Press Releases

    For information - not an official document     Zur Information - kein offizielles Dokument    Pour information - document sans caractère officiel
     19 November 1999
    Statement by Mr. Kensaku Hogen
     Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information
     in the debate of item 91:”Questions relating to information”
     Special Political and Decolonization Committee

    16 November 1999

    Mr. Chairman,

     It is a great pleasure for me to address the Special Political and Decolonization Committee as it takes up the consideration of questions relating to information.  I will follow attentively your discussions and look forward to listening to your views on the issues regarding the policies and practices of the Organization in the field of public information and communications.

     I also wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the members of the Committee on Information, many of whom are also present here, for the most valuable guidance provided to my Department in the course of their deliberations at the twenty-first session of the Committee, concluded on 5 November.  The testimony of their hard work is the consensus reached by the Committee on important recommendations.  You will hear about the results of the Committee’s deliberations in more detail when the distinguished Rapporteur of the Committee on Information introduces his report.  Allow me, Mr. Chairman, to take this opportunity to thank the distinguished Chairman of the Committee on Information, Mr. Elhassane Zahid, the Bureau and all the members of the Committee for their support for the work of the Department of Public Information. 

     Mr.  Chairman,

     The communications and public information efforts of the Organization are now generated in a fully enabling environment.  The Secretary-General, at the very onset of his tenure, identified communications as a central priority in his vision of a revitalized Organization and in his concrete plans to build support for the United Nations among the nations and the peoples of the world.  Indeed, public information was the only Secretariat activity for which he established a high-level, independent task force to propose measures through which this function could be placed at the heart of the strategic management of this Organization.

     There are a number of specific steps that the Secretary-General has taken to implement his vision of the central role of communications in the overall workings of this institution.  These included the appointment of a Director of Communications in his own office and the establishment of a Communications Group, composed of all senior officials dealing with that function.  These innovative measures have brought greater coherence to strategic planning and enabled a new level of coordination and effectiveness of the Organization’s communications outreach.

     No less important, Mr. Chairman, is the leadership that the Secretary-General has given to promoting the culture of communications as a way of mobilizing deeper public support for the Organization’s mission and activities.  To bring about this new level of openness, he has issued the Secretariat’s first-ever “Media Guidelines”, and has urged all heads of department and their designated representatives to reach out to the media to project the Organization’s point of view on critical issues.  One of my Department’s priorities has been to instill this culture of communications in this house.  To facilitate this, we are working with the United Nations Staff Training College in Turin to develop an advanced professional communications programme for senior officials. 

     That this new culture of communications is taking root in the Organization was visibly illustrated earlier this month by a briefing programme organized by the Department for editorial writers who visited Headquarters from all parts of the United States of America.  The Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General, the heads of the New York-based programmes, funds and departments, as well as the High Commissioners for Refugees and for Human Rights participated in this programme, the first result of which was a series of editorials urging the payment of United Nations arrears and highlighting the contributions that the Organization makes to peace and development. 

     After nearly a half century in which the hallmark of the Organization’s communications policy was the extraordinary caution dictated by the prevailing political environment, the transformations that are needed will not come about overnight.  We have a long way to travel before we realize the goals that have been enumerated by the Secretary-General.  At the same time, I believe that real accomplishments have been made in this area.

     I am gratified by the new spirit of cooperation with staff in other offices, who have also been quick to recognize the importance of conveying information regarding their substantive work to a broader audience, especially the world public.  In this work, the Department of Public Information has become the outlet, the voice piece if you will, of the thematic departments.

     A related priority goal of our communications efforts is to highlight the relevance of the Organization’s link to the concerns of literally everyone everywhere.  This world body has been a pivotal player in the great, collective achievements of the last half century: decolonization, the elimination of apartheid, the gains of health and literacy, the powerful social movements for equality, human rights and the advancement of women, and not least, bringing peace to so many war-ravaged States.  To build greater support for the Organization, we now need to emphasize to the world that only true global partnerships -- reflecting the very raison d’etre of the United Nations -- are those which help us to overcome the seemingly invincible modern scourges: violence and ethnic hatred, large-scale violations of human rights, poverty, as well as diseases, crime and environmental degradation that know no borders.

     Within this broad strategic communications framework, the Department works through the Communications Group to agree on a joint identification and coordinated execution of both long-term and topical campaigns through all the Department’s mediums and outputs.  An outstanding example of the former was the series of year-long activities undertaken globally with a wide array of audience groups in the run-up to the fiftieth anniversaries of United Nations peacekeeping operations and of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last year.  Topical campaigns have also included highlighting the challenges and the wide-ranging actions required to address the problems of small island States.  Our special efforts in support of the revitalization of the Economic and Social Council and its stepped up programme of work have been praised by that body’s President.  Also, my Department is currently coordinating a campaign to publicize the concerns the Secretary-General will raise about the need to make this a “development round” rather than merely a trade round at the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization, to be held at Seattle on 30 November 1999.

    Mr. Chairman,

     The media is the single most important vehicle through which global opinion is formed both about the United Nations as well as about the issues it grapples with daily.  One of my Department’s principal priorities therefore is constructing a more strategic relationship with the media -- directly from Headquarters, from our information centres world-wide, and through our civil society partners.

     In this regard, I can say comfortably that never before has the United Nations seen such a level of access to the upper reaches of the media world-wide as it does now through the senior officials in the Secretary-General’s office as well as through the Department’s new media-oriented initiatives.  The vibrancy of this new United Nations-media relationship is reflected in the gathering of global television executives for the World Television Forum organized by the Department and scheduled to take place later this week; in the decision by CNN to hold at Headquarters last May part of its annual meeting which brings together nearly 400 producers of national television news who, along with the Department of Public Information, contribute to the weekly CNN World Report programme; the participation, for the first time, of renowned journalists from each of the world’s regions in the World Press Freedom Day discussions organized by the Department in May; this month’s briefing programme for editorial writers from major newspapers in the United States which I described earlier, to mention only major events of the last six months.

     Within this broad context, one of my Department’s priorities is the rapid delivery of news directly to the global media - which has seen a continuing proliferation of 24-hour news channels - about the Organization’s activities and objectives.

     Historically, the Organization’s news operations in New York had focused on providing news directly to the media stationed at Headquarters; media around the world were serviced by primarily United Nations information centres and offices.  This shift in approach is being brought about by two important initiatives which I have undertaken.

     In September, the Department inaugurated the United Nations News Centre on the World Wide Web, which speedily records each important news development as it occurs.  This news site, which forms the hub of an integrated multimedia operation, also acts as a gateway to the increasing wealth of news material in all media available throughout the United Nations system.

     The other major step forward will be taken early in the new year, when for the first time the United Nations will begin delivering news directly to major media news desks in every Member State.  This innovation will dramatically increase journalists’ access to information about the Organization.  To ensure maximum media utilization, the United Nations News Service will orient its outputs along regional and thematic lines. 

     This new service will establish, again for the first time, a direct Headquarters connection with the global media, and provide journalists with a central contact point for information on any aspect of the Organization’s work.

     Another new media activity initiated by the Department is the systematic placement of op-ed articles by the Secretary-General on priority issues.  Such articles provide the Organization with an occasional opportunity to directly present its views to the world’s public, rather than only through the prism of journalists. 

    Mr. Chairman,

     As you know, the Department of Public Information is continuing its efforts to achieve the most effective and appropriate balance of new and traditional communications technologies.  There is no doubt that traditional media, including print, radio and television, are indispensable in the activities of the Department and continue to reach significant and growing audiences around the globe in their own right.  I do, however, want to highlight the Department’s remarkable progress in integrating the newer technologies which are also having a profound impact on our outreach capacity in the traditional media. 

     The Department is responsible for the overall coordination, maintenance and enhancement of the United Nations Web site, which has become an important tool in communicating the message of the United Nations to a global audience.  The number of users of the United Nations Web site has continued to increase significantly.  In 1996, the total accesses were 11 million, while this year we have already exceeded 150 million.  However, while the Web-related activities and the outreach through this new medium have grown exponentially over the last few years, no additional resources have been allocated so far for this new activity of the Department. 

     As requested by the Committee on Information at its just-completed resumed session, we are planning to continue to improve the effectiveness of the Web site in all official languages, by adding more parliamentary documentation and public information materials and by improving the site’s search facility.  To meet the needs of Member States as well as the general public, we will also continue to add new Web pages to cover emerging issues and upcoming observances, such as the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, along the lines of the just-launched Web pages on the United Nations and Civil Society, United Nations and Business, the Millennium Assembly and Summit and the recently-developed cartographic Web page in English and French.

    Mr. Chairman,

     The Internet is also being leveraged by the Department to enhance, indeed to revolutionize, its programme delivery in the audio-visual field.  It recently launched an audio pilot project to test the transmission of high-fidelity audio for immediate reuse by radio broadcasters, first with the London-based World Radio Network, and then with a similar transmission to China Radio International.  That audio pilot has now become a regular electronic transmission method to these broadcasters that will eventually transform both the speed and the quality of all dispatches of United Nations radio programmes, while making them more cost-effective.

     This year, the Department also produced for the first time a compact disk containing a series of radio programmes on population and development.  The Department has also begun to use the state-of-the-art MP3 technology through which radio stations receive five minute daily news clips via the Internet.  At the same time, the full range of programming continues to be made available on tape to those stations that are not yet able to receive the materials through the new communications channels. 

     We have also begun preparations, as requested by the Committee on Information, for the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations.  I have written to the Permanent Representatives of Member States seeking their necessary contributions.  Progress on this project will be reported to the Committee on Information next year.
    Mr. Chairman,

     The Department continues to maintain a close working relationship with the news media world-wide.  As part of ongoing arrangements with international news syndicates, daily television news packages and live feeds of television coverage are provided to them for worldwide distribution.  In addition, through co-productions, the Department is forging strong partnerships with a number of media organizations world-wide.  Also, for more than a decade, the Department has been a member of CNN’s World Report programme, to which I referred earlier.  

    Mr. Chairman,

     I am pleased to inform you that for the fourth consecutive year, the Department of Public Information is organizing a World Television Forum, which has become a significant event on the international television calendar.  This year’s Forum, which is generously supported by the permanent missions of Italy and Japan, as well as a number a sponsoring organizations, will open the day after tomorrow.  The number of participants and their geographical representation will be greater and more diverse than ever before, as close to 700 broadcasters and television executives from around the world have registered to take part in this event.  The keynote event of the opening session will feature a dialogue between the Secretary-General and several prominent television news broadcasters.  I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to take part in this event.

    Mr. Chairman,

     Through the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, the Department continues to attach great importance to the needs of resident correspondents at Headquarters.  The United Nations Web site has enabled the Office to extend its outreach and timeliness and also to reach the press outside Headquarters.  Taking advantage of the available technology, highlights of the daily noon briefing are compiled and posted on the Web site by 3 p.m. on the same day to ensure access by the widest possible audience.  In cooperation with the Department, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General is preparing to launch a new feature on its redesigned Web site called “Ask the Secretary-General” and is exploring ways to sharpen and deliver more effectively the Secretary-General’s messages. 

    Mr. Chairman,

     The Department is now finalizing a communications strategy leading to the Millennium Assembly and Summit next September.  The campaign, expected to be launched on 31 December, will aim at raising popular support for the United Nations.  The message will focus on the global challenges faced by humankind and the fact that the United Nations is the only universal organization that can address them effectively.  The campaign will link the United Nations with the peoples of the world by showing the relevance of our work to everyone’s daily life.  The United Nations pavilion at the Hannover World Exposition, to be held from June through October 2000, will provide a concrete illustration of this approach.
     The Department’s ongoing educational outreach activities will also be linked to the Millennium campaign.  Among those, I should mention events, such as the annual Educators’ Day at Headquarters, which brings together several hundred teachers; the International College Model United Nations conference planned for next summer; as well as the growing relationship with Web-based educational organizations aimed at incorporating United Nations information into their classroom materials and teaching resources.  
     Last December, the Department’s student conference on human rights brought together over 700 students and teachers from several countries.  Its success led to plans for a similar conference again this year, devoted to the International Year for the Culture of Peace. 

     Civil society, and in particular non-governmental organizations, are vital partners in advancing the objectives that they share with the United Nations.  The number of non-governmental organizations seeking association and cooperation with the Department is growing rapidly: last year the Department granted association to 29 such organizations, bringing the total number of associated organizations to 1,581.  This is a clear indicator of the rising interest on the part of the non-governmental community in becoming involved in United Nations issues and in promoting the Organization’s work.

     The Department recently organized its fifty-second annual Non-Governmental Organizations Conference, under the theme "Challenges of a globalized world: Finding new directions".  This event was attended by over 1,700 representatives of 426 organizations from 47 countries.

     The Department is also continuing its efforts to provide training opportunities to media practitioners from the developing countries.  Its annual Training Programme for Broadcasters and Journalists from Developing Countries brings young media professionals to Headquarters for a six-week period during the session of the General Assembly.  This programme continues to be of great value to the Department, enabling us to build a network of media professionals who can help raise awareness of the work of the United Nations in the developing world. 

     Another training programme for journalists is undertaken by the Department as part of the special information programme on the question of Palestine.  Six Palestinian broadcasters and journalists are currently participating in the 1999 programme here at Headquarters.  Also as part of the special information programme on the question on Palestine, an international journalists’ encounter was held at Madrid earlier this year on the theme “Prospects for Peace”.  I am pleased to report that the Department is also currently preparing a new and updated exhibition on “The United Nations and the Question of Palestine”.

    Mr. Chairman, 

     The Department’s activities and products, both at Headquarters and in the field, have continued to focus on development and human rights.  Beginning this year, special emphasis is being placed on the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in 2001.  A campaign to build support for this conference will be launched in Geneva during the observance of the 1999 Human Rights Day.  The Department will be bringing together a number of editors and columnists to attend a special programme on human rights. 

     By increasing awareness and appreciation of the important work of the United Nations in the economic field, as well as its closer partnership with the business community and civil society, the Department has continued to promote these two key areas prominently cited in the 1999 report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization.  

     This year, dramatic developments have led to increased public interest in the role of the United Nations regarding the maintenance of international peace and security.  This upsurge in interest constitutes both an opportunity and a challenge to the Department as it fulfils two important and mutually reinforcing functions, namely, in telling the United Nations story about peace-making, peacekeeping and disarmament to many different audiences, as well as in helping improve the Organization’s operational capacity for communications and public information in field missions.

     Where “telling the story” is concerned, we have stepped up our efforts to keep pace with events by supplying news coverage and detailed information on peace and security-related developments in a variety of forms, including the Internet.  The Department has now begun maintaining special Web pages on new missions. 

     Where improving the public information capacity of field missions is concerned, the Department contributes daily to the planning and support of public information components in both new and existing missions.  Cooperation between the Department of Public Information and other departments responsible for field missions has continued to progress towards several goals: ensuring that public information is incorporated in the concept of operations in new missions; providing field missions with effective public information staff; and cutting the time required to outfit teams in the field with the equipment and support required for radio broadcasting and other public information tools.  In cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, means for rapid deployment of public information assets are being sought through development of standby agreements or other special arrangements with Member States.  The Trust Fund for Public Information in Peacekeeping Missions also provides a means for funding start-up initiatives and for meeting needs not foreseen at the outset of a field mission.

    Mr. Chairman, 

     The Department’s communications policy continues to have the print media as a central focus.  With the emphasis on a demand-driven approach to publications, the Department is making its products more attractive, more widely-available, more cost-effective, and more timely.  As an example, the UN Chronicle has a dynamic new look, and its contents have been expanded to increase its appeal to a broader readership.  You will find that all of our publications continue to reflect the relevance and centrality of the work of the Organization to lives of people everywhere.

     Furthermore, the Department’s publications programme takes advantage of Internet and CD-ROM technology to maximize outreach capacity.  As an example, the Yearbook of the United Nations, covering the years from 1946 to 1996, will be produced in CD-ROM format, making this 50 volume set easily accessible to a wide audience.

     The Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s major databases, including the United Nations Bibliographic Information System (UNBIS), hitherto available only on the mainframe and mainly to a United Nations audience, are to be launched on a Web platform before the end of the year. 

     In order to facilitate multilingual subject access to United Nations databases, including the Optical Disk System, the Library has made significant progress in translating the UNBIS Thesaurus, which is already available in English, French and Spanish, into the remaining official languages.  Preparation of the Arabic version was initiated in February and the Chinese version in May.  A Russian version is also planned.

     As its lead and coordinating agency, the Library organized in September the first meeting of the United Nations System Consortium.   The Consortium effects substantial purchase cost savings and efficiencies for participating organizations as the cost of access to electronic information databases is shared system-wide.

    Mr. Chairman,

     By translating into local voice the global vision of the United Nations, the United Nations information centres continue to implement the objectives of the communications strategy as outlined by the Secretary-General in his proposals on the reorientation of United Nations public information activities.  Through the involvement of all strata of the local population, the centres help to show the “human face” and relevance of the Organization.  Far from being mere disseminators of information, they reach out to communicate to different groups in civil society that the United Nations truly makes a difference in their lives.  

     Taking full advantage of latest communications technology, the centres are an authoritative source of timely information on the United Nations.  In addition, 27 information centres so far have  established Web pages, many in local languages, thus enhancing their relevance in the competitive global information environment of today.

     The Department continues to attach great importance to training of its staff.  With that objective in mind, a training programme for National Information Officers and Information Assistants from United Nations information centres in Africa and from the United Nations Offices was held in Geneva in September.  In addition, a training seminar for information centre Reference Assistants is being organized in mid-December at Headquarters.

    Mr. Chairman,

     In the report of the Committee on Information to the General Assembly which is before you (A/54/21 and Addendum 1), the Secretary-General is being requested to submit, for consideration by the Committee in the year 2000, a case-by-case review and proposals on the functioning of the United Nations information centres which have been integrated with the field offices of the United Nations Development Programme.  I am pleased to inform you that the review is currently underway with full participation of the Governments concerned.

     In addition, a working group composed of the representatives of the Department and of UNDP, has initiated the preparation of a set of guidelines on the operational framework of information centres currently headed by UNDP.  Once finalized, the guidelines should facilitate the smooth functioning and productivity of these offices.  The recently-appointed Administrator of UNDP has expressed his commitment to the strengthening of public information activities in the field, based on complementarity and cooperation between the Department and UNDP.  In this he has our full support.  Early next year, the Department is planning to hold a joint meeting of both the Department of Public Information and UNDP Directors of United Nations information centres, which will coincide with the annual UNDP meeting of Resident Coordinators and provide an important opportunity for an exchange of views, experiences and for planning of future activities.

    Mr. Chairman,

     In my statement today, I have outlined the main activities and plans for the work of the Department at the threshold of the new millenium.  This milestone represents a great opportunity for the United Nations to revitalize the commitments for a better tomorrow enshrined in the Charter and to reemphasize the relevance of the objectives and activities of the Organization to the globalized world of the future.  I am looking forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions for helping the Department of Public Information better communicate the universal message of the United Nations to its global audience.

     Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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