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|Upgrading UN Websites in All Languages Requires Significant Investment,
Under-Secretary-General Tells Information Committee
NEW YORK, 1 November (UN Headquarters) -- To begin the process of achieving language parity among the United Nations' Web sites on an incremental basis will require an additional allocation of some $13.5 million, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kensaku Hogen, told the Committee on Information this morning.
The Under-Secretary-General reviewed the contents of a report of the Secretary-General on options for developing the Organization's Web sites to an equal degree in all six of the Organization's official languages -- English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese -- in response to the General Assembly's previous requests for parity. As the most feasible option, the report recommends gradually enhancing the information offered on sites in languages other than English in response to demand, that is, as the number of Web site hits increases.
The Under-Secretary-General said that the goal of the Department of Public Information (DPI) was to make available on the Web as much information on the work of the Organization as possible in all six languages, as the need grew. The presence of the United Nations on the Internet was an essential tool to project the image of the Organization in all parts of the world.
Mr. Hogen emphasized that current Web site operations were severely under-resourced and unsustainable, dependent on temporary redeployment of staff. It was not possible to dedicate the required number of posts to maintain the sites in all official languages without seriously compromising the Department’s ability to carry out its other mandated activities. The Secretary-General's proposal to expand Web sites in all the official languages would require a significant investment above the resources required for the implementation of the current mandate.
A number of speakers expressed support for the proposal to pursue multilingual Web site development incrementally, but stressed that they were still committed to the goal of total parity.
The Russian speaker questioned the use of the number of Web site visits as a criterion for expansion, noting that the countries with the lowest current use were those still in the process of developing their Internet facilities. The representative of Spain noted that he utilized the English Web site because the sites in the other languages did not offer as much information. Similarly, the Chairman of the Committee, the representative of Morocco, remarked that people preferred to begin their research in English.
Several speakers wished to see the results of a feasibility study that would take into account other options. The Chairman said that, while he favoured complete parity, to achieve it immediately would cost half the annual budget of the United Nations.
The representative of Syria said that selective enhancement of the languages did not coincide with the goal of equality. The proposal for Web site enhancement should have been submitted to the Fifth Committee in time to be considered with the present budget presentation. The current procedure would defer the question to 2002, when the next budget was examined; there was no justification for that delay.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Guyana (on behalf of the Group of 77) and Côte d'Ivoire.
Also this morning, the Committee agreed to consider the request of Liberia to be admitted as a member of the Committee.
The Committee will meet next at a time and date to be announced.
Committee Work Programme
As the Committee on Information resumed its 1999 session this morning, it was expected to consider a report of the Secretary-General on ways to achieve linguistic parity among United Nations Web sites (document A/AC.198/1999/9 and Corr.l), which contains three proposals.
According to the report, the General Assembly last year requested the Secretary-General to submit proposals on the subject this year. The Secretary-General's previous report on the issue (document A/AC.198/1999/6) outlined three proposals. Proposal A would ensure full parity among all Web sites in official languages by the end of 2001; proposal B would achieve the same objective over a longer period of time; and proposal C would seek only to make available elements in each of the languages to the extent allowed by the level of funding available for that purpose.
The Assembly has asked the Secretary-General to further develop his proposals pertaining to option C in a cost-effective manner, with a focus on textual content, including appropriate programme budget implications. The report before the Committee is submitted in response to that request.
The three proposals in the present document are offered as sub-options under option C in the previous report, the report states. The first sub- option entails the translation of the contents of the present United Nations Web site into all official languages on an incremental basis, with no time limit for achieving full parity. The second would involve translation only of basic modules, including the audio-visual one, to be made available on the Web on an ongoing basis. With the third option, a sound foundation would be established for the current maintenance and enhancement activities of the Web site in English, with provision of content in other languages keyed to the level of usage of the Web sites in those languages. Additional monitoring of usage levels would be carried out, and new modules made available as those levels increased. The Secretary-General recommends this third option.
According to the report, the Department of Public Information has absorbed the initial and ongoing enhancement costs for the Organization's Web site from existing resources. Any further expansion towards achieving linguistic parity would require significant additional resources, however.
As the Secretary-General states, "it must be emphasized that redeploying staff and resources from existing resources to maintain the Web site is not a sustainable exercise. Any further redeployment to attain language parity can only be achieved at the cost of a significant reduction in current mandated programme activities with a consequent reduction in the volume and scope of material presented on the Web."
The request for the report came after the proposed programme budget for the 2000-2001 had been finalized, the Secretary-General states. Accordingly, to implement his recommendation, an additional $13,522,450 would have to be allocated.
The Secretary-General concludes that before undertaking the enhancement of the Web site, it is important to formalize the current ad hoc arrangements, so that at least the current status of the maintenance of the Web site in six languages can be maintained. Also, minimum investment would be needed for an increase in Web publishing and electronic distribution of multilingual audio-visual products already available in conventional format.
Annexed to the report are cost breakdowns for various elements that could be included on the Web sites, organized in order of priority. Annex III notes that implementation of the language parity proposal would require allocation of nine new Professional and four General Service posts, as well as some $525,000 worth of additional computer hardware and software.
KENSAKU HOGEN, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said the presence of the United Nations on the Internet was an essential tool to project and enhance the image of the Organization in all parts of the world. The Internet had enhanced the efficiency and timeliness of United Nations public information activities. Recently, the presentation of information about the Organization had taken on new dimensions with the addition of audio-visual elements. He stressed that the audio-visual Web sites built on material currently available as taped TV or radio programmes.
He said the United Nations Web site had made it possible to deliver traditional media products more effectively to a wider audience, at a much faster pace than previously. For example, press releases were on the Web site before they were in print. While one could not foresee all the possibilities that lay ahead, the Organization must be prepared to plan for a future in which the Internet would play a substantial role. He noted that the current United Nations Web site was not a budgeted activity of the Department. Resource requirements for strengthening the Web site activities in all the official languages, and developing them further, would be in addition to the 2000-2001 budget proposals for public information.
As of 20 October, the Web site had registered over 959,000 accesses, or 523 accesses per minute. On average, some 94 per cent of all accesses for the site were directed to the English portion, 2.65 per cent were for the French and 1.9 per cent for the Spanish site. The Arabic, Chinese and Russian language portions each registered about half a percentage of the total number of accesses to the site. Once the sites in languages other than English were better developed, they would draw additional users, thereby diminishing the cost per access. The price of Internet access and the shortage of infrastructure, notably of telephone lines, were the main reasons for relatively low numbers of Internet accesses in the developing world, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
If the Committee were to approve the proposal for incremental enhancement of the Web sites, an additional allocation of $13,522,450 would be required under the Public Information section of the proposed programme budget for 2000-2001.
The Department’s goal was to make available on the Web site as much information on the United Nations as possible in all six languages as the need grew, he said. However, the current operation was severely under-resourced and unsustainable. Six professional and five General Service staff had been redeployed temporarily to work exclusively on Web-related activities, but it was not possible to dedicate the required number of posts to develop and maintain the sites in all official languages without seriously compromising the Department’s ability to carry out its other mandated activities.
Continuing, he emphasized the indispensability of traditional media products to the activities of the Department. Those traditional products formed an essential basis of the content of the Web site. The Department was striving to strike the balance between maintaining its capacity to produce competitive print, radio and television products and enhancing its presence on the Internet. It was giving high priority to utilizing new information technologies to improve the production and dissemination of information materials for traditional media.
He stressed that implementing the report’s recommendation for achieving linguistic balance would require a significant level of additional investment over and above the resources required for the implementation of the current mandate.
ELHASSANE ZAHID (Morocco), Chairman of the Committee, said that the Committee should discuss the proposals, but the ultimate decision on the matter was up to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).
Mr. WILBURG (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that they would need some time to consider the report.
The CHAIRMAN said that the Group of 77 needed time to consider the report in a special meeting, and as far as he understood, other groups would do the same.
KIRILL SPERANSKY (Russian Federation) noted with satisfaction the reforms taking place in the Department of Public Information. He supported the continuing development of the use of the Internet and other multimedia technologies and endorsed the recommendations of the Secretary-General to ensure the continuing enrichment of the Internet and use of all official languages.
The report of the Secretary-General looked at possibilities for gradually achieving language parity of United Nations Web sites, taking into account the limits of existing resources. His support of such an option did not mean that it had abandoned its position of principle in favour of achieving total parity in the use of all the official languages of the United Nations.
Operating within existing resources would mean that it was necessary to establish priorities for what to include on the Web site, he said. The site should include primarily information about the maintenance of international peace and security, peacekeeping and the struggle against terrorism, as well as socio-economic activities, environmental cooperation and humanitarian assistance. All those issues were of interest to all Member States. Information of narrow interest to specialists should not be placed on the Web sites on a priority basis, as users could get it from other sources.
The Russian Federation was studying the three proposals of the Secretary-General with great interest. At a first glance, he felt that the one the report recommended was the most acceptable one, for it created a solid basis for the maintenance and enrichment of the Web sites. However, the use of the number of Web site visits as a criterion for expansion hardly seemed adequate, for the countries with the lowest current use were those still in the process of developing their Internet facilities. The use of such criteria would only delay the achievement of parity. Taking into account the need for additional human resources, training and additional infrastructure, he needed to know more about the budgetary implications.
SIDHARTO REZA SURYO-DI-PURO (Indonesia) emphasized the need to develop the recommendation in an effective manner with focus on the textual content. He inquired whether the pilot study of Web use had been concluded and, if so, what had been its outcome.
TAMMAM SULAIMAN (Syria) referred to the Group of 77’s concern regarding the need to have time to consider the report. The report should have been available six weeks in advance. The option suggested by the Secretary-General did not take into account the need to guarantee equity and equality of the six official languages. In that respect, the report mentioned a feasibility study that had not been submitted to the General Assembly. He wanted to know why it had not been done.
Resolution 53/208 did refer to the question of the equality of the six official languages, he continued. Selective enhancement of the languages did not coincide with that purpose. United Nations Web sites were not mentioned in the United Nations medium-term plan. Those points were supposed to have been submitted to the Fifth Committee before considering the budget. The current procedure would defer the question to 2002, when the next budget was examined. He did not see any justification for that delay. There had been talk of using general temporary assistance, which was not desirable for the distribution of posts.
He said that the option under discussion did not guarantee equality of the official languages, for it would only defer the consideration of the question. The first option considered at the last session, which had stipulated effective and total equality among the languages, was the most correct one.
AUSTIN GALAN MACHIO (Spain) said the task of achieving language equality on the Web site was complex. However, despite requests during the last session for concrete steps to be taken to achieve that with regard to press releases, nothing had been done. Instead, there had been an improvement in the English Web site, and a lack of progress in making United Nations Web sites available in the other five languages. He would like to see more effort directed towards achieving parity for information in Spanish.
He favoured the option recommended in the report, and inquired as to the staff and resources involved.
Continuing, he said he utilized the English Web site because the sites in the other languages did not offer as much information.
The CHAIRMAN said the percentages of Web site hits in the other languages were not significant because people preferred to begin their research in English. He defended language equality because it was mandated by the Charter, but the other options outlined in the report could not be undertaken without feasibility studies. To achieve language equality immediately would cost half the annual budget of the United Nations. The option before the Committee would allow the Internet to carry United Nations information in all the official languages. As resources allowed, the other languages could be developed even more.
He said the Under-Secretary-General had indicated that he would need precise and detailed information to answer the questions posed, and would respond to them at the next meeting.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) said that in the light of the information presented today, “we are in a virtual world as everything proposed here is not possible now”. Were all the “elements “ready to implement the proposal? he asked. It was not clear what was meant by “elements”.
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