Delegates Stress Wider Multilingualism in United Nations Communication Activities
New technological platforms should be leveraged by the Department of Public Information, the lead communications body of the United Nations, bearing in mind the digital divide that still existed in many parts of the world, speakers told the Committee on Information today.
The Internet, as well as social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, had an invaluable role to play in disseminating information about the work of the United Nations, delegates emphasized as the Committee continued its general debate.
That was particularly true for young audiences, speakers stressed, which relied more heavily on new technologies to communicate and share original, socially dynamic content.
Nevertheless, many highlighted that the lack of Internet access in developing countries must be taken into account when creating public outreach campaigns, pointing out that radio was still available to 75 per cent of households in such countries.
In that context, the representative of Portugal stressed the need to strike a balance between the use of digital platforms and traditional means of communication.
The representative of Senegal, meantime, emphasized the need for the United Nations, development partners and concerned States to adopt measures that reduced the technological gap that separated rich countries from developing countries.
Many speakers commended the Department’s publicity efforts on several key processes that had taken place over the last year. In that regard, the representative of Costa Rica noted the Department’s work to promote awareness of the seventieth anniversary of the Organization, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the new climate change deal and the visit of the Pope to Headquarters.
Other delegations noted the important work carried out by the 63 United Nations information centres that operated around the world in sharing critical information with diverse audiences in their local language.
To that point, the delegate of Japan said his country welcomed the efforts undertaken by the Information Centre in Tokyo which had organized events around the Sustainable Development Goals, noting that the Centre, along with the Department and Japanese Government, had launched a project to digitize and share historic videos from the United Nations archives.
Further, the Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro performed a critical role in the maintenance of the United Nations web portal, noted the delegate of Brazil, highlighting that the portal was considered the most important tool for disseminating information about the Organization in Portuguese.
On the issue of language parity, many delegations stressed the need for wider multilingualism in the Organization’s communications activities.
The Department should take the lead in implementing multilingualism, stressed the delegate of China, urging it to devise a variety of news products in various languages and calling on the Coordinator for Multilingualism to push United Nations agencies to implement Assembly requests. Chinese, which had the most users, was a working language of the Assembly and the Security Council, but had yet to benefit from equitable treatment, he noted.
Also speaking today were representatives of Bangladesh, Colombia, El Salvador, Sudan, Paraguay, United States, South Africa, Morocco, Russian Federation, Libya, Pakistan, Lebanon, Republic of Korea, Algeria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Zambia, Nepal and Chile.
Observers for the State of Palestine and the International Organization of la Francophonie also spoke.
JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that information and communications technology was a key tool in educational and outreach processes and enabled young people to be more equitably included in sustainable development. Information and communications technology helped people generate and disseminate their own, socially dynamic content from new media. In 2015, a series of relevant events had taken place where the Department of Public Information played a key role in the dissemination of information and outreach efforts, including the events around the seventieth anniversary of the Organization, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the new climate change deal and the visit of the Pope to Headquarters. His delegation wanted to hear more about efforts to ensure the Organization’s website was more accessible to persons with disabilities, as well as the initiative to create an electronic commerce website to sell publications. Multilingualism, in all forms, was of great importance for enabling the flow of information within the Organization. His delegation regretted that press releases still did not reflect the vision of multilingualism, but welcomed that the products of United Nations Radio had been strengthened in that regard.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the Department played an important role in disseminating information, both through the Internet and traditional media, to the world’s 7.2 billion people, an achievement which he commended. Noting that the Geneva Declaration of Principles and the World Summit on the Information Society Plan of Action had stated that least developed countries required special attention in establishing telecommunications infrastructure, he said Bangladesh had reached the average of the developing world in that regard, with 37 per cent of its people now using the Internet as a result of the “Digital Bangladesh” policy. In addition, Bangla was the main language of 300 million people, recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999, and he looked forward to working with the Department to observe Mother Language Day in order to reinforce the importance of preserving those languages around the world.
CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia), associating himself with CELAC, Group of Friends of Spanish and the Group of 77, said that 2015 had been a landmark year, in particular with the commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations. Those events had been followed by millions of people thanks to the Department’s efforts. The results had shown the importance of using new communications platforms and facilitating easy access to content. Recognizing achievements in the scope of content generated, and welcoming the development of new formats without undermining traditional media, he reiterated concern about linguistic disparity in generating content in Spanish, which was spoken by more than 500 million people around the world. He called for guaranteeing multilingualism, stressing the importance of achieving linguistic parity among the Organization’s six official languages. The Secretary-General’s reports should contain more disaggregated data, including for press releases, and he regretted that the General Assembly had not approved the required resources for the Department to address such issues. He also supported the call for the use of hashtags in the six official languages.
RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating himself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, recognized the Department’s strategic communications efforts, especially around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It was essential to disseminate messages clearly in the context of multilingualism. The changing international situation required innovative methods to enable information flow, and in that regard, electronic communications offered easier access. The role of traditional methods also played a significant role in developing countries. Information and communications technology must be used in accordance with international frameworks and commitments and he cautioned against impeding State sovereignty in that regard. He expressed concern that language parity had not been maintained, with reduced structural capacity to create Spanish content, reiterating that press releases should be published in all six official languages, as outlined in the relevant General Assembly resolution, which had requested the Department to devise a strategy to that end. It was regrettable that the Department had not received the requested resources.
OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the session underscored the importance of the work carried out by the Department and the need to align it with the principles of the United Nations. Sudan hoped the Committee would play an essential role in preventing States from spreading inaccurate or unverified information, as doing so broadened the divide between States and undermined the implementation of United Nations objectives. His delegation took note of the report of the Secretary-General on the role of the United Nations information centres, including its work to strengthen the public’s awareness on the issue of Palestine. The role played by the Department was an extremely important one for the formulation of public opinion on the United Nations and its work, particularly its ability to promote tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue between civilizations.
MARCELO SCAPPINI (Paraguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said his delegation valued multilingualism within the Organization and reiterated that there needed to be an equitable dissemination of information in as many languages as possible. Paraguay noted with concern that there was a lack of equality, in that regard, particularly when it came to press releases. Paraguay welcomed the General Assembly resolutions requesting the Department develop a strategy to publicize press releases in all six official languages; as such a strategy was a valid and important solution. He was aware that many challenges existed, but believed it was important to note the progress made. He underscored the work of the Department with regard to live coverage of the General Assembly and Security Council in all six languages through the webcast and its work to ensure that persons with disabilities had access to the website.
HAJIME KISHIMORI (Japan) welcomed the Department’s timely identification of priorities and communication of them throughout the world, citing the United Nations information centres in that regard. His country looked forward to enhancing collaboration with and supporting the work of the Department in commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Japan’s accession to the United Nations, a historical milestone. He welcomed that the information centre in Tokyo had organized events, such as a Sustainable Development Goals-themed photo contest, noting that the centre, along with the Department and Japanese Government, had launched a project to digitize and share historic videos from the United Nations archives. Reiterating support for all information centres, he recalled that the annual ceremony to mark the International Day of Peace, last September, had been held in the restored Japanese Garden for the first time since 2008. The Department’s support to such commemorative events was crucial.
JOHN DEGORY (United States) said his Government looked forward to working with the Department, in New York and the field, in communicating the Organization’s activities and values. Citing recent events, including last week’s signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change, he said: “We must inform each other, we must inspire each other.” The Department’s work would be critical to supporting the success of such initiatives. Free expression, as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as access to information, would be essential to “holding all of us accountable to our commitments”. As such, he called on the Committee to support the Department as it sought ways to expand civil society participation at the United Nations in support of its activities. The United States would continue to support innovation and fiscal discipline for an effective Department, as its mission was too important to fail.
SIPHO SEAKAMELA (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77, noted that today marked the twenty-second anniversary of his country’s freedom. He highlighted the important role the United Nations played in ensuring broad publicity which attracted wide public support for the isolation of South Africa during the apartheid period. He welcomed the important role of the Department and emphasized that the question of Palestine deserved special attention. South Africa would also like to see the Department expand its activities to include the dissemination of information regarding the situation in Western Sahara. He commended the Department for its recent outreach campaigns, including those related to the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change, as well as key decisions related to peacekeeping, peacebuilding and disarmament. South Africa agreed with the importance of integrating modern infrastructure and technology in disseminating vital information, but said the United Nations must remain mindful of the worldwide technology gap.
YASSER HALFAOUI (Morocco), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors in New York, said the dissemination of information about United Nations activities was of even greater importance now, given the need for reliable, neutral and objective information on its work. The issues of sustainable development and climate change needed to be at the heart of the Department’s activities. He commended the coverage of the Organization’s seventieth anniversary and welcomed various communications campaigns, including those on the issue of Palestine. He also underscored the importance of communications activities related to climate change and commended the Department’s coverage of the climate conference in Paris and subsequent signing ceremony. He highlighted the need for sustained coverage leading up to the planned climate change conference to be held in Marrakesh in the coming year. Further, the Department had a key role to play in disseminating information on peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities, as well as raising awareness of sexual exploitation and abuse. The digital gap highlighted the importance of traditional forms of communication, including radio and written press. Morocco was a defender of multilingualism which should be regarded as an opportunity, rather than a burden.
WANG GANG (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, said it was important to strengthen top-level design of information plans, as 2016 marked the start of efforts to implement the outcomes of several major conferences. The main thread across such activities should be publicity of those outcomes. The Department should lead coordinated efforts, focusing on strategic communications, outreach and knowledge services. It should prioritize the right to information for all countries, adhering to the principles of openness, timeliness and balance. He appreciated the practical manner of the Department’s service delivery, expressing hope it would promote reform of media registration. Strategic communications and outreach should focus around major themes and advocacy. China supported efforts to promote multilingualism, as there were disparities between English and other official languages. Chinese, which had the most users, was a working language of the Assembly and the Security Council, but had yet to benefit from equitable treatment. The Department should take the lead in implementing multilingualism, he said, urging it to devise a variety of news products in various languages and calling on the Coordinator for Multilingualism to push United Nations agencies to implement Assembly requests.
ALEX GIACOMELLI DA SILVA (Brazil), associating himself with CELAC and the Group of 77, said the Department should continue to use a combination of traditional means of communication, such as radio, television and printed materials, as well as new Internet-based media, such as websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. However, the lack of Internet access in developing countries must be taken into account, although he noted that radio was still available to 75 per cent of households in such countries. The United Nations should also keep in mind that only 40 per cent of the global population spoke one of the six official languages. In that respect, the Organization should work to expand the number of languages used for communication activities. Brazil was a firm supporter of the work of United Nations Radio in Portuguese, which was broadcast to 16 different countries and underlined the important role of the 63 United Nations information centres for disseminating the Organization’s message. The web portal maintained by the United Nations information centre in Rio de Janeiro was considered the most important tool for disseminating information about the Organization in Portuguese.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said the Department’s focus on enhancing partnerships with Member States, civil society, academia and others was justified. On cooperation with United Nations bodies at the country level, he noted that there had been a lack of inter-agency mechanisms to promote communications in strategic areas. The Secretary-General’s report lacked analytical data and future evidence of its actions. In the past, it had included such sections as “innovative approaches to the spread of United Nations ideas” and it was a shame that a lack of attention had led to a loss of analytical potential. Other portions, such as “combating terrorism” and “migration”, were “rather modest” considering that the Department had much to share. While acknowledging the use of Twitter and Facebook, he said traditional media, such as television and radio, were still in demand. Information centres played a key role in promoting the work of the United Nations and he hoped that budget concerns did not undermine the values of those centres on the ground. He supported the Department’s work in multilingualism, calling for greater use of the Russian language and, more broadly, language parity in meetings and publications. He noted that the request for additional interpreters had not been supported and he awaited information on that issue.
MOHAMED H. S. ELMODIR (Libya), associating himself with the Group of 77, said there were various ways to spread information and both the Department and the Committee had a responsibility to create awareness around global challenges. He urged cooperation with all religions and the setting aside of violence to address issues such as climate change and sustainable development. Information campaigns must be improved so that the digital divide could be overcome, in part through the continued use of traditional media, especially for people in developing countries. The United Nations information centres must have all means necessary to do their work, and there needed to be greater cooperation to ensure multilingualism and language parity, including in press releases. The Department must also promote the Arabic language and do more to highlight the suffering of Palestinians.
CRISTINA MARIA CERQUEIRA PUCARINHO (Portugal), associating herself with the European Union, said that the Department played a fundamental role in bringing the United Nations closer to the lives of everyday people. Increasing knowledge, ownership and worldwide participation in the work of the United Nations was the goal of all Member States. Multilingualism within the Organization’s communications activities would ensure that a truly global and inclusive audience was being reached. Nearly 250 million people across four continents spoke Portuguese and it was the most spoken language in the Southern hemisphere. Information centres played a unique role in promoting the so-called “UN brand” and had a strong impact on the overall positive perception of the Organization in public opinion. Portugal welcomed the Department’s regional focus on Africa in support of the three pillars in the Organization’s work. She recalled the decision to create a regional information centre in Angola and reiterated the importance of promptly implementing that decision. UN Radio in Portuguese was enjoying increased interest by the general public, including its online platform. Every effort must be made to strike a balance between digital platforms and traditional means of communication.
MASOOD ANWAR (Pakistan) noted with appreciation the increase in the viewership and readership of the Organization’s traditional and social media products. Acknowledging the Department’s role in projecting the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, he urged the Department to develop a long-term strategy to create awareness on those issues. For its part, Pakistan had developed a comprehensive long-term sustainable development policy framework, Vision 2025, taking into account the universally agreed Goals. Drawing attention to the important work done by United Nations information centres, he expressed support for the activities undertaken by the country office in Pakistan and urged the Department to maintain its neutrality.
CAROLINE ZIADÉ (Lebanon) said that time and again, her delegation had highlighted the importance of the use of both traditional media channels and interactive social media platforms in promoting the work of the United Nations, including the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism. Her delegation also noted with appreciation the partnership the Department had established with networks such as the Associated Press, Reuters and others. She called for the intensification of partnerships with regional and national networks to widen the scope of the audience. Lebanon hosted an information centre with a regional scope, which continued to implement an integrated approach that merged peacekeeping with the political and civil affairs teams. Her delegation welcomed the work being done by the Department on the question of Palestine with regard to awareness-raising and efforts towards achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
CHUNG BYUNG-HA (Republic of Korea) said that the progress the United Nations had made in achieving development, making peace and enhancing human rights had only been possible due to the Organization’s ability to successfully spread its values and vision, while garnering robust support from countries and peoples around the world. Last year’s seventieth anniversary celebration was a historic event that brought the United Nations that much closer to the public. Also in 2015, the international community achieved a historic landmark agreement for a more prosperous and sustainable world through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Those historic agreements presented an ambitious vision, while also requiring a more holistic and inclusive approach. As such, new communication methods that engaged the greatest number of diverse stakeholders from civil society and the general public must be explored to ensure their participation in those processes.
ASSIA JAZAÏRY (Algeria), associating herself with the Group of 77, welcomed the Department’s work in strategic communications, news and outreach services. The training programme for Palestinian journalists should be continued, she said, expressing concern over the potential to politicize information through the inappropriate use of technology to interfere in the internal affairs of States. The 63 United Nations information centres were vital to reach people in their own languages and she encouraged all efforts to strengthen those centres, underlining the importance of considering developing countries’ technology needs. While the Department’s emphasis on social media was welcome, there remained a need for traditional media, the primary communication means in developing countries, as well as implementation of resolution 69/324 on multilingualism, making use of all languages, particularly Arabic. The quality of press releases differed depending on the language in which they were released.
JO JONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said United Nations public information activities should serve all Member States equally and impartially. Yet, some countries sought chaos and regime change by disseminating their own “values” into developing countries through information and communications technology. For example, the United States was waging psychological warfare through its propaganda machine, Radio Free Asia, against independent countries in order to disintegrate their internal systems, which violated the United Nations Charter. He urged the establishment of a new international information and communications order that provided impartial information based on respect for sovereign equality, among other principles. It was crucial to end the “arbitrariness” of countries that attempted to oppress developing countries by enforcing their views in the name of “free access to information” and “freedom of expression”. Capacity-building for developing countries was also needed.
CHIBAULA DAVID SILWAMBA (Zambia) encouraged the Department to enhance its information dissemination to raise awareness about sustainable development and climate change. As the 2030 Agenda was at the core of Zambia’s development policies, he stressed the importance of providing timely and educative information to his country’s citizens in order to achieve national development objectives. In that regard, he encouraged closer partnership between the Department and the Zambian media industry. United Nations information centres play a critical role as they break the language barrier, enabling citizens to engage in discussions.
SABITA NAKARMI (Nepal), associating herself with the Group of 77, appreciated the Department’s outreach, especially around the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change. She encouraged the Department to look into how to reach people who could not be reached through United Nations official languages, supporting the dissemination of information in local languages, which could create a broad constituency conducive to transformative endeavours. The Department also should consider programmes on peacekeeping operations in the Nepali language, she said, adding that traditional media was the primary means of communication in developing countries. Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were equally significant and issues, such as cybercrime, should be addressed. She called on the Department to increase the number of participants in its annual training programme for journalists from developing countries.
FIDEL COLOMA GRIMBERG (Chile), associating himself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the work of the Committee was of great importance and helped the people of the world understand the fundamental values that were contained within the purpose and principles of the United Nations. He noted the huge effort made by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the United Nations Library in Geneva to digitize the Organization’s documents. Some 5 million pages had been put into the database, although there were many more that had yet to be digitized. Thanks to those efforts, millions of individuals would now have access to important documents that could only be found at the United Nations. He commended the work undertaken by the Department in conjunction with civil society and non-governmental organizations. The Committee had a fundamental role in the promotion of human rights and he took note of the many activities undertaken by the Department, in that regard. Nevertheless, his delegation believed it was necessary to put greater emphasis on the dissemination and teaching of the need to fully respect the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that radio remained a very effective medium for political, economic, social and cultural communication and, therefore, it was not acceptable to plan its decline within the United Nations communications system. Multilingualism remained an important component of multilateralism, and deserved particular attention. The United Nations had the obligation to strengthen parity between the six official languages, which was a challenge that required constant vigilance at a time when the international community was committed to defining the sustainable development agenda. He encouraged the Department to increase its communications efforts with regard to the question of Palestine, including in terms of offering greater cooperation, collaboration and support to Palestinian civil society organizations. Senegal believed the network of information centres, particularly in developing countries, should be strengthened and any streamlining of that network should be done on a case-by-case basis, in cooperation with host countries. Due to the digital divide, the majority of those living in developing countries remained excluded from the dramatic evolution of information and communications technology. As such, it was vital that the Organization, development partners and concerned States adopt measures that reduced the technological gap that separated rich countries from developing countries.
SAHAR SALEM, observer for the State of Palestine, commended the Department for such initiatives as the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine and its annual training programme for young Palestinian journalists and broadcasters. Citing several incidents in which Israeli occupying forces and extremist Israeli settlers had carried out acts of violence and provocation against Palestinian and foreign journalists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, she called on the Committee and international organizations concerned with journalists’ rights and freedoms to step up their efforts and demand a halt to Israel’s violations of international law and norms which provided for the protection of journalists. She also called for Security Council resolution 2222 (2015) and General Assembly resolutions on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity to be respected.
PATRICIA HERDT, observer for the International Organization of la Francophonie, reaffirmed the importance of the Secretariat and Member States to ensuring full respect for multilingualism, which went hand-in-hand with multilateralism. Describing recent events, she cited the 2 March launch of a new season of 21st Century, a TV5 Monde programme produced by United Nations television, carried in French, English, Chinese and other languages. She also drew attention to the Tomorrow documentary, part of the recent climate change conference, calling for strong mobilization for responsible development. To combat extremism, her organization on 10 March had mobilized young people on the theme “Free Together”, an Internet dialogue platform which had allowed them to express their social engagement through audio-visual work. In one week, more than 2 million people expressed their interest. This year was the anniversary of the use of French language in international organizations, she said, noting that respect for linguistic diversity was a pillar of multilateralism.
Mr. VASQUEZ (Mexico), associating himself with CELAC, Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Spanish, encouraged the Department to “do more with less”, stressing that Spanish was the second language consulted on the web after English. He called for disaggregated data on all six official languages, supporting a sustained strategy on social networks, while not losing sight of the fact that, for many people, traditional media remained the best means of information. Many materials were simply a translation from English and it appeared that other languages did not receive equal treatment. “Multilingualism is a key issue,” he said, noting that the Secretary-General’s request for the 2016-2017 budget had not been adopted by the Assembly. Good practice in the web services section included working with focal points, which was a model that should be duplicated in all areas of the Department. He hoped that consolidating United Nations information centres would not affect the quality of their work.