21 October 2004
Fourth Committee Speakers Commend Reforms in UN Public Information Department, Underline Importance of Information Centres
NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- Speakers in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon commended the performance of the Department of Public Information (DPI) in recent years and the reforms it had undertaken, while underlining the important role of the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) in disseminating the United Nations message and stressing the need to bridge the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds.
Pakistans representative told delegates that UNICs had a predominant role in effectively disseminating information about the priorities and objectives of the United Nations by directly involving media in various world capitals, and the functioning of the Centres around the world was being unjustifiably affected by the creation of regional hubs. He urged that a report on the experimental creation of a regional hub in Western Europe [where nine UNICs were consolidated in one regional hub in Brussels, Belgium] be subsequently evaluated by a panel of experts in the field. Savings from the rationalization of Information Centres in Western Europe must be utilized to strengthen the operations of Centres in developing countries.
The representative of the United States, however, said that, as difficult and politically sensitive the rationalization process had become, it was the Organizations responsibility to fix a system that the Secretariat and the Office of Internal Oversight Services had comprehensively and convincingly explained to be broken. The rationalization process should now move forward, carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all Member States concerned.
Saying that the United Nations Web site was a tool, not an electronic official document, he noted that multilingualism in that context did not equate with universality. Those six languages were spoken by approximately 40 per cent of first-language speakers. He, therefore, questioned whether the use of human and financial resources to try to achieve parity among the six official languages on the Web site was justified. He noted that the official document system (ODS) would, by the end of the year, offer the public at large a capability to conduct searches in the six official languages in all documents issued since 1993.
Regarding the digital divide, Myanmars representative said the overwhelming majority of the population in developing countries could not fully enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution, due to a lack of necessary infrastructure and resources. Imbalances in the worlds information and communications resources could also facilitate one-sided dissemination of news, especially on conditions in vulnerable developing countries. He, therefore, called for an enhanced role of the Department in assisting the developing countries to get better access to modern technologies.
Moroccos representative said dissemination of the United Nations information was particularly necessary in the Arab world, where, according to a survey, the image of the Organization had disintegrated in a worrying way. In his country, fewer that a third surveyed had a favourable opinion of the United Nations. The tragic situation in the Middle East underlined the necessity for a stronger strategy to get the peace process back on track. In that regard, it was important to strengthen the information programme on the question of Palestine.
He said one of the DPIs success stories was the publication of press releases, which had enjoyed growing popularity and influenced public opinion. The Department had, therefore, a duty to draft the press releases in a restrained and neutral way.
Some speakers expressed concern about the gap between the reality and peoples perception of peacekeeping operations. Indias representative urged that more be done to project the success stories of peacekeeping operations. At the very least, he said, that could be one way of giving greater recognition to the troop contributors and encourage their governments to continue to be responsive to requests from the United Nations.
Representatives of Brazil (on behalf of the Rio Group), Japan, Syria, Russian Federation, Thailand (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Singapore, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Oman, Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of the Caribbean Community) and the Sudan also spoke.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m., Thursday, 21 October, to conclude its consideration of questions relating to information.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon continued its consideration of questions relating to information. (For more background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/294 of 19 October.
ROMERO CARDOSO (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the strengthening of the United Nations must rely on international support. It was, therefore, essential to increase efforts to enhance dissemination of information in areas such as the maintenance of international peace and security, environment, sustainable development and human rights. The Group supported efforts to make the Department of Public Information (DPI) more effective. The future rationalization of United Nations Information Centre (UNICs) should be carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all Member States concerned. Particularly important in the process would be to know how effective the rationalization in Western Europe had been, whether it had led to savings and if information dissemination was more effective.
Stressing the importance of multilingualism, he underlined the need to make all documents available in the six official languages on the Web site. That Web site should also be accessible to persons with disabilities. Radio continued to be an effective means of dissemination, especially in countries where access to computers was limited. The Group agreed on the need for greater coordination between the Department and the organs of the Secretariat, as well as with the spokespersons of the President of General Assembly and the Secretary-General. Closing the digital divide between developed and developing countries was also important. Noting with concern the gap between the perception of the public and the reality in peacekeeping operation, he welcomed the fact that the Department was becoming involved in the planning of those operations.
EIICHI OSHIMA (Japan) said that the role of the DPI was becoming increasingly important as the United Nations met new challenges. He expressed appreciation for the concrete reforms of the Department, maintaining, however, that such efforts must have as their primary goal streamlining the flow of information and making content more useful and effective. That undertaking required the support of Member States in addition to the steps being taken by the Department.
Japan, he said, had been supporting the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo, which was particularly important as the only source of United Nations information in Japanese. It was essential that Japanese citizens understood the United Nations role in the world, because of Japans high level of monetary support for United Nations activities. In other areas, he welcomed the activities of the United Nations Communications Group to promote issues concerning African development, an area on which Japan placed high priority. As his country was also taking a leading role in the fields of water and sanitation and disaster reduction, he hoped those topics would continue to be priorities, as well. Finally, praising the role of the Web site, he said that upgrades could be carried out within the limits of existing DPI resources.
HAYDAR ALI AHMAD (Syria), associating himself with the statement of Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries, expressed hope for a new information order, which would address the concerns, value and culture of all peoples of the world and would aspire to peace. The United Nations was expected to make known the views of all Member States on all matters on its agenda, especially in mobilizing the international community to combat poverty and disease. That was a key function of the DPI. He welcomed the development of the United Nations Web site. The Arabic page, however, still needed improvement. There should be more work to establish complete equity among all the official languages.
Regarding the rationalization of the UNIC system, he said that the Centres were particularly important to getting out the United Nations message in the developing countries. Each case should be considered on an individual basis. He also warned that it was important to monitor partnerships and networks that assisted the Department in getting out its message, to make sure that message did not come out distorted. Among other areas, he urged DPI to continue to implement information programmes on Palestine and to devote the necessary resources towards them. In addition, he hoped that the new structure of the Department would include efforts to bridge the information gap, and that all restructuring would be done in a transparent manner.
HASSAN BOUKILI (Morocco), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, commended the performance of the DPI in recent years that had given a fresh momentum to the role it played in making information on the Organization accessible. He said accessibility could only be achieved with the help of UNICs. Dissemination of information was particularly necessary in the Arab world, where, according to a survey, the image of the United Nations had disintegrated in a worrying way. In his country, fewer that a third surveyed had a favourable opinion of the United Nations. Regarding the rationalization process of the Centres, he said a draft resolution defined a framework for that goal, mentioning the principle of consultation with States concerned. A report on the experiment in Western Europe should be forthcoming, on which rationalization in other regions could be based, on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the States concerned.
He said Africa was the neediest continent, and that included need for maintenance of peace and conflict settlement. He welcomed the efforts of the Department to help the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to establish contacts with African media. He also welcomed the series of seminars on the Middle East, where the question of Palestine was addressed. The tragic situation in the Middle East underlined the necessity for a stronger strategy to get the peace process back on track. In that regard, it was important to strengthen the information programme on the question of Palestine. One of the DPIs success stories was the publication of press releases, which had enjoyed growing popularity and influenced public opinion. The Department had, therefore, a duty to draft the press releases in a restrained and neutral way. There should also be a concordance between the official languages.
S.V. TREPELKOV (Russian Federation) said that the need for United Nations information services was increasing, because of the growing information society and more complex world problems. He supported the reform efforts of the DPI, and he called on it to not slacken the pace. However, priority must be the dissemination of strategic information on vital areas, such as the maintenance of peace and the combat against terrorism. There must be a united, international response to attacks, such as those launched against the Russian Federation. He was pleased at the results of the first seminar on intolerance and looked forward to the next one.
He recommended that there be more targeted efforts to coordinate with non-governmental organizations on matters of mutual interests, and he approved the rationalization process for UNICs. It was important, though, to consult with the countries affected. The Centre in Moscow was vital, as it served a coordination role and that role should be taken into consideration. In addition, he supported efforts to improve the United Nations library system. He called attention to the section of the information report that called for a new library policy throughout the United Nations system, and the idea of moving from collections to connections. He expressed interest in receiving a detailed plan on that concept, since it might have budgetary implications that would have an effect on other services.
He further supported language equity on the United Nations Web site and pointed to the successful functioning of the Russian Web site. Radio programmes in Russian were also popular and performed an important function.
PIRAWAT ATSAVAPRANEE (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted with satisfaction the ongoing process of restructuring and revitalizing the Department of Public Information. Communications and information strategies must constitute an integral part of the management of the Organization, he said, and the Department should focus on priority issues such as those addressed in the Millennium Declaration. With the review of the implementation of that Declaration, the DPI should intensify its efforts to help boost progress towards the Millennium Goals.
He said that it was important to disseminate the United Nations message in local languages, as well as the six official languages, to gain as wide an audience as possible. He welcomed enhanced coordination with substantive departments and its outreach initiatives in the Arab world. Regarding the grouping of the United Nations Information Centres into regional hubs, he urged careful assessments of need and capacity of particular regions and countries before such restructuring was done in those areas.
In regard to other matters, he hoped that the improved United Nations Daily News would soon be available in all official languages, and that efforts would be made to enhance accessibility to the United Nations Web site for persons with disabilities. The Department should also continue to reach out to global audiences through traditional media, such as radio, and should build partnerships to produce programmes in as many non-official languages as feasible.
CHARLES CHEW (Singapore) said breakthroughs in technology had led to the economy, society and politics changing so rapidly that some had called it the Blur World. In that new world, there were broad challenges confronting the DPI. Advances in technology, however, had not yet led to products that could do everything. Convergence of news input was not taking place in computer or television sets, but in the heads of consumers. People made the most of each medium and used the different media differently. To get its message across to the consumer, the DPI must adapt accordingly. He commended the DPI for maximizing its outreach efforts by making better use of the new information technologies, notably the Internet, while not abandoning the traditional means of communication, including radio and television.
He said there was a multitude of competing sources of information and misinformation within that environment; the message of the United Nations could get drowned out very easily. A clear, concise and well articulated message stood a better chance to be truly useful to the audience. The DPI also confronted the challenge of resources, as the budget remained constant. He was confident that, guided by its new mission statement and led by its able leaders, the DPI would rise to the occasion and meet its challenges head on, with the support, cooperation and understanding of the Member States.
MUHAMMAD A. MUHITH (Bangladesh), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said that, despite dwindling resources and an ever-increasing mandate, the DPI had come up with new and innovate ideas to tell its story in a very effective manner, in which the use of information technologies had been particularly impressive. While emphasizing the crucial importance of removing the language barrier, he applauded efforts to make the United Nations news centre accessible in numerous languages. UNIC Dhaka had developed a very good bilingual - English and Bangla - Web site, catering information to more than 250 million Bangla-speaking people. It had also taken the lead in bringing together the countrys library system; his country would like to see that network become stronger and more productive.
He said the United Nations Information Centres were of vital importance for effective dissemination of information in the developing countries, where information technologies were still at a developmental stage. While understanding the logic behind the creation of a western hub, he said, the same model could not be applied to the developing world. There were reasons enough to justify maintaining and even strengthening the Centres in developing countries. Peacekeeping operations had assumed a paramount importance. Bangladesh was privileged to play a significant role in those operations as one of the major troop-contributing countries. He hoped that the DPI would further strengthen its efforts in disseminating the United Nations success stories like those of peacekeeping operations.
KIRIP CHALIHA (India), associating himself with the statement of Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77, expressed approval for the new mission statement of the Department of Public Information to clarify its goals and purposes. The role of UNICs was of particular interest to India, and he reiterated its wholehearted support for grouping them into regional hubs. However, the second part of that equation was that the funds then saved would be redirected into activities that had been identified as a priority by the Department. He called for that to be done, lest the entire exercise be merely viewed as a cost-cutting measure, and for the lessons learned from the European experience be assessed before the procedure was replicated in other regions.
As India was a leading troop-contributing country, he urged that more be done to project the success stories of peacekeeping operations. At the very least, that could be one way of giving greater recognition to the troop contributors and encouraging their governments to continue to respond to requests from the United Nations. In other areas, he praised the use of new technologies, in the Web site, for example, but said that outreach should still be done in traditional media, such as print, radio and television, especially in local languages. He praised other outreach efforts, as well, especially those done in two-way communication with civil society, and welcomed the continuing promotion and refinement of a culture of evaluation and performance management in the day-to-day working of a reoriented Department.
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) said that the Committee on Information had made significant progress, but it was necessary to step up efforts in certain areas, such as promoting the new information order, bridging the digital divide, rationalizing Information Centres and enhancing access to the Web site by disabled persons. Reform of the DPI had to be comprehensive and a clear-cut response to the new challenges that faced the United Nations, in a way that would achieve the greatest impact. His country was closely monitoring activities in that regard.
He supported any information effort that would assist multilateralism and the greater purposes of the United Nations. The Web site was particularly important in that effort, and he welcomed efforts to make it more accessible and updated in a more timely manner. It was also particularly important to reach out to populations that had less access to information technology. For that reason, it was important to pursue efforts to bridge the information gap, and to disseminate information on peacekeeping to countries that hosted peacekeeping operations and those who contributed troops.
WILLIAM MARSH (United States) welcomed the appointment of Linda Stoddart as the new Head Librarian of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, which should become a more proactive contributor to the information needs of all Secretariat divisions. He called on the management of the DPI to fully support the initiatives undertaken by the Library. He was surprised that the official document system (ODS) had not been mentioned in the report. By the end of the year, the public at large would be able to conduct searches in the six official languages in all documents issued since 1993. Saying that the United Nations Web site was a tool, not an electronic official document, he noted that multilingualism in that context did not equate with universality. Those six languages were spoken by approximately 40 per cent of first-language speakers. He, therefore, questioned whether the use of human and financial resources to try to achieve parity among the six official languages on the Web site was justified. It would be more beneficial and equitable to post texts of important United Nations materials in other languages, additional to the official six.
Regarding the UNICs, he said that, as difficult and politically sensitive the rationalization process had become, it was the Organizations responsibility to fix a system that the Secretariat and the Office of Internal Oversight Services had comprehensively and convincingly explained to be broken. The rationalization process should now move forward, carried out on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all Member States concerned. He agreed with the understanding that regionalization was not a cost-cutting exercise and pointed out that the reduction in budgetary allocation to the system of Centres by $2 million had been agreed upon by all participants in the negotiations. He pledged to work with all delegations in an effort to provide the necessary operational funds to the Centres and Regional United Nations Information Centres as the regionalization process moved forward.
U LINN MYAING (Myanmar), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of ASEAN, said the widening gap between the developed and the developing worlds in the field of information and communication technology still remained an area of concern. The overwhelming majority of the population in developing countries could not fully enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution, due to a lack of necessary infrastructure and resources. Imbalances in the worlds information and communications resources could also facilitate a one-sided dissemination of news, especially on conditions in vulnerable developing countries. He, therefore, called for an enhanced role for the Department in assisting the developing countries to get better access to modern technologies and hoped that the second phase of the Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in 2005 would be able to adopt concrete measures aimed at bridging the digital divide.
He welcomed the new structure and operating methods of the Department of Public Information as a crucial step towards strengthening of the United Nations system. He also supported the Departments restructuring, designed to improve its ability to deliver effective and targeted information programmes without compromising the services being rendered to developing countries. Regarding UNICs, he said the unique situations and needs of relevant regions and countries should be taken into account in the regionalization process. Closure of Information centres in countries where there was inadequate infrastructure could result in the disruption of the existing flow of information.
M. CHUNGONG AYAFOR (Cameroon), associating himself with the statement made by Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77, welcomed the reorientation and restructuring efforts of the DPI. However, he was convinced that such redirection must be ongoing, and self-evaluation had to be refined. Coordination with other departments must also be constantly improved.
The role of the Department in the dissemination of the Millennium Development Goals was particularly important, especially the goals related to poverty reduction and the eradication of pandemics, which greatly affected developing countries. In that light, he expressed appreciation for the Departments promotion of underreported stories, and he proposed that such initiatives be carried to the headquarters of major world media. In regard to rationalization of the UNICs, he said that the grouping of European Centres should be studied and that any further regionalization be done in consultation with the countries concerned. He supported further efforts to promote the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD) and stressed that, within Africa, radio and television were the most effective media for reaching the population. It was also important to continue efforts to bridge the digital divide.
Ms. AL-AKHZAMI (Oman), associating her statement with that of Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77, said that, in meeting current information challenges, the DPI must focus on establishing bridges between the peoples of the world, and encouraging mutual respect and fraternity among them. She urged support for the Department, so that it could play that role in full. In that regard she welcomed the programme for the promotion of tolerance.
Noting the loss of trust of people of the Middle East in the Organization, she said that impartial information on the application of international law was important, as were the Departments efforts related to Palestinian issues. She also encouraged the development of the web site in all official languages, especially the Arabic web site. Finally, she agreed that the Department should take advantage of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations as an opportunity to stress its founding principles.
MANSOOR SUHAIL (Pakistan) said the functioning of the UNICs around the world was being unjustifiably affected by the creation of regional hubs. The UNICs had a predominant role in effectively disseminating information about the priorities and objectives of the United Nations by directly involving media in various world capitals. The Committee on Information had made a recommendation that the Secretary-General report on the experimental creation of a regional hub in Western Europe. He urged that that report be subsequently evaluated by a panel of experts in the field. No hasty decision should be taken with regard to such an important matter. He supported the view of the DPI that savings from the rationalization of UNICs in Western Europe must be utilized to strengthen the operations of UNICs in developing countries.
Specifically acknowledging the useful role of the Strategic Communication Division, Accreditation and Liaison Unit and Multi-Media Resource Unit, he said the Department performed its vital functions of projecting the United Nations and its activities by facilitating Member States in getting access to the sources of information. The Department should focus specifically on themes such as the Millennium Development Goals and the useful task of peacekeeping operations. The media in the developing world found it financially unfeasible to assign correspondents at the United Nations. He urged the Department to ensure that those few represented at Headquarters were provided equal, if not greater, access to the sources of information.
PHILIP SEALY (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking for the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which aligned itself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said the DPIs transformation had brought about the adoption of a new mission statement, a new operating model and a new organizational structure. There was also a new strategic approach involving a client oriented service and a culture of evaluation. While being pleased with the substantive growth of the United Nations web site, one had to bear in mind that in societies such as in the Caribbean, computer availability was not as widespread as it ought to be. It might still be necessary for UNICs to rely on traditional ways of disseminating information. For that region, radio still constituted a vital medium of communication, and the DPI should place increased emphasis on it. For the Caribbean, the current radio activity should be continued, particularly in terms of programming in Creole.
He said that in the context of the possible rationalization of UNICs in developing countries, the Caribbean subregion had for some time been serviced by the UNIC for the Caribbean based in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. If that de facto regional UNIC was to become a de jure regional UNIC, then increased financial and human resources would be required. He reiterated the importance of establishing an enhanced information component in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) multi-country office in Kingston, Jamaica, as a complement to the work being done by the Trinidad and Tobago UNIC. The DPI should be provided with the required resources so that it could re-energize the UNICs, upgrade their facilities and allow the United Nations to operate effectively.
ANAS ELTAYEB ELGAILANI MUSTAFA (Sudan), associating himself with the statement of Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77, said that the DPI had shown good understanding of its mandate and had made excellent use of its dwindling resources. He encouraged the use of innovative strategies to get the message of the United Nations across. As poverty was the greatest threat to the international community, the Department must continue to assist developing countries to form partnerships. New communication strategies also needed to be developed to raise awareness of the Palestinian cause, as well as that of other Non-Self-Governing Territories, in the interest of eliminating colonies.
He expressed the hope that equal treatment would be given to all six official languages on the web site, and that the improved library system would be well utilized. Traditional media should be strengthened, because they were the best way to reach people in the developing countries. In that way, journalist training programmes were also helpful. Regarding the rationalization of UNICs, he said it was too early to judge the results of their regionalization in Europe, and he looked forward to seeing an evaluation of that experiment.
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