Department Has Duty to Spread Positive Narrative as Hate Finds ‘A Voice and a Home’, Says Delegate, as Fourth Committee Continues Information Debate

GA/SPD/699
18 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 10th Meeting (AM)

Department Has Duty to Spread Positive Narrative as Hate Finds ‘A Voice and a Home’, Says Delegate, as Fourth Committee Continues Information Debate

The Department of Global Communications has a responsibility to disseminate a positive narrative in a world where hate has once again found a voice, a delegate told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today as it continued its general debate on questions relating to information.

Sri Lanka’s representative noted that hate, racism and intolerance seem once again to have found a voice and a home, with extremist voices manipulating social media and occupying democratic space.  In such a context, the Department must spread the United Nations message of hope and inspiration, she said, emphasizing in particular the importance of disseminating a narrative that makes people feel the Organization belongs to everyone, not just to the rich and powerful.

In a similar vein, Ukraine’s representative cited the challenge that the spread of misinformation and “fake news” poses to media freedom, underlining the Department’s critical counter-balancing role.  The international community should also redouble its efforts in identifying best practices and tools to deal with the global threat of “fake news”, she added.

Myanmar’s representative also warned about the adverse consequences of “fake news”, noting that the Department as a whole — and United Nations Information Centres in particular — must uphold the principles of objectivity, impartiality and neutrality by distributing accurate and credible information.  He also acknowledged the Department’s efforts to prioritize multilingualism and encouraged it to continue to invest in bridging the digital divide for developing countries.

Echoing that sentiment, Cuba’s representative called for swift, strategic and integrated communications to facilitate the transmission of United Nations messages through both digital and traditional platforms.  He noted that many educational and cultural disparities persist around the world, observing that women comprise the majority of the 750 million illiterate adults worldwide.  As such, departmental reform must take multilingualism into account and not eliminate forms of communication that have been proven effective, he emphasized, while expressing hope that recent austerity measures will not affect the Department’s important tasks.

Agreeing, India’s representative observed that declining financial resources represent a serious constraint on the Department’s ability to carry out its mandate in non-official languages.  As such, he urged it to examine innovative ways to raise resources beyond regular budgetary allocations — including voluntary contributions — in order to expand global outreach, especially in widely spoken but non-official languages.

Also speaking today were representatives of Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of CARICOM), Paraguay, Syria, Japan, Tunisia, Russian Federation, Jamaica, Portugal, Sudan, Bangladesh, Senegal, Philippines, India, Israel, Brazil and Uruguay.

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

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 October, to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information.  It is expected to take action on related draft resolutions.

General Debate

SURENDRA THAPA (Nepal), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended the Department’s new initiative in using artificial intelligence to promote climate action through the “ActNow” bot.  He also expressed appreciation for the Department’s endeavours to promote the contributions of United Nations peacekeepers and for recognizing the sacrifice of Nepali peacekeepers in particular.  He went on to hail United Nations Information Centres as effective in reaching out to the global population in their own languages, praising the Centre in Kathmandu for its dissemination of information in Nepali and Newari.  Highlighting the importance of engaging young people and of using both new and old media to disseminate information, he urged the Department to render the current telephone access to United Nations materials free of charge through designated toll-free numbers.  He went on to recall that the Kathmandu Information Centre recently supported the first Mount Everest expedition by women journalists — intended to raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality — adding that the private sector is also active in spreading the Sustainable Development Goals message.

PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), observed that whereas modern technology and interconnected communications networks present opportunities, they also present challenges, with the possible spread of misinformation potentially resulting in uncertainty and disorder.  The Department of Global Communications, therefore, is critical to the dissemination of accurate information and in building support for the United Nations, she emphasized.  Welcoming the Department’s cross-cutting reforms and evaluation mechanisms, however, she reiterated the importance of ensuring that the transition does not erode the considerable gains realized by the Organization’s Information Centres, nor eliminate the communications tools that have been most effective in the CARICOM region.  She went on to stress the importance of multilingualism, expressing appreciation for the Department’s promotion of activities to mark the annual observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  CARICOM applauds the efforts of United Nations Information Centres to widen the network and extend outreach throughout the Caribbean, particularly its planned series of media workshops on the Sustainable Development Goals, which will provide information-dissemination and outreach support to the United Nations Women Caribbean Multi-Country Office.

JULIO CÉSAR ARRIOLA RAMÍREZ (Paraguay), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Spanish, said multilingualism makes true multilateral dialogue possible.  Emphasizing the importance of Spanish as the second most spoken language in the world, he noted that Spanish-language web pages also rank second in terms of hits.  The United Nations must adapt to more requests from the Spanish-speaking public, he said, expressing concern over the disparity between the use of English and the Organization’s five other official languages.  Considering that the web page is the first doorway to the United Nations, the volume and quality of information provided must be identical in all languages, he stressed.  He went on to point out that English and French retain priority in the Department’s press releases and appealed for them to be available in all the official languages.

HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said many educational and cultural disparities persist around the world, noting that women comprise the majority of the 750 million illiterate adults worldwide.  As such, he called for swift, strategic and integrated communications to facilitate the transmission of United Nations messages through both digital and traditional platforms.  Departmental reform must take multilingualism into account and not eliminate forms of communication that have been proven effective, he emphasized, expressing hope that recent austerity measures will not affect the Department’s important tasks.  He went on to note the increasing harshness of the illegal embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States, saying that country’s illegal radio and television broadcasts are particularly designed to upset constitutional order in his country.  Calling for an immediate end to its aggressive policies, he rejected the announcement by the United States of a task force seeking to expand Internet access to independent broadcasters inside Cuba.  “We reject the attempt to manipulate the Internet for subversive political ends,” he declared.

NYAN LIN AUNG (Myanmar), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), acknowledged the Department’s efforts to prioritize multilingualism and encouraged it to continue to invest in bridging the digital divide for developing countries.  He also expressed appreciation for the Department’s promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Warning about the adverse consequences of “fake news”, he said the Department as a whole — and United Nations Information Centres in particular — must uphold the principles of objectivity, impartiality and neutrality by distributing accurate and credible information.

ALIAA ALI (Syria), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said the Department has a responsibility to disseminate accurate information that raises awareness of the Organization’s activities and spreads peace while stemming violence.  She noted that some media are not objective and serve only a narrow political agenda, warning that their negative role can help to spread extremist ideologies.  Pointing out international media reports that armed terrorist groups are operating in Syria — as demonstrated by attacks against journalists — she urged the Department to focus more of its efforts on the suffering of Palestinians, while expressing appreciation for the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine.  Calling for a greater focus on parity among the official languages, especially Arabic, she concluded by emphasizing that the principle of freedom of expression must not be used to attack the beliefs of others.

ANNA SUZUKI (Japan) recalled that her country’s Government dispatched a master gardener from Kyoto earlier in 2019 to work with landscape gardeners from Boston in pruning and refreshing the Japanese garden where the Peace Bell resides at United Nations Headquarters.  The plants in that garden, rejuvenated through constant and careful attention, testify to the fact that cultivating and communicating peace are core components of the work of the United Nations, she said.  Japan appreciates the Department’s initiative in promoting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, two major events that offer an opportunity to showcase the Sustainable Development Goals.  She added that the Organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary is a golden opportunity to define common objectives, amplify voices and inspire collective action.

MONCEF BAATI (Tunisia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, encouraged the Department to raise awareness on maintaining peace, gender parity and sustainable development, among other topics.  He also called on the Department to close the digital divide, stressing the important role it plays in supporting freedom of the press — an important pillar of democracy.  Emphasizing the importance of United Nations Information Centres in building local awareness, he applauded the efforts of the Information Centre in Tunis.  Noting that the suffering of Palestinians continues unabated, he expressed support for the Department’s information programme on the Palestinian question, including the annual training programme for Palestinian journalists.  He went on to stress the need to promote multilingualism as part of an integrated policy, calling upon the Department to employ creative means to meet budgetary challenges.  He also called for participation by and encouragement of young people, noting the Department’s engagement with civil society in that regard.

SONALI SAMARASINGHE (Sri Lanka) said that in a world where hate, racism and intolerance seem once again to have found a voice and a home, the Department has a responsibility to spread the United Nations message of hope and inspiration.  Member States should aim to amplify the Organization’s work through their own communications challenges, with the Department collaborating with Governments, civil society and media, she said.  Welcoming recent reforms, she said the Department must disseminate a positive narrative of the United Nations that makes people feel that the Organization belongs to everyone, not just the rich and powerful.  With extremist voices manipulating social media and occupying democratic space, she added, the Department’s efforts to step up its social media presence are encouraging.  Pointing out that Sri Lanka is a troop-contributing country, she emphasized the importance of close cooperation between the Departments of Global Communications and Peace Operations to enhance the Organization’s image and improve the quality of peacekeeping missions.

FEDOR K. STRZHIZHOVSKIY (Russian Federation), pointing out that departmental reform requires financial support, said any new projects and initiatives must provide added value without eliminating traditional services.  He expressed hope that the approved format of informal briefings with follow-up consultations will continue because it allows Member States to express their thoughts and concerns to the Department.  Highlighting the disparity in language use, he noted that Russian content on social media has a critically low level of results in terms of both users and content.  In fact, “likes” on United Nations Facebook accounts are three times lower in Russian than in Kiswahili and Portuguese, he pointed out, suggesting that insufficient attention is paid to Russian-language content, especially since Internet usage in Russia is among the world’s highest.  Multilingualism should remain a cornerstone of United Nations information and communications technology, he emphasized, calling for new strategies for creating language news services.

DIEDRE NICHOLE MILLS (Jamaica), associating herself with the Group of 77 and CARICOM, commended efforts to make the Department more agile and proactive, while emphasizing that reforms must strike an appropriate balance between new and traditional means of communication.  She expressed hope that the Organization’s current financial crisis will be short-lived and will not compromise the Department’s work.  Expressing her country’s commitment to strengthening and deepening its partnership with the Department for the commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, she said Jamaica looks forward to further engagement on the work of United Nations Information Centres.

KATERYNA ZELENKO (Ukraine), associating herself with the European Union, said free media and professional journalism play a decisive role in the democratic transformation of every country.  Deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation for freedom of expression and for the work of journalists in Crimea and Donbas, Ukraine appreciates the Secretary-General’s attention to the situation there.  One challenge to media freedom is the spread of misinformation and “fake news,” she said, noting that while it has existed for centuries, massive digitalization means biased information can reach a global audience almost instantly.  For that reason, the Department plays a critical role in counter-balancing misinformation, she noted, emphasizing that the international community should also redouble its efforts in identifying best practices and tools to deal with the global threat of “fake news.”

FRANCISCO DUARTE LOPES (Portugal) encouraged the Department to pursue its goal of creating a more modern, agile and nimble service, saying multilingualism must remain a central tenet of the United Nations communications strategy.  Emphasizing that the Department should expand its use of Portuguese, he pointed out that the language is spoken on every continent.  He went on to stress the invaluable role of United Nations Information Centres, recalling that General Assembly resolution 64/242 (2009) recommended the creation of a Centre in Luanda, Angola, which could be instrumental in disseminating United Nations information in Africa’s Portuguese-speaking countries.

HUSNI MUSTAFA YAGOUB HUSNI (Sudan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that information technology and social media have helped to elevate awareness of United Nations activities, as evidenced by the increased traffic to the webpage.  The Department also works against xenophobia and fear of the “other”, he observed, emphasizing the importance of multilingualism for social, cultural and linguistic diversity.  Sudan, he said, calls for increased partnerships with regional organizations to upgrade information capabilities and to promote a culture of peace and tolerance.  He pointed out that justice and reconciliation in his country require support and cooperation from many United Nations entities to build awareness of the challenges ahead.  As such, he applauded the Department’s coverage of the High-Level Forum on Sudan in September.  He went on to call for the expansion of United Nations information centres, urging them to avoid distorted information, particularly in countries emerging from conflict.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that some media campaigns tend to discredit multilateral discourse, and requested that the Department act pre-emptively to neutralize them.  The world is witnessing an alarming rise in hate speech, xenophobia, religious intolerance and terrorist narratives, which are fuelling a spate of conflicts and resulting in more displaced people across borders, he said.  As such, the Department must bolster its efforts to disseminate appropriate counter-narratives, he added.  He expressed appreciation for the Department’s digital campaign “Service and Sacrifice” — celebrating the contributions of troop- and police-contributing countries — while pointing out that disproportionate media focus on stray, untoward incidents in peace operations overshadow the tremendous work done by peacekeepers.  Moreover, Bangladesh is hosting 1.2 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals, he said, urging the Department to remain focused on the crisis.  He went on to point out that Bangla is the seventh most spoken language in the world, making it a major claimant to be an official United Nations language.

ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China as well as the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said the Department must broadcast the Organization’s message effectively across all platforms, in languages that people can understand.  Most people in developing countries are still on the margins of information and communications technology, he pointed out, calling upon the Department to adapt its communications materials accordingly.  He went on to express appreciation for the Department’s initiative to promote one Sustainable Development Goal each month, for creating and sharing content, and for its Service and Sacrifice campaigns that highlight the sacrifices of United Nations peacekeepers.  Emphasizing that official United Nations documents must be digitally accessible in all official languages and in a timely manner, he described multilingualism as the primary symbol of equality within the Organization.  If the United Nations message is to be understood broadly, it must be conveyed in the greatest number of languages possible, he stressed.

ANGELITO AYONG NAYAN (Philippines) said that in the age of big data and cybersecurity concerns, a deeply connected world has created a global landscape that presents many opportunities for cooperation, empowerment and progress, while at the same time causing complications that could curtail freedoms and hinder development of the “human person”.  The Philippines supports the Department as a responsible messenger of accurate, dependable, factual and reliable information, he said, adding that Member States and observers, partnering with key stakeholders such as civil society, the private sector and the media, should continue to responsibly harness the power of information in promoting peace, inclusiveness and development.

DEEPAK MISRA (India) said the Department has made laudable efforts to broadcast United Nations activities and expressed support for its work to promote action on climate change, the 2030 Agenda and other issues.  Noting the Department’s far-reaching efforts to highlight peacekeeping operations, he called attention to its Service and Sacrifice multilingual campaign, calling for adding the languages of the major troop-contributing countries to the website so as to further broaden outreach.  India also supports the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, he said, noting the growing membership of South Asian institutions.  Observing that declining financial resources represents a serious constraint on the Department’s ability to carry out its mandate in non-official languages, he urged it to examine innovative ways to raise resources beyond regular budgetary allocations, including voluntary contributions to expand global outreach, especially in widely spoken but non-official languages.  Totally eliminating the allocations previously provided for such efforts is not helpful, he pointed out.

ALON NAVEH (Israel) said that his country values sharing its knowledge with the world, but misinformation is also a problem.  Some of the information disseminated by the Department is incompatible with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, he said, adding that its special information programme on the question of Palestine has presented a one-sided narrative and circulated prejudiced materials.  He went on to cite the Department’s public exhibition in the General Assembly Building, saying it fails to recognize the 850,000 Jews who became refugees as a result of the war in 1948, while addressing the plight of Palestinian refugees in detail.  This false narrative belittles Israel’s rights to self-determination and self-defence, he said, stressing that its promotion by a United Nations entity is unacceptable.

RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil), associating himself with the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and the Group of 77 and China, said the Department must consider linguistic diversity and varying degrees of technological advancement in disseminating information.  It must use a mixture of new and old media for outreach because access to the Internet is not widespread in some developing countries, he added.  Emphasizing that multilingualism should permeate all United Nations campaigns and activities, he pointed out that UN News Portuguese is third only to English and Spanish, adding that engagement with Portuguese-language social media content is growing more rapidly than in any other language.  He went on to underline the vital importance of United Nations Information Centres for disseminating information, saying there is no better way to demonstrate respect for diversity than by producing content in languages that people understand.

BEATRIZ NÚÑEZ RIVAS (Uruguay), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China as well as the Group of Friends of Spanish, highlighted the Department’s Service and Sacrifice campaign, encouraging efforts to educate and involve youth in the work of the United Nations.  Given young people’s proclivity to new media, the Department must adapt its materials to those formats, she said, noting Uruguay’s launch of domestic initiatives that aim to spread the accessibility of new media throughout the country.  Websites and social media provide opportunities to promote the image of the United Nations, but the use of traditional media remains important, she emphasized.  She went on to point out the imbalance between the working languages of the United Nations and the disparity among the official languages, urging the Department to address those issues and ensure greater participation by all.  Noting that United Nations Information Centres make it possible to add national or regional perspectives to the Organization’s work, she called upon the Department to be creative in strengthening the Centres given its limited resources.

Right of Reply

The representative of Myanmar, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to Bangladesh, expressed frustration that the delegate brought up an issue not relevant to the topic of information.  Emphasizing that the Government of Myanmar is fully committed to resolving the issue in Rakhine State, he said it is expediting repatriation in cooperation with Bangladesh, the United Nations, France and other well-wishers.  The issue must be resolved bilaterally and the two countries have signed an agreement on the matter, he said, adding that Myanmar has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  He said that his delegation is also working closely with ASEAN on the repatriation of displaced persons.  Calling upon Bangladesh to fulfil its commitments in accordance with bilateral agreements in order to allow for a smooth repatriation of verified returnees, he pointed out that some have already returned, having been systematically processed, and are living under safe and secure conditions with families in Cox’s Bazaar.  One of the major obstacles is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) terrorist group, he added, emphasizing the importance of a safe environment for the returnees.

The representative of the Russian Federation, responding to Ukraine’s delegate, urged that Kyiv should be noting its own violations against journalists.  Citing reported crimes against journalists, bloggers and media representatives, he said some of these violations have not received a response after three years.  Instead of using international forums for cooperation, Ukraine is using this platform to attack the Russian Federation and to make unjustified accusations, he added.

The representative of Ukraine condemned all attacks against journalists, recalling that her country’s Government has taken legislative measures in that regard.  The President is closely following ongoing investigations into the most brutal attacks against journalists, she said, also noting that Ukraine’s press freedom index has improved by 25 points.  Whereas much work remains to create a safe environment for journalists in Ukraine, the Russian Federation has attacked press freedom in parts of Ukraine’s occupied territory, including through physical abduction and intimidation, she emphasized.

For information media. Not an official record.