FOURTH COMMITTEE APPROVES TEXT ASKING GENERAL ASSEMBLY
TO EMPHASIZE PUBLIC INFORMATION DEPARTMENT’S ESSENTIAL
ROLE AS UN’S CLEAR, EFFECTIVE VOICE
Acting Without Vote, Delegates Approve Second Draft Resolutions, Draft Decision
NEW YORK, 29 October (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly would reaffirm that the United Nations -- the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world -- must be heard in a clear and effective voice, and emphasize the essential role of its Department of Information, according to one of three texts approved by the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon.
By other terms of that text -- approved without a vote as the Committee concluded its general debate on questions relating to information -- the Assembly would welcome the steps taken towards the restructuring of the Department, and encourage the Secretary-General to continue the reorientation exercise, as well as efforts to improve its efficiency and productivity through wide-ranging and innovative proposals. It would welcome the progress achieved since the commencement of the reorientation exercise in enhancing the Department’s performance and effectiveness.
Also by that text, entitled “United Nations public information activities”, the Assembly would encourage the Secretary-General to strengthen the coordination between the Department of Public Information and other departments, including through the designation of focal points to work with substantive departments to target audiences and develop information programmes and media strategy for priority issues.
The Assembly would, by further terms, request the Department to pay particular attention to such major issues as the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, combating terrorism, and the needs of the African continent.
Also by that text, the Assembly would note, with satisfaction, the success of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations, and endorse the Secretary-General’s proposal that the pilot project be made an integral part of the Department’s activities. The Assembly would also emphasize the importance of ensuring the full, equitable treatment of all official United Nations languages. It would also welcome the Department’s contribution to publicizing the Secretary-General’s efforts to close the digital divide as a means of spurring economic growth and as a response to the continuing gulf between developed and developing countries.
Emphasizing that the United Nations information centres, or regional hubs, were the Department’s “field voice”, the Assembly would, by other terms, welcome ongoing efforts to review the allocation of both staff and financial resources to the centres, with a view to possibly transferring resources from the centres in developed countries to those in developing countries, emphasizing the needs of the least developed countries, and to other high-priority activities.
In a second consensus vote, the Committee approved a draft resolution by which the General Assembly would urge all countries, the United Nations system and all others concerned to reduce existing disparities in information flows by increasing assistance for communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries.
That text, on “Information in the service of humanity”, would also have the Assembly urge all concerned to ensure that journalists had the opportunity to freely and effectively perform their professional tasks, and condemn all attacks against them. Further by that text, the Assembly would seek all possible support and assistance for: the development of human and technical resources indispensable for improvement of information and communication systems in developing countries; the creation of conditions enabling developing countries to have communication technology suited to their needs; the establishment and promotion of telecommunication links at the subregional, regional and interregional levels; and the facilitation of access for developing countries to advanced communication technology available on the open market.
Acting again without a vote, the Committee approved a draft decision by which the General Assembly would decide to increase the membership of the Committee on Information from 99 to 102, appointing Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Switzerland as members.
In other action this afternoon, the Committee endorsed the recommendations contained in the report of the Committee for Programme and Coordination.
Also today, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, responded to issues raised by delegates during their three-day general debate, saying that the Department of Public Information not only needed a good plan and sound leadership, but also the political and material support of Member States.
Statements in the general debate were made by representatives of Nigeria, Ukraine, Sudan, Pakistan, Nepal, United Republic of Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Mongolia.
The representatives of Cuba and the United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Also making a statement was a representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Portugal’s representative spoke on behalf of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Informatics.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 30 October, to begin considering the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information. (For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/271 of 27 October 2003.) It was also expected to take action on two related draft resolutions and a draft decision contained in the report on the twenty-fifth session of the Committee on Information (document A/58/21).
By terms of part A of the resolution, entitled “Information in the service of humanity”, the Assembly would urge all countries, the United Nations system and all others concerned to cooperate and interact to reduce existing disparities in information flows, by increasing assistance for communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries. This should be done with due regard to the needs and priorities of those countries, and in order to enable them to develop their own information and communication policies.
The Assembly would also urge all concerned to ensure that journalists have the opportunity to freely and effectively perform their professional tasks, and condemn all attacks against them. They would also be urged to provide support for the strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists in developing countries. Regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries and between developed and developing countries would be sought, to strengthen communication capabilities and to improve the media infrastructure and communication technology, especially in training and information dissemination.
Among other things, the Assembly would seek all possible support and assistance for: the development of human and technical resources indispensable for improvement of information and communication systems in developing countries; the creation of conditions that will enable developing countries to have communication technology suited to their needs; establishing and promoting telecommunication links at the subregional, regional and interregional levels; and the facilitation of developing countries’ access to advanced communication technology available on the open market.
By part B of the text, on United Nations public information policies and activities, the Assembly would reaffirm that the United Nations remains the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world, that its voice must be heard in a clear and effective manner, and emphasized the essential role of the Department of Information in that context.
Regarding the subject of the United Nations messages, the Assembly would reaffirm the central role of the Committee on Information in United Nations public information policies and activities, including the restructuring process of the Department, and the prioritization of its activities. It would welcome the continued constructive interaction between the Department and Committee members.
Further, the Assembly would request the Department, following the priorities laid down by the General Assembly in the Medium-Term Plan and using the Millennium Declaration as its guide, to pay particular attention to such major issues as the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, combating terrorism, and the needs of the African continent.
The Assembly would further request the Department to pay attention to all major issues addressed in the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals in carrying out its activities.
Concerning the Department’s general activities, the Assembly would welcome the steps taken towards its restructuring, and encourage the Secretary-General to continue the reorientation exercise and efforts in improving the Department’s efficiency and productivity, including wide-ranging and, possibly, new innovative proposals, taking into account the broad principles and directions contained in the present resolution.
The Assembly would welcome the progress achieved since the commencement of the reorientation exercise in enhancing the Department’s performance and effectiveness. It would also welcome the decision to implement an annual programme impact review making self-evaluation a part of the daily work of all programme managers, with a view to institutionalizing performance management.
It would encourage the Secretary-General to strengthen the coordination between the Department and other departments, including the designation of focal points to work with substantive departments to identify and target audiences and develop information programmes and media strategy for priority issues, and emphasize that public information capacities and activities in other departments should function under the Department’s guidance.
Under a further provision, the Assembly would appreciate the Department’s continued efforts in issuing daily press releases, and request it to continue providing that invaluable service to both Member States and media representatives, while considering possible means of improving their production process and streamlining their format, structure and length, keeping in mind the views of Member States and the fact that other departments might be providing similar or overlapping services in that regard.
It would also acknowledge the mission statement proposed in the Secretary-General’s report on the reorientation, which reads, as follows: “The Department of Public Information’s mission is to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact.”
By further terms of the text, the Assembly would welcome the Department’s new operating model, as described in the reorientation report, which, among other things, recognizes that content generation emanates from the other departments and offices of the Secretariat and organizations of the United Nations system, while content coordination and refinement, as well as content presentation and distribution, are the primary responsibility of the Department, working in close cooperation with the media, Member States and civil society partners.
On multilingualism and public information, the Assembly would welcome the Department’s ongoing efforts in that regard, and emphasize the importance of ensuring the full, equitable treatment of all the official languages of the United Nations in all departmental activities.
Towards bridging the digital divide, the Assembly would welcome the Department’s contribution to publicize the Secretary-General’s efforts to close the digital divide as a means of spurring economic growth and as a response to the continuing gulf between developed and developing countries, and, in that context, request it to further enhance its role in that regard.
The Assembly would also welcome initiatives undertaken by the Department for the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis in 2005. It would commend the Secretary-General for the establishment of the United Nations Information Technology Service, the Health InterNetwork, and the Information and Communications Technology Task Force, with a view to bridging the digital divide and as a response to the continuing gulf between developed and developing countries.
Noting the Secretary-General’s report on programmatic aspects of the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005 for the Department, the Assembly would welcome the new subprogramme structure that includes: strategic communications services; news services; library services; and outreach services.
Concerning United Nations information centres, the Assembly would emphasize that the centres, or regional hubs, as applicable, as the Department’s “field voice”, should promote public awareness and mobilize support for the work of the United Nations at the local level, bearing in mind that information in the local languages has the strongest impact on the local populations. It would welcome ongoing efforts to review the allocation of both staff and financial resources to the centres, with a view to possibly transferring resources from the centres in developed countries to those in developing countries, emphasizing the needs of the least developed countries, and to any other activities of high priority, such as multilingualism on the Web site and evaluation of services.
Regarding promotional campaigns, the Assembly would stress the need for the renewed emphasis in support of Africa’s development, in particular, by the Department to promote awareness in the international community of the nature of the critical economic and social situation in Africa and of the priorities of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
With respect to news services, the text would have the Assembly stress that the central objective of the news services, implemented by the News and Media Division, is the timely delivery of accurate, objective and balanced news and information emanating from the United Nations system in all four mass media -- print, radio, television, and Internet -- to the media and other audiences worldwide with the overall emphasis on multilingualism.
Concerning traditional means of communication, the Assembly would note, with satisfaction, the success of the pilot project on the development of an international radio broadcasting capacity for the United Nations and endorse the Secretary-General’s proposal that the pilot project be made an integral part of the Department’s activities. The Assembly would also note the Department’s efforts to disseminate programmes directly to broadcasting stations all over the world in the six official languages, plus Portuguese, as well as, where possible, in other languages. In that regard, it would stress the need for impartiality and objectivity concerning information activities.
By other terms, the Assembly would reiterate its appreciation for efforts in creating a high-quality, user-friendly and cost-effective Web site, and encourage it to continue to take the necessary measures to ensure accessibility to it by persons with disabilities. It would note with concern, however, that the multilingual development and enrichment of the Web site has been slower than expected, owing to, among other factors, a lack of resources.
Regarding library services, the Assembly would welcome the creation of the Steering Committee on the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries to develop and implement strategy to achieve a more modern, efficient and accessible system. In recognition of the importance of the depository libraries in disseminating knowledge about United Nations activities, it would urge the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, in its capacity as the focal point, to take necessary initiatives towards strengthening such libraries by way of providing regional training and other assistance.
By a draft decision, the Assembly would decide to increase the membership of the Committee on Information from 99 to 102 and to appoint Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Switzerland as members.
Response by Under-Secretary-General
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, responded to the contributions and concerns raised by delegates, saying that if the Department was to become the public voice of the United Nations, it not only needed a good plan and sound leadership, but also the political and material support of Member States. The Department would continue to be guided by the recommendations of the Committee on Information, and while it had excellent relations with that body, it would not rest on its laurels.
Several delegates had described the World Summit on the Information Society as an opportunity to generate practical measures to address the digital divide, he noted, adding that some Member States were concerned that the Summit, rather than reaffirming press freedom, could actually curb that fundamental right. The Department had been working at many levels to press for the reaffirmation of established international norms on the freedom of expression at the Summit, including article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The free exchange of information played an increasingly important role in aiding development and reducing poverty, and any attempt to curb those freedoms would alienate a key partner, namely, the media. The Department, along with the Information and Communications Technology Task Force, had been instrumental in transforming the Information Summit from an event focused on new information technologies to a much broader meeting with development at the heart of the Summit process.
He said the Middle East question remained one of the highest priorities for the United Nations and the Department had established a focal point for Arab-language media to strengthen the United Nations information capacity in the Arab world. Its international media seminar on peace in the Middle East, held in Spain last week, had brought together journalists and policy makers from Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Department’s annual training programme for Palestinian media practitioners would take place in November and would offer five weeks of hands-on training on audio-visual production and reporting to 10 Palestinian journalists.
Regarding the proposal to produce an annual documentary on United Nations activities, he said the Department did, in fact, produce a year-end review documentary that was distributed to television stations worldwide. On multilingualism, he noted that the United Nations News Centre provided up-to-the-minute information in all six official languages and that the “United Nation Works” Web site was also available in the six languages, as were significant parts of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s Web site. Furthermore, in addition to its radio broadcasts in the six languages, as well as Portuguese and Kiswahili, United Nations Radio maintained Web pages in the latter two languages. Television programmes were regularly produced in the six official languages, and the United Nations Chronicle was issued in all official languages through innovative and cost-saving co-publishing arrangements. Guided tours were offered in 20 different languages, while the United Nations information centres produced print outputs in 28 languages, radio programmes in seven languages, television broadcasts in 14 languages and Web sites in 31 languages.
While the Department would like to make more information available in the six official languages, the greatest obstacle remained the shortage of resources, he said. Financing the translation of parliamentary documents in the six languages was accepted as a matter of course, but the same was not true of translating United Nations publications. While an enormous amount had been achieved within existing resources, the Department was rapidly approaching the “boundaries of the impossible”. The Department would, nevertheless, continue to seek innovative solutions and partnerships with a view to achieving greater linguistic parity.
Regarding the percentage of users of the United Nations Web site from developing countries, he said the origin of those reading the site could be identified if they used an Internet provider whose portal had a country designation. At present, only some 43 per cent of the hits used country-specific portals. Of those accesses, about 24 per cent came from developing countries. It was likely, however, that many more developing-country users accessed the site from Internet providers based in another country.
Concerning the needs of Africa, he said the Department was implementing a multimedia, global programme designed to build and strengthen support for NEPAD. It was also working with the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa and the NEPAD Secretariat to develop a comprehensive global strategy -- to be implemented by all United Nations partners working to promote development in Africa -- aimed at generating support for NEPAD at all levels. Over the past year, the Department had helped promote understanding of NEPAD’s core issues, including through articles in the Africa Recovery magazine and Web site. In addition, some 80 per cent of United Nations Radio’s coverage was on issues relating to Africa and a large percentage of the News Centre stories highlighted African issues.
Turning to the question of regionalizing United Nations information centres, he said the Department intended to pursue the regional approach in consultation with the Member States concerned, using its experience from the Brussels hub and taking into account the special circumstances prevailing in developing countries, and specifically in each region. Consultations would begin early in the new year and the views of Member States would be used to guide the application of the hub approach in other regions.
The Department also intended to redeploy resources released as a result of the closure of the nine centres in Western Europe, in strengthening the capacity of information centres in those cities that were regional hubs, he said. Three D-1 posts from Western Europe would be moved to reinforce key centres in those regions of developing countries where there was currently no D-1 post. However, economizing resources was not the principle motive for new approach, he stressed. Rather, the Department was concerned about the effectiveness of having a large number of thinly resourced information centres, which might not be able to achieve the desired impact. While the modest resources with which the information centres were expected to work were a cause for concern, there was little hope of increasing them.
Regarding the proposal that the Dag Hammarskjöld Library assume a strong leadership position in the newly established Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, he said it currently participated in all seven subcommittees and chaired three of them. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the Department were seeking to leverage the collective talents of the United Nations libraries to improve services for all, including a common Internet gateway and improved document delivery. There was no intention to minimize the role of the Geneva Library, but rather to ensure that the strengths of each library served the interests of all.
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