Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the general assembly of the European Broadcasting Union, held today:
Thank you for inviting me to address the leadership of Europe’s public service media.
We at the United Nations recognize the key role you play in your countries at all times but especially amidst today’s COVID‑19 pandemic. I congratulate your new President‑elect, Delphine Ernotte, on her election and wish her the best for the road ahead at this pivotal moment. I thank President Tony Hall for his purposeful leadership in extraordinary times, which has led to strengthened cooperation between our two institutions.
Press freedom is a pillar of democracy. When journalists are targeted, all of society pays the price. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression to all. I wish to assure you of my strong commitment to defend those rights and, at a time when journalists face growing harassment and attacks in so many parts of the world, to ensure that journalists have the safety and civic space to carry out your essential mission.
[The year] 2020 has been a year like no other. A microscopic virus has taken over a million lives, destroyed livelihoods and created upheaval everywhere. It has changed the way we work, eat, travel, go to school and greet each other – the very fabric of our daily existence. The pandemic has exposed - and amplified - the fragility of our world and the fault lines that run through our communities and countries, with the most vulnerable groups suffering the worst impacts.
As horrendous as COVID‑19 has been, it is also very likely a dress rehearsal for the challenges to come – above all, climate disruption. If we are to overcome the pandemic, avert climate catastrophe and rebuild our societies in a more just, resilient and sustainable way, we need to strengthen cohesion within countries and increase cooperation among them.
The virus does not recognize boundaries or borders of any kind. Multilateralism and international cooperation remain the only way to solve a quintessential global challenge like the one we face. That’s true for COVID‑19, for the climate crisis, tackling inequality, advancing gender equality, ending hunger, and ensuring every child is able to go to school.
Yet at precisely the time when we need more global solidarity, we are seeing an increasingly fractured world, with countries going their own way on the pandemic amid rising geopolitical tensions and mistrust. Ongoing armed conflicts add fuel to these fires. We must overcome “cold” conflicts, present or future, and stop “hot” ones. That is why last week, I reiterated my call for a global ceasefire by the end of the year.
This is a critical juncture. [The year] 2020 marks both the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the United Nations and the seventieth anniversary of your organization. Both were born following in the aftermath of a pandemic, a world war, and an economic crisis. The world saw that true national security was best pursued together, through cooperation, burden‑sharing and adherence to the rule of law. A third world war, which many had feared, had been averted.
But today our challenges are profound, and people want more from the multilateral system. We mark the UN75 milestone not with celebration but with a conversation, with a serious discussion around the world. We have reached out to the world’ s people through dialogues, polls and surveys on what our priorities should be and how we can build the future we want.
More than 1 million people participated. Their answers showed great anxiety about the pandemic, climate change and much else. There was also great yearning for global solidarity and a strong belief in the United Nations as an instrument of progress, requiring naturally reform, transparency and accountability. I take these findings to heart and am strongly committed to repaying that confidence with action on the real concerns of real people.
That is why recovery is so important. We cannot go back to what was; we must get things right for the future. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of course remain our road map. The Goals can help us address precisely the gaps and inequalities that had sent the world off course and left us vulnerable to a pandemic. We have just launched a Decade of Action to get them on track. As a matter of fact, we are far from being on track in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
And this is where cooperation between our organizations can be so fruitful. I am delighted that your organization is among the founding members of the SDG Media Compact, and I welcome our joint framework, which is getting the UN’s messages out to wider audiences. Our cooperation dates back decades and encompasses many key issues. Together, we promote democracy, we fight disinformation, and we champion trust, diversity and innovation.
Today, I invite you to join us even more deeply in our efforts to spread accurate and reliable information through the UN’s Verified initiative. Verified is our response to an essential fact about COVID‑19 ¬ it is not just a public health emergency, but a communications emergency too. As soon as the virus started to spread, inaccurate and dangerous messages proliferated, leaving people confused, misled and ill‑advised. We need to make sure that health guidance circulates faster and reaches people wherever they access information.
I am grateful that the European Broadcast Union and the United Nations share the same objective, including through your “Trusted News Initiative”. This is especially critical as we work to build public confidence in the safety and efficacy of future COVID‑19 vaccines and treatments. We need a “people’s vaccine”, a global public good that is not just affordable and available to all, but accepted by all.
We must also build up the immunity in our societies against the virus of hate. I continue to call on all media to do more to stop the spread of hate speech, on air and online. At this crucial time, we need the media to inform the public with accurate and science‑backed information, and to push back against lies and misinformation. This is what the public service media is doing better than anyone else.
We can save lives by establishing confidence in a science‑based response to defeat COVID‑19, and to assist the recovery. Only together, in solidarity, will we emerge from this pandemic safer and better.
I thank you for your support and I am looking forward to our discussion now. Thank you very much.