25 October 2004
Fourth Committee Reaffirms Departments Role as Focal Point for United Nations Information as It Approves Text on Policies, Activities
Acting without Vote, Delegates Pass Two Other Drafts at Conclusion of General Debate on Information Questions
(Issued on 22 October 2004.)
NEW YORK, 21 October (UN Headquarters) -- Reaffirming that the Department of Public Information (DPI) was the focal point for United Nations information, the General Assembly would request it to use the Millennium Declaration as its guide to setting its priorities, according to a draft resolution approved by the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon as it concluded its general debate on questions relating to information.
According to the text, entitled United Nations public information policies and activities, the General Assembly would welcome initiatives taken by DPI to strengthen its effectiveness. It would stress the need, in DPIs programme plan, for quantifiable and verifiable indicators for measuring accomplishments so as to give a clear indication of progress and encourage further cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and other Secretariat departments in the context of its client-oriented approach and the need for a comprehensive information strategy on peacekeeping.
The draft resolution was one of three texts on which the Committee took action, approving them all without a vote. It also approved a draft resolution entitled Information in the service of humanity and a draft decision by which the General Assembly would expand the membership of the Committee on Information.
Prior to those actions, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, responded to concerns raised by delegations during the Committees three-day general debate, addressing such issues as rationalizing the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs), the digital divide and multilingualism.
By other terms of text on United Nations public information policies and activities, the Assembly would welcome DPIs ongoing efforts to review the allocation of staff and financial resources to UNICs with a view to transferring resources from information centres in developed countries to information activities in the developing world. In that regard, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to submit reports on the rationalization of UNICs through regional hubs, beginning with the creation of a Western European hub. It would affirm that further regionalization must be done, on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with all Member States in which existing UNICs were located and with other interested countries in the region. Also in the framework of rationalization, the Secretary-General would be requested to extend the services of the UNICs and Regional United Nations Information Centres (RUNICs) to Member States currently outside the scope of DPIs field information capacity.
Regarding the United Nations Web site, the draft would have the Assembly encourage DPI to improve actions to achieve full parity among the Organizations six official languages. It would also stress the need for the Department to take further necessary measures to ensure accessibility to the Web site by persons with disabilities.
Among further terms of that text, the Assembly would encourage DPI to provide the necessary support within existing resources toward fostering a dialogue among civilizations and a culture of peace via all mass media, such as the Internet, print, radio and television. It would also request the Department to take the necessary measures to publicize the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, occurring in 2005, in every way possible, stressing the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and highlighting its accomplishments in the past six decades.
By the terms of the text on Information in the service of humanity, the General Assembly would urge all countries, the United Nations system and all others concerned to cooperate in reducing disparities in information and communication capacity between developed and developing countries. It would also condemn all attacks against journalists and urge States to support training programmes for journalists from developing countries.
According to the draft decision approved this afternoon, the Assembly would expand the membership of the Committee on Information from 102 to 107 with the admission of Qatar, Iceland, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Cape Verde.
In concluding the general debate on questions relating to information, speakers continued to welcome the reorientation and reform of DPI. They also continued to stress caution in the rationalization of UNICs; emphasize the need for language parity on the United Nations Web site; the importance of assistance to developing countries in bridging the digital divide; and the need for attention to the Millennium Development Goals in setting priorities for DPI activities, among other issues.
Participating in the discussion were representatives of Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Yemen, Nepal, Indonesia, China, Cuba, Bahrain, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Angola and Cape Verde.
Representatives of the United States, Israel and Cuba spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 25 October to take up the comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.
As the Fourth Committee met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of information questions, it was expected to act on two draft resolutions and a draft decision on those issues (document A/59/21).
By the terms of draft resolution A, entitled Information in the service of humanity, the General Assembly would 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. The Assembly would also urge all concerned to ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of 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 from developing countries.
Draft resolution B, on United Nations public information policies and activities, would have the Assembly reaffirm that the United Nations remains the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world and that its voice must be heard in a clear and effective manner, and emphasize the essential role of the Department of Public Information (DPI) in that context. It would stress the importance of clear and timely provision of information by the Secretariat to Member States within the framework of existing mandates and procedures, and encourage the DPI to continue to do so.
Further by that text, the Assembly would request the Department, following the priorities laid down by the General Assembly in the medium-term plan and using the United Nations Millennium Declaration as its guide, to pay particular attention to such major issues as the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) epidemic, combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and the needs of the African continent. The Assembly would further request the DPI to pay attention to all major issues addressed in the United Nations Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals in carrying out its activities.
Concerning the general activities of the DPI, the Assembly would reaffirm that the Department is the focal point for United Nations information policies and the primary news centre for information about the activities of the Organization and the Secretary-General, and encourage closer integration of functions between the Department and the office providing spokesman services for the Secretary-General. The Assembly would also welcome the DPIs recommendations for developing a communications strategy on publicizing the work and decisions of the General Assembly, and encourage the Department to establish a closer working relationship with the Office of the President of the General Assembly.
By further terms, the Assembly would encourage the Secretary-General to strengthen the coordination between the DPI and other Secretariat departments, including the designation of focal points to work with substantive departments, in the context of its client-oriented approach, to identify target audiences and develop information programmes and media strategies for priority issues, and emphasize that public information capacities and activities in other departments should function under the guidance of the Department.
Under a further provision, the Assembly would appreciate the Departments continued efforts in issuing daily press releases, and request it to continue providing that invaluable service to both Member States and representatives of the media, while considering possible means of improving their production process and streamlining their format, structure and length, keeping in mind the views of Member States.
On multilingualism and public information, the Assembly would welcome the DPIs ongoing efforts in that regard, and emphasize the importance of ensuring the full, equitable treatment of all the official languages of the United Nations in all activities of the DPI. It would recognize the fact that the integration of the Official Document System (ODS) with the United Nations Web site, scheduled to take place during the fourth quarter of 2004, will significantly enhance the multilingual nature of the site by providing free public access to all United Nations parliamentary documents in the six official languages.
Towards bridging the digital divide, the Assembly welcomed the holding of the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) from 10 to 12 December 2003, and looked forward to the second phase to be held in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. It would call upon the DPI to contribute in raising awareness of the international community of the importance of the WSIS and the need to join efforts to make it a success.
Taking note of the Secretary-Generals note on the 2006-2007 proposed strategic framework on the Departments programmatic aspects, the Assembly would stress the need to include in the proposed biennial programme plan quantifiable and verifiable indicators for measuring expected accomplishments, so as to give a clear indication of the progress towards the accomplishment of objectives set. It would also stress the importance of full compliance with all legislative mandates, when preparing the proposed budget for 2006-2007.
Regarding the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs), the Assembly would reaffirm paragraph 15 of its resolution 57/300, in which it took note of the Secretary-Generals proposal to rationalize the network of UNICs around regional hubs, where appropriate, in consultation with concerned Member States, starting with the creation of a Western European hub, followed by a similar approach in other high-cost developed countries. It would request the Secretary-General to submit a progress report on the implementation of the proposal with the objective of applying this initiative in other regions, in consultation with Member States, where this initiative will strengthen the flow and exchange of information in developing countries. It would welcome the agreement between the DPI and the Western European countries to establish a Regional United Nations Information Centre (RUNIC) in Brussels.
Taking note of the Secretary-Generals report on the rationalization of the network of UNICs, the Assembly would stress that the report could not at that stage fully address all aspects of the implementation of the rationalization of UNICs in Western Europe and other high-cost developed countries. In that regard, he would be asked to report in detail to the Committee at its next session. The Assembly would also emphasize that the information centres, or regional hubs as applicable, as the field voice of the Department, should promote public awareness of and mobilize support for the work of the United Nations at the local level.
The Assembly would affirm that the above-mentioned objectives are central to the future rationalization of UNICs, which must be in consultation, on a case-by-case basis, with all concerned Member States in which existing UNICs are located, the countries served by those UNICs, and other interested countries in the region, taking into consideration the distinctive characteristics of each region. In the framework of rationalization, the Secretary-General would be requested to extend the services of the UNICs and RUNICs to those Member States currently outside the scope of the DPIs field information capacity.
The Assembly would also request the Secretary-General -- within the framework of the rationalization process -- to take into account the needs of Portuguese-speaking African countries, and the offer made by the Government of Angola. In that context, it would welcome the DPIs ongoing efforts to review the allocation of both staff and financial resources to the UNICs with a view to transferring resources from information centres in developed countries to United Nations information activities in developing countries, emphasizing the needs of the least developed countries, and to any other activities of high priority, such as multilingualism on the web site and evaluation of services.
By other terms of the draft, the Assembly would appreciate the DPIs work in promoting, through its campaigns, issues of importance to the international community, such as sustainable development, children, HIV/AIDS, malaria, decolonization, dialogue among civilizations, tolerance and the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
The Assembly would also stress the need for renewed emphasis in support of Africas development, in particular by the DPI, in order to promote international awareness of the nature of the critical socio-economic situation in Africa and of the priorities of the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD).
Regarding the DPIs role in United Nations peacekeeping, the Assembly would request the Secretariat to continue to ensure the involvement of DPI from the planning stage of future operations through interdepartmental consultations and coordination with other departments of the Secretariat, in particular with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). It would also stress the importance of enhancing the DPIs public information capacity in the field of peacekeeping operations and its role in the selection process of spokespersons for United Nations peacekeeping operations or missions.
Expressing regret over the information gap between the new realities and success of peacekeeping operations, especially multidimensional and complex ones, and the public perceptions, the Assembly would stress the need for a comprehensive public information strategy on peacekeeping operations, undertaken in close coordination with other relevant departments, to overcome such gaps and ensure a positive public impact. It would emphasize the need for close cooperation between the DPI and DPKO to develop this strategy.
By further terms of the text, the Assembly would encourage the DPI to provide the necessary support within existing resources for dissemination of information pertaining to dialogue among civilizations and the culture of peace, as well as take due steps in fostering the culture of dialogue among civilizations via all mass media such as the Internet, print, radio and television.
In the area of news services, the Assembly would stress that the central objective of the news services, implemented by the News and Media Division, is the timely delivery of accurate, objective and balanced news and information emanating from the United Nations system in all four mass media -- print, radio, television and the Internet -- to the media and other audiences worldwide with overall emphasis on multilingualism.
The Assembly would also stress that radio remains one of the most cost-effective and far-reaching traditional media available to the DPI and note that an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations has been made an integral part of the DPIs activities. It would request the Secretary-General to pay full attention to the parity of the six official languages in expanding the international radio broadcasting capacity.
With regard to the United Nations Web site, the Assembly would note that the multilingual development and enrichment of the site has improved, although slower than expected due to constraints that need to be addressed. In that regard, it would encourage DPI to improve actions to achieve full parity among the six official languages on the United Nations Web site and would reaffirm the need for parity.
The Assembly would also recognize that technological infrastructure and supportive applications are based on Latin scripts and encourage DPI to continue its efforts to ensure that infrastructures and applications in the United Nations fully support Latin, non-Latin and bidirectional scripts to enhance language equality on the United Nations Web site.
In addition, the Assembly would stress the need for the DPI to take further necessary measures to ensure accessibility to the web site by persons with disabilities, including visual and hearing disabilities, and call on the Department, as a first step, to make further efforts for all new and revised pages to adhere to the obligatory level of compliance with recognized industry standards regarding such accessibility, and within existing resources to work towards compliance with all other levels of such standards.
Welcoming the electronic mail-based United Nations News Service, distributed worldwide through e-mail by DPI, the Assembly would also welcome the inclusion of the news e-mail services in English and French, and the Secretary-Generals intention to include other official languages in these services by 2004.
In other action, the Assembly would welcome the creation of the Steering Committee on the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, and commend it for its coordinating role and initial organizational efforts and for reaching agreement on an impressive programme of work. It would call on DPI to continue to lead the Steering Committee, and encourage the member libraries of the Steering Committee to coordinate closely and to establish time frames for the fulfilment of its programme of work. It would also note with appreciation the operation of a common library in Nairobi within existing resources and urge all United Nations offices in Nairobi to participate and support this venture.
The Assembly would note the importance of the continued implementation by the DPI of the ongoing programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries and countries in transition, and encourage the Department to consider how best to maximize the benefits derived from the programme by reviewing aspects such as its duration and the number of its participants.
The Assembly would recognize the need for the DPI to increase its outreach services in all regions and reiterate the need to include, in the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications, an analysis of the present reach and scope of the activities of the Department, identifying the widest possible spectrum of audiences and geographical areas that are not covered adequately and that might require special attention, including the appropriate means of communication, and bearing in mind local language requirements. Welcoming the thrust for educational outreach and the orientation of the UN Chronicle to that end, the Assembly would also call on the DPI to strengthen its role as a focal point for two-way interaction with civil society.
Congratulating the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) for its Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Scholarship Fund, which sponsors journalists from developing countries to come to the United Nations Headquarters and report on the activities during the General Assembly, the Assembly would urge donors to extend financial support to the Fund so as to increase the number of scholarships.
The Assembly would also note that the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations will be observed in 2005, and request the DPI to take necessary measures to publicize the occasion in every way possible, stressing the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and highlighting its accomplishments in the past six decades.
Finally, by a draft decision on the increase in the membership of the Committee on Information, the Assembly would increase that membership from 102 to 107, with the admission of Qatar, Iceland, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Cape Verde.
NADJEH BAAZIZ (Algeria), aligning herself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that progress in information and communication technologies had brought people closer together, but had also created inequalities. The United Nations should ensure that all countries had equal access to the technology and assist in closing the digital divide. There should be a priority on communication strategies to bring people closer to the United Nations. The many visits to the United Nations Web site showed their interest in the Organization. The six official languages should be treated equally on the Web.
She expressed satisfaction with the fact of language parity in radio, which was the traditional means of communication most used in the developing countries and in the most remote regions. In addition, the Organizations work in the field of decolonization was important, and the DPI had done good work in disseminating information in that regard. Regarding the rationalization of UNICs, it was too early to carry over the measures taken in Western Europe to other regions. The regionalization process should be carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with each host country.
IHAB AWAD (Egypt), endorsing the statement by Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77, said that the drafts before the Committee reflected the reforms being made in the Department. A policy was needed that would make it possible to disseminate news of the Organization around the world. For that reason, priority must be given to multilingualism and to the promotion of libraries and information centres, as well as inter-cultural dialogue. The DPI should continue its activities to disseminate information about peace in the Middle East and about Arab peoples living under foreign occupation.
Calling for a resolution of the Departments financial problems through a combination of efforts, he said that the DPIs work programme should prioritize issues included in the Millennium Declaration. The regionalization of UNICs should be conducted in line with General Assembly resolutions, meaning that more funds should be directed to developing countries and lessons should be learned from the European experience. It was hoped that the message of the United Nations would contribute to a culture of peace and end the amalgam of terrorism and legitimate struggle under occupation. The message should also help close the digital divide and elicit worldwide support for the objectives of the United Nations.
NUR JAZLAN MOHAMED (Malaysia), associating himself with the Group of 77, welcomed the reforms being carried out in DPI and said that, given the Departments new mission, it would be only proper and meaningful to focus on issues relating to the priorities of the United Nations, such as those addressed in the Millennium Declaration. It was also important that information be focused on restoring public confidence in, and support for, the Organization.
Emphasizing that the digital divide was of great concern for developing countries such as Malaysia, he called for partnerships in research, technology transfer and other activities to build capacity in those countries. Malaysia was making efforts to increase service outreach to less privileged areas and appreciated the United Nations campaign for international support on economic and social issues affecting the most vulnerable countries. Among other activities, Malaysia was proud to have contributed to the promotion of the Year of Freshwater, 2003, and would continue to support the activities of the DPI.
He said that a long-term, action-oriented information strategy was required to enhance United Nations involvement in Africa, particularly in support of the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD). The DPI should also continue to play a crucial role in highlighting issues relating to the question of Palestine in a non-biased manner. Malaysia also welcomed cooperation in rationalizing the UNIC system and appreciated efforts to improve multilingualism through wider use of all official languages, as well as others.
ABDULHAMID MOQBEL MANSOUR (Yemen), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information Shashi Tharoors statement of October 19 had underlined the importance of the Department. The Departments programmes and activities stressed the strategic use of libraries and UNICs. There was a need to make contact with world public opinion and to find means for a peaceful dialogue among civilizations and cultures.
He said he appreciated the efforts made by the Department regarding dissemination of information to the Arab world. He also welcomed the efforts to make information of the United Nations available in all six official languages of the Organization. Likewise, he expressed appreciation for the efforts the Department made in the training of journalists from the developing countries, something which would reduce the information divide between the developed and developing world.
PRADIP NEPAL (Nepal) said that, despite resource constraints, the Department of Public Information was making better use of new information and communications technologies, as evidenced by the role it played during last years World Summit on the Information Society. The DPI had a special role in improving access to information in developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, and must continue efforts to deliver in that regard. Developed nations lacked modern means of communication, including the Internet. Radio and print media were the only effective tools to reach target audiences and should be at the forefront of the DPIs communications policy. He called for more language-specific programmes.
United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) were a lifeline for public information dissemination in the developing world, he added. The UNICs in resource-strapped countries merited further consolidation to better serve those most in need of United Nations assistance. Merging UNICs into regional hubs was not a viable alternative for developing countries. The UNIC in Kathmandu should be further strengthened, and bestowed with the resources and mandate to train media, non-governmental organizations, academia, libraries and interested individuals in how to use various United Nations documents and facilities.
JONNY SINAGA (Indonesia) said that the regionalization of UNICs had remained a prime concern since they could be an important catalyst to development. Moreover, some UNICs could not perform their core functions due to lack of funding and were often unable to sustain regular activities and ensure multilingualism. There was also an imbalance in the exposure of various issues, such as the attention given to Iraq compared to other situations. Developing countries were lagging behind in information and communication technologies, which had impaired their ability to become knowledgeable about, or involved in, United Nations work.
While the regional hub in Brussels might prove effective in disseminating information in Europe, he said, such an arrangement would fail to address social and cultural diversity among countries in other regions, or gaps in information and communication technologies and infrastructure between Europe and such other regions as Asia, Africa and Latin America. A comprehensive picture was needed before embarking on the next stage of regionalization.
He noted that the United Nations Web site had become the premier tool for reaching target audiences like the media, non-governmental organizations and academia. However, it had its own linguistic and technological limitations, which made it inaccessible in some societies, especially those in developing countries. Such disparities kept developing countries at a disadvantage, hindering individuals and the media in their efforts to disseminate information.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that United Nations information work should focus on development and effectively guide public opinion. There was a tendency in the Organization and in world media to focus first on political issues and second on economic concerns. Stories on terrorist attacks, weapons of mass destruction and genocide had been more prevalent in newspapers and on television, while stories on poverty, hunger and environmental degradation seldom made headlines. In the past year, the DPI had focused publicity on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the digital divide and African countries needs, while the annual DPI/NGO Conference had chosen the Millennium Development Goals as its theme. Those developments were encouraging, and the DPI, as well as MemberStates, should focus public awareness campaigns and publicity on development issues and the Millennium Goals.
He said his country supported efforts to expand the multilingual capacity of the United Nations Web site and broadcast services so that all the official languages could have full and equal coverage. China was doing its part to enhance public information and communications on the United Nations. In June, the Chinese Government and the United Nations had sponsored in Beijing an International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East. Next year, it would host an international training workshop on Education and Public Information Outreach on the Millennium Development Goals and a programme for strengthening the Global Youth Information Network.
RODNEY LOPEZ CLEMENTE (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that the gap between developed and developing countries in terms of communication and information was increasing every day, despite efforts to take the advances in those technologies to the different regions of the planet. The last World Summit on the Information Society had been an important step forward, but practical, lasting and sustainable solutions would be necessary to include developing countries in the information society. Developing countries needed stable and predictable financial resources in that regard. The same imbalance between the developed and developing worlds existed in the information dissemination field. Information from the developed world distorted, falsified or ignored news of the developing world. Each day, a new world information and communication order was more necessary.
He said that, in rationalizing UNICs, the considerable differences among regions should be taken into consideration. The use of radio in developing countries was extremely important as that medium could be accessed by illiterate populations both in the South and the North. Cuba denounced the daily acts of radio and television aggression against it emanating from the United States territory on 30 different frequencies. Some 320 hours a week of broadcast programmes were based on misinformation and falsification, and 17 of the stations involved belonged to organizations that were linked with known terrorists. Two were the property of the United States Government. Cuba would continue to exercise its sovereignty and independence and repel those aggressive actions by all the measures within its reach.
FAISAL AL-ZAYANI (Bahrain), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that the digital divide between developed and developing countries must be closed in accordance with the Millennium Declaration and in accordance with General Assembly resolutions calling for the establishment of a new communications order characterized by equity and the free flow of information. The best approach to that objective was cooperation aimed at building capacity in the developing countries.
The establishment of regional information hubs was not always feasible due to the hopes pinned on the UNICs in developing countries, which were information beacons that should be enhanced as much as possible, he said. They should not be closed or merged with offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) unless the wishes of the host country were taken into account. Each case should be considered individually with an eye toward results. Information services should also focus on the question of Palestine pending its resolution.
GRACE MUJUMA (United Republic of Tanzania), aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said she welcomed the Under-Secretary-Generals understanding that the rationalization process of the UNICs was not a one-size-fits-all process, and that he would undertake consultations with the relevant Member States in that regard. She said it was also heartening to note that the DPI had recognized the existing gap between what the people should know and what the media had been consciously choosing to disseminate. She urged the DPI to make a conscious move to redirecting the media towards articulating a broader concept of threats and challenges such as hunger, endemic or infectious disease and environment degradation, since they affected the majority of the people but hardly made the headlines.
She was very impressed by the imaginative Ten Stories project -- the forgotten stories which deserved prominence -- and said the DPI should go beyond that. It should arouse public conscience and elicit political action, as well as a collective response to address such issues. She commended the Department for its creative and innovative use of new developments in information technology. Partnership with credible local media could optimize the outreach activities and probably reduce costs. The DPI should also work closely with other sections in civil society. The decision by the Assembly to remove $2 million from UNICs operational budget must be revisited as it would affect the effective implementation of the Departments mandate.
SEBABE T. ADJAGBA (Togo), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said the DPI should not only see to it that information affected the broadest possible audience, but it should also translate the Goals of the Millennium Declaration and the Mid-Term Plan, in particular by promoting issues of development, including the eradication of poverty, the fight against HIV/AIDS, the promotion of a dialogue among cultures and the specific needs of the African continent.
He underlined the need to preserve UNICs in the developing countries. He congratulated the Department on the celebration of World Freedom Day at United Nations Headquarters. As freedom of the press was often threatened, he said, the Committee on Information must respond to that threat with bold initiatives, as information had important implications for democracy and the establishment of the rule of law. In that regard he noted that Togo had adopted a new, de-criminalized press code, one of the most liberal in Africa, which had, among other things, abolished censorship. The press in Togo was one of the most active. He hoped the revitalization of the DPI would take into account the special needs of the developing countries.
ISMAEL ABRAAO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that his country lacked the information resources to back up its development efforts. For that reason, the DPI was to be commended for making the United Nations Web site increasingly accessible. However, millions of people were still isolated from such information resources and concrete measures were needed to bridge the digital divide. In addition, Angola agreed that peacekeeping activities should be made available to the public and that priority development issues should be promoted.
Expressing appreciation for the plan to rationalize the UNICs, he reiterated Angolas offer to host the hub for Portuguese-speaking Africa. Too many journalists still faced challenges in doing their job and Angola had been striving to broaden access to free expression for its people as part of its peace dividend.
HERMINIO EMANUEL DA COSTA MONIZ (Cape Verde), associating himself with those of Angola and the Group of 77, said that the widening gap in communication technologies between developed and developing countries was still a matter of concern. For that reason traditional media, such as radio, remained the most effective in many developing countries and should be preserved and consolidated.
The Portuguese-speaking countries had benefited greatly from United Nations international radio broadcasting, he said. Units dedicated to radio broadcasting should be maintained and strengthened. He commended Angolas willingness to host the regional hub for Portuguese-speaking Africa should be recognized and taken into due consideration. Cape Verde reiterated its support for DPI reforms that would increase efficiency and improve the quality and flow of United Nations public information.
Statement by Under-Secretary-General
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, thanked all the delegations that had taken the floor in the past three days, and reiterated the importance of the partnership between DPI and the Committee on Information.
Noting calls for DPI to continue promoting dialogue among civilizations, he said that the Department had already seized upon the initiative to promote dialogue through its Unlearning Intolerance series of seminars, which would continue in December with a programme on Islamophobia. The UNICs in Harare, Moscow and Sydney were involved in organizing special events locally around the theme of that dialogue.
Many delegations, he noted, had addressed the rationalization of the network of UNICs, and he was pleased to see the importance attached to the Centres as the voice of the United Nations worldwide. The rationalization process was intended to enhance the effectiveness of UNICs within the severe, and sometimes crippling, constraints of reduced budgetary allocations. Within those constraints, the DPI had to reconcile differing views held by Member States on how best to proceed with the rationalization of UNICs and also reconcile the fact that the General Assembly had created a large number of UNICs and then had deprived them of the funding they needed. He emphasized that regional hubs could not work without the funds to perform their functions effectively. As far as the performance of RUNIC Brussels was concerned, he reiterated his intention to submit a comprehensive review at next years session of the Committee.
He thanked delegations that had praised the work carried out by UNICs in their countries and those that had supported them through financial and other contributions, mentioning, in particular, Japan for increasing its annual contribution to UNIC Tokyo by 40 per cent, Kuwait for its support in building a United Nations House, and Angola for its offer of free premises for a possible Lusophone hub in Luanda. He took note of the continued concern of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) delegations regarding the possible out-posting of one information officer in Kingston and suggested that bilateral discussions should be renewed on the issue.
Regarding delegations that had argued for DPI to play a more active role in closing the digital divide, he said the Department was not an operational agency mandated to assist developing countries with their needs in information and communications technology (ICT). However, it was actively promoting and supporting all phases of the World Summit on the Information Society and working with relevant international bodies aimed at improving access to ICT for development. He added that DPI would continue to advocate the principles of freedom of the press, reminding the world that there is no information society without a free media.
He assured delegations who had underlined the importance of continued attention to Africa that DPI was fully committed to keeping the international spotlight on the Continent, to promoting awareness and understanding of the problems it faced, and to publicizing what the United Nations system was doing to help. In fact, at least 20 per cent of DPIs activities in any given month were dedicated to African issues and the dissemination of information through the worldwide media.
He said DPI was working with the Special Adviser on Africa on the subject of NEPAD and that the Department was also working on promoting the Mauritius Meeting on Small Island Developing States and making arrangements to cover the event on site.
The Departments collaboration with the DPKO to promote awareness of peacekeeping operations had increased significantly, he said. The DPI had prepared and submitted a draft communications strategy to the DPKO addressing the so-called information gap in order to garner support for, and awareness of, the new surge in peacekeeping demands.
Regarding the revitalization strategy for the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, he said the Library aimed to stress connections rather than collections. The planned restructuring of the Library would lead to the streamlining of its processing aspects and allow for more effective assistance to the Secretariat in managing, organizing and reusing the information it created. The Library would continue to reinforce its work on the ODS and would ensure that it would be emphasized in future reports.
He assured delegates that the DPI was fully committed to carrying out its mandate regarding the promotion of the rights of the Palestinian people. The annual training programme for Palestinian media practitioners, mandated by the Assembly, was in its ninth year and now included a week-long session in the Geneva headquarters of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The media seminar organized annually by DPI had been greatly revamped and now served as an annual forum for policy makers, experts and media professionals from the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel and other parts of the world to take forward a dialogue of peace in that area.
The Department was fully aware of the importance of radio as a traditional means of communication and an effective medium for bringing the United Nations message closer to the peoples of the world, he said. It was working vigorously to establish new partnerships with local, provincial, national and regional broadcasters around the world and feedback from partners had been very positive. The Department had launched a new programme in June, entitled United Nations and Africa, a weekly 15 minute programme that covered current affairs-related stories about what the United Nations was doing for Africa, in Africa and about Africa.
Special efforts were also being made regarding the Millennium Development Goals and their five-year review next year. He assured developing-country partners that concerns regarding development had never strayed from the top of the agenda.
Addressing concerns raised regarding multilingualism, he said the public availability of the ODS represented a giant step forward. The DPI would continue to strive to enhance the availability of material in Arabic. However, producing daily press releases in Arabic represented a significant cost that the Department could not afford without severe cutbacks in other mandated activities. In cooperation with the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, efforts had been made to quickly produce Arabic versions of important public statements by the Secretary-General and other officials for immediate dissemination to Arabic language media. He assured delegates that the Department did strive for coordination between the two working languages in meetings coverage.
Without increased resources or clear guidance from Member States on what other areas could be cut, progress in achieving multilingualism would be slow, he said. The DPI, in growing partnerships with national and regional broadcasters, United Nations Radio and TV was strengthening programming on the United Nations in non-official languages. He took note of the recommendation that DPI should seek to modify its efforts for absolute parity among the official languages and devote more resources to the most heavily accessed sites or to other priorities.
Turning to the Outreach Division, he said its primary task was to seek, foster and nurture partnerships that offered a means to multiply the reach of the United Nations identity and message, while conserving increasingly scarce budgetary resources. That would be particularly important in the context of next years observances of the Organizations sixtieth anniversary.
Rights of Reply
The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to the Cuban statement, said that his Government took its international obligations seriously, particularly those pertaining to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The Castro Government controlled all aspects of daily life through an elaborate and pervasive system of undercover agents, informers and neighbourhood committees working to detect and suppress dissent and impose ideological conformity. For 45 years, the Cuban people had been denied the right to choose their own representatives, to voice their opinions, and to meet and to organize freely.
In March 2003, he said, the Cuban Government had cracked down on the peaceful opposition for exercising the right to freedom of opinion as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That had resulted in the conviction of 75 Cubans and their imprisonment for an average of 20 years. On 15 October, Cuba had expelled three Europeans, members of their respective nations parliaments, because they had sought to have a conversation with Cubas peaceful and democratic opposition. That was just the latest example of the Cuban Governments obsessive efforts to deny peaceful and freedom-loving Cubans access to the outside world.
He said the United States continued to believe that the Cuban Governments opposition to Radio and TV Marti, and its continued imprisonment of Cubas prisoners of conscience, was driven by fear of the consequences of allowing the Cuban people to receive uncensored information about their own country and the world around them, a freedom to which all members of the human race were entitled. Simply put, the Castro regime had denied the Cuban people their human rights and fundamental freedoms, betrayed them politically and failed them economically.
The representative of Israel, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that a small numbers of delegates had expressed the desire that the DPI bring the suffering of the Palestinian people to the fore. However, there was already such a programme, which cost more than $5 million biannually. It was the only programme of its kind. By its mandate, it displayed only one side of the conflict. One should consider whether one topic should overshadow all others in its potentially tragic implications.
YURI ARIEL GALA LOPEZ (Cuba), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the United States had not responded to his statement about its piratical actions, which were an act of aggression and in violation of international law. Cuba had access to international culture and radio from many parts of the world, and did not need information provided by the United States that was, in reality, disinformation, partial information and lies. Cuba was not trying to politicize the issue at hand, but was speaking of an aggression that was pertinent to that issue. The issue of mercenaries convicted for their service to a foreign Power was not pertinent to the Committee.
Action on Drafts
Acting without a vote, the Committee then approved draft resolution A, entitled Information in the service of humanity, and draft resolution B, entitled United Nations public information activities and policies.
The Committee also approved, without a vote, the draft decision expanding the membership of the Committee on Information from 102 to 107, to include Qatar, Iceland, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Cape Verde.
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