27 April 2006
Three-Day Information Committee Debate Provided DPI with Clear Evaluation of Performance, where Improvement Needed, Says Under-Secretary-General
Shashi Tharoor Addresses Wide Range of Issues Raised by Delegations, Including Information Centres, Website Language Parity, Library Services
NEW YORK, 26 April (UN Headquarters) -- Three days of debate on how to ensure that the United Nations story reached the remotest corners of the world had given the Department of Public Information (DPI) a clear view of how Member States evaluated its performance and where it needed to improve, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, said today.
Wrapping up the Committee on Information's general debate this afternoon, Mr. Tharoor thanked the many delegations that had expressed support for him and the Department, as it carried out its task of telling the United Nations story in an ever-changing media environment.
Responding to a series of specific questions and comments, he said that the issue of the further rationalization of the network of the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) had been addressed by nearly all delegations and had been issue at the centre of the Committee's deliberations for several years. Several delegations had referred to the need for common terms of reference and a mission statement for individual centres. As part of the Department's restructuring in 2002 and the creation of the new operating model, UNICs had been integrated into the Strategic Communications Division. The centres were fully integrated into the Division's annual strategic planning process and shared the same communications priorities as the rest of the Department.
He added that the Department had also strengthened the consultation process between Headquarters and offices in the field over the past year to encourage the sharing of experiences and pooling of limited resources, particularly in regions sharing common communications priorities, concerns and language. The DPI had also made progress on the issue of an in-depth evaluation and transparent budget planning for the centres. The UNICs had also been integrated into the Department's new "culture of evaluation". Regarding the release of resources from the closure of Western European centres, he noted that the redeployment of Director-level posts had helped the Department enhance its presence in key media hubs in some developing countries.
Referring to the recently established Peacebuilding Commission, he said the Department had managed to absorb the additional communications work involved within existing resources and had proceeded to develop the Peacebuilding Commission's website, as well as a detailed plan on possible public information and media development activities. Noting the emphasis by many delegations on the need to maintain traditional media, and their continued support for United Nations Radio, he said he saw that both as a "vote of confidence" and incentive to continue broadening the scope of DPI's partnerships and expanding its outreach.
On the United Nations website and the need to ensure parity among the six official languages, he said the Department was making every effort to the extent that its resources and mandates allowed to carry out that imperative. The Department had been able to take advantage of the technological upgrades, such as web analysis tools, to determine not only the location of the visitors to the United Nations site, but also how they came to the site. The Department viewed web traffic analysis -- or "web-metrics" -- as an integral part of its continued efforts to make the website more responsive to users' needs.
He also noted support for the Department's efforts to modernize United Nations library services, launching knowledge-sharing initiatives and transforming the library to make it more effective and relevant. He was pleased to note positive comments on the proposal to change the name of library to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge-Sharing Centre, reflecting its new direction.
Concluding its general debate this afternoon, speakers commended DPI for bringing to the world the United Nations message of tolerance and respect for different cultures, societies and religions. Indeed, as the Organization's public voice -- and barometer of public perception -- the Department's mission, Mongolia's representative said, was to deliver to the wider public the great ideals for which the United Nations stood.
In today's world of "monopolized media", DPI must be able to not only promote the Organization's noble goals, but also counter biased information and media coverage, Iran's representative said. Disparities in the use of information and communication technology had immeasurably widened the gaps between developed and developing countries. Regrettably, some countries had taken advantage of their technological supremacy to distort and fabricate events and "realities" in other countries. The United Nations must help to bring an end to the practice of media outlets targeting developing countries, and DPI must play a greater role in those efforts.
Without objective and truthful information, the world would be walking in total darkness and complete danger, said Kenya's Assistant Minister of Information and Communications. When western-owned media "demonized" African Governments for pursuing economic and political independence from western domination, DPI should provide neutral, objective information by which to judge the countries under media attack. United Nations public information must save the world from the ideologies of negative ethnicity and racism. The United Nations and DPI could not remain aloof when the fires of ethnicity and racism engulfed countries spurred on by misguided media and selfish politicians.
Praising DPI for the positive outcome of the first annual International Day of Commemoration for the Victims of the Holocaust on 27 January, Israel's representative said he had been impressed by the creative and comprehensive way in which DPI had prepared the event and related activities. Founded on the ashes of the Holocaust, the United Nations had, for the first time in its history, commemorated the victims of the Holocaust, commended the liberators and saluted the survivors. As the Holocaust transformed from memory to history, it was the international community's duty to pass the torch of remembrance to the next generation.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Angola, Belarus, Indonesia, Pakistan, Congo, Nigeria, Yemen and Nepal.
The representative of Iran spoke in the exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.
The Committee on Information met today to conclude the general debate of its twenty-eighth session. [For background information on the session, see Press Release PI/1708 of 21 April 2006.]
SONG SE IL (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said information technology and facilities should be the technological and material base of humankind's common peace and prosperity. Some countries were misusing it, however, for improper political purposes. The United States and some developed countries abused their technological "predominant position" in the field of information, mobilizing information technology and facilities to infringe on the sovereignty of developing countries and achieve improper political purposes for themselves. A typical example of that was "Radio Free", which the United States broadcast in all parts of the world. "Radio Free Asia" was composed of several hundred staff at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and regional stations in Asia. It broadcast, in local languages, fabricated news against Asian developing countries, including the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, China, Viet Nam, Cambodia and India. The United States invested a huge amount of funds in the broadcast against his country.
He said the United States Government, in July 2004, had passed the "North Korean Human Rights Act". That act approved an annual budget of some $2 million to extend the broadcast to 12 hours and smuggle transistors into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The abuse of information technology and facilities by the United States had entered a very dangerous stage. International inequality and distinctions among countries in the level of information technology were being aggravated. It was urgent, therefore, to observe the principles of sovereignty, respect and equality in international information activities. In that regard, it was essential to create institutional conditions to guarantee equality among countries in the level of information technology. In the past century, developed countries had regarded information technology and facilities as their monopolistic property. In the current century, however, they should contribute to converting it into common property for humankind's progress and prosperity.
JIRO KODERA (Japan) said his delegation appreciated the reform efforts under way in the Department of Public Information (DPI), led by the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor. Japan believed that implementation of DPI's public relations programmes through extensive use of new information and communication technologies, development of the United Nations website, and reform of the Organization's library services and functions were all tangible results of those efforts. He hoped that DPI would continue to strengthen itself, particularly since in the future it would have an even greater role to play in informing the world's people about the United Nations.
With Japan celebrating the fiftieth year of its United Nations membership this year, the Government believed it would be good opportunity for the Japanese people to become reacquainted with the Organization's work. To that end, it had decided to match last year's contribute of some 30 million yen to the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Tokyo, even in the face of budgetary constraints.
Turning to other matters, he stressed that the Organization's thoroughgoing mandate review did not necessarily mean cost-cutting or the elimination of targeted activities. Its aim should be to reallocate resources based on specific priorities in order to enable the Organization to conduct its activities more efficiently. Japan, therefore, regarded the mandate review as a means to transform the United Nations into a more powerful international organization better able to address global realities.
To that end, the Secretary-General's report on the mandate review suggested that Member States might wish to consider eliminating the duplication of work between the Committee on Information and the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), including reducing the number of reports requested by the Committee on Information and issuing resolutions on a biennial basis. Japan believed that it would be pertinent for Member States to consider the significance of the Information Committee, as well as its relationship to the Assembly's Fourth Committee, he said.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) joined others in reiterating the central role of the United Nations in global affairs. Its voice must be heard by all peoples in a clear and effective manner. To that end, a "culture of communications" should permeate the Organization at all levels so that the world's people could be effectively informed about its aims and activities. Ensuring that culture was DPI's primary mission, he said, adding that in today's world of "monopolized media", the Department must be able to promote the noble goals of the United Nations and, in certain cases, counter biased information and media coverage. In short, DPI should lead the march towards harmony in its sphere of influence -- the information society.
Equally vital was the Committee's role as a forum to formulate a cogent and coherent United Nations information policy, in order to bring about harmony, goodwill and greater understanding among peoples by building bridges between various societies, cultures and religions. He added that disparities in the use of information and communication technology had immeasurably widened the gaps between developed and developing countries, and, as a consequence, vast populations in the developing world had been unable to benefit from the technological revolution sweeping other parts of the globe. At the same time, some countries, regrettably, had taken advantage of their technological supremacy and were monopolizing new technologies to distort and fabricate events and "realities" in other countries.
Such actions tarnished the images of many developing countries, he said, calling for immediate action from the international community to deal with this "detrimental and undesirable" trend. The United Nations must take the necessary measures to help reduce the widening digital divide and bring an end to the practice of media outlets targeting developing countries. More importantly, he said that DPI was expected to play a greater role in those efforts, as well as initiatives aimed at placing information technology at the service of development. Turning to the role of UNICs, he said Iran believed those centres should be enabled to better carry out their duties. A top issue for DPI in that regard --and a matter the Committee should discuss during this session -- was replacing obsolete and outdated equipment currently still being used in the centres.
He went on to say that Iran believed that freedom of expression, especially in the media, in all societies, was a major indicator of progress and development. At the same time, it also believed that freedom of expression, in the scope of other human rights, should be exercised with responsibility and avoid lawlessness and irrational behaviour that might result in hurting the feelings of others. The recent "sacrilege and blasphemy" committed in the name of free expression by some European newspapers which had depicted the Prophet Mohammad was a clear example of a situation that had created animosity among people of different faiths. To that end, he encouraged DPI to continue promoting respect for all cultures, religions and civilizations.
CHOISUREN BAATAR (Mongolia) congratulated Under-Secretary-General Tharoor and the DPI team for completing the reform and reorientation of the Department. The three-year reform and reorientation process might be over, but DPI would need to continue adapting to changing circumstances. Indeed, the Department had a very important role. As the Organization's public voice, it had the mission to deliver to the wider public the great ideals for which the Organization stood. It also acted as a barometer of public perception of the Organization. In that respect, Under-Secretary-General Tharoor had provided concrete examples of changing perceptions of the United Nations according to public opinion polls. In that regard, he suggested that such data be compiled and presented to the Committee.
The Department's work in commemoration of the 2005 World Summit had been particularly noteworthy, he said. It was important not to lose the unique momentum generated in September. Mongolia wholeheartedly supported the Department's efforts to seek additional ways to further publicize the decisions of the General Assembly. Indeed, achieving greater awareness of its work was an important aspect of the overall goal of revitalizing the principal organ as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative body of the United Nations. He was gratified to note that the coverage of the Assembly's activities had significantly expanded. The Department should continue its activities in that field. As a troop-contributing country, Mongolia could only laud the attention given to achieving a favourable depiction of United Nations peacekeeping. The Organization owed that service to troops in the field. Misgivings of the few should not be allowed to spoil the good name of the overwhelming majority of the brave men and women peacekeepers.
The establishment of a genuine dialogue among civilizations remained one of the priorities for Member States in today's world, he said. Different peoples, religions, cultures and civilizations were engaged daily in an unprecedented level of interaction. Such openness and perceived defencelessness in the face of change sometimes created a reaction of rejection, distrust or even fear. The Department's activities, within the framework of the global agenda to examine different manifestations of intolerance, could help in overcoming it. He welcomed the "Unlearning Intolerance" seminar series and believed that the Department's work in promoting dialogue among civilizations should also involve showcasing examples of its successes, not only difficult moments, and encompass all rich diversity of world civilizations, cultures and religions.
The United Nations website was a primary source of information as was vividly illustrated by the increased number of hits, he said. The growing number of hits was also a testimony to the quality and content-accessibility of the website. The popularity of the website would only continue to grow. His delegation supported, therefore, all further efforts to improve it.
SIMON PIDOUX (Switzerland) said that following DPI's focused reorientation phase, it was now necessary for the Department to continue to adapt itself to the rapid changes going on in the media world, so that it could provide its "clients" with the best products possible. He went on to say that the courageous experiment to rationalize the UNIC network and the creation of the Regional Centre in Brussels had not only created synergies, but had also highlighted a number of limitations. Switzerland would learn from the experience, which would allow it to pursue the rationalization plan pragmatically, while taking regional aspects into account.
Switzerland believed it was important for the Centres to base their activities on objectives that had been clearly defined by the Department. That would allow them to get an idea about the skills they required, and to measure results and carry out changes when needed. He added that Switzerland would prefer to focus on the substance rather than the form of the rationalization process so that the dissemination of United Nations information could be improved. He also suggested that the Committee itself should consider its own rationalization exercise in light of the Secretary-general's recent report on reviewing the Organization's mandates. Switzerland believed that it was unnecessary for different bodies to examine the same question. Reducing the number of reports requested by the Committee also seemed like a good possibility.
Turning to multilingualism and the network of United Nations libraries, he welcomed improvements to the website and considered that service to be a very efficient way to disseminate information about the Organization. Switzerland would encourage DPI to pursue its efforts to provide the same amount of information in each of the Organization's official languages. On the libraries, he welcomed the recent decision to update the status of the network of communities which shared knowledge. Regarding the proposed name change for the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, he said Switzerland would like to have DPI's opinion on the possible implications on the operation of United Nations library network as a whole.
DANIEL CARMON (Israel) commended DPI for its success in developing a more strategic approach to increase global awareness and understanding of the United Nations work. It was axiomatic that the world had entered a new age of information and communication technology, where relevance required continued technological progress. In that regard, he commended the Department for the many changes it had instituted, such as the accomplishments of the United Nations website. That one could view United Nations meetings in real time video feed from anywhere in the world with Internet access was truly remarkable and yet fitting for the Organization.
Yesterday, Israel and the Jewish world had observed Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance, he noted. It was only fitting, therefore, that his delegation took the opportunity to praise DPI for the positive outcome of the first annual International Day of Commemoration in the memory of the victims of the Holocaust on 27 January. Israel was extremely proud of that international endeavour and had been impressed by the creative and comprehensive way in which Under-Secretary-General Tharoor and the DPI team had prepared the events at the United Nations. Simply witnessing the response of the hundreds of Holocaust survivors who had attended the ceremony was enough to validate the entire endeavour. The United Nations had been founded on the ashes of the Holocaust, and the ceremony represented the culmination of a series of related activities at the United Nations.
He said the Holocaust Remembrance resolution, adopted by the Assembly last November, represented the first time in history that it had officially commemorated the victims of the Holocaust, commended the liberators and saluted the survivors. As the world stood on the brink of the moment when the Holocaust had transformed from memory to history, it was the international community's common duty to pass the torch of remembrance to the next generation, so that the world would never forget the great atrocities that had befallen the Jewish people. He expressed warm anticipation for the outreach programmes and educational activities within the United Nations system and within educational systems in Member States, such as exhibits, seminars and the use of a dedicated Internet website. The world must learn the lessons of the Holocaust. Those educational activities must send a universal message that such atrocities must never occur anywhere or to any people ever again.
It was unfortunate, he continued, that despite all that had been done, incitement still persisted. Member States had adopted the Holocaust Remembrance resolution by consensus, a resolution that specifically addressed Holocaust denial. Yet some leaders still projected hate rhetoric and Holocaust denial. In particular, the President of Iran was repeatedly calling, publicly and explicitly, for the annihilation of another Member State, and was in the midst of developing the capabilities to do so. He hoped the international community would not tolerate incitement by Member States against another Member State. Incitement and hate, unfortunately, did not remain in the realm of words, but inevitably lead to extremism and terror.
Turning to the implementation of General Assembly resolutions on the Palestinian Information Programme, he said that programme, by its very definition, promoted a one-sided narrative. He recognized the Under-Secretary-General's efforts to make the seminars and materials emanating from the Department as objective as possible, yet as a result of the Palestinian Information Programme, Israel continued to be the only Member State that was the target of such political bias. In the year of reform, that programme should be substituted in due time with a more balanced and constructive joint effort concerning peace in the Middle East, aimed at the promotion of tolerance, peace education, mutual understanding and the prevention of incitement.
Noting the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, he reiterated Israel's commitment to a free press and the crucial role it played in democratic society. He commended the protections given to the practice of a free press, and condemned the oppressive controls imposed on it in some areas of the world. He urged DPI to use its resources and energy to foster the former and combat the latter. Indeed, people were only as free as the information transmitted around them.
Mr. AZEVEDO (Angola) said one of the main problems facing developing countries was accessing new communication technologies. Indeed, for many years now the world had been divided between those who were "connected" and those who were not. That had led to marginalization and isolation in the developing world, where a lack of financial resources and skilled manpower had kept so many people from competing with their counterparts in the more technologically savvy developed world.
He expressed his appreciation for DPI's efforts to create UNICs around the globe to ensure better dissemination of information about the United Nations. In that regard, as the international community headed towards the midway point in achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, Angola urged DPI to continue its efforts towards opening an Information Centre in the Angolan capital of Luanda, to serve the special needs of the five Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, some of which were struggling to rebuild war-torn economies. He reiterated his Government's offer of rent-free premises for the Centre.
On freedom of expression, he informed the Committee that this past February the Angolan National Assembly had adopted a New Press Law, which created a balance between press freedom and citizens' rights, and included provisions on the prohibition of censorship and access to information.
KOIGI WA WAMWERE, Assistant Minister of Information and Communications of Kenya, noted that, without objective and truthful information, the world would be walking in total darkness and complete danger. While appreciating the success of the United Nations in the twenty-first century, the world should be totally decolonized, and he should be making his statement in Kiswahili -- an African language that was so widely spoken that it should today be recognized as an official language of the United Nations. For United Nations information to reach the grass roots and stimulate development in a large part of Africa, it was high time that the Organization recognized Kiswahili as one of its official languages. Currently, no indigenous African language was an official United Nations language.
When western-owned local, private and international media demonized African Governments for pursuing economic and political independence from western domination, DPI and the United Nations Information Centres should provide neutral, objective information by which the world should judge the countries under media attack, he said. There was too much silence when DPI and United Nations intervention was most needed to provide direction in media-led controversies. Despite recent allegations by parts of the international media of a threat to media freedom in Kenya, he reaffirmed his country's commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and freedom of the press, as well as independence and diversity. Anyone who cared to examine would know that Kenya's media was truly free. However, while Kenya refused to engage in government censorship of the media, he called on the media, especially local and international private media, not to exercise media censorship of Government or ban certain political personalities and government leaders from media coverage as in the colonial days.
Information from DPI and UNICs must save the world from the ideologies of negative ethnicity and racism, he said. As those ideologies once again reared their ugly heads in countries like Kenya, he believed DPI and UNICs could help save those countries from deadly ideologies by providing information and showing films such as "Hotel Rwanda". The United Nations and DPI could no longer remain aloof when the fires of ethnicity and racism engulfed countries by misguided media and selfish politicians. World peace, unity, human survival and information were so intertwined that DPI must be given more resources to fully inform the world on why it should spend more to save itself from the scourges of HIV/AIDS, poverty, unfair trade, corruption and neo-colonialism. To write fairly, accurately and objectively, DPI should train more persons in the profession and ethics of journalism. Indeed, Kenya supported a new information order where better trained, more knowledgeable journalists would report accurately and truthfully about world problems and their possible solutions. Journalism must never be used to instigate wars and conflicts, but to promote peace and harmony among peoples and countries.
Noting that Kenya fully supported the bridging of the digital divide, he said his country had developed an e-Government strategy to strengthen democratic government at all levels. It had also established a Universal Service Fund to take the Internet to every village and was creating a National Broadband Network Infrastructure to broaden the reach of information and communications technologies throughout the country.
SERGEI RACHKOV (Belarus) welcomed DPI's strategic approach towards adapting its activities to a changing public information environment. He called for continued work to reinforce that momentum for a balanced management of information sources to reach out to broad swaths of public opinion, ensuring coverage of United Nations activities for as many people as possible. He also called on the Department to focus on the dissemination of information on topics of priority interest to Member States. The dissemination of information should take place in strict accordance with objectivity and should rule out any type of prejudice.
He agreed with the need to develop regional information centres. He also supported multilingualism in United Nations information activities and strengthened linguistic parity in electronic resources, as well as the strengthening of DPI's role in providing information about United Nations peacekeeping operations. He shared the concern of the Department and Member States about the appearance in some media of the host country of non-objective information on the work of the United Nations. He supported the need to concentrate resources on the dissemination of reliable information about the Organization's work. DPI should cooperate more broadly with the leading media of Member States.
Today's meeting was taking place on the day of the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, he noted. Belarus, which had received more than 70 per cent of the radioactive fallout from the accident, expressed gratitude for the Department's consistent efforts to inform world public opinion about the effects of Chernobyl. He was grateful for support in carrying out events in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine to commemorate the tragic event. He also noted the need to ensure the effective functioning of the Chernobyl web page and the need to update it in all of the United Nations official languages. In terms of quality and speed, the Russian version of the United Nations News Centre site was noteworthy. Belarus was prepared to work with other Member States to achieve positive results during the session.
SANGA PANGGABEAN (Indonesia) said the operational changes that had been introduced by DPI over the past few years had improved the effectiveness of its work, particularly in the areas of targeted delivery, increasing the use of new information and communication technology, and further building up and supporting grass-roots partnerships. Those changes had, among other things, enabled the Department to position the United Nations at the centre of the global response to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami. Similarly, it had also boosted the image of the United Nations during the 2005 World Summit this past September as an organization that was leading a worldwide effort for the common good, as well as one willing to undertake thoroughgoing reform.
Regrettably, some of the Department's efforts were fragmented at the grass-roots level, especially in developing countries, because of the lack of or inadequate access to information and communications tools. To that end, Indonesia was deeply concerned that DPI was not receiving adequate funding for the operation of UNICs. It shared the view with other delegations that support for the information centres needed to be enhanced so that they could continue to serve as a vital link for DPI to connect to the wider public, and particularly the peoples of the developing world. Indeed, with the many financial and technological restraints facing developing countries, it would be very difficult to replace the local functions provided by the centres, he added.
He went on to say that DPI could also play a role in promoting a culture of peace and the dialogue among civilizations. He said that the world was filled with violence, much of it attributable to prejudice born of misunderstanding, miscommunication, or the simple lack of communication. The DPI could help bridge that gap by fostering understanding, tolerance and cooperation among peoples of different religions and beliefs. He also stressed that DPI should continue its efforts to support the United Nations core socio-economic and development issues, including the Millennium Development Goals.
MANSOOR SUHAIL (Pakistan) said that while telling the story of the United Nations was the primary responsibility of DPI, the real challenge lay in telling the story in a compelling manner, with conviction, to the widest possible audience. Within that challenge was the responsibility to reach out to the peoples of the developing world who otherwise lacked the resources or technological means by which to obtain information about the Organization's work. Of the many remarkable efforts undertaken by the United Nations to tell the developing world's story, Pakistan appreciated DPI's work, in coordination with wider world media outlets, during the rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of the disastrous earthquake which devastated northern Pakistan and Kashmir last October.
He went on to emphasize the overall importance of the work being done by the UNIC network and stressed the role the Centres played in developing countries in building support for and expanding the reach of the crucial works of the United Nations in even the most remote corners of the globe. As the Organization's "eyes and ears", the Centres interacted with local media, civil society and the general public. Everyone heard a lot about DPI's work at Headquarters, but it would be equally beneficial to hear how the United Nations activities were promoted in the field through UNICs. Pakistan wished to know how DPI identified its priority areas for action. In addition, UNIC in Pakistan needed attention, particularly regarding the appointment of necessary staff.
Turning to other matters, he said that the current state of world affairs required organizations like the United Nations to build bridges between societies and cultures. The DPI could play a constructive role in that regard through its campaigns to promote cultural and religious tolerance and understanding, such as the one launched in the wake of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published by some European newspapers.
Agreeing with those who had stressed the importance of traditional media in disseminating the United Nations message, he said such outlets were critical in developing regions that were still dependent on radio, TV and newspapers. Pakistan would, therefore, call for the strengthening of United Nations radio broadcasts in Urdu, and for the speedy release of video coverage of United Nations activities.
RAPHAEL MABOUNDOU (Congo) hailed the reform efforts to adopt a culture of evaluation through cooperation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). The use of new information and communication technology had made possible the retransmission by satellite of United Nations television programmes around the world. However, there was persistent inequality among the six official languages on the United Nations web site.
On rationalization of the information centres, he said there were limits to the policy of streamlining the UNIC network, and the plan to set up regional hubs had not borne fruit as hoped. From the start, the policy had triggered the disapproval of most developing countries delegations, and there was a complete evaluation of the experiment before considering a new streamlining strategy. The role of the United Nations in many developing countries must not be forgotten, and any belt-tightening should be carried out in consultation with host countries, taking geographic and linguistic specificities into account. The recent UNIFEED project to exchange audio-visual material between the United Nations agencies and United Nations TV in New York had taken off -- he same should be done for United Nations Radio, which was one of the main channels for disseminating United Nations information across Africa and worldwide. That would not be possible, however, if posts were taken away from United Nations Radio, the achievements of which must be preserved.
As economic and social development was a top priority for the developing countries, DPI should stress what the Organization was doing in that area, he said. New United Nations bodies, such as the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, should be given broad coverage. Congo hailed the innovative processes under way regarding the United Nations libraries and hoped their services would be better attuned to the Organization's needs, including by adopting new technologies and strengthening in-house communication.
NDEKHEDEHE E. NDEKHEDEHE (Nigeria) said the Information Department was the link between the United Nations and the public the Organization served. That meant that the public's perception of the United Nations and its mission was largely based on DPI's ability to effectively carry out its mandate and the extent to which it was able to reach out to all the world's people. Turning to the issues before the Committee, he said that, while his delegation appreciated the thrust of the efforts to rationalize the UNIC network, that process should not be undertaken at the expense of regions, communities and peoples with limited access to new information and communication technology.
Indeed, there was a risk that the exercise could wind up shutting off the United Nations from most of the people it was supposed to serve, he said, expressing support for increasing DPI's resources so that its activities, mechanisms and programmes could reach the widest audience possible. And while Nigeria commended DPI's achievements, more remained to be done in a number of areas. For instance, the Department needed to work in closer collaboration with radio stations to boost the use of local languages in respective areas of operations.
To that end, he recalled that the Secretary-General's relevant report had noted that radio remained the most effective way to reach wide audiences. Finally, he added that the Department could do more to promote, not only in Africa and Asia, but in other regions of the world, activities regarding the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
ISMAIL MOHAMMED YAHA ALMAARBI (Yemen) said his delegation had supported the proposals suggested by the Committee Chair. Yemen also welcomed and supported the work undertaken by all United Nations information staff and officials throughout the world as they addressed the vast challenges facing today's rapidly changing international scene. The Department must continue to promote the culture of peace and religious tolerance, the advancement of globally agreed development goals and the conservation of environmental resources.
On the UNIC network, he said it was vitally important for the Organization to support them, particularly those in the developing world, so that the work of the United Nations would reach the widest audience possible. Yemen also supported the building of grass-roots partnerships to enhance the voice of the United Nations. Under-Secretary-General Tharoor had done much to promote and enhance the use of information and communication technology throughout the Organization, as well as to promote sustainable development, the culture of tolerance and broad efforts to bridge the digital divide between the developing and developed worlds.
RAM BABU DHAKAL (Nepal) said the Committee had been carrying out the immensely important task of informing the people of the world about the work of the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, socio-economic and sustainable development, and poverty eradication, among other things. Nepal supported the Committee's efforts, as well as those of DPI, to promote the establishment of a new, more just and effective world information and communication order. The Committee should also work to strengthen peace and international understanding through free circulation and wider and more balanced dissemination of information worldwide.
He went on to highlight the difficulties developing and least developed countries faced because of poor access to new information and communication technologies, and stressed that the digital divide had left vast populations in the developing world on the margins of the current information revolution. He, therefore, urged the Department, as well as the wider United Nations, to step up efforts to ensure that all countries achieved the Millennium Development Goals.
He also called on DPI to allocate more resources to the UNIC network, particularly the Centre in Kathmandu. Such centres carried tremendous symbolic value and enormous practical utility at the national level, and existing UNICs should not be shut down without proper assessment of the specific needs and conditions at respective host locations. He added that the Kathmandu UNIC needed to be upgraded to a regional hub, particularly since the city hosts the headquarters of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Statement in Right of Reply
The representative of Iran, speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, said the Committee had heard an irrelevant reference to his country made by the representative of the Israeli regime, which contained a number of fabricated and baseless claims. Iran condemned genocide against any race, ethnic or religious group as a crime against humanity. Many cases of genocide had occurred throughout history, inflicting extensive pain and harm on various ethnic groups and peoples. Addressing historical events of horrific enormity required a commensurate degree of scientific scrutiny and rigour. Rendering political judgements on such events and closing the door to any scientific inquiry on their scope and extent would seriously undermine the sincerity of the endeavour. The basic principles of democracy, including the right to freedom of expression, should pave the way for exploring different aspects of historic events without any arbitrary restrictions.
Genocide, moreover, and the immense suffering associated with it, should not be manipulated for political purposes, he added. Regrettably, the Israeli regime had routinely attempted to exploit the sufferings of the Jewish people in the past as a cover for its crimes being perpetrated today against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, as well as acts of State terrorism. The international community should take strong action against such crimes of the regime and not allow it to manipulate humanitarian sentiments to pursue its illegitimate goals.
Iran had never made any threats against any other country, let alone desire to annihilate any State, he said. In fact, Iran had been on the receiving side of threats from Israel's regime over the past few years. The threats directed against Iran by the Israeli officials were pure manifestations of the irrational and illegal behaviour and policy of the Israeli regime whose records were a showcase of aggression, suppression, assassination and terrorism. Iran had not attacked any country in the past 250 years, nor intended to in the future.
He said a regime such as Israel's, which clandestinely "went nuclear", now possessed nuclear weapons and had threatened and attacked its neighbours, lacked legitimacy to question the legal activities of other countries that sought nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The DPI should not neglect to provide the international community with information on the illegal activities and practices exercised by the Israeli regime in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Reply by Under-Secretary-General
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, thanked delegates for the kind words addressed to him personally and to the Department. The Department had listened closely to the comments, suggestions and criticisms, and would rely on the Committee's collective wisdom as it continued its mission of promoting the United Nations work to audiences around the world.
Replying to specific questions, he noted that nearly all delegations had addressed the issue of the further rationalization of the network of UNICs, an issue that had been at the centre of the Committee's deliberations for several years. The Department looked forward to the Committee's guidance on the matter. Several delegations, including one speaking on behalf of a group, referred to the need for common terms of reference and a mission statement for individual United Nations information centres.
In that regard, he recalled that, as part of the restructuring of the Department in 2002 and the creation of the new operating model, the United Nations information centres had been integrated into the Strategic Communications Division. Accordingly, the Division's mission statement was also shared by each of the field offices. They were fully integrated into the Division's annual strategic planning process and shared the same communications priorities as the rest of the Department. Each centre prepared an individual annual work plan based on those priorities, and reported regularly on implementation.
He added that the Department had also strengthened the consultation process between Headquarters and offices in the field over the past year, and among the field offices themselves, to encourage the sharing of experiences and pooling of limited resources, particularly in regions sharing common communications priorities, concerns and language. That dialogue was further encouraged through the use of StratCom, an Internet-based communication tool and repository of information on programme, operational and administrative issues.
On the issue of "in-depth evaluation and transparent budget planning" for United Nations information centres, the Department had continued to make considerable progress in that area, he said. It reviewed, on an ongoing basis, the work of the centres with a view to achieving consistency and enhanced productivity. Programmatic and administrative guidance, as well as a common workplan template, budget submission and reporting forms were provided to all centres and posted on StratCom. Also, job descriptions and vacancy announcements for all posts deployed to the field were being standardized. All newly recruited centre directors were provided with training upon assuming their assignments and given clear performance benchmarks.
The United Nations information centres had also been integrated into the Department's new "culture of evaluation" and had provided input to the Annual Programme Impact Review (APIR), he added. As for the budget planning process, centres submitted their requests to Headquarters in advance, keeping within an indicative envelope, after which their requests were reviewed and the corresponding sub-allotment issued. In the process, due attention was paid to such issues as previous spending patterns, travel needs, provision of additional Government contributions, need to pay rent, preferred rent-free premises and need to replace outdated equipment. Given the importance of providing the network of information centres with up-to-date information and communications technology equipment, the Department continued to recognize the need to allocate adequate funds for that purpose and was doing its best within existing restraints.
Regarding the release of resources from the closure of the United Nations information centres in Western Europe, he noted that the redeployment of the Director-level posts had helped the Department to enhance its presence in key media hubs in some developing countries. The release of other staff posts had allowed a number of centres to eliminate their reliance on General Temporary Assistance funding to carry out ongoing and necessary functions, while ensuring that adequate staff resources were made available to each centre to carry out three basic functions, namely public information, knowledge management and administrative support.
He thanked all Governments that had provided extrabudgetary contributions in cash and kind to the work of United Nations information centres and encouraged all concerned to continue to provide their support to enhance DPI's outreach in the field.
On the issue of the proposed opening of an information centre in Luanda, he said the Department was cognizant of the need to meet the communications needs of the African lusophone countries, and could potentially allocate an international post to such an office. However, even with the provision of rent- and maintenance-free premises, as offered by the Government, the Department would be unable to cover the ongoing operational costs and additional staffing that would be required from within existing resources. Looking at the operating costs of other centres in Africa, and factoring in the additional resources that covering the several African lusophone countries would require, the non-staff costs were estimated at between $150,000 and $230,000 annually, with an additional $180,000 in start-up costs. Covering that within existing resources was simply impossible, and would mean having to close at least two -- or perhaps three -- other currently operational centres. In the present budgetary environment, the Department was not in a position to request such an increase in its budget for the upcoming 2008-2009 biennium.
He agreed that the Committee needed to hear more about the issue. In that regard, the Department would strive to report more fully on UNICs next year. Having recently visited the Islamabad Centre, he could testify to the fact that the Centre's staff was working closely wit the country team to promote important issues facing the Organization. He and his senior staff would be happy to discuss the issue of the centres with individual delegations.
On how DPI identified its priorities, he noted that was done in consultation with the substantive departments, keeping in mind the mandates given to it by intergovernmental bodies.
With regard to the Peacebuilding Commission, he said the Department had managed to absorb the additional communications work involved within existing resources and had proceeded to develop the Peacebuilding Commission's website, as well as a detailed plan on possible public information and media development activities.
As part of the Department's efforts to better publicize the United Nations peacekeeping activities, DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had recently hosted all the chiefs of public information at Headquarters for an intense three-day workshop. The issues confronting peacekeeping and public information were not limited to getting the success stories out, but also involved such issues as running major radio stations, deploying and using the latest video and web technology and aligning field systems with Headquarters, confronting "hate media" and explaining the mandate to an often remote audience and in an under-resourced manner.
He noted that many cooperative arrangements with the DPKO in the field of communications were ongoing, including the recent media and educational outreach campaign developed through the UN Works Programme, targeting audiences in both host and troop-contributing countries, and highlighting the value and effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping to the beneficiaries on the ground. The campaign will include a poster series, a website with video clips, lesson plans for teachers and a blog where peacekeepers could share the challenges and rewards of their mission. The goal was to build greater awareness about the complexity, value and effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping.
Regarding plans to meet the future communications needs of Timor-Leste after the closing of the current political mission there, he noted that, while the shape of the future United Nations presence would be decided by Member States, it went without saying that any future arrangements would include some public information presence.
The Department was continuing to highlight the programmes and activities related to the implementation of the NEPAD initiative in Africa through a variety of its products, he said. The Department continued to give regular coverage of NEPAD's successes and its challenges in the pages of Africa Renewal and Afrique Renouveau magazines and its website ( www.un.org/AR ). In recent months, the Department had been successful in placing a number of articles in major media in Africa, South-East Asia and in China, explaining NEPAD's priorities and need for international assistance for its programmes.
With reference to the suggestion that next year's Holocaust remembrance events embrace public organizations, including Russian-speaking veterans of the Second World War, he said DPI had worked closely with numerous civil society organizations and Holocaust survivor groups, including the Council of Jewish Emigre Community Organizations, one of whose members had played a major role in the Candlelight Vigil held in the evening of 26 January this year.
Regarding the reference to the coverage of disasters, he said DPI had been working to forewarn the public and help them prepare for potential disasters as far back as last October, with the first university videoconference on the Avian Flu. On the twentieth anniversary of Chernobyl, the United Nations Messenger of Peace, Michael Douglas, had told United Nations guides how the accident had been the key motivator in his resolve to contribute time and energy to the United Nations. The Chernobyl website had been transferred to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Though the transfer was complete, the News Centre had prepared a news focus page in all six official languages.
Concerning the Department's implementation of the Special Information Programme on Palestine, he noted that the annual training programme for Palestinian media practitioners would again be held later in the year, with the focus on the print media. The Department was currently in the process of selecting the participants. The Department's annual International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East would take place in Moscow in June in collaboration with the Government of the Russian Federation. He expressed appreciation to the host Government for co-hosting the important event. In organizing this Seminar, the Department continued its efforts to ensure a balance both in terms of content and participation, by bringing together representatives of all relevant parties.
He added that the Department very much appreciated the support of Rwanda's Government for the activities the Department had undertaken earlier in the month to observe the twelfth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. The events had been very successful, resulting in over 1,000 articles published in media worldwide. The Department was planning to continue the information and outreach programme on "Rwanda and the United Nations" with additional activities over the course of the year. He had noted with concern the request by the delegation of Rwanda for more consultation by the Department in the planning of this outreach programme, and assured the delegation that the Department would fully consult as it further developed the programme.
He said the Department had also taken note of the suggestions to maintain consistency and clarity, as well as to showcase examples of our successes in promoting the dialogue among civilizations, reflecting the rich diversity of world civilizations, cultures and religions. In recent months, for example, activities such as a peace procession, interactive dialogue and various cultural events had been carried out by the UNICs in Jakarta, Harare and New Delhi, and DPI planned to organize similar activities in the future.
Regarding the unfortunate cartoon controversy, he noted that DPI had arranged a discussion with non-governmental organizations last month on the role of the media in advancing cross-cultural understanding that had included the participation of Spain and Turkey, the United States National Director of the Muslim Affairs Council, and representatives of Al-Jazerra. The DPI had always tried to promote in-depth appreciation of such crucial issues.
He noted that many delegations had referred to the need to maintain communication work in the traditional media, and had reaffirmed, in particular, their continued support for United Nations Radio and its efforts to modernize its operations, taking into account the latest advances in information technology, and to broaden its outreach. He saw that as a vote of confidence and as an incentive, therefore, to continue efforts at broadening the scope of DPI's partnerships and expanding its outreach.
With regard to the use of Kiswahili in DPI products, he was pleased to report that, in the coming month, the Department would be launching a new Kiswahili radio web page, where two of its current weekly programmes would be posted. In addition, the United Nations Information Centres in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi carried out extensive activities in Kiswahili and maintained websites in that language.
Regarding the discontinuation of one of the two radio programmes in Bangla, he noted that the two programmes had been consolidated into one, following careful consideration, and also taking into account the fact that the Department only produced one programme a week in all the other non-official languages. He believed such a course of action represented the most effective use of limited resources, as the Department was able to produce one well researched and well written programme and make it available to a variety of partners in the region in a timely fashion through the Internet.
On the United Nations website and the need to make greater efforts to ensure the parity among all the official languages, he said the Department was making every effort, to the extent its resources and mandates allowed, to carry out that imperative. In that process, DPI was also working with the content-providing departments to remind them that content needed to be made available for web posting in all the official languages.
With regard to the concern about the redeployment of a P-3 post from the Arabic Language Unit of the Web Site Section following the placement of a P-4 post there in the last biennium, he said he wished to reassure the Committee that that measure was temporary, and that steps were being taken to put a second professional post in that Unit to place it on a par with the other language units.
On the suggestion regarding the use of web analysis tools, he said the Department had been able to take advantage of the technological upgrades available on the market, which now enabled it to determine not only the location of the visitors, but also how they were coming to the site. Due to privacy concerns, only general information about visitors could be collected. The Department viewed web traffic analysis -- or "web-metrics" -- as an integral part of DPI's continued evaluation work, to make the website more responsive to users' needs.
He noted that a number of delegations had expressed support for the Department's efforts to modernize United Nations library services, launching knowledge-sharing initiatives and transforming the library to make it more effective and relevant. The Department was pleased to note positive comments by many delegations on the proposal to change the name of library to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge-Sharing Centre, reflecting its new direction.
The proposed name change reflected a new focus, although it would in no way alter the fundamental mission or core functions of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, or have direct implications on the activities of other United Nations libraries. The libraries in the United Nations network continued to work closely through the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations libraries to identify common approaches and working methods.
He said the Department also welcomed the support expressed for the initiatives aimed at including a course on the United Nations in the school curricula around the world. Although it was within the purview of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to initiate discussions of this issue with the ministries of education and other relevant authorities in Member States, the Department, through its Educational Outreach Section, would continue its efforts to make its materials aimed at students and educators more widely known and globally available.
Regarding the Department's increased interaction with the academic community, he said DPI saw that not only as an opportunity to involve the teaching community to be a "multiplier" of public information outreach, but also as an important resource to the Organization for creative thought and ideas about what the United Nations could do in very specific fields. In that context, DPI was heartened by the dramatic increase in the references to the UN Chronicle since it had begun to consciously target academic audiences. UN Chronicle articles had been cited in over 500 pages of books indexed by Google's new book search engine. Also, the UN Chronicle's E-Alerts were referenced over 900 times by Google and its articles were referenced over 80,000 times. All of the results were from outside the main United Nations website. Using Questia, the world's largest online library, references or reprints of UN Chronicle articles were cited over 2,600 times, including in some 80 books. The magazine was also listed in many university libraries as a main source of information about the Organization.
Conscious of the new academic interest, DPI was seeking to progressively "electronize" the publication so that it had a greater immediacy than the quarterly printing schedule allowed, he added. For many authors, all of whom wrote for the Department without compensation, it was important to "see" their work in print rather than only on screen. For that reason, DPI proposed to maintain the print editions of UN Chronicle in English and French as sales and subscription-based publications, while affirming a web presence in all official languages.
He said he had taken note of the need to improve relations with correspondents, particularly the United Nations Correspondents Association. On space for journalists, DPI would make every effort to accommodate journalists, especially from developing countries, on a first-come first-served basis.
As a result of the debate and subsequent dialogue, the Department now had a clearer view of how Member States evaluated its performance and where it needed to improve, he said. He looked forward to the outcome of the Committee's deliberations and would be available to further clarify any aspect of DPI's work. The entire dialogue was testimony to the close partnership between the Committee and DPI.
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