforms to reach youth populations, but also stressed the need to continue using traditional media tools to ensure outreach to countries with limited information and communications technology.  The work of the United Nations Information Centre in Trinidad and Tobago was important, and the Organization should fully utilize its network of centres to make inroads with local media and civil society.  The Department was encouraged to explore more partnerships with Government information services, civil society and private sector.  The Department’s dissemination work on climate change, small island developing States, human rights, the sustainable development goals and the broader post-2015 development agenda were critical.  He hailed the Department’s various events to educate future generations about the transatlantic slave trade.  The Permanent Memorial Committee aimed to complete in the coming months construction of the “Ark of Return” permanent memorial at the United Nations to honour the trade’s victims.

MOURAD MEBARKI (Algeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, supported the Department’s work.  United Nations radio, television and other information tools were indispensable, as were new tools, such as social media.  They must adhere to the principles of neutrality, accountability and respect for the sovereignty of States.  Those tools concerning implementation of Millennium Development Goals, the post-2015 development framework, human rights, sustainable development, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), were of particular importance.  Further, the Department’s information programmes on the question of Palestine, particularly as 2014 was the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, should be strengthened.  He stressed the need for language parity and to bolster information tools in Arabic.  The Department should expand the coverage of information centres to include more local news and not just Headquarters-generated materials.

JON PIECHOWSKI (United States) said the Department’s partnerships had led to a number of co-sponsored events, including the commemoration of the victims of the slave trade and the Holocaust.  Partnerships offered a fertile avenue to pursue to accomplish its mission innovatively, without creating the need for additional resources.  Continued innovation in the realm of social media was commendable as the Department needed to be active where the global conversation was taking place.  When the topic was humanitarian aid or peacekeeping, an increasingly broad global audience was being reached by social media platforms, he concluded, not only to hear from the United Nations, but also to be heard.

JEAN DIDIER CLOVIS NGOULOU (Congo) welcomed the Department’s social media efforts and called for the better use of existing resources to fulfil its mandate, and to ensure campaigns were equally pursued in all the six official languages.  The Department’s efforts to disseminate information about the peace and security initiatives of the United Nations were commended, and continued communications efforts should be linked to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda.  It was regrettable that access to information shared by United Nations information centres largely only reached the public in developed countries.  Traditional media, including radio, should be used to reach the broadest possible audiences, with multilingualism at the core of those initiatives, he said, calling on the Department to keep multilingualism and language parity as a priority.

RODOLFO REYES RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), noted that the use of new technologies was vital for broadening the reach of the United Nations.  As the digital divide was still great, traditional media, such as radio, must be maintained to reach the largest-possible audience, particularly in developing countries.  Multilingualism and language parity among the six official languages of the United Nations was important, and efforts in that regard had been undertaken by the Group of Friends of Spanish at the United Nations to defend that official language.  He regretted that the Committee had not, in line with Assembly resolution 68/86 B, promoted greater awareness of the Assembly’s 26 September 2013 high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament.  His country reiterated its condemnation of the United States for broadcasting subversive content against Cuba.  That country must respect the United Nations Charter and cease its covert action against Cuba.  Lastly, he called for a new, more just and efficient world information and communication order.

ERIKA ALMEIDA WATANABE PATRIOTA (Brazil), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the Department’s work to create subscriber numbers and profiles on its social media accounts.  Thanks to the creation of mobile device application, the Facebook page of the United Nations country team in Brazil had posted 90,000 “likes”.  The United Nations Twitter account in Portuguese had 85,000 followers.  Portuguese was the third most widely used language on social media, behind English and Spanish.  It was not far behind the Spanish-language Facebook site.  Multilingualism in allowing non-English speakers to access the United Nations was important and the Department should promote language parity in all its activities.  She supported the work of United Nations Radio in Portuguese, which disseminated the content of the Organization in more than 16 countries.  In Brazil, United Nations Radio had about 100 partners, among them four major national radio stations.

GERARDO DÍAZ BARTOLOMÉ (Argentina) said the Department’s sections and the United Nations information centres were vital in disseminating the message of the Organization.  Spanish was an official language and a working language of the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and the Security Council, and thus, the United Nations website should be truly multilingual.  However, the use of some official languages to the detriment of others was “alarming” and some materials were being prepared in only one or two official languages.  More resources must be provided to the Department, and if that was impossible, priorities must be reordered to ensure multilingualism.  Welcoming increased content on the Spanish United Nations website, he lamented that it still fell short of the volume on the English site and strongly urged all Secretariat offices to comply with the obligation to provide content in all official languages.  Language parity must also be present in press releases, he said, voicing a concern about linking the initiative of providing press releases in all official languages with maintaining the existing budget.  The six official languages had equal rights in the allocated budget and language parity must include press releases.

HAHN CHOONGHEE (Republic of Korea) said the Under-Secretary-General’s recent visit to his country had served as a catalyst to promote awareness of the activities of the United Nations, and hailed the Department’s use of social media and the merits of the information centres in promoting the Organization.  The Academic Impact was a good example of the Organization’s partnership with civil society and academic institutions.  In August, the Republic of Korea’s office of the Academic Impact held an international conference on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda, drawing students from member universities worldwide.  Member States’ academic institutions should be encouraged to join the Academic Impact, form chapters, and participate in their global and regional networks in order to help address challenges facing the United Nations.

AVIVA KLOMPAS (Israel) commended the Department’s Holocaust outreach programme, which recently paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.  Such efforts grew more critical as time distanced the world from the Holocaust.  There was a collective responsibility to tell the victims’ stories.  The world was still plagued by prejudice and anti-Semitism was being sponsored and spread by Governments, teachers and religious leaders.  She expressed concern over the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine, which targeted only one Member State.  It was an example of the disproportionate attention the United Nations gave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Similarly, the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine had abused the Organization’s social media platforms by disseminating materials that promoted hatred and fostered incitement against Israel.  It was unacceptable that such messages continued to be produced under the banner of the United Nations.

YUMAIRA RODRIGUEZ (Venezuela) said that, in spite of progress made, improvements were needed and the Department’s work would be strengthened if it was translated into the six official languages, as was the case with the peacekeeping websites.  Overcoming the digital divide separating developed and developing countries was another area that needed improvement.  She called for the adoption of measures that would lead to the democratization of technology, particularly for developing countries.  Information and communications technologies must be at the service of social justice and the promotion of solidarity and cooperation.

ILYA ADAMOV (Belarus) said it was important to speak in a language everyone understood, figuratively and literally.  Communications tools and online video streaming of conferences alongside traditional media were key vehicles for disseminating information on the work of the Organization.  However, the United Nations Journal and all official documents should be issued in all official languages, which were spoken by 2.2 billion people.  Appreciating the work of the Department and Secretariat in servicing meetings and conferences, he said the implementation of pragmatic steps to improve that system would benefit all.

RAJESH MISHRA (India), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, hailed the Academic Impact’s rapid growth in membership to 926 in 120 countries, among them India.  Supporting all efforts towards language parity, he hailed United Nations Radio for producing in the six official languages, as well as others such as Hindu, Urdu and Bangla.  The United Nations must remain cognizant of the digital divide between developing and developed countries and the importance of reaching ordinary people in the developing world through traditional, low-cost effective media.  The Organization’s humanitarian activities and the work of peacekeepers should be featured prominently in the media.  Partnerships among United Nations information centres, local Governments, civil society, academic institutions and businesses should be strengthened.  Information centres, particularly in developing countries, should have adequate financial resources.

SACHA LLORENTTY (Bolivia), associating himself with CELAC, recognized the Department’s efforts to disseminate priority messages.  Taking into account that the recent use of technology by great Powers had comprised State sovereignty in some cases, he condemned the misuse of technology to destabilize democratic Governments and electoral processes.  The principles of State sovereignty must be respected.  Technology could be misused to violate individual, civil and political human rights, and personal data could be used for political manipulation.  Equal access to new technologies could be a powerful motor for national prosperity.  In that regard, Bolivia was crafting legislation regarding access to information, the Internet and technology.  Bolivia, as part of the Group of Friends of Spanish to the United Nations, stressed the need to increase information materials in that language.

CAROL VIVIANA ARCE-ECHEVERRÍA (Costa Rica), speaking on  behalf of CELAC, noted the importance of new information and communication technology, but stressed the need to maintain traditional media, particularly in developing countries.  She hailed United Nations Radio for producing news in the six official languages, as well as in Kiswahili and Portuguese.  Expressing concern over recent violations of radio-electronic frequencies, she said those frequencies should be used to service the public interest and in line with international law and the Charter.  Costa Rica strongly rejected the misuse of information and communication technology directed at any CELAC member.  Such technologies must be fully compatible with the principles of sovereignty, non-interference in internal matters and civil co-existence among States.  CELAC was committed to global efforts to safeguard cyberspace and promote its use exclusively for peaceful purposes and as a vehicle for socioeconomic development.

The Department’s financial and human resources must be equitably distributed among all six official languages, she said.  The draft resolution before the Committee must reflect that.  The Department’s efforts to ensure that people with disabilities had access to the website of the United Nations in the six official languages were very positive.

FILIPPE SAVADOGO, Permanent Observer of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, said multilingualism and cultural diversity were essential values in genuine and effective international action.  He said multilingualism should not stop at only the six official languages, and lauded the Department’s efforts that had in fact led to the translation of materials into more than 200 languages worldwide.  The best example should be set by the United Nations, he said, highlighting that in less than one week the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would be organizing a discussion on the cultural dimensions of development and industry that would examine some related issues.

YUSSEF KANAAN, observer for the State of Palestine, reaffirmed his appreciation for the Department’s programmes, including the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine.  He commended the Palestine Section for the annual International Media Seminars on Peace in the Middle East, as well as efforts to redesign the permanent exhibit on the question of Palestine at Headquarters.  Recalling that 2014 was the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, he looked forward to upcoming activities in that context.  He reaffirmed the importance of the Department’s assistance to Palestinians in the field of media development, through the annual training for Palestinian broadcasters and journalists.

Right of Reply

The representative of Ukraine, responding to the Russian Federation’s statement, said he would speak in the language that the Russian Federation understood.  The word “junta” that the Russian Federation delegate had used to describe the legitimate Ukrainian parliament was not in line with United Nations terminology.  He called on the Russian Federation to be more polite in its statements of other Governments, even if it did not like them.  The Russian Federation was the only country that had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the existing authorities in Kyiv.  Russian financial support and terrorist operations were causing the destabilization of Ukraine.  He rejected the claims by the Russian Federation’s delegate of so-called obstacles to Russian media, saying Moscow was working actively to spread disinformation in the Russian media about what was happening in Ukraine.

The representative of the Russian Federation said he was impressed that a few hours after defending the issue of multilingualism, the representative of Ukraine had seen his efforts bear fruit.  The Ukrainian colleague had already learned Russian.

Under-Secretary-General’s Response

PETER LAUNSKY-TIEFFENTHAL, Under-Secretary-General for Public Information and Communications, addressed a number of concerns raised by delegates over the two-day debate.  “We hold the repository of historic, as much as current, information, in trust for the Governments, and the children, women and men of our world who can utilize it to advance what is the collective human cause,” he said.  “This year’s debate was a clear renewal of our commitment to promote and protect the collective human cause.”

Replying to more than a dozen themes, ranging from multilingualism to United Nations information centres, he said, while the Department’s mandates and expectations had grown, its resources had been shrinking.  Before answering a host of questions on multilingualism, he suggested the creation of a mechanism, such as a Group of Friends of the Chair, that could host a continued discussion on that issue once the Committee’s formal debate came to a close.

In regards to multilingualism, he said the Department was, among other things, investigating new technologies to minimize online storage costs for webcast archives in all official languages, adding a special section on the main United Nations website for university students and had begun to include more disaggregated language-based figures in reports on its work.  Partnerships had also ensured wide distribution of United Nations Radio programmes in the six official languages and Kiswahili and Portuguese.  In addition, since mid-2013, the Department had been archiving official meetings with interpretation in all six languages.  To broaden access for non-governmental organizations to publications, the Department had made more than 300 user-friendly documents from the United Nations system, as well as audio-visual material available online and at Headquarters, he said.  Also at Headquarters, guided tours would resume their full route, once the General Assembly Building was reopened in the fall.

Turning to United Nations information centres, he encouraged Member State support, since the centres played a unique role in furthering the multilingual agenda, as well as promoting the work of the United Nations.  The centres also worked with neighbouring States to promote campaigns and Model United Nations activities.

In other areas, from disarmament to decolonization, the Department was working year-round to promote issues important to the Organization, he said, adding that, although the formal debate was closing, he looked forward to continuing a dialogue with the Bureau of the Committee and to the outcome of its deliberations over the coming days.

For information media. Not an official record.