Speakers Underline Continuing Need for Print, Radio, Other Traditional Media
While the United Nations Department of Public Information had made great strides in new media and in promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, challenges remained in terms of language parity and maintaining traditional communications platforms, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today, as it began its consideration of questions relating to information.
Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, reported that the Department’s strategic effort had culminated in the high-level period of the General Assembly’s seventy-first session, when approximately 2.5 million people had watched the webcast of proceedings in the general debate. Traffic to the News Centre portal during the general debate’s first three days alone had reached as many as 50,000 page views, and 60 per cent of traffic in that period had come from first-time visitors, she noted. Regarding the 2030 Agenda, she said the Department’s information centres had forged partnerships in order to advance the Goals through art, sport, technology or public information campaigns around the world. Emphasizing that the Department treated multilingualism as a priority, she observed that it had recently moved to reorganize and integrate United Nations multi-platform news coverage along language lines, thereby strengthening language teams. Over the course of the week-long general debate, the major United Nations social media accounts in languages other than English had reached more than 174 million people.
On the other hand, Hossein Maleki (Iran), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, noted that while speakers during that panel’s last session had applauded the increased content on websites as well as social and traditional media, they had also continued to lament that daily press releases were not available in all six official United Nations languages. He was presenting the report of the Committee on Information.
During the ensuing general debate on questions relating to information many speakers expressed similar views with Mexico’s representative – speaking for the Group of Friends of Spanish in the United Nations – calling for a strategy to ensure that daily press releases were issued in all six languages with no additional costs. That would mean redistributing the resources available to the Department, she added. Describing Spanish as an “expanding and living language” that needed more and better content, she said global multilingual campaigns should not be mere translations whose messages were lost and local audiences missed.
In similar vein, Egypt’s representative emphasized that the aim was not merely to achieve language parity, but also to help propagate key United Nations messages to a broader audience. With terrorism being waged on many battlefields around the world, an equally important battle was being fought to win hearts and minds, he said, describing information as the primary weapon in that war. The Department had a vital role to play in countering radical ideologies, one of the root causes of terrorism, he said.
Thailand’s representative, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that the Department also had an important role to play in ensuring an accurate understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals. As such, the Group appreciated the Department’s outreach efforts and communication campaigns to promote the Goals through various media platforms.
Also welcoming the Department’s innovative use of social media, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the representative of Trinidad and Tobago noted its outreach efforts across various platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in order to reach wider audiences, especially young people. However, she cautioned that the digital divide between developed and developing countries was a matter of concern because many of the latter lacked the infrastructure, capacity and technology to access media in cyberspace. The Department’s initiatives and its information centres must not lose sight of traditional communications, she emphasized.
Concurring on behalf of the Francophone Ambassadors Group of New York, Burkina Faso’s representative pointed out that print media and radio remained the main sources of information in developing and under-developed countries. He also commended the work carried out by United Nations information centres and stressed the need to increase their capacities.
Also speaking today were representatives of Indonesia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Dominican Republic (on behalf of the Community of Latin American Countries), Argentina, Sri Lanka, Israel and Guatemala, as well as a representative of the European Union.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 October, to continue its general debate on questions relating to information.
The Fourth Committee met this morning to take up the agenda item “Questions relating to information”. Before it was the report of the Committee on Information at its thirty-eight session (document A/71/21), and a report of the Secretary-General on questions relating to information (document A/71/227). Members also had before them a note by the Secretary-General titled “Public information and communications policies and practices in the United Nations system” (documents A/71/383 and A/71/383/Add.1)
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced that body’s report, saying that in addressing the substantive issues before the Committee, speakers had highlighted the important role of the United Nations in global affairs across a range of issues, from economic and social development to human rights, peace and security, sustainability issues and migrant and refugee concerns. In that regard, he emphasized that the Department of Public of Information had an important role to play in publicizing the work of the Organization, and was also engaging, educating and empowering various stakeholders around the world.
He went on to report that speakers had pointed to the strategic campaigns used to raise awareness around the Sustainable Development Goals, peace and security issues and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The campaigns demonstrated the Department’s use of new technologies, multilingualism and partnerships, as well as its collaboration with Member States and United Nations country teams in publicizing issues to global audiences. In that regard, many of the interventions had focused on the role of multilingualism, he said, noting the importance of reaching as many people as possible. While delegations had applauded the increased content on websites as well as social and traditional media, they had continued to lament that daily press releases were not available in all six official United Nations languages. In that vein, some delegates had stressed the need to mainstream multilingualism in a cost-neutral manner, while others had expressed regret that the General Assembly had not approved the Secretary-General’s request for increased budgetary resources to meet those demands.
Delegates had universally praised the work of the United Nations information centres as vital for the formulation of public opinion, he continued. In that regard, they had voiced support for strengthening the capacity of centres in developing countries to better promote the Organization’s public image. Furthermore, speakers had commended the work of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, in particular its efforts to digitize files and make the Guide to the United Nations available in the six official languages. Thanks to the efforts of the Library and the United Nations Office at Geneva to digitize 5 million pages, millions of individuals now had access to important documents, he noted. Furthermore, several delegates had recognized the role of United Nations Academic Impact in engaging academic and research communities around the world and in disseminating information about the Organization. A number of delegates had voiced strong support for the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine, he said, noting that it had helped to raise awareness about the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
CRISTINA GALLACH, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, recalled that in December 2015, the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) had published an assessment of communications work carried out across the United Nations system. The report detailing the Secretary-General’s comments on that study promoted the significance of the global network of United Nations information centres for enhanced impact and called for strengthened social media capabilities, she said. The strategic effort by the Department of Public Information had culminated during the high-level period of the General Assembly’s seventy-first session, when approximately 2.5 million people had watched the webcast of proceedings in the general debate. Traffic to the News Centre portal during the debate’s first three days alone had reached as many as 50,000 page views, and 60 per cent of traffic in that period had come from first-time visitors, she noted.
In close coordination with the Office of the President of the General Assembly and the Public Foundation, she continued, the Department had also engaged with a variety of leaders, celebrities, sustainable development advocates and young leaders to promote the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the specially built Sustainable Development Goals Media Zone within United Nations Headquarters. The Museon, a science and culture museum in The Hague, Netherlands, was opening the first permanent exhibition, titled “One Planet”, dedicated to the Goals. Similarly, United Nations information centres in Cairo, Tehran and Tokyo, among others, had all forged partnerships in order to undertake activities advancing the Goals through art, sport, technology or public information campaigns.
She went on to note that, as the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November and States met at the Conference of Parties in Marrakech, Morocco, the Department would mark that global milestone with a United Nations Academic Impact programme holding a simultaneous conference in Marrakech, mobilizing experts and entrepreneurs to discuss questions relating to sustainability and climate change. It would provide similar communications support to Habitat III, taking place in Quito, Ecuador, beginning on 17 October, and to the Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in November, she said.
Many delegations had commented on the multilingualism issue during the last session of the Committee on Information, she acknowledged. Emphasizing that the Department treated multilingualism as a priority, she said it had recently moved to reorganize and integrate United Nations multi-platform news coverage along language lines, strengthening language teams. A Spanish-language interview with the President of Chile during the recent high-level period had generated more than 20,000 views in eight hours on Facebook Live, she pointed out, adding that over the course of the week-long general debate, the major United Nations social media accounts in languages other than English had exceeded an estimated 174 million people. In June, the Committee for Programme and Coordination had reviewed the Strategic Framework for the period 2018-19 and asked the Department to increase the multilingual content of specific products and initiatives. In accordance with that request, still to be endorsed by the General Assembly, the Secretary-General intended to seek additional resources in the context of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2018-19, she said.
The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, whose office was located within the Department, continued to mobilize young leaders to become active contributors in implementing the United Nations agenda, she reported. Hundreds of youth delegates had participated in the United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference held in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea, earlier in 2016. Also earlier in the year, the Department had launched the United Nations iLibrary, the first comprehensive global search, discovery and viewing source for digital content created by the Organization. In August, the Department had launched a new website for the Dag Hammarskjold Library in the six official languages, featuring expanded multilingual content and an improved search function. She expressed thanks to the Government of Qatar for its 2014 five-year donation to support the preservation of the Organization’s historical documents, allowing for the digitization and upload of 42,000 documents. In its report for 2016 (document A/71/32), the Committee on Conferences had raised the importance of digitizing historical documents, and the Department had reported to the Committee on Information on proposed parameters for the necessary funding, which would cost more than $4 million, she said, expressing hope that the Department would receive that support.
The representative of Thailand asked about efforts to ensure that communications in local languages were considered as part of the Department’s plan. Concerning campaigns, he noted that the number of website visitors and social media followers had increased, and asked whether another method was being used to assess the impact of campaigns, and whether they had succeeded in raising knowledge and awareness. On the report of the Joint Inspection Unit, he noted the number of useful recommendations and asked which of them were being prioritized and deserved most attention and how the Department would proceed to do so.
The representative of Iran recalled that during the previous session, his delegation had raised the question of posts allocated to United Nations information centres. Noting that a post had been allocated to a country with a population of less than 1 million as opposed to countries with close to 100 million people, he asked whether the Department had made any effort to rectify the appropriate allocation of posts.
Ms. GALLACH, Under-Secretary-General, first addressed the question of local languages, saying that the Department worked intensively with many such languages, which were vehicles allowing it to penetrate local communities. Information centres were particularly active on that front; for example, the Regional Centre in Brussels operated a website in all languages spoken in the areas that it served. It was a vast effort and needed many resources, she said, pointing out that the primary task of the information centres was to translate and adapt their work into local languages. For example, the visibility icons of the Sustainable Development Goals had been translated and adapted into more than 60 languages.
On assessing the impact of social media, she agreed that better impact analytics beyond social media engagement were needed. The Department was currently analysing the across-the-board impact of the high-level event on refugees and migrants on 19 and 20 September and examining whether the messages had had an impact on social media and beyond. Regarding the report of the Joint Inspection Unit report, she said it was being closely analysed, and different divisions of the Department were examining how to implement its useful recommendations.
Responding to Iran’s representative, she said the geography and staffing of information centres did not follow any specific logic and were instead the result of a number of processes and decisions. In some very populous countries, information centres were either non-existent or not as present as desired. Their capacity to move was limited because they were bound by General Assembly resolutions and the decisions of Member States. However, the Department was aware of the situation and used available opportunities and resources to be as present as possible, and to accord the right attention to very populous or dynamic parts of each continent. It had to balance the system’s rigidity with observed needs and had been able to make some adjustments, she said. For example, having observed that a larger presence was required in North Africa, the Department had moved a post to one of the countries in that region, a step that had already had an impact because it had been extremely important to reinforce Morocco’s team for the Marrakesh Conference of Parties.
The representative of El Salvador asked about the possibility of requesting additional budget resources to strengthen the Department’s work. Although the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) must define how those resources were assigned, the report mentioned rationalizing the information centres, she noted. What aspects could be strengthened to contribute to multilingualism, and how would that be represented in the budget?
The representative of Argentina, speaking as a member of the Group of Friends of Spanish, observed that the numbers of visitors to the English website represented less than 50 per cent of the total, reflecting the increasingly urgent need for multilingual communications, which was a public desire. One third of the website’s users spoke Spanish, and despite the Department’s efforts, its Spanish-language websites were not of the same quality as those of its English and French pages. With respect to submitting proposals for the 2018-9 budget, he voiced support for stepping up resources for multilingualism. Recalling that the Under-Secretary-General had also mentioned a possible reorganization of the News Coverage platform, he asked for further details in that regard.
The representative of Mexico, Chair of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the Department’s endeavours to manage its resources should be replicated. It was also vital to disaggregate the statistics on web pages and other outputs because information was essential to making better decisions, particularly in the information centres.
Ms. GALLACH, noting mention of the term “worry” in connection with how the Department was addressing multilingualism, proposed the word “determination” instead, pointing out the gradual progress on that front thanks to a more structured approach in the Department’s work that ensured greater efficiency and effectiveness. She said that, on the basis of requests from Member States, she had proposed that they consider providing further resources to enhance the Department’s effectiveness with respect to multilingualism. It received requests from Member States for social media work as well as meetings and press releases to be covered in all six official languages, in order to make more information available about events and publications in those languages. The Department was doing everything possible to maximize multilingual work and products, and to optimize its platforms, she said, adding that it was working to unify two of those platforms and would be able to have a higher multilingual profile. Regarding statistics, she said they were essential to channelling the Department’s work. It did not wish to lose followers in any language, and wanted more of them in all the languages. The impact that delegations had observed was doubtless the result of more multilingual work and greater efforts to disseminate the Department’s products in those languages, she said.
KEN HERMAN, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination, Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s note on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit, titled “Public information and communications policies and practices in the United Nations system” (document A/71/383). He said United Nations systems had found the strategic view of communications valuable, indicating that the implementation of benchmarks and recommendations was proceeding. Concerning social media, he said it was becoming an important tool in support of programme delivery. As for visual imagery, United Nations entities had noted that compelling messages could be conveyed by using a broad array of techniques. They had strongly agreed on the importance of communications in achieving their mandates, he added, emphasizing that they had asked for further information on how to establish closer cooperation among inter-agency communications bodies. However, small entities had expressed a need to ensure that all stakeholders could work together in clarifying common public information priorities, he noted.
VIRACHAI PLASAI (THAILAND), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Department had an important role to play in ensuring an accurate understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals. As such, the Group appreciated the Department’s outreach efforts and communication campaigns to promote the Goals through various media platforms. Apart from its work on sustainable development, the Department should continue to promote other key issues of global interest, including peacekeeping, disarmament, decolonization, the question of Palestine, poverty eradication and climate change, he said.
Nevertheless, the United Nations must integrate multilingualism into all its activities, he emphasized. While the Secretary-General’s report indicated progress on the use of all six official languages in the Department’s activities and products, the disparity in the use of all of them persisted, he said, calling for the continuation of efforts to narrow the gap among the six official languages. It was also important that the Department continue to strengthen the United Nations information centres in terms of both staffing and equipment, he said.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), applauded the Department’s promotion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a dedicated website, programmes and leaflets as well as international events. Reaffirming the regional bloc’s support for efforts to increase the visibility of United Nations peacekeeping operations, he encouraged the Department to collaborate with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in disseminating information. He also applauded the cooperation between the Department and the Office for Disarmament Affairs in promoting the commemoration of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and the “Poster for Peace” contest. It was vital to disseminate effectively the message about the real benefits of eliminating nuclear weapons, and the social and economic costs of maintaining them.
“Social media has proven to be a great vehicle to disseminate United Nations work,” he continued, noting that it allowed interaction with larger audiences, especially youth. However, it faced risks of being abused and misused, and the Organization must approach its social media communications with due care, he cautioned. While digital media should be used to reach larger audiences, it was important to maintain traditional means of communication, particularly for communities lacking access to advanced communications technologies, he emphasized. In that context, he stressed the importance of multilingualism, saying it promoted unity amid diversity as well as international understanding. ASEAN called upon the Department of Public Information to make use of all six official languages to disseminate information.
PENNELOPE BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the dissemination of information had considerable potential to accelerate human understanding, bridge differences and shed light on the challenges facing the diverse membership of the United Nations. In that regard, CARICOM applauded the Department’s continuing efforts to publicize the Organization’s work to the widest possible global audience. She voiced support for United Nations information centres, including the one in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, which was currently serving 19 territories in the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean.
She went on to welcome the innovative use of social media to advance the Department’s outreach across various platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in order to reach wider audiences, especially young people. However, the digital divide between developed and developing countries was a matter of concern because many developing countries, such as those of CARICOM, were not fully equipped with the infrastructure, capacity and technology to access media in cyberspace. Traditional methods of communication, including radio, television and print media, may therefore be more appropriate. While the Department’s initiatives and its information centres should incorporate new technologies and platforms effectively, it must not lose sight of traditional communications, she emphasized.
GERARDUS ANTONIUS WILHELMUS VAN DEN AKKER, European Union, called for increased support for and coordination of United Nations information centres, pointing out that they facilitated a more localized approach to outreach and boosted efficiency in a context of resource constraints. They were also essential for promoting democracy, human rights and tolerance among and between cultures - fundamental values of both the United Nations and the European Union. Communicating information to the right audience, at the right time and in the right way, was essential for the United Nations to achieve many of its goals.
In order to reach broader audiences, he said, the Secretariat must engage all stakeholders in the most appropriate way, taking into account varying levels of accessibility and availability of resources, while seeking to improve existing platforms. Since communication was a multi-dimensional and reciprocal process, there was need for an efficient evaluation scheme and a clear communication strategy, he emphasized. To that end, the European Union welcomed the Department’s renewed emphasis on the use of digital platforms and social media, as well as its tailoring of products to accommodate different viewer habits and connectivity constraints.
ALEXANDRA ARIAS (Dominican Republic), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said the changing scope of international relations required innovative methods for better distribution of information. CELAC supported the spontaneity and agility of electronic communications, given its high potential to generate exchanges in multiple ways, but regretted the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries. In that regard, it was essential to continue using traditional methods to disseminate the Organization’s messages, she emphasized. CELAC also commended the work of the United Nations information centres, which was essential for reaching out to local communities.
Reaffirming CELAC’s commitment to freedom of speech and of the press, she noted that the Special Declaration on Internet Governance Processes endorsed the need for progress in building regional and national frameworks. “Media, including information and communications technologies, should be used in accordance with international legal frameworks and commitments,” she stressed, while expressing concern over violations of radio-electronic frequencies. In that regard, CELAC underlined the importance of advancing regional cooperation to build confidence and security measures. On multilingualism, she expressed deep concern that press releases were not issued in all six official United Nations languages. Citing General Assembly resolutions 68/66, 69/96 and 70/93, she requested that the Department design a strategy to deliver information in all six languages and in a cost-neutral manner. It was critical to eliminate the disparity between the use of English and the five other official languages, she said. The financial and human resources provided to the Department must be distributed evenly.
YEMDAOGO ERIC TIARE (Burkina Faso), speaking for the Francophone Ambassadors Group of New York, said that information and communications technologies were essential in achieving the goals of the United Nations and raising awareness of its activities. “The role of media is important more than ever,” he said. Describing multilingualism as the key to delivering successful outcomes, he welcomed the Organization’s recognition of it as fundamental, while expressing regret over the language disparity in United Nations activities.
New technologies had provided invaluable opportunities to expand the United Nations message and reach out to local communities, he said, emphasizing the need to foster cooperation among actors. One challenge, however, was that despite the progress made, some communities were yet to benefit from that revolution, he noted, pointing out that print media and radio remained the main sources of information in developing and underdeveloped countries. Commending the work carried out by United Nations information centres, he stressed the need to increase their capacities.
LORENA ALVARADO QUEZADA (Mexico), speaking for the Group of Friends of Spanish in the United Nations, said the Group was committed to the principle of parity among all of the Organizations six official languages with a view to ensuring an impact on the international scale necessary to meet today’s challenges. Spanish was not only one of the six official languages, but also ranked second among the languages most used by all agencies. Expressing thanks for the Department’s hard work, she also commended the excellent work of the Spanish web staff and the Spanish Information Centre noting that, despite the scant resources allocated to them, their services were consulted most often after those in English. Those figures supported the Group’s view that it was important to support language parity. Spanish was an expanding and living language which needed better and greater content. Multilingual global campaigns should not be mere translations whose messages were lost and local audiences missed.
She expressed concern over the reduced capacity for dissemination campaigns, and called for incorporating the principle of multilingualism from the beginning of planning. Noting that the multilingual coverage of large meetings such as the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul earlier in 2016 could prove a model for others, such as October’s Habitat III in Quito, where Spanish would be the official language. Information centres had a central role to play and their reports should reflect their activities as well as commensurate staff and resources. The webpage was a faithful reflection of the work carried out and traffic had increased in 2015 over 2014, with an exponential increase in Spanish-language visitors, she said. From March to May, Spanish had been consolidated as the second ranking language with the most hits. She called for disaggregated information on website hits, requesting that future reports provide precise statistics and graphs per language, including radio, press releases and social network services, so that a clear diagnosis could be made. She called for a strategy to ensure that daily press releases were issued in all six languages with no additional costs, adding that that would mean redistributing resources available to the Department.
MARTIN GARCIA MORITAN (Argentina) acknowledged the important work carried out by the Department of Public Information in disseminating information on United Nations activities, promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and executing communications campaigns in more than 45 different languages. “Multilingualism is a principle which must be preserved in all the activities of the United Nations,” he said, noting that the Organization’s Spanish webpage was the second most visited, with 32.5 per cent of users. Expressing concern about the language disparity, he pointed out that several webpages and press releases were published in only one or two languages. Argentina encouraged the Department to increase its efforts to disseminate information in all six official languages, in a cost-neutral manner.
AHMED ELSHANDAWILY (EGYPT), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said it was highly important to address the imbalance in the use of the six official United Nations languages in all activities of the Department of Public Information. The aim was not merely to achieve language parity, but also to help propagate key United Nations messages to a broader audience. With terrorism being waged on many battlefields around the world, an equally important battle was being fought to win hearts and minds, he said, describing information as the primary weapon in that war. The Department had a vital role to play in countering radical ideologies, one of the root causes of terrorism.
SONALI SAMARASINGHE (Sri Lanka), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, pointed out that many people were not able to keep pace with advancing technology and were left behind. The Department must understand the reality on the ground in each country and consider mobilizing resources, as in increasing the number of scholarships for media personnel from developing countries. Maintaining the use of traditional media was also important because of the digital divide between developed and developing countries. Sri Lanka had made strides in information technology literacy, and was the foremost among South Asian nations in that regard, she said. It had also taken the lead in multilingual Internet initiatives, enabling technical conditions to facilitate local languages online. As a nation that had suffered terrorism and an accompanying culture of impunity, Sri Lanka regarded freedom of information as a cornerstone of democracy, the absence of which would lead to social division and mistrust between groups and State institutions.
TAL GAT (Israel) said he was encouraged by the important work of the United Nations Holocaust Outreach Programme organized by the Department of Public Information and the significant growth in the audiences reached. Israel remained confident that the Holocaust Programme would continue to enjoy enhanced resources that would enable it to maintain and broaden the scope of its important activities. At the same time, he said, the Government of Israel remained deeply concerned about the Department’s Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, which, since its inception, had offered a biased and misleading narrative about the Middle East. It was crucial to ensure that no United Nations platform was abused for the dissemination of materials to promote anti-Israel messages, he emphasized.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEE (Guatemala), while recognizing the value of information and communications technologies in raising awareness of United Nations activities, emphasized the need to maintain the use of traditional media, including print media and radio. Expressing regret over disparity in the use of the official United Nations languages, he called for changes to the Organization’s information structure in order to ensure equality. Given the Department’s impact, he suggested that it expand its use of social media in all six official languages. While doing so, it would be critical to be creative and efficient in using existing resources, he emphasized.