Committee on Information
World Looking to United Nations as Source of Reliable, Impartial Information, Committee on Information Told, as General Debate Continues
Value of Radio, Questions Concerning Information Centres, Regional 'Hubs' Also Explored
NEW YORK, 29 April (UN Headquarters) -- More than ever, the world was looking to the United Nations as a unique source of impartial reliable information, the Committee on Information heard today, as it continued its general debate. Plans to coalesce the work of United Nations Information Centres around regional hubs, and the "vital link" provided by United Nations radio with the developing world were other dominant themes of today's discussions.
Meeting in its annual session through 9 May, the Committee makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the work of the Department of Public Information (DPI), and its 99 members and other participants are currently considering the ongoing reorientation of the management and operations of the Department. According to the Secretary-General, DPI has worked since November 2002 with a "renewed sense of mission" under its reformed structure, the key elements of which are new Divisions for Strategic Communications, Outreach, and News and Media.
Recent international developments had, once again, revealed the need for a source of accurate, impartial and comprehensive information, said the representative of Iran, adding that, more than ever, the world was looking to the United Nations as a unique source of reliable information. DPI should intensify the promotion of the principles and purposes of the United Nations and multilateralism, and improve its activities in areas of special interest to developing countries.
The Chinese representative saw DPI's task as disseminating information to every corner of the globe about the United Nations' irreplaceable role in safeguarding peace and promoting development. Over the years, United Nations radio had retained vitality in carrying the voice of the Organization around the world. On the Chinese mainland, the weekly audience for Chinese language programming of United Nations radio reached 26 million people, or 20 per cent of the entire global radio audience of the United Nations.
Turning to the Secretary-General's proposal to "regionalize" the network of information centres throughout the world over the next three years, starting with the creation of a Western European hub, the representative of India said that the restructuring of those centres was of utmost importance. He supported the proposal, starting with Western Europe, where the centres consumed a major portion of the DPI budget. Applying the "hub approach" to other regions, however, must be a gradual process and implemented on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with Member States.
Under the present circumstances, which the representative of Pakistan described as the growing polarization between different cultures and religions, and the doomsday scenario of "a clash of civilizations", he insisted that the vital activities of the United Nations information centres could not be performed through a "remote control method" from a regional hub. The populations of European countries needed to be informed of the role, purpose and functions of the United Nations as candidly and effectively as those in the Asian and African countries. It would send a wrong message to curtail those functions at a time when they were most needed, he concluded.
Earlier today, the representative of Israel said that, in developing a coherent communication strategy for the United Nations, the content and refinement of its messages, and not merely their coordination and delivery, were important. The Secretariat should uphold its commitment to provide the media with objective information and not use its resources to advance the interests of one party to a conflict or use its forums to single out certain Member States with one-sided, politicized rhetoric. Information must promote knowledge and understanding, and not be used as a tool to subvert them.
The representative of Egypt said that, in response to the ever-changing global landscape, the media message of the United Nations should take into account the cultural distortions prevalent in some public media campaigns. Those could threaten international peace and security, and create tensions among cultures and civilizations. Every time there was a crisis, such politicized campaigns left a "bitter taste". The United Nations' message, at the core of DPI's activities, must reflect the concerns of all Member States. DPI's new structure was perfectly capable of meeting that challenge in a creative way.
Speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Jamaican representative said that recent events had shed light on the impact and reach of globalization in the public media and the domination of certain networks in the presentation of news and information. Concerns were being expressed around the world about the need for impartiality and balance in the way news was reported. While national perspectives naturally influenced news reports, the United Nations, with its global reach and perspective, should become a model for promoting accuracy and balance in the "global information order".
In Africa, a continent afflicted with poverty and underdevelopment, the acquisition of sound information and communications technology could play a decisive role in developing the capacity for food security, the Nigerian representative said. Effective information and communication was a vital tool in the process of globalization and liberalization of the world economy, and unimpeded access to information would stimulate change and create an environment more responsive to the needs of the Nigerian people.
In other business, it was announced that the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, and Qatar had requested to participate in the Committee as observers.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Tunisia, Belarus, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Burkina Faso, Ukraine, and Senegal.
The Committee on Information will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its general debate.
The Committee on Information met this morning to continue its general debate amid ongoing reform of the Department of Public Information (DPI).
(For a summary of the reports before the 2003 session, see Press Release PI/1473 of 24 April.)
IHAB AWAD (Egypt) associated himself with the statement made yesterday on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China. He had followed closely the reform of DPI, aimed at enabling it to meet the challenges facing it. It was important that it anticipate the needs of all peoples and all cultures, providing them with all necessary information on United Nations activities. He also welcomed the report's emphasis on the importance of multilingualism in the Organization's outputs. Of equal importance was balanced reporting in the press, the Internet, and radio.
He recalled that the Secretary-General's report on reorientation had stressed the need for United Nations communications to reflect the priorities established by the Millennium Declaration, which required continuous and clear coordination between DPI and all other bodies in the United Nations system. Hopefully, the communications group on parity would be able to meet that aim. The report had also stressed the need to enable DPI to strengthen its capacity, in order that it might face all of its challenges in an innovative way. In addition to responding to the Millennium Declaration, United Nations communications must respond to the ever-changing global landscape.
Hopefully, the media message of the United Nations would also take into account the cultural distortions prevalent in some public media campaigns. That could threaten international peace and security, and create tensions among cultures and civilizations. Every time there was a crisis, such politicized campaigns left a "bitter taste". The media should restore its credibility. That message was at the very core of DPI's activities, given that it must reflect all of the concerns of the Member States. DPI's new structure was perfectly capable of meeting that challenge in a creative way.
The new divisions established last November might be a way to disseminate the culture of peace, and strengthen mutual respect among cultures and civilizations, he continued. He also stressed the importance in the reform of United Nations information and communication activities to narrow the digital divide between the developed and developing countries. He wished to know how the Department intended to do that. It would also be useful in the current session to begin to prepare for the Information Summit, to begin its first phase in December.
Turning to the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs), he said that devising clear-cut objectives demanded that attention be placed on the specific needs of each region and the targeted regional impact. Consultation with the host countries from the outset was most important. He asked the Committee to discuss, in depth, the guidelines and parameters, contained in annex 1 of the Secretary-General's reorientation report, regarding the establishment of regional information centres. On the United Nations Web site, he commended its development from both a technical and substantive point of view, and sought greater parity among the six official languages.
ARYE MEKEL (Israel) said that as the United Nations repositioned itself for the twenty-first century, the DPI would have a central role to play. Since the Committee's last session, progress had been made to reorient DPI to meet the Organization's communication challenges and to answer the growing demands of its users, taking advantage of revolutionary advances in technologies to disseminate information. The reorientation had been achieved with a renewed focus and greater clarity of purpose towards strategically communicating the Organization's concerns to achieve greater public impact.
The development of a coherent communication strategy was not, however, just an issue of "how" to bring knowledge of the United Nations activities to the world, but also a question of "what", he said. What did the United Nations say about its actions? As the Department developed its new strategy, the content and refinement of efforts, as opposed to mere coordination and delivery, became important. He hoped the Secretariat would uphold its commitment to portraying objective information to the media. The credibility of the Secretariat and the Department depended on its compliance with the principles of independence and impartiality imposed by the United Nations Charter.
DPI's resources must not be used to advance the interests of one party to a conflict or as a forum to single out certain Member States with one-sided or politicized rhetoric, he said. The perception that the various bodies of the Secretariat might be used to further the aspirations of one party could affect not only the Organization's reputation, but also the prospects of resolving the conflict. Forums organized by DPI should not be used as an arena to promote biased, politically based agendas. Efforts should be made to represent the views of all Member States. The Department's core message should focus on the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the battle against international terrorism and the needs of the African continent. The United Nations should use its resources and talents to address the war on terror, a global danger that aimed to destroy the free way of life.
Technological innovation offered new tools to promote the free flow of information and democratisation, he said. In just a few years, the Internet had allowed vast quantities of news to traverse the globe within seconds. The United Nations Web site now reached the farthest corners of the world. Israel supported the Committee's efforts to ensure access to the Web site as a gateway to the larger free press. The Internet, however, could also be a source of hatred and intolerance. Recent years had witnessed a proliferation of hate sites, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. With the new technologies, any one with a hateful agenda and computer could spread their ideas around the world. As modern inventions carried with them the threat of great evils, it was important to ensure that developments in technology were used to advance the ideals of humanity as expressed in the Charter. Information must be used to promote knowledge and understanding, and not as a tool to subvert them.
Israel supported efforts to achieve multilingualism on the Web site to ensure the effective transmission of uniform, impartial information, he said. Unity of message would be important as the information centres were moved towards the formation of regional hubs. It would be crucial to ensure that no one was left behind. Israel commended efforts to expand multilingualism through cooperation with the academic community.
As World Press Freedom Day approached, he said the Committee should consider the role the Organization could make in opening up closed societies. Journalists were unfortunately killed in bringing the truth to the world. Israel remembered Daniel Pearl, a journalist murdered in Pakistan by terrorists, because he was a journalist, an American and a Jew, although not necessarily in that order. His memory was even more poignant, as today was Holocaust Remembrance Day. While some 50 years had passed, the lesson of hate speech and the abuse of power and information had not been learned. Today, the world was witnessing an alarming upsurge in anti-Semitism. Holocaust Remembrance Day was important not only for the Jewish people, but also for all those alarmed by racism. The United Nations should devote more efforts to combating all forms of racism and incitement, including anti Semitism.
MEHDI MOLLA HOSSEINI (Iran) said he firmly believed in the United Nations central role in today's world and underlined the importance of a strong DPI to provide timely information on the Organization's tasks and responsibilities, as well as its roles and achievements. The DPI should intensify its campaign for promoting the principles and purposes of the United Nations and multilateralism. Recent developments in international affairs had once again revealed that people were looking for a source of accurate, impartial and comprehensive information. For that reason, the world was more than ever looking to the United Nations as a unique source of reliable information.
While he supported the Secretary-General's vision and proposals for the reorientation of United Nations activities in the public information and the restructuring of DPI, he reaffirmed the Committee's key role in guiding the process of restructuring and repositioning the Department. Maintaining and improving DPI's activities in areas of special interest to developing countries was also very important.
Regarding the proposed restructuring of the network of information centres around regional hubs, he fully agreed that in high-cost developed countries there was no need to maintain information centres. In the case of developed countries, the proposed regional information hub and redeployment of freed resources to areas of higher priority, including centres in developing countries, was a positive initiative. Applying that initiative to developing countries, however, demanded a prudent and flexible approach. The complex situation in developing countries, the need for people to have direct access to information centres, and the significant role the centres played in training and educational activities were elements that required a flexible approach.
He appreciated DPI's efforts to develop the United Nations Web site in the six official languages. In countries where the local language was not an official United Nations language, it was also important that information centres develop Web pages in local languages. He welcomed the proposals to improve the management of United Nations libraries, the comprehensive plan for integration of United Nations library services at various locations and improving electronic access to United Nations collections. Underlining the importance of the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, he condemned violence against journalists and paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the line of duty. In light of the current situation in the Middle East, he expected DPI to increase its dissemination of information on the question of Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people.
STAFFORD NEIL (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that DPI's focus had been summarized in its mission statement, which outlined the twofold nature of its mandate: communication and outreach. The Caribbean Community supported the new structure as a useful framework within which to orient the Department's work. Also welcome was that the work of the Department would continue to be based on the key priorities of the Millennium Declaration, namely, the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fight against terrorism and the needs of the African continent.
He also welcomed efforts by DPI to be able to respond to the unpredictable and fast-moving events around the world, by providing information services on United Nations action in critical situations. Also noteworthy was its intention to incorporate gender mainstreaming into the design of public information products and activities. He also supported its goal of disseminating the United Nations' message through both traditional and modern means.
Another key area of concentration would be the provision of information to peacekeeping operations, he said. The value of information in consolidating peacekeeping and peace-building could not be overemphasized. Information, with significant local content, played a considerable role in improving the public information capacity of peacekeeping and field missions, and could contribute to the prevention of further conflict.
He said the recent survey on the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capability for the United Nations had indicated that those programmes reached approximately 133 million people. Of that number, some 1.5 million listeners were from the Caribbean region. The CARICOM advocated the continuation of that project and urged that resources continue to be devoted to that activity. Radio stations in additional Caribbean countries were also requesting access to the United Nations radio programmes. The Secretariat should facilitate those requests.
Recent events had shed light on the impact and reach of globalization in the public media and the domination of certain networks in the presentation of news and information, he said. Numerous sources had expressed concerns about the need for impartiality and balance in the way news was reported. Certain national perspectives were naturally influencing news presentations, and, thus, there was a continuing need to assert a more balanced and equitable approach. The United Nations, which had a global approach and perspective, should assist in making new information and its dissemination more accurate and balanced, and in becoming a model for promoting equity in the "global information order".
KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) said DPI enjoyed a privileged position in the United Nations and was of increasing interest to Member States. It played a crucial role in disseminating the voice of the Organization to the peoples of the world, providing information on many substantive issues. That was a huge challenge, particularly in light of the domination of the media by private companies. He supported DPI's activities so that it could meet the aspirations of the world's people. He endorsed the Under-Secretary-General's view on the reorientation of the Department's priorities, and he should have the necessary flexibility to achieve the reorientation goals. The restructuring, however, should not mean a reduction in the Department's activities and programmes.
While Tunisia agreed with the main guidelines of the Secretary-General's report, he reaffirmed the need to base the Department's activities on the recommendations of Member States adopted at previous sessions, in particular, those regarding language parity on the web site. He reaffirmed the need to consult Member States through DPI before starting a restructuring or reorientation of its activities. The UNICs should be further developed and receive the necessary resources to play a full role. Regarding the proposal to establish regional hubs, savings from the closure of several centres in Western Europe could be used towards centres in developing countries.
He said the growing disparity between countries could become worse if efforts were not made to take advantage of technological advances. In that regard, Tunisia had suggested the holding of a summit in 2005. That summit should bring about a consensus to share technology in accordance with the spirit of the Millennium Declaration. The DPI would play an important role in publicizing the meetings in Geneva and Tunisia, and Tunisia would spare no efforts in cooperating with Member States to achieve a good outcome. He hoped DPI would play its premier role in disseminating the Organization's message.
ALEG IVANOU (Belarus) said he fully supported the wide-ranging efforts to implement the new communications strategies of the United Nations, which were designed to respond to the rapidly changing world. The reform process was evolving practical results and providing new opportunities to publicize the role of the Organization. The comprehensive review had also allowed for the introduction of modifications, enhancing DPI's ability to make better use of its organizational structure. Throughout that process, emphasis on areas of particular interest to developing countries and those with special needs, such as transitional economies, should be retained.
He praised the "new DPI's" smooth and balanced management of informational flows and its wide use of both sources and recipients. Also important had been the emphasis on bridging the digital divide, using traditional communication means, and enhancing multilingualism. He supported the experimental project to create an international radio broadcasting service, and he was certain that establishing partner relations with broadcasting networks would further enlarge the "listenership" of United Nations radio.
Particularly welcome had been the Russian radio service, which allowed 1.5 million people to listen to United Nations news through "Belarus radio station #1". Member States should confirm the continuation of international broadcasting by the United Nations as the most powerful means of disseminating information by the Organization. His Government was strongly committed to increasing information flows between Belarus and the United Nations, by using, to fullest extent possible, information from the UNIC in Minsk. He was deeply grateful to DPI for its ongoing efforts to inform the international community about the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, which were particularly important for elaborating further practical steps to support the victims.
CHARLES AZUBIKE ONONYE (Nigeria) stressed the importance of an effective information and communications order as a vital tool in the process of globalization and liberalization of the world economy. Unimpeded access to information would stimulate change and create and improved environment, which was more responsive to the local and specific needs of the Nigerian people. In Africa, a continent that was afflicted with poverty and underdevelopment, the acquisition of appropriate information and communications technology could play a decisive role in developing the capacity for food security.
He said the absence of relevant infrastructure, however, remained a major hindrance in harnessing the benefits of modern information technology in developing countries. He, therefore, called on the international community to focus more attention on assisting those States in developing their infrastructure. His country upheld General Assembly resolution 57/130 of December 2002, which called on DPI to maintain and improve its activities in areas of special interest to developing countries. It also commended United Nations' efforts to modernize and reorient its information and communications system.
The DPI should continue to re-evaluate its activities, with the aim of prioritizing its goals in a way that was consistent with the Millennium Declaration, he said. DPI's pledge to focus its core message on poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, international terrorism, and the special needs of Africa was consistent with the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). At the same time, he urged the Department to invigorate the United Nations Information Centre in Nigeria, which should reach out further to the vast majority of Nigerians through the various information ministries.
He said that the Centre's current periodic release of "statements" to the general public was inadequate. He suggested the addition of 'talk shows' on Nigerian television and the effective participation in local media activities, to sensitive the general public. Regrettably, the United Nations web site in Nigeria was not yet functional. Thus, it was extremely difficult to obtain information about United Nations activities. That was rather unfortunate since the web site in his country had been intended to meet the needs of Nigerian populace. He also sought a working relationship between United Nations radio and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria.
MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) commended the progress achieved since the commencement of DPI's reorientation exercise. The Department's revitalization had been a positive step. He hoped its newly created divisions would disseminate United Nations messages by developing communications strategies, in close collaboration with substantive departments and United Nations funds and programmes. The web site had become a cost-effective medium to disseminate information about United Nations activities to the far corners of the world. He noted the successful expansion of the electronic mail-based United Nations News Service in two official languages. Extra care must be taken to ensure that breaking news stories and news alerts were accurate and impartial. The central objective of the news service should be the delivery, in real time, of authentic, objective and unbiased news and information to audiences worldwide. The DPI should explore all available channels of communications, both new and traditional, so that they could meet the growing demands of its users.
While DPI must continue to upgrade its technological capacity, it should not forsake traditional means of disseminating information, he said. It was clear that United Nations radio and television broadcasts met the needs of their huge and diverse clientele. Bangladesh was impressed by the success of the live radio project and strongly supported the Secretary-General's proposal that the pilot project be made an integral part of the Department's activities. United Nations peacekeeping operations had assumed paramount importance. The information component of complex peace operations played a vital role in forging a proper understanding of a mission's objectives. The Department should continue to strengthen its capacity through development of a coherent information strategy with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The United Nations Information Centres were the real interface with the global community, serving as the United Nations window to the outside world, he said. An objective assessment should be made on the need and capacity of Centres to deliver mandate programmes and activities. The process should be applied flexibly in countries where operating costs were high and communication mediums sufficiently developed. Proposals for establishing regional hubs should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The views of Member States directly concerned must be taken into account.
Bangladesh appreciated DPI's efforts to ensure multilingualism in all its activities. Such efforts should be extended to other widely spoken non-official languages. Information had the strongest impact when it was disseminated in local languages. Information Centres, while trying to meet that demand, were limited by resource constraints. The Dhaka Centre was a case in point, as its Web site in Bangla, the local language, reached some 250 million Bangla-speaking people. True multilingualism meant promotion, protection and preservation of diversity of languages and cultures globally. Multilingualism, by its very nature, promoted unity in diversity and strengthened international understanding. In that regard, DPI should pay attention to the issue of mother language, in particular, with the observance of "International Mother Language Day" on 21 February.
BAATAR CHOISUREN (Mongolia) said the Committee was meeting at a time of serious challenges for the United Nations. DPI's restructuring and reform would be part and parcel of Member States' efforts to meet those challenges. The Department's new structure, as well as the regionalization of UNICs, would allow for the redeployment of freed resources to high priority areas, such as multilingualism on the United Nations Web site and the systematic evaluation of the impact of its activities. DPI's new structure had already been put to the test by the latest events in Iraq. Lessons learned in that regard should take into account in the process of improving United Nations public information activities.
Welcoming DPI's new organizational structure, he said the new Strategic Communications Division, News and Media Division and Outreach Division were well designed to carry out the tasks entrusted to the Department by the General Assembly. The Department's new mission statement, moreover, was solidly based on the priorities set forth in the Millennium Declaration. The integration of the network of information centres in the Strategic Communications Division was essential for coordinating and streamlining the Organization's information activities. The special needs of developing countries should be kept in mind in implementing the restructuring of the UNICs. Many developing countries lacked the necessary infrastructure and resources to benefit from the rapid advance of information and communication technology. Under the digital divide was addressed, radio broadcasting remained the most cost effective means of communications in developing countries.
While he supported the need for strict observance of multilingualism, he said it was important to note the fact that there were only six official languages. In many developing countries, where none of the official United Nations languages were spoken, only the elite had access to the United Nations offices or Web sites. Bridging the gap required innovative steps. Monthly briefings or highlights of United Nations activities through local media in local languages would be extremely useful.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) said the United Nations was the most broadly representative intergovernmental organization in the world today and played an irreplaceable role in safeguarding peace and promoting development. DPI's task was to disseminate information on efforts to achieve that mission to every corner of the globe. It was gratifying that it had made additional progress in the past year. He supported the Secretary-General's efforts to narrow the digital divide and to realize the Millennium Development Goals by organizing the world summit on information. Also welcome had been his report on implementation of the pilot radio project.
Over the years, he said, United Nations radio had retained tremendous vitality and could continue to carry the voice of the United Nations all over the world. For the developing countries, that meant advantages that could not be replicated by any other communications means. For years, United Nations radio had cooperated with Chinese radio. On the mainland, the weekly audience for Chinese language programming of United Nations radio had reached 26 million. That represented 20 per cent of the entire global audience of United Nations. United Nations radio was a "vital link" between China and the United Nations, and held the promise of an expanded Chinese listenership.
The United Nations Web site had become an important channel of DPI's outreach, and he welcomed an Internet section in the information and media divisions. Hopefully, that section would grasp present opportunities, establish goals, and consolidate resources. It should also take measures to strengthen the staffing of the Arabic-Chinese-Russian Web pages, which would gradually resolve the imbalance among the Web pages in the official languages. Next year, together with DPI, China would organize a symposium for international media on the question of peace in the Middle East.
MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said the Committee was meeting at a time when the reform of the network of UNICs was being discussed. The Secretary-General's report, "an agenda for further change", emphasized the need to enhance information. One innovative step was the restructuring of the Information Centres. While the principle of the reform was necessary, reform of the Information Centres, especially in Africa, should be taken with great care.
Burkina Faso had been host to a centre for some years and would be affected by the measures envisaged by the Secretary-General. He hoped that particular attention would be paid to the Information Centre in Ouagadougou. The Centre, which covered several countries and was the only centre of its type in the area, focused on specific concerns in the area of security and the campaign against poverty. Given the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire since 2002, the Information Centre had a strategic position in terms of public information and initiatives to restore peace and handle related humanitarian issues.
The Ouagadougou Centre was in a city that served as headquarters to several regional and sub regional organizations, including the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa. The presence of a centre in the city provided opportunities to strengthen relations between the United Nations and the organizations there. The Centre enjoyed the use of many facilities provided by the Government, including free space and free radio and television airtime. The Centre also had an effective partnership with the Government of Burkina Faso, civil society and the educational sector. The Centre played an irreplaceable role, and he hoped it would be retained. He congratulated the Under-Secretary-General for his praiseworthy efforts to reshape information and communications within the United Nations.
VIJAY K. NAMBIAR (India) said it was heartening to note that DPI's reform process, which had been extensively discussed, had moved forward. The Department's new organizational structure underlined its commitment to achieving identified tasks with renewed focus and vigour. Its mission statement had been refined to further clarify the Department's goals and purposes. The regionalization of the United Nations information centres had been proposed. The United Nations Web site had been made more user-friendly and was poised to become more technologically sound and multilingual. Altogether, there was a renewed DPI.
He fully supported the refined mission statement, in particular its "great public impact" dimension. In adhering to the statement, DPI must be guided by the priorities set by the General Assembly. He was also pleased that DPI would focus more on the core aspects of socio-economic development and that it would continue to rely on traditional means of communication.
A more defined organization structure with renewed focus had been put in place, he continued. Particularly noteworthy was the emphasis on strengthening cooperation between DPI and other Secretariat departments, an area of serious weaknesses in the past. He was also happy to note that DPI was continuing its cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, including in providing operational planning and support to field information offices. The central objective of the News and Media Division should be the delivery in real terms of accurate, objective and balanced news and information. The United Nations News Centre, which offered critical services to its English, French-speaking and Arabic audiences, was testimony to that. He welcomed ongoing efforts to launch database-driven sites in the remaining official languages.
He shared the emphasis being placed, through the Outreach Division, on reaching out to specialized targeted audiences, such as non-governmental organizations and research institutions. The creation of a new Civil Society Service was noteworthy in that regard. He also welcomed efforts to modernize the United Nations library services, paying particular attention to the lack of integrated management and the need to further modernize. The United Nations Chronicle, the flagship publication of the Educational Outreach Section, was a thought-provoking publication that should be mandated to continue serving Member States and the larger global audience.
Given the critical functioning of the United Nations information centres, he said the restructuring of those centres was of utmost importance. He supported the proposal to restructure the information centres by collapsing the centres into regional hubs, starting with Western Europe, where the centres consumed a major portion of the DPI budget. Regarding the application of the "hub approach" to other regions, he said the process must be gradually implemented on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with Member States.
The United Nations Web site was one of the Department's success stories, which could be carried forward if the Department was able to achieve language parity with the creation of a multilingual Web site, including a multilingual United Nations News Centre. The use of innovative approaches in that regard, including diversion of resources released as a result of consolidating information centres, needed to be further encouraged.
He supported the emphasis on formulating methodologies to conduct a systematic evaluation of DPI's activities to ensure alignment of activities with priorities. The concept of an annual programme impact review was particularly useful. In that regard, adequate resources were a prerequisite. He also supported the continuation of the radio feed project as traditional means of communications, such as radio, continued to have a vast outreach in developing countries.
The purpose of reform, which was to rejuvenate and revitalize, was not always easy, he said. Much had happened to the Department since the Committee's last session, most of which was laudatory. Reorientation must meet the aspirations of the developing world and succeed in correcting the current bias against it in the field of information and technology. The focus should continue to be on the developmental issues that remained high priority areas for developing countries -- the majority of the United Nation's membership. A new, more just and effective world information and communications paradigm, more relevant than ever, could only be built on the foundations of a genuinely free circulation and wider, more balanced dissemination of information.
MANSOOR SUHAIL (Pakistan) said the session was taking place at a very important juncture in the history of the Organization. Its credibility was under strain, with regard to fulfilling its Charter responsibilities, and questions were being raised about its relevance. There was a growing polarization between different cultures and religions, and prophets of doom were envisaging a "clash of civilizations". Those negative trends were bound to affect the harmony had homogeneity to which the members aspired. The Committee had a responsibility to contain and reverse those developments.
He said the Committee had been entrusted with promoting the paramount goals of the United Nations in creating better understanding and greater good will among the nations of the world by building bridges between societies, cultures, religions and regions. The Committee should accept that challenge by sending a clear message of its collective resolve to strive for a better and more peaceful world. In that regard, he attached great importance to the work of the Information Centres, which carried a whole range of information and communications activities, aimed at illuminating the priorities and objectives of the United Nations system and effectively communicating the message of peace and harmony.
The critically important activities and functions of an information centre could not be performed through a "remote control method" from a regional hub. Close interaction with the media of a country was of utmost importance. The populations of European countries needed to be informed of the role, purpose and functions of the United Nations as candidly and effectively as those in the Asian and African countries. Dissemination of information could be tailored to the subjective requirements of a certain society, with the outreach dependent on logistical facility. It would send a wrong message to curtail those functions at a time when they were needed the most.
Under the circumstances, he continued, DPI should keep the peoples of the world fully informed of the "collective voice" of the United Nations membership, as reflected in its decisions and resolutions. He, therefore, called on DPI to review its recommendation to create regional information hubs. A whole range of questions had been raised regarding the relevance and credibility of the Organization at a time when it faced new challenges. It would not be wise to undertake such a reorganization and restructuring at present.
In developing countries, the media was lagging behind, not because of a lack of political will, but because of the lack of resources to buttress information infrastructures, he said. The enormity of technological superiority and resourcefulness of media in developed countries was in sharp contrast to the media in developing countries, where even access to computer technology was considered a luxury. Journalists in developing countries did not have access to better training facilities. A handful of developed countries with less than 10 per cent of the world's population were controlling the flow of news and information to about 90 per cent of the world's population.
He said that one new agency in the developed world could buy, many times over, all the news agencies of a developing region. The developing countries should be enabled to improve their capabilities to disseminate information about their own societies, cultures, religions and regions. He asked DPI to enhance awareness of that major problem by organizing seminars and symposiums worldwide to deliberate those aspects, aimed at building consensus on the future course of action to redress such serious imbalances.
The Committee was formed 25 years ago amid demands for the establishment of a new world information and communication order, he recalled. The goal was to remove disparities and imbalances in the flow of information from the developing countries, which were increasingly disadvantaged in reporting about their societies, owing to deficient communication capacities. The range of issues facing the Committee might not, therefore, be allowed to digress from its conceptual agenda.
OLEKSIY SHOVKOPLIAS (Ukraine) said he supported the Department's efforts to focus on the effectiveness of its activities, reset its priorities, and eliminate the duplication and fragmentation of its functions. DPI was currently carrying out a very important exercise, aimed at strengthening an understanding of the Organization's work and building broad-based global support for it in an ever-changing information environment. That was a difficult and complex task, which could not be solved "in one gulp".
He commended the Department for the redesigned United Nations News Centre, which served as an excellent source of news on the latest developments around the United Nations system, as well as a gateway to a wide array of links to in-depth resources related to the news of the day. He also supported efforts to achieve a more modern and efficient system of library services.
He underlined the important role of DPI in consolidating peacekeeping and peace-building. During the past decade, the changing nature and character of conflicts had substantially broadened the scope of United Nations peacekeeping activities and made them far more complex. The important role played by United Nations peacekeeping around the world, and the sacrifices made by individual peacekeepers, deserved full recognition by the international community. In that connection, he welcomed the proposed arrangements by DPI to commemorate the International Day of UN Peacekeepers for the first time this year, which would mark the fifty-fifth anniversary of United Nations peacekeeping.
The 2002 United Nations strategy on Chernobyl -- "A strategy for recovery"
-- had provided a constructive framework for reinvigorating international cooperation. Since the strategy's adoption, a number of important events had taken place, which "turned the spotlight" on Chernobyl. Among them was a visit by the Secretary-General to Ukraine in June 2002, which drew global attention to the importance of mobilizing international support for the people still living in the shadow of that disaster. Nevertheless, the more distance from this 17-year-old tragedy, the less attention would be drawn to it. The reformed DPI, therefore, should continue to inform about the dimension of that disaster. In that context, he welcomed ongoing efforts to improve the United Nations Web site on Chernobyl.
MALICK THIERNO SOW (Senegal) said information, a recurrent theme, helped to reduce the distance between nations and peoples, thereby ensuring the realization of the Organization's most noble ideas. The planned streamlining of the United Nations Information Centres must be gradual and on a case-by-case basis. The establishment of a new international communication and information order remained on the agenda. A more just and equitable flow of information was needed more than ever.
The United Nations had wisely committed itself to preparing new, bold policies, including recent measures to support African countries, he said. African leaders had recommended that information and communication technologies be given greater place in their vision for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). If Africa were integrated into the new information society, it would be better able to master its own development, including the eradication of scourges such as armed conflict and HIV/AIDS. He was pleased that DPI was emphasizing Africa's priority needs.
Welcoming progress made in enriching the United Nations Web site, he said more should be done to develop acceptable linguistic parity to attract new users. In the developing countries, information was having exponential repercussions on socio-economic development. It was the duty of all to define new ways of thinking for future decades.
He supported the recommendation to implement a policy of evaluating the impact of information activities. He also paid special tribute to the Under-Secretary-General for his efforts to respond as the voice of the world and to improve the coverage of United Nations activities.
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