The Committee on Information closed its annual session during a videoconference meeting today, approving two hallmark draft resolutions, one focused on core questions of press freedom and the second laying out its requests and expectations for the newly reformed Department of Global Communications.
The texts — contained in the Committee’s report (document A/75/21), which delegates approved chapter by chapter — will be sent to the General Assembly for formal adoption. Committee Chair Omar Hilale (Morocco) said the resolutions will offer important guidance for the Department as it strengthens its outreach and engages people around the world in efforts to create a sustainable future after COVID-19.
By the terms of its lengthy draft resolution B — “United Nations global communications policies and activities” — the General Assembly would request the Department to continue to evaluate its products and activities with the objective of enhancing their effectiveness.
With that in mind, the Assembly would welcome the 2020 Global Communications Strategy for the United Nations developed by the Department — the first of its kind — to inform people about the state of the world and empower them to take action in support of the Secretary-General’s transformative agenda. It would request the Secretary-General to make the Strategy available in all official languages and encourage coordination between his office and the Department to ensure consistent messaging.
Importantly, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Assembly would call for intensified cooperation with the United Nations system to disseminate scientific knowledge, best practices and information on diagnostics, drugs and future COVID-19 vaccines, as well as in promoting a “One Health” approach to prevent the emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases. Further, it would note with appreciation the Department’s efforts to ensure business continuity during the pandemic and request it to assess both its response and overall readiness to meet the Organization’s communication needs in any future emergencies. It would specifically draw attention to the Department’s sharing of accurate, timely and relevant information about COVID-19, helping to counter misinformation and disinformation, particularly as reflected in the “Verified” campaign, announced in April.
In the area of multilingualism, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of making use of all official United Nations languages, ensuring their full and equitable treatment. Among other things, it would support the Department’s continued use of Portuguese, Kiswahili, Urdu, Bangla, Hindi, Persian and the 106 languages in use by the United Nations Information Centres, with a view to reaching the widest spectrum of audiences.
In terms of strategic communications, outlined in part III of the resolution, the Assembly would request the Department to enhance global public awareness about a variety of issues — from multilateralism and unprecedented humanitarian crises to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, climate change and conflict prevention. The seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations founding also presents a unique opportunity to stress that there is no other global body with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact of the United Nations.
As for news services, contained in part IV of the text, the Assembly would request the Department to continue to build partnerships with local, national and regional media outlets. It would also recognize the potential of United Nations websites and social media accounts to offer multilingual and multimedia digital content.
Draft B also covers expectations and requests related to library services and outreach services, and offers final remarks on the Department’s future work.
By the terms of draft A — “Information in the Service of Humanity” — the General Assembly would urge all countries, and the United Nations as a whole, to reaffirm their commitment to the principles of press freedom and freedom of information, as well as independence, pluralism and media diversity. It would express deep concern over the disparities between developed and developing countries, and the consequences of such inequities on the ability of media in developing nations to disseminate information. In recognizing the call for “a new world information and communication order”, the Assembly would urge countries to cooperate, with a view to reducing existing disparities in information flows.
Japan’s representative, explaining her country’s position, said it is its understanding that “the coverage by the Department of the measures, actions and declarations” being welcomed in operative paragraph 12 does not include those on which Member States have conflicting views. Japan does not welcome communication by the Department that sides only with part of those conflicting positions.
Speaking after the approval, the representative of the United States clarified that his country submitted formal notification of its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to the United Nations on 4 November 2019. As the withdrawal will take effect one year from its delivery, references to the Paris Agreement and climate change are without prejudice to the United States positions. Regarding the global response to COVID-19, he said the United States does not concur with the resolution’s reference to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The representative of Chile expressed support for the resolution, but disassociated from operative paragraph 11, as her country did not participate in the global conference that led to the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Chile has updated its migratory law to ensure that migration is orderly and regular, she added.
Following the Committee’s approval of the report, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming said the warmth and candour of the statements delivered throughout the first virtual session brought a personal dynamic that helped to bridge the physical distance. “You are an example that shows that the work of multilateral diplomacy has not stopped and will not stop,” she said, noting that such efforts have taken on new urgency, given the challenges faced today. The United Nations, perhaps more than ever, needs a multilateralism that is purposeful and results-oriented.
To that end, she said the Department will ensure that the information flow during the General Assembly — while adapted to the circumstances — continues, so that Member States, the media and an anxious global public can follow the proceedings. Importantly, her office will ensure that the United Nations is depicted as being at the centre of multilateral diplomacy, the source of trusted information and the inspiration for global collaboration and solutions.
As signalled in the Global Communications Strategy, “we want to demonstrate that the United Nations serves everyone, everywhere”, she said. The Department aims to ensure people have the facts and the science, inspiring them to care — and act. Amid the biggest global crisis in United Nations history, the Department is already having significant impact with this approach. She welcomed the Committee’s strong endorsement of the strategy and noted its request that it be translated into all official languages. “It will be done very soon,” she assured.
Explaining that the Strategy’s success depends on seamless collaboration among the Department’s various arms and within the Secretariat, she thanked the Committee for recognizing the value of its products and services, as well as the relationships built globally with a range of partners: media outlets, digital platforms, celebrities, civil society groups, educational institutions and the private sector among them.
The pandemic has shed light on the relevance of the Department’s crisis communications, she said. “From providers of accurate information, we have the added responsibility of being the challengers of misinformation,” she stressed, thanking delegates for their praise of the United Nations Information Centres, which adapt and amplify the Department’s content and messages. These efforts have had even more impact through the invigorated resident coordinator system, and been bolstered by the “Verified” campaign, which sends out targeted information to a range of audiences in as many languages as possible.
She said the pandemic has sharpened the focus on two critical issues — climate change and gender equality — noting that, just last week, researchers found that people living in regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from COVID-19. The Department communicates about this defining issue strategically through the work of its climate lab communications team. And having supported the 27 April launch of the “Women Rise for All” initiative, it will continue to advocate for gender equality.
The Committee’s call for the Department to develop strategies for more innovative use of traditional and digital media is heard “loud and clear”, she said, pledging to use the best means suited for audiences with whom it must engage. “We will continue to make every effort to communicate in as many languages as possible given the resources we have,” she said, welcoming the Committee Chair’s call for human and financial resources to be allocated to the Department.
The seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations — in a context impossible to have forecast some months ago — is a reminder that the Organization is needed when global challenges demand global solutions. The Department will counter discrimination, hate speech, racism and violence, while, at the same time, promote tolerance, diversity, peace, dialogue and cooperation. To be sure, the United Nations does not want only to be celebrated. It also wants to celebrate humankind and humanity — and to prove it has listened to people’s views across the globe.
Rapporteur Oleg Nikolenko (Ukraine), who introduced the Committee’s report, read out a summary of statements delivered during the 3-4 September general debate, including by the Chair, who launched the discussion by underscoring the Department’s important role in covering the General Assembly — coverage which has been hindered by the absence of journalists due to the coronavirus.
In addressing the substantive issues before the Committee, he said numerous delegations noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, increasing the need for accurate and science‑based information. Several highlighted the importance of multilingualism and language equity, praising United Nations Information Centres for garnering support for the Organization’s work.
A recurring subject was the issue of the digital divide, he continued, which many noted had increased due to the pandemic. Several expressed strong support for strengthening the Department’s news and social media capacity, while others urged it to continue allocating resources to traditional media, such as print and radio.
* The 1st to 4th Meetings were not covered.