Delegates Warn against Politicizing Public Information, Targeting of Journalists, as Fourth Committee Continues General Debate

GA/SPD/671
19 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 11th Meeting (AM)

Delegates Warn against Politicizing Public Information, Targeting of Journalists, as Fourth Committee Continues General Debate

Delegates warned today against the politicization of public information and the targeting of journalists, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on questions relating to information.

Ukraine’s representative noted that journalists and bloggers are telling the true story of Russian military aggression against his country and its massive propaganda campaign.  Areas under Russian occupation have been transformed into “exclusion zones” keeping Ukrainian media out, he added, calling upon the Russian Federation to refrain from criminalizing free speech.  He specifically demanded the release of Roman Sushchenko and called upon all United Nations entities to react against attempts to falsify information.

Echoing those sentiments, Sri Lanka’s delegate said journalists and bloggers around the world continue to be jailed, “disappeared” and killed, adding that impunity is perpetuated in the absence of meaningful investigations.  Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is concerned about the politicization of public information and the use of information and communications technology to violate human rights, she said.

The meeting also considered the imbalance in the use of different forms of media, with Cuba’s representative pointing out that millions of people do not use social media platforms.  Television, radio and the print media can reach broader populations “for whom ‘Internet’ is merely a strange word”, he said.

Agreeing, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania emphasized the cost benefit and range of radio as a communication medium, noting that radio programming covers the widest area in Africa while cautioning that its coverage should not be reduced until a new medium of communication is accessible to marginalized communities.  He went on to underline that Department of Public Information’s (DPI) Kiswahili and Portuguese units now face huge burdens in coping with its mandated workload to produce daily news, features and other required multimedia work.

India’s delegate said declining financial resources have constrained the Department’s ability to carry out its mandated tasks, especially in non-official languages, and DPI must seek out innovative ways to raise resources beyond regular budgetary allocations.

Spain’s representative urged the Department to continue its focus on human rights, especially campaigns focused on eliminating violence against women and girls, and those intended to strengthen LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights.

Also speaking today were representatives of Myanmar, Syria, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Israel, Tunisia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Portugal, Venezuela, Nepal, Uruguay, France, Russian Federation, Senegal and Iran.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 22 October, to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information.  It is expected to take action on related draft relations.

Statements

DEEPAK MISRA (India) said it was heartening to witness the expansion of United Nations guided tours in multiple languages.  Genuine multilingualism promotes unity in diversity and international understanding by recognizing the importance of communicating to the world’s peoples, a basic value of the United Nations since its inception, he noted.  However, given declining financial resources, the Department has been constrained in carrying out its mandated tasks, especially in non-official languages, he said, emphasizing that it must seek out innovative ways to raise resources beyond the regular budgetary allocations.

U AUNG LYNN (Myanmar), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed support for the Department’s efforts to engage young people, including the global student video conference held at Headquarters in September 2018.  In an era of “fake news”, he said, it is important for the Committee on Information to mobilize DPI in global efforts to promote factual, accurate, and reliable information, he added, describing United Nations information centres as pivotal in disseminating objective and impartial information on the Organization’s activities.  Calling upon more developed countries to work with developing countries by sharing knowledge and technology in order to bridge the digital divide, he noted the rapid advances in communications technology, saying the changes have provided Myanmar’s with greater access to conventional and social media.  He added that his country abolished media and press censorship in 2012 and the telecommunications sector is now free to attract foreign investment, create employment and promote local development.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted the major role played by the Committee on Information and the Department of Public Information in communicating the Organization’s message.  However, some media sources play a negative role by distorting facts, he said, calling upon the United Nations to rely on sources free of politicization.  While media sources have documented the reality in Syria, especially the activities of armed terrorist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, he noted, some United Nations officials and reporters continue to describe such groups as “armed opposition” even though they know that the groups are armed terrorist organizations, with Al-Nusra Front foremost among them.  Regarding the question of Palestine, he urged the Department to continue implementing the related annual information programme and covering Israel’s violations.  Stressing the importance of the right of free expression, he cautioned against using such rights to offend sacred beliefs.

HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba) associated himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Friends of Spanish.  Noting that the use of social media platforms has grown by 9 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year, he said, however, that millions did not use such media, expressing alarm at the high illiteracy rates in many countries.  Television, radio and print media can reach broader populations “for whom ‘Internet’ is merely a strange word,” he pointed out.  Calling attention to the importance of Spanish, he emphasized that reforming the Department must entail prioritizing multilingualism.  Cuba is making progress in digitization, he reported, noting, however, that the blockade imposed by the United States has a negative impact on national programmes in that area.  Moreover, the country has faced constant aggression through illegal television and radio broadcasts from abroad, he said, adding that such broadcasts are intended to overthrow Cuba’s constitutional order.  The use of information and communications technologies must respect international norms of peaceful co-existence, he stressed.

OLEH NIKOLENKO (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, emphasized the fundamental importance of media freedom.  That principle is challenged in Ukraine by Russian military aggression and a massive propaganda campaign, he said, adding that areas occupied by the Russian Federation have been transformed into “exclusion zones” keeping Ukrainian media out.  Calling on the Russian Federation to refrain from criminalizing free speech, he said journalists and bloggers telling the true story are often physically targeted.  Citing several cases of journalists being incarcerated, he demanded the release of Roman Sushchenko specifically, emphasizing that such hostile practices are a direct threat to the United Nations, and calling on all the Organization’s entities to react against attempts to falsify information.

DIERDRE MILLS (Jamaica) said that advances in information technology continue to provide challenges and opportunities for packaging and disseminating information on United Nations activities.  Emphasizing the need to strike a balance on the range of options employed, she said there should be an appropriate mix of traditional and contemporary communications tools so that the extent and reach of the Organization are not compromised.  The focus on better communications with communities across the globe should also motivate improvement in the internal communications tools at the United Nations.  Jamaica supports the call for greater parity in the dissemination of information, including through press releases, in all six official languages of the United Nations, she added.

SONALI SAMARASINGHE (Sri Lanka) said that with extremist voices manipulating social media tools, technological advances present both great promise and grave peril.  Nevertheless, the Government of Sri Lanka is encouraged by the Department’s work in increasing the social media presence of the United Nations and welcomes its communications support for the activities of the Office of Counter-Terrorism.  At the same time, many people are unable to keep pace with technological advances, she said, noting the limited access to the Internet and weak communications infrastructure in some developing countries.  The Department must understand the realities on the ground and mobilize resources to areas in need, she said, advising an increase in the number of scholarships for media personnel from developing countries as one potentially helpful measure.  Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is concerned about the politicization of public information and the use of information and communications technology to violate human rights, she said, noting that journalists and bloggers around the world continue to be jailed, “disappeared” and killed.  Impunity is perpetuated when no meaningful investigations are conducted, she pointed out, urging Member States not to turn a blind eye.  “That is not what the United Nations is about.”

RITA MARÍA EL ZAGHLOUL (Costa Rica), associating herself with CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, noted with regard to United Nations news pages that although Spanish is the second most used language, the Department still does not prioritize it.  Multilingualism must be implemented in all forms and in all communications, including webcasts of relevant meetings, she emphasized, adding that DPI should also cover all summits, conferences and other meetings on an equal basis.  Young people make the most progress in bringing about change, she said, recalling the various initiatives that her country is undertaking to engage youth.

HALA AL-OTAIBI (Saudi Arabia) said her country relies on information to showcase various advances and to communicate the readiness of Saudis to promote a culture of dialogue.  Information also plays an important role in combating terrorism and extremist ideologies and should be deployed in promoting the principles of moderation, transparency and peaceful coexistence, she said.  To that end, Saudi Arabia has established the World Centre, which aims to counter extremist doctrines and promote moderation with a view to strengthening peace and prosperity in the region and the world, she said.  DPI must also shed light on the plight of people who continue to suffer under oppression, such as the Palestinians, she emphasized.  Multilingualism remains a priority, she said, encouraging the Department to make all outputs available in Arabic as soon as possible.

MODEST JONATHAN MERO (United Republic of Tanzania), noting that many of the Department’s activities relate to people living in countries where English and Kiswahili are official languages, said media have played a big role in enhancing the use and growth of Kiswahili.  Millions people around the world speak Kiswahili, he added, pointing out the rapid global expansion and prevalence of the language in proceedings of the African Union.  Its significance should allow for its inclusion as an additional official United Nations language, he said.  Emphasizing the cost-benefit advantage and range of radio as a communications medium, he pointed out that radio programming covers the widest area in Africa, which should not be reduced until a new medium of communication is made accessible to marginalized communities.  Regarding reductions of staff at DPI, he noted that the Kiswahili and Portuguese units now face a huge burden in coping with the mandated workload of producing daily news, features and other required multimedia work.

SAMI AL-GHADBAN (Libya), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the urgent need to bridge the technological gap among countries while calling for continued use of traditional media and revitalization of United Nations information centres.  He also emphasized the importance of equity among the official United Nations languages, saying press releases must be issued in all six, including Arabic.  Proposing a project to translate and digitize the United Nations archives in all six official languages, he said partnerships with academic institutions could be beneficial in that regard.  Turning to the question of Palestine, he said the continued aggression against peaceful Palestinians requires further coverage and information, urging the Department to exert greater effort in promoting a two-State solution and in shedding light on unilateral actions by the occupying Power to alter regional characteristics.  While highlighting the Department’s efforts to counter the spread of terrorism, he suggested that a regular publication dispatched to all television channels spreading hate could alert them to their objectionable activities.  DPI would be taking the initiative in that regard, he added.

OREN BAR-EL (Israel) said that his country is at the forefront of innovative information, from precision agriculture and data-based health care to autonomous transportation and cultural enrichment.  Nevertheless, misinformation is dangerous, anti-Semitism being the most vivid example.  Indeed, throughout its history, Israel and the Jewish people have faced the downside of manipulated information, he said.  Israel attaches great importance to the Department’s Holocaust Outreach Programme, which helps educate young people about the relevant atrocities, he said.  Drawing attention to the proliferation of anti-Semitism on social media, he called for tools to combat online hate, racism and xenophobia, as well as mechanisms to monitor and combat online terrorism and incitement to violence.  At the same time, Israel is concerned with the Department’s “Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine”, which, he said, has forged a misleading and biased narrative against the country.  While the United Nations stands for universality and impartiality, the Programme tells a one-sided narrative of the conflict, he said, emphasizing that refuting the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, for example, is simply untrue.  Furthermore, DPI’s conference in Moscow last September presented a biased view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, warning that it perpetuated lies that can lead to violence against Israel and the Jewish people, while casting doubt on the Department’s current mandate.

MOHAMMET KHALED KHIARI (Tunisia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, encouraged DPI to pay more attention to development priorities, migration, illicit financial flows and the recovery of defrauded assets, among other issues.  The entire international community must know the value of information and communications technologies, he emphasized, calling for full implementation of the 2005 Tunis World Summit on the Information Society in that regard.  Regarding multilingualism, he noted that the Group of Francophone Ambassadors has drawn up a proposal for the integration of multilingualism into United Nations publications, describing that effort as fundamental to the Organization’s aims.  He went on to affirm the vital dissemination role played by United Nations information centres and to express appreciation for the Dag Hammarskjold Library and the efforts of DPI’s Palestinian Rights office.

TAREK AHMED MAHFOUZ AHMED MAHFOUZ (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of G77 and China, emphasized the central role of information in the fight against extremist ideologies.  Expressing appreciation for the Department’s work on the question of Palestine, he said multilingualism must continue to be implemented for all the Department’s publications.  The misuse of mass media and information and communications technologies is disconcerting to the international community, he said, noting that misinformation is sometimes used to instigate violence or provide a platform for terrorist fighters.  The Department must firmly oppose that, he emphasized.

HUDA AL ABDALI (United Arab Emirates), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country has invested in communications infrastructure to become a pioneering State in the context of “smart” technology.  In March, it hosted a conference that brought information professionals together to exchange best practices.  Turning to the use of information technologies by terrorists, she noted that some States harness such platforms to provide forums for the extremist groups, she said, adding that the Sawab Centre in Abu Dhabi was established to confront extremism.  She encouraged the Department to continue promoting such United Nations activities as the Global Data Forum in October, which was intended to improve the use of data and statistics in accordance with the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.  Any news published by the Department must be comprehensive and objective, she stressed, encouraging DPI to ensure accuracy.

HAJIME KISHIMORI (Japan) said the United Nations information centre in Tokyo plays a critical role in disseminating information about the work of the United Nations, recalling that the Centre has partnered with one of the largest entertainment agencies in Japan to promote the Sustainable Development Goals.  Noting with appreciation recent DPI video productions highlighting the Organization’s work, he emphasized the importance of art and culture as media through which people can better connect with the United Nations and its objectives.  To that end, Japan launched the “Peace is…” initiative to support the concept of Sustaining Peace proposed by the Secretary-General, and it has carried out multiple events since April 2018, he said.

FRANCISCO DUARTE LOPES (Portugal), associating himself with the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, noted the universality and global outreach of that language.  Its reach will keep growing in the coming decades, mainly in Africa and Brazil, he said, encouraging DPI to further expand use of the language use in its activities.  Commending the work of United Nations information centres in establishing communications bridges between the Lusophone world and the United Nations, he expressed support for the creation of a centre in Luanda, Angola.  Citing the Secretary-General’s report, he said audience sizes and engagement rates are growing among Portuguese speakers, pointing out that the flagship daily multimedia “Destaque ONU News” has grown more than 40 per cent in subscriptions over just five months on the Portuguese YouTube channel.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and CELAC, highlighted the importance of engaging young people, especially in terms of promoting the 2030 Agenda.  While information and communications technologies, social networks and other tools represent a means to promote human rights, their inappropriate use may distort the principles and values of the United Nations, he cautioned, denouncing the biased information presented about certain countries.  Emphasizing that DPI’s use of social networks must promote non-selectivity and non-politicization, he cautioned that, otherwise, Member States as well as the credibility of the Organization will be affected.  He also urged the Department to take the necessary measures to ensure that the United Nations is not inadvertently used as a platform against Member States, including Venezuela.  Underscoring the importance of bridging the digital divide, he said it resulted from a lack of equal access to information and communications technologies and called for capacity-building in that regard.  He also called for balanced use of the six official languages.

DHRUBA RAJ BHATTARAI (Nepal), associating himself with the Group of 77, commended the Department’s work in promoting multilingualism and encouraged it to include the Nepali language spoken by millions in his country and beyond.  Nepali media content, particularly on the country’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping, will inform communities about such programmes and widen constituencies, noting that the Central Library of Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s designated repository for United Nations publications, is engaged in disseminating relevant information to students, intellectuals and researchers.  Such repositories need further modernization and strengthening to intensify their outreach activities.  He also noted that traditional means of communication still constitute the primary source of information in remote parts of least developed countries, adding that the United Nations should opt for a mix of traditional and new media in disseminating its principles and activities to the public.

LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, CELAC, the Group of Friends of Spanish and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said multilingualism has been a main recurring issue since the Department’s founding, adding that imbalances between the official languages and the disparity between the working languages remain a concern.  Press releases and broadcast archives must be available in all official languages, he added, noting that multilingualism will allow for greater transparency and better results for the United Nations.  DPI must be given the resources to meet those requirements, he emphasized.  Noting that social media as well as new information and communications technologies provide the best platform to reach a young audience, he said one out of three Internet users are children under the age of 18.  In that regard, he expressed appreciation for the Department’s efforts to engage young people, noting that children as well as adults in Uruguay enjoy access to information and communications technologies through national programmes and initiatives.  However, some older people prefer traditional media and DPI must therefore continue to use traditional media in communicating its message, he stressed.

DANIEL PRADA (Spain), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Spanish, expressed appreciation for the Department’s efforts to conduct campaigns within current resources.  He urged DPI to continue its focus on human rights, especially campaigns focused on eliminating violence against women and girls, and those aimed at strengthening LGBT rights.  Spain values the data on the audience of social networks, as contained in the Secretary-General’s report, he said, noting the prevalence of Spanish-language users and emphasizing the importance of multilingualism.  Turning to press freedom, he lamented its absence in many parts of the world, noting the statistics on the deaths of journalists.  Spain reiterates its commitment to press freedom and its support for any actions the United Nations may take to defend those rights, he emphasized.

JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL (France), associating himself with the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said that using new information and communications technologies to their full potential allows in reducing costs and helps to multiply and simplify communications.  However, a significant segment of the world’s population faces the digital divide, especially in developing countries, he pointed out.  He went on to highlight the discrepancy between the use of English and the five other official United Nations languages in communication efforts, emphasizing that the principle of parity must be better respected.  “The linguistic landscape is forever changing, and the United Nations must adapt to it,” he added, pointing out that the number of French speakers is increasing, especially in Africa.  The Organization has a responsibility to speak directly to the young people of the future in their own language, he stressed.  While France is aware of resource constraints, the risk of people turning away from the United Nations would cost a lot more, he cautioned.

FEDOR STRZHIZHOVSKIY (Russian Federation) said the Department’s work must be conducted in compliance with United Nations principles and within budgetary capacity.  Expert assessment and future reform planning must be conducted through departmental efforts, with the consent of Member States.  Noting in that context that external experts require additional funding and do not enable transparency in decision-making, he emphasized that involving them in such a sensitive issue as departmental reform must be done after consultations with Member States.  He recalled Moscow’s hosting of the DPI International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East last month, highlighting the Department’s cooperation in that regard.  However, he expressed surprise that the many United Nations activities related to the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup were not featured in the report of the Committee on Information.  Citing statistical reports on website usage, he called for a change in the departmental strategy to increase the web audiences of all official languages.

CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal) encouraged DPI to continue efforts to bridge the digital divide between the global North and global South, pointing out that most people in developing counties are excluded from the benefits of information and communications technologies.  The continent has specific needs in that regard and will require support and resources to take advantage of such technologies, he said.  The success of DPI’s structure relies on the quality of its programmes, he added.  He went on to emphasize that multilingualism must remain a priority, calling for equitable treatment of the Organization’s six official languages in order to guarantee that each Member State can promote its positions in the language of its choice.

MOHAMMAD GHORBARPOUR (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that information and communications technologies, including social media, are useful in connecting people of different cultures around the world.  However, the misuse of such technologies can be detrimental, he cautioned, adding that they should be used in accordance with the United Nations Charter and international law.  Providing people around the world with information on the causes of conflict is of paramount importance to Iran, he said, encouraging DPI to continue promoting important decisions and issues that have a direct impact on peace and security, including the outcomes of international courts and tribunals.  He also called upon the Department to publicize the adherence of States to or withdrawal from international instruments.  He thanked the Department for raising awareness of the Palestinian question.

For information media. Not an official record.