INFORMATION DEPARTMENT MANAGEMENT REFORM, STRATEGIES
TO ENHANCE UN MESSAGE AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED, AS
FOURTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES INFORMATION DEBATE
NEW YORK, 30 October (UN Headquarters) -- The overarching goal of the reform of the Department of Public Information was not just reducing costs and improving efficiency, but enhancing the effectiveness of United Nations information activities, the representative of Denmark told the Fourth Committee this afternoon.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, she said that in the changing environment of new technologies and opportunities, the United Nations must bring its important message to as many people as possible. Thus, communications and information strategies must be an integral part of the Organization’s strategic management. The United Nations could not achieve its purposes if the peoples of the world were not informed of its aims and activities. That was the important role of DPI which must ensure that the United Nations message was delivered using the right technology, approaching the correct audiences and with the appropriate mix of communication tools.
Singapore’s representative said that the DPI was uniquely placed to effectively narrate the compelling United Nations story, which must be told well, because public support was essential for strengthening the Organization. If a man-on-the-street were asked about his impressions of the United Nations, his answer would probably be disheartening. An effective DPI was needed to convey the Organization's message, especially regarding its good work in ensuring peace and security and meeting the Millennium goals, including poverty eradication. That required a paradigm shift in the Department's role from mechanically conveying United Nations messages to explaining to the world the rationale and real purpose behind the Organization's endeavours.
In that regard, the Department was moving in the right direction, he added. The United Nations Web site had clearly grown in importance in recent times. Since April this year, the DPI had developed the capability to transmit daily news on the United Nations directly to the desktops of journalists through the United Nations news service. Many major newspapers had already linked up electronically with the Web site. The DPI had also made significant progress in its radio broadcasting. He supported the Secretary-General’s plan to create a division of strategic communications, which would devise, disseminate and evaluate United Nations messages around priority themes.
The representative of the United States, while fully supporting the Secretary-General’s proposal to conduct a systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of the Department’s activities, questioned the need for the evaluation to take three years. If that were the case, the implementation of its recommendations would not begin until the second half of the decade. The Department, under its own authority, should begin to implement meaningful and far-reaching change as soon as practical, and present to the Assembly the issues that required its concurrence. He said it was incumbent on programme managers to identify activities that should be eliminated and to shift resources to high-priority areas.
Switzerland’s representative supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to create regional information centre "hubs", noting that United Nations information centres in developed countries absorbed up to 40 per cent of all allotted resources. He said the United Nations Office in Geneva could play an important role in that respect, in particular due to the presence there of many specialized agencies, as well as international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Congratulating the Department for its "tremendous" work in the past year, Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), supported, in principle, the need for rationalization of regional information centres through the creation of regional hubs. Their establishment, however, should take place on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the unique needs and interests of the regions involved and following consultations with relevant countries. In many cases, the centres remained a vital link between the Organization and the people they served.
The representative of Monaco commended the Department for its extensive coverage of international meetings and summits, saying that a "perfectly orchestrated" campaign to promote the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, last spring had sparked unprecedented media interest in that conference. The DPI had shown the same commitment in its preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The Summit’s success was in large part due to the work of the civil society that had been daily informed on the negotiations by on-the-spot information.
Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Syria, Russian Federation, Myanmar, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Iran, Bahrain, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Libya, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Ukraine and Mali.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday, 31 October, to conclude its consideration of questions relating to information.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on questions relating to information. [For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/248 of 29 October.]
The Committee was also expected to take action on two related draft resolutions and a draft decision. The draft texts are contained in the report on the twenty-fourth session of the Committee on Information (document A/57/21).
Draft resolution A -- Information in the service of humanity -- would have the General Assembly urge all countries, the United Nations system and all others concerned to cooperate and interact to reduce existing disparities in information flows, by increasing assistance for communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries. This should be done with due regard to the needs and priorities of those countries, and in order to enable them to develop their own information and communication policies.
The Assembly would urge all concerned to ensure that journalists have the opportunity to freely and effectively perform their professional tasks, and condemn all attacks against them. They would also be urged to provide support for the strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists in developing countries. Regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, and between developed and developing countries, would be sought to strengthen communication capacities and to improve the media infrastructure and communication technology, especially in training and information dissemination.
Among other things, the Assembly would seek all possible support and assistance for: the development of human and technical resources indispensable for improvement of information and communications systems in developing countries; the creation of conditions that will enable developing countries to have communication technology suited to their needs; establishing and promoting telecommunication links at the subregional, regional and interregional levels; and the facilitation of developing countries' access to advanced communication technology available on the open market.
By draft resolution B of the text -- United Nations public information policies and activities -- the General Assembly would concur with the Secretary-General on the need to enhance the technological infrastructure of the Department of Public Information (DPI) to widen its outreach, as well as to improve the United Nations Web site. The Assembly would also reaffirm that the DPI is the focal point for information policies of the United Nations and the primary news centre for information about the Organization and its activities and those of the Secretary-General.
Also by the text, the Assembly would encourage:
Further by the text, the Assembly would request the Committee to thoroughly examine the comprehensive review once it had been finalized and to submit its recommendations thereon to the Assembly. It would also stress the importance of respecting the principal competence of the Committee to undertake the examination and submit recommendations prior to the consideration of the review by any other body. It would call on Member States to ensure that recommendations relating to the Department's programme of work originate and are considered in the Committee.
Also, DPI would be urged to continue to exhibit transparency to increase awareness of the impact of its programmes and activities. The Assembly would, in addition, request the Department to continue consultations with the Committee prior to taking any decision on the possible changing of its title.
Concerning the issuance of daily press releases, the Assembly would request the Department to continue providing this service to both Member States and media representatives, while considering possible means of improving their production process and streamlining their format.
In the area of multilingualism, the Assembly would reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure that the DPI has appropriate staffing capacity in all official languages of the United Nations to undertake all its activities. It would remind him of the need to include in the Department's future budget proposals the importance of using all six official languages in its activities.
Regarding the United Nations information centres, the Assembly would emphasize that, as the "field voice" of the DPI, United Nations information centres should promote public awareness and mobilize support for the work of the United Nations at the local level, bearing in mind that information in the local languages has the strongest impact on the local populations. It would request the Secretary-General to include in his comprehensive review the results of the ongoing review by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the matter and information on DPI's involvement in the United Nations Houses initiative.
Also, the Assembly would recall the appeal made by the Secretary-General to the host governments of United Nations information centres to facilitate the work of the centres in their countries by providing rent-free or rent-subsidized premises, while taking into account the economic condition of the host governments, and bearing in mind that such support should not be a substitute for the full allocation of financial resources for United Nations information centres in the context of the United Nations programme budget.
By further terms, the Assembly would note the possibility of creating regional information centre "hubs", especially but not exclusively in areas where linguistic commonalties facilitate regionalization, and stress the need for the Committee to consider a set of proposed guidelines and criteria relating to the advisability of implementing this option. It would also stress that the creation of any such "hubs" -- subject to the Assembly endorsing these guidelines and criteria -- should take place in a flexible manner, if feasible, on a case-by-case basis and only with the approval of all host countries concerned.
In other action, the Assembly would request the DPI to continue its efforts to strengthen its capacity to contribute significantly to the functioning of information components in United Nations peacekeeping operations, including through the development of a coherent information strategy with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The Assembly would also stress the importance of enhancing DPI's public information capacity in the field of peacekeeping operations and its role in the selection process of spokespersons for peacekeeping operations or missions, and encourage the DPI to second spokespersons who have the necessary skills to fulfil the tasks of the operations or missions, and to consider views expressed, especially by host countries in that regard.
Regarding traditional means of communications, the Assembly would stress that radio remains one of the most cost-effective and far-reaching traditional media available to the DPI and an important instrument in United Nations activities, such as development and peacekeeping. It would look forward to the report of the Secretary-General to be submitted to the Committee at its twenty-fifth session on the implementation of the United Nations international radio broadcasting capacity, in order for the Committee to decide on the future of this capacity.
In addition, the Assembly would reiterate that all the DPI publications should fulfil an identifiable need, not duplicate other publications of the United Nations system and be produced in a cost-effective manner. In that regard, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to include in his comprehensive review the relevant results of the larger review of United Nations publications and information materials called for by the Assembly in its resolution 56/253.
Concerning the United Nations Web site, the Assembly would stress the need to adopt a decision on the multilingual development, maintenance and enrichment of the Web site, considering, among other things, the possibility of organizational restructuring towards separate language units of each of the six official languages within the DPI to achieve full parity among the official languages of the United Nations.
It would reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure, until such a decision has been taken and implemented, the equitable distribution of financial and human resources within the DPI allocated to the Web site among all official languages on a continuous basis, and to make every possible effort to ensure that all materials contained on the Web site that do not change and do not need regular maintenance are made available in all six official languages.
In addition, the Assembly would reaffirm the need of achieving full parity among the six official languages on the Web site, and, in this regard, take note of the Secretary-General's proposal to translate all English materials and databases on the Web site by the respective content-providing offices of the Secretariat into all official languages. It would also request the Secretary-General to report to the Committee at its next session on the most practical, efficient and cost-effective means of implementing this proposal.
Further, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to include in his report to the Committee's next session proposals relating to the designation of a future date by which all supporting arrangements would be in place for the implementation of this concept, and after which parity would continue from that date onwards, as well as to the exemption of specific items from translation on the Web site.
The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General to report to the Committee at its next session on the impact on the functioning of the official document system following implementation of the full multilingual support function and on the feasibility of providing free, public access to the official document system through a link with the United Nations Web site, and express its intention to take a decision on the official document system subscription policy during the main part of its fifty-eight session.
Also, the Assembly would take note with interest of the electronic mail-based United Nations News Service distributed worldwide by e-mail by the DPI, express appreciation for the plan by the DPI to provide this service in the other four official languages this year and emphasize that extra care needs to be taken to ensure that news-breaking stories and news alerts are accurate, impartial and free of any bias.
According to the terms of the draft decision on the increase in the membership of the Committee on Information, the Assembly would decide to increase the membership of that body from 98 to 99 and to appoint Saudi Arabia as a member.
LOUAY FALLOUH (Syria) said the Organization, in general, and the Committee on Information, in particular, had a special responsibility to explain the objectives and activities of the United Nations to both the developed and developing world. Security Council and General Assembly decisions must be conveyed to the public. That was an important function of the Organization’s information activities, in particular mobilizing the international world to end occupation.
He welcomed DPI’s efforts to improve the United Nations Web site. Full equality on the Internet in the six official languages must be achieved and the necessary human and financial resources provided. The General Assembly had asked for reorientation of United Nations activities in communications and information matters of concern to all Member States. In that regard, it was necessary to revert to the Committee on Information before taking measures to restructure the Department. Measures should not affect the mandates and activities adopted by the General Assembly in the field of information.
Regarding the Department’s programme on Palestinian matters, the necessary resources must be provided for that programme, he said. Any change in the programme’s name must be approved by the General Assembly. While he supported the efforts of the Organization to reach the largest spectrum of public opinion, information partners did not always convey the United Nations voice in an objective manner. Syria was ready to cooperate to improve the information capacity of the Organization, which should be both objective and transparent.
SERGEY V. TREPELKOV (Russian Federation) said recent discussions on information issues at the General Assembly had become more substantive and constructive. The United Nations continued its efforts to strengthen its public information and communication role, which was important for shaping public opinion. The DPI should continue the ongoing process of forming communication culture, and enhancing the coordination and efficiency of communication links among United Nations bodies.
It was of fundamental importance that the DPI focus its efforts on dissemination of essential information within an agreed strategy. The priorities of the Department should be in tune with the tasks and priorities enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Millennium Declaration.
He noted that a special page in all six United Nations official languages was created on the United Nations Web site with information on efforts by the Organization to address the fight against terrorism.
He said the setting-up of regional information hubs, proposed in the Secretary-General’s report, seemed appropriate. However, the implementation should be gradual and take into account opinions of all countries concerned, as well as the needs of the geographical regions. Account should also be taken to the official United Nations languages used in the region. He called for additional in-depth study of the idea of rationalizing the United Nations library system; proposals to hand over part of the functions of the United Nations libraries in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library in New York were not sufficiently substantiated. He said there should be a detailed examination of all aspects of the proposals, taking into account possible consequences.
He said he commended the Secretary-General’s intention to make sure that digital information infrastructure did not adversely affect countries with limited access to the Internet. Efforts to place most documents "online" seemed promising. The time-tested principle of equality among the working and official languages of the Organization should be reaffirmed by the General Assembly on a regular basis. He said his delegation supported continuation of the United Nations international radio broadcasting project, in the six official languages, with official establishment of a permanent United Nations multilingual radio service in the future.
KOK POH FATT (Singapore) said the United Nations had a compelling story to tell, and it must be told well, because public support was essential for strengthening the Organization. If a man-in-the-street were asked about his impressions of the United Nations, his answer would probably be disheartening. New Yorkers, for example, associated the Organization most closely with negative and often false stereotypes. It connoted errant diplomats who did not pay their parking fines and who were privileged with free parking lots in a city where parking space was a rare commodity.
The United Nations also meant disruptions to traffic when major meetings were held at the Headquarters. In the host country, there was still an impression that the United Nations was an over-bloated bureaucracy, and its diplomats were engaged in negotiations that resulted in incomprehensible documents with little real life implication.
The DPI, he continued, was uniquely placed to narrate the United Nations story effectively. Against the background of globalization, the universal membership of the United Nations made it an indispensable institution for dialogue, and for forging a global consensus on issues of global import. An effective DPI was needed to convey the Organization's message, especially regarding its good work in ensuring peace and security and meeting the Millennium Goals, including poverty eradication. That required a paradigm shift in the Department's role from mechanically conveying United Nations messages to explaining to the world the rationale and real purpose behind the Organization's endeavours.
He said the DPI was moving in the right direction. The United Nations Web site had clearly grown in importance in recent times. Since April this year, the DPI had developed the capability to transmit daily news on the United Nations directly to the desktops of journalists through the United Nations news service. Many major newspapers had already linked up electronically with the Web site. The DPI had also made significant progress in its radio broadcasting. He said he supported the Secretary-General’s plan to create a division of strategic communications, which would devise, disseminate and evaluate United Nations messages around priority themes.
He said United Nations information centres played a vital role in communicating the Organization's message around the world and should be rendered more effective. Their resources would be spread too thinly if the centres which were located in high-cost developed countries continued to absorb 40 per cent of all related expenditures. He supported the proposal to consolidate the 71 centres around regional "hubs". However, the exercise should be carried out with due consideration for the circumstances and needs of different countries and regions.
PATRICK KENNEDY (United States) said the United States looked forward to the comprehensive review called for in General Assembly resolution 56/253. The Committee on Information, in draft resolution B, contained in document A/57/21, called on the Secretary-General to include in his comprehensive review the results of the ongoing review being conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the Untied Nations information centres; the results of the overall review of the United Nations library services, including the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, and the results of the larger review of United Nations publications.
The Secretary-General, he continued, in his report on strengthening the United Nations (document A/57/387) proposed that the Department, with the assistance of the OIOS, conduct a systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of its activities over a three-year period. He fully supported the Secretary-General’s proposals, but questioned the need for an evaluation to take three years. In such a case, implementation of its recommendations would not begin until the second half of the decade. The Department, under its own authority, should begin implementation of meaningful and far-reaching change as soon as practical, to present to the Assembly the issues that required its concurrence. There was no reason for a three-year delay.
It was incumbent on programme managers to identify activities that should be eliminated and to shift resources to high-priority areas, he said. Working towards parity in the use of the six official languages on the United Nations Web site was a priority activity. He did not agree with the blanket statement in the report on Web site enhancement in all official languages that there was no room within the Department’s current budget to absorb such costs. While recognizing that the United Nations Chronicle was informative and well-written, resources used to produce the Chronicle would be better spent enhancing the United Nations Web site in the six official languages. Eliminating the Chronicle would free up the funding requested in the Web site enhancement report.
At the end of the Assembly’s fifty-sixth session, the Fifth Committee had decided to establish two new posts in the DPI, he said. Not only was that decision not recommended by the Department or discussed in the Committee on Information, it had not been considered by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC). The decision to allocate such resources should have been considered by the appropriate legislative bodies. The circumvention of procedure was particularly troubling in light of the reorientation of the Department currently under way.
He supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to rationalize the current ad hoc arrangement of United Nations information centres and offices. United Nations Houses had been established in 17 countries and an additional 34 countries had been designated to host United Nation Houses. Several United Nations agencies maintained system offices in more than 120 countries. He called on the Department to factor-in the Secretary-General’s United Nations Houses initiative, and the many United Nations system offices worldwide, into its regional hub proposal. Presentation of a system-wide plan would allow for concessions to be made by countries in all regions, with the end result being a more efficient and effective information system.
While he had hoped to limit his statement to matters on the agenda, he said the Cuban delegate had chosen to politicize the Committee. The United States Government had observed international obligations, particularly those of the International Telecommunication Union. For 43 years Cubans had been denied the right to meet or organize freely. Since May, the Cuban Government had refused to consider the petition signed by some 11,000 Cubans. The Cuban Government’s opposition to TV Marti was driven by its fear of the Cuban people having knowledge of the world around them and the freedom to which they were entitled.
LINN MYAING (Myanmar) associated himself with the position of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and said that reduction of existing disparities in information flow between the developed and developing countries at all levels remained one of the main challenges. That could be best achieved by increasing assistance for the development of the communication infrastructure and capabilities in developing countries. Due regard must also be given to the priorities set by each individual country to develop its own information and communication technologies (ICT) capacity.
Welcoming the decision to convene world summits on the information society in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005, he said that deliberations there would contribute towards the efforts to bridge the digital divide. He also commended the Secretary-General for the establishment of the United Nations Information Technology Service, the Health Inter Network and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Task Force. Those efforts, along with other ongoing activities of the DPI, the United Nations information centres and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, would surely have a great impact on the development of ICT in developing countries.
As a country in transition, Myanmar was studying all the advancements in the ICT area in order to make good use of its potential, he continued. It was also necessary, however, to be fully aware of the risks associated with modern technology. His country found it important to maintain its identity, unity and culture in moving forward towards a democratic society. The Government had established a national council to formulate a national ICT strategy to deal with those important issues. A cyber law would also be enacted. The strength of the country depended upon the educational level of its citizens, and e-education had been successfully integrated into Myanmar's education system.
Among other efforts to build the country's capacity, he listed the master plan for the development of the ICT sector; the use of teleconferencing technology and the creation of e-learning centres. Computer systems were being used to register persons, vehicles, passports and visas. Two companies had been set up not only to augment the existing e-mail capability, but also to provide a wider Internet access. Myanmar was cooperating with other ASEAN countries at the regional level. All those developments had actually been commonplace in developed countries for quite some time now. That partly pointed to the gap in the level of the ICT between the developed and developing countries as it was only recently that countries like his had been able to put such programmes and infrastructure in
MOHAMMED SALEM AL RASHEDI (United Arab Emirates) called for the establishment of a new, more just and effective world information and communication order, which would strengthen peace, security and international understanding. Such an order should be based on free and more balanced dissemination of information. His country attached great importance to media and information technology, believing in the freedom of speech as far as Islamic and social heritage of the country was concerned. The Government ensured access to information technology and communications to government institutions and schools, hence joining the top 20 countries in the world in terms of using the Internet. It had also established international centres for media and information technology, such as the Dubai Media City and the Dubai Internet City.
Turning to the activities of the DPI, he commended its efforts in promoting the message of the Organization. The political role of the Department's information activities should have precedence over financial concerns when preparing the budget of the Organization. He also supported the promotion of multilingualism and ensuring parity among the six official languages on the United Nations Wweb site and in the printed information materials. In that context, he reiterated the importance of providing human resources and technical facilities to the Arabic divisions in the United Nations. He also stressed the need to promote universal access to information in the developing and poor countries, which did not have the infrastructure and resources to benefit from modern technology. He also called for stipulating an international code for information, which would ensure its transparent and reliable dissemination.
Continuing, he reiterated the need to strengthen DPI's activities aimed at enhancing public awareness of the Palestine question and the situation in the Middle East. He called, therefore, for full implementation of the information activities related to the Palestine Information Programme, which had been endorsed by the Assembly. The role of the media was very important in disseminating information on the crimes committed by the Israeli troops against the innocent civilians and uncovering continuing Israeli violations of international law. He regretted that DPI's efforts, as far as exhibitions, broadcasting and printed material on the Palestine question were concerned, had slowed.
JANICE MILLER (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the extent of availability of the latest information technology was an indicator of continuing discrepancies between the developed and developing countries. She welcomed, therefore, DPI's intention to bring the message of the United Nations to a wider constituency using both traditional and modern dissemination and communication means. She welcomed the restructuring of the Department, in order to allow it to better transmit its message. While noting that the restructuring would be carried out in a progressive manner, she expressed hope that the principles of transparency and open consultation would continue to be part of that exercise.
The organizational changes within the DPI, as outlined in the report before the Committee, should bring about a more streamlined approach to the dissemination of information on the work and programmes of the United Nations. Involvement of various substantive departments in that process should also provide an additional resource base, which would assist the DPI in carrying out its tasks. She reiterated, however, that the United Nations Millennium Goals must continue to determine the priority themes in the work of the DPI. In consolidating the outreach component of the Department, she supported holding exhibitions to send the United Nations message. Recognizing financial and other resource constraints, she advocated using creative approaches to continue such practices, including the introduction of travelling exhibitions or involvement of other agencies or departments.
She congratulated the DPI on its tremendous work in promoting various international conferences and commemorative activities over the past year. She also continued to be pleased by the programming provided by the Caribbean Radio Unit. For certain countries of the Community, the use of improved technology, specifically through the File Transfer Protocol, had increased the speed and access of radio programmes to the region. The use of linkages through the information centre in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Nations House in Barbados, had also facilitated efficient transmittal of the Caribbean news programme. Even more gratifying had been the overwhelming response from the Caribbean radio stations, which continued to request that programme, as well as international content contained in other United Nations programmes.
Continuing, she also requested a reinstatement of the Caribbean Magazine Programme, which provided an informative resource base for a wide section of the Caribbean society. The CARICOM also looked forward to the complete implementation by the DPI of resolution 38/82 B so as to introduce full radio programming in Creole for Haiti The Dag Hammarskjöld Library provided an invaluable service to Member States. Noting with interest the proposal for central oversight of the United Nations libraries and development of a virtual library, CARICOM looked forward to the creation of a single multilingual electronic gateway to the library's information and documents. Supporting the reduction in paper use, however, the Community wished to emphasize the need to make limited copies of those documents available in hard copy format.
Regarding United Nations information centres, she supported, in principle, the need for rationalization of regional information centres through the creation of regional hubs. At the same time, their establishment should take place on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the unique needs and interests of the regions involved and following consultations with relevant countries. In many cases, the centres remained a vital link between the Organization and the people they served. In particular, she reaffirmed the importance of the information centre in Port-of-Spain. She was also pleased that the DPI was cognizant of the importance of the establishment of an enhanced information component in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi-Island Office in Kingston, Jamaica.
MARIANA OLIVERA (Mexico) said that in light of the ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies, the large amount of information disseminated by the Organization and the myriad issues it considered, the review of the Organization’s information activities must be undertaken with the utmost responsibility. She agreed on the need for a good definition of the DPI. The definition to be proposed by the Secretariat should include work that went beyond the mere dissemination of information. It should also include the role of the Department as a liaison between the Organization and different parts of civil society, its role in seeking out strategic partnerships and education and training programmes.
She said clearly outlined objectives were needed for a broad revision of the Organization’s information activities and that should not be based only on the cost of various activities. Regarding the shared responsibility of the Department and the Committee on Information, she said that communication and information flows between the two should be constant and transparent. The work between those two entities must be promoted. She appreciated the identification and review of the DPI on its key activities, including publications, libraries and information centres. The Committee on Information should consider, evaluate and complete the activities in the field of information, so that the General Assembly could approve decisions in that field. The role of information centres should be improved. She agreed with the decision to reallocate resources to give priority to the information centres in developing countries. The proposal must, however, be examined in greater depth before making any decisions.
MOHAMMAD HASSAN FADAIFARD (Iran) said that in the new millennium, information and communication played an important role in national empowerment and sustainable development. The report of the Secretary-General on the question of information was, therefore, a matter of utmost interest. He said Iran fully supported the idea that the capacity of the DPI should be enhanced, a process that required the active participation of Member States.
In relation to any new operating model for the DPI in New York and a new concept for the information centres, he said, Iran believed that activities in the areas of special interest to developing countries should be further intensified. Information centres in developing countries should be strengthened; they should continue to evolve their own Web pages in local languages. The proposed United Nations regional information hub in developed nations was a positive initiative.
He said Iran supported the enhancing of the United Nations Web site. The balance between electronic and traditional means of communication should be maintained. The proposal to improve and integrate the management of the United Nations libraries was also to be welcomed.
SIGNE ROPKE (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, reiterated the Union’s commitment to the freedom of expression and information. Independent media was a crucial element in building democracy. Technology reshaped the ways of consuming information and continued to create new challenges for the DPI. The Department’s traditional tasks remained important. The DPI’s core activities must be determined. Policies to strengthen DPI’s effectiveness and efficiency must be formulated in order for it to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. The United Nations should reach out to the disseminators of information using the latest technologies. The DPI must realize the slogan, "Global Vision, Local Voice".
What seemed technologically impossible a year ago was a truism today, she said. Not all, however, had benefited from developments in information and communication technologies. Billions of people still lacked basic needs, such as water, education and health care. While the Internet could not substitute for poverty eradication programmes, developing and developed nations needed to work together to bridge the divide, so that poor nations were not left behind. In the changing environment of new technologies and opportunities, the United Nations must bring its important message to as many people as possible. Reform was not just reducing costs and improving efficiency. The overall objective should be to enhance the effectiveness of United Nations information activities.
It was essential that the United Nations make communications and information strategies an integral part of the strategic management of the Organization, she said. The DPI had an important role in keeping the world fully informed of the aims and activities of the United Nations. The Union remained fully supportive of DPI’s important role. The United Nations could not achieve its purposes if the peoples of the world were not informed of the aims and activities of the United Nations. The importance of the Web site would continue to grow in the future, although further development of the Web site could not be seen separately from DPI’s other activities. The Union, therefore, continued to encourage the DPI to set priorities and apply its resources to ensure that the United Nations message was delivered using the right technology, approaching the correct audiences and with the appropriate mix of communication tools.
The United Nations global message should be delivered in a local voice, she said. The Union recognized the efforts to put valuable information on the Web in the six official languages on a range of important themes. A good example was the Web page that told the world what the United Nations was doing to fight terrorism. Enhancing multilingualism as an integral part of the daily work for updating and developing the United Nations Web site was important. The United Nations must ensure a multilingual approach to the availability of public information, within budgetary constraints. Through organizational steps, it was possible to strengthen existing content and improve the multilingual character of the Web site.
Mr. AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain) said that freedom of speech was one of the foundations of democracy. His country was convinced of the need to protect individual freedom and equality. The freedom of speech, press, scientific research and publications was all recognized in his county. Every citizen had the right to express his views by any means.
Experience had shown that the role of information in development was extremely important, he continued. For information to play its proper part, however, it was necessary to make use of the progress in ICT, which should not be used to increase the digital divide between the developed and developing countries. That was where the United Nations could play an important role through its Department of Public Information. Access to modern technology should be guaranteed to all. Over the years, the idea of creating a new information order, which would be more just and effective and help to create a new understanding among nations, had gradually become accepted, as reflected in several relevant Assembly resolutions. In particular, it had been recognized that it was necessary to eliminate an imbalance in the access to ICT.
It was important to improve the capacity of developing countries in the information and communications field, he said. The best way to do that was through cooperation to develop communications infrastructure. In that context, he was grateful to the Secretary-General for having created the United Nations Information Technology Service, the Health Inter Network and Information and Communications Technology Task Force, which could help narrow the gap between developed and developing countries. Among other achievements, he also referred to the question of integrating information aspects in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) activities.
United Nations information centres had become an important source of culture, making the public more aware of the United Nations activities, he said. Their effectiveness needed to be consolidated, as far as possible. It was also necessary for those centres to target a wider public through new means of access, which would supplement other methods of work. The needs for posters and publications in all areas also needed to be met. The DPI had been successful in a number of its activities, including those related to recent major international conferences. He also hoped special informational programmes would be devised on the issue of Palestine.
JON YONG RYONG (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said the rapid development of information and communications technology was greatly affecting every aspect of human activities in the political, economic, cultural and other fields. Such technology was directly related to implementing the Millennium Development Goals, which was a high priority of the United Nations. The gap between the developed and the developing countries in the field of public information continued to widen. Narrowing it should be a top objective in international public information activities.
Inequality and imbalances persisted in the field of public information and communication; the fact that the means of public information were subjected to the monopoly of certain groups distorted information presented on the realities of the developing countries. All Member States should contribute to ensuring that public information activities promoted understanding and cooperative relations among nations, by establishing an equitable international information and communication order.
He said international assistance such as the transfer of advanced technology, training of experts and financial investment for enhancing the capacity of the developing countries should be strengthened. Great attention should be given to enhancing DPI’s capabilities and activities. It was important to ensure objectivity in United Nations public information activities and increase coverage of development issues. He appreciated the Department’s efforts to build the capacity of developing countries in the field of information.
KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) supported the position of the Group of 77 and China. He said that a significant international conference had been recently held in his country, addressing "Bridging the Digital Divide". The World Summit on the Information Society, the second part of which will be held in his country in 2005, would contribute to achieving a real partnership on the ICT between the developed and developing countries, and reduce the gap between them.
The role of the United Nations remained pivotal as far as information activities were concerned, he continued. The Organization was called upon to reinforce its ability in the field of information technologies. His delegation would stand against any attempts to marginalize the United Nations in the sphere of information. It was important to address the present situation, which was characterized by major international corporations possessing and controlling most of the ICT.
Tunisia supported the approach adopted by the Under-Secretary-General in terms of increasing competency and effectiveness of the DPI, he said. It was necessary to reorient the priorities of the Department to achieve better use of resources. Restructuring the Department should be done in coordination with Member States, through the Committee on Information. Tunisia was ready to cooperate with other countries to enhance the role of the Department, which played a leading role in transmitting the message of the Organization.
ELASHI JALAL (Libya) said the unlimited technical advances and information flows through the mass media should promote the progress of people, and help developing countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable development. The world needed an information order that served humanity. The world was not only divided into the rich and the poor, but also the known rich and the unknown poor.
He said the incredible progress in information and communications technology had deepened the digital gap. He was concerned with the control of the developed countries over the different mass media. Information was a dangerous tool if not directed correctly. An international code of conduct for an information system, marked by justice and assistance for the socio-economic development of all peoples, was needed.
He said Libya earnestly followed the work of the Department of Public Information. Focus on electronic information should not be at the expense of traditional information media, such as audio, video and print; traditional media were the basic channels to convey information about the Organization to most countries, especially the developing ones. He called for full implementation of information activities and information programmes on the question of Palestine. The region was going through difficult times that required efforts to highlight the suffering of the Palestinian people. While he appreciated DPI’s efforts to transmit the image of the United Nations to a growing number of peoples, the real partnership for transmitting the image of the Organization was between Member States, the Department and the developing countries. The information message should incorporate the struggle of developing countries against poverty and disease.
He said he agreed with the Secretary-General on the need to reinforce the basic structure of the Department, including the enhancement of the United Nations Web site. He emphasized the need for equal treatment of all United Nations languages in all of DPI’s activities, noting the importance of Arabic as one of the six, and called on the DPI to issue United Nations documents and information materials in Arabic along with the other official languages.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said adequate resources must be provided to the DPI, if it was expected to deliver efficiently. The reform of the DPI must take place against the matrix of reality; to meet the challenges of the new millenium, the technological infrastructure of the Department needed to be enhanced. At the same time, care must be taken so that such efforts did not widen the gap existing between developed and developing nations, but rather preserved the interest of developing countries in the process of restructuring. Appreciating the good work done by the DPI in redesigning the United Nations Web site, he said the revitalized Web site was clearly popular.
The Department must continue to upgrade its technological capacity, but traditional means of communication should also be maintained, he continued. He said he would support the creation and maintenance programmes in different non-official languages, in recognition of the current sentiments in favour of multilingualism. He also agreed that the proposal to create information hubs should be applied in a flexible manner, taking into account the views of Member States. He called for further clarity on the amount of resources released and how those resources would be utilized in strengthening the United Nations information presence in the developing world. The job of the DPI called for innovation, and he was confident the current leadership would meet that expectation in good measure.
JACQUES LOUIS BOISSON (Monaco) said if reduced to silence, the existence of the Organization itself would be in question. The Secretary-General’s report was detailed, clear and precise. He appreciated the way in which the Department had covered international meetings and summits since last spring. The Monterrey Conference had followed a "perfectly orchestrated" campaign by the DPI, which had sparked unprecedented interest in that conference. The multimedia strategy, which had been carried out with various actors in the United Nations system, had also allowed the Second World Assembly on Ageing to spark unexpected interest on a theme that had not been popular in the media.
The DPI had shown the same commitment in its preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, he said. A large part of the Summit’s success was in large part due to the work of the civil society that had been daily informed on the negotiations by on-the-spot information. Major events should be accompanied by unprecedented media events. The DPI should take a leading role, in close consultation with the various departments responsible for those events.
He was satisfied with the Secretary-General’s concrete proposals, he said. The use of all the official languages remained an issue of great concern, for which he saw no immediate solution. At a time when communication and intellectual exchanges were on the rise, one could regret the timidity with which efforts were made to increase DPI’s capacity. The Secretary-General and the DPI could not alone be responsible for its current state of affairs. The conclusions of the Secretary-General’s report were an understated source of hope. He noted the determination to ensure closer symbiosis between operational offices of the United Nations system.
In identifying future strategies, imagination and adaptation was needed, he said. On the proposal for regional hubs, he said that proposal was of great interest and would allow the Organization to adapt to the regional context and the particularities of each situation. He was impressed with the importance assumed by United Nations Radio. Monaco had traditionally supported radio, as it was a way to reach thousands of people living in remote areas. He applauded regional efforts in radio broadcasting and wondered whether that approach could be used for other information activities. He thanked the DPI for its devotion and commitment.
NARAYAN DEV PANT (Nepal) said it was gratifying that the Department of Public Information had undertaken a number of innovative steps towards rationalizing its activities. As a result, the Department's effectiveness was on the rise. The enrichment of the United Nations Web site and library services, and increasing interactions with non-governmental organizations were welcome developments. Notwithstanding this progress, however, the bitter fact remained that most of the world did not have access to United Nations information services. Information on the United Nations was perhaps best where it was needed least and vice versa, but people required more, not less, information on the Organization and its activities. That needed to be addressed urgently.
While the need to achieve wider dissemination was recognized, the digital divide was not conducive to a healthy international community, he said. Very little had been done to narrow the gap. Nepal would like the United Nations to play a more active role in helping developing countries to grapple with their information deficiency and looked forward to the forthcoming World Summit on Information Society as an opportunity to make a breakthrough in closing the digital divide in the world.
The DPI must ensure that there was a wider and better dissemination of information, and it must play a more effective advocacy role to encourage the implementation of the existing initiatives and the launching of new ones, he said. Also, the mandates of the General Assembly on public information should be strictly adhered to, while plans for the improvement of the United Nations information system are formulated. The interest of the poor and disadvantaged peoples and nations should be at the core of United Nations initiative in this sector, and the DPI needed to be streamlined structurally and functionally. Radio could still have the widest reach in many developing nations and remained the most effective medium for information.
He said opportunity should be given to journalists from developing countries, particularly from least developed countries like Nepal, to work with the United Nations and benefit from its training and other forms of association.
MADAN PRASAD JAISWAL (India) noted that his Government attached great importance to achieving a new, more just and effective global information and communications order, with the aim of strengthening peace and international understanding through the free, wider and balanced dissemination of information. Advances in technology could be harnessed towards achieving the global objectives of poverty reduction and betterment of the quality of life. Lack of access to information and communication technologies for economic reasons could only widen the gap between the developed and developing societies. The United Nations, through the DPI, had an important role in bridging that divide.
It was heartening to note that the United Nations Web site, with an estimated 6.5 million hits a day from more than 172 countries, would soon be available in all six official languages, he said. He encouraged efforts to make the site more up-to-date, comprehensive and user-friendly. Accuracy, impartiality, and objectivity must be preserved and should not be sacrificed for speed on the Web site. The flagship publications of the United Nations were important mediums for enhancing understanding about the Organization. An Indian edition of the United Nations Chronicle for circulation in Asia was being published at no additional cost to the United Nations. Similar approaches for other regions should be explored, to enhance the reach of the Chronicle.
Commending the information centres for promoting informed public understanding of the United Nations, he supported the proposal to create regional hubs, instead of the current pattern of United Nations information centres, that drained away a large chunk of the DPI resources. He also supported the efforts to integrate the United Nations library services, and also supported reform aimed at having the Dag Hammarskjöld Library at New York assume responsibility for setting policy and coordinating the work of all United Nations libraries. It should be asked to what extent the reorientation exercise under way in the DPI would meet the aspirations of the developing world, and succeed in correcting the present bias against it in the field of information and communications. He encouraged the DPI to do more in terms of highlighting critical developmen issues, and the work of the United Nations in addressing them.
PETRO DATSENKO (Ukraine) said the DPI had an important role to play in informing the peoples of the world of the vast array of subjects and issues being dealt with at the United Nations. He commended the Department for its continuing efforts to update the United Nations Web site and make it more informative, functional and visually attractive. He said the recently launched e-mail news service was also a welcome addition and was certainly a feature that could help journalists, researchers, the public and a variety of other audiences to get quick and easy access to the latest news from and about the United Nations. Directly reaching journalists and other media outlets could be viewed as an important step towards bridging the digital divide, by helping bring the latest news about the United Nations to the public in the countries where the Internet was not yet widely available.
He fully supported integration of the United Nations information centres with offices of the UNDP. Ukraine confirmed its full support for such integration in order to achieve closer coordination and effectiveness in their activities. Also, he encouraged the DPI to strengthen its role in the selection process of spokespersons for United Nations peacekeeping operations or missions. The DPI could play a central role in drawing the attention of the international community to issues of global concern, such as the problem of terrorism, conflict prevention, development, environment, AIDS and Chernobyl. He commended the Under-Secretary-General for his able management, and also thanked the staff of the DPI and the Committee's secretariat for their hard work.
PIERRE HELG (Switzerland) stressed the importance of developing multilingualism within the Organization. Switzerland was itself multilingual, and he saluted the efforts to promote two working and six official languages of the United Nations on an equitable basis.
Continuing, he expressed concern that information centres in developed countries absorbed up to 40 per cent of all allotted resources, and he supported the efforts to reorganize them around regional hubs. He was positive that the United Nations Office in Geneva could play an important role in that respect, in particular due to the presence there of many specialized agencies, as well as international governmental and non-governmental organizations. Concerning libraries, he understood the need for modernization, but expressed concern that the proposed measures could lead to growth in bureaucracy through creation of new high-level posts, or transfer of general administration over the United Nations library in Geneva to the Department of Information in New York.
Regarding the ICT, he said that it provided the Organization with an impressive potential and helped to make a contribution to the development of mankind. Several initiatives had been launched to enhance the use of ICT, including the establishment of an ICT Task Force, the Digital Opportunities of the World Economic Forum and the Global Knowledge Partnership. However, those initiatives had not yet found a local focal point, and the digital divide between rich and poor countries continued to widen. The world summits to be held in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunisia in 2005 would bring attention to the important issues related to the ICT, bringing together all relevant actors, including States, international organizations, the private sector and civil society. Among the factors that needed to be taken into account were infrastructure and capacity- building, defence of local content, cultural diversity and linguistic pluralism.
Mr. OUOLOGUEM (Mali) said the advent of new ICT had altered ways of working, living and thinking. A digital divide had deepened between the developed and the developing countries. Reducing that rift to serve the development of mankind was the role of the United Nations. While open to other suggestions, he concurred with the proposals made yesterday by the representative of Egypt on how to improve information policies and activities. Regarding the new structure, the participation of Member States on the proposed reforms, through the Committee on Information, would strengthen the Secretary-General’s new vision for information. Progress had been made on the Web site and free access to the Official Documents System should allow broader access to legal instruments.
Regarding the regional information hubs, he felt that that proposal should take account of the views of Member States, he said. Close cooperation between the hubs and governments should promote the Department’s main objective, information in the service of humanity. Information provided by the Web site and regional centres should be reliable. He supported DPI’s efforts to make more concrete the objectives of the Millennium Declaration. There could be no development without sound, clear and equitable information.
* *** *