8 May 2006

Committee on Information Says UN's Voice Must Be Clearly Heard, Emphasizes Essential Role of DPI as Focal Point for Information Activities

Under-Secretary-General Says Committee Has Provided Clear Guidance on Telling UN Story to Widest Possible Audience Worldwide

NEW YORK, 5 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Committee on Information, reaffirming that the United Nations remains the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world and that its voice must be clearly and effectively heard, emphasized the essential role of the Department of Public Information (DPI) as the focal point for the Organization's information policies and the primary news centre for United Nations information, as it adopted a comprehensive resolution and wrapped up a two-week session this afternoon.

By the terms of draft resolution B, entitled "United Nations public information policies and activities", the General Assembly would acknowledge that the Department has concluded its collaborate project with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the systematic evaluation of public information products and activities and its commitment to evaluation, and request the Department to continue to evaluate its products and activities with the objective of improving their effectiveness, including through interdepartmental consultations.

Noting with appreciation DPI's efforts to publicize its work and decisions, the Assembly would request the Department to continue to enhance its working relationship with the Office of the General Assembly President.  The Secretary-General would be requested to ensure that information services, including the United Nations website and the United Nations News Service, contain comprehensive, objective and equitable information about the issues before the Organization, and that they maintain editorial independence, impartiality, accuracy and full consistency with the Assembly's resolutions and decisions.

In the section of the text on multilingualism, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of ensuring the full, equitable treatment of all the United Nations official languages and, in that regard, request the Secretary-General to ensure that the Department has appropriate staffing capacity in all official languages to undertake all its activities.  It would welcome the Department's ongoing efforts to enhance multilingualism in its activities and reaffirm the importance of including in future budget proposals for the Department the importance of using all six official languages in its activities.

The Assembly would, by further provisions, reaffirm the need to achieve parity among the six official languages on United Nations websites, while noting with satisfaction that progress is being made to narrow the gap among different official languages on United Nations websites.  It would also reaffirm its request to the Secretary-General to ensure -- while maintaining an up-to-date and accurate website -- the adequate distribution of financial and human resources within DPI allocated to the United Nations website among all official languages, taking into consideration the specificity of each official language on a continuous basis.

Concerning the network of United Nations information centres (UNICs), the Assembly would emphasize the importance of the network in enhancing the United Nations public image and in disseminating messages on the United Nations to local populations, especially in developing countries.  Stressing the importance of rationalizing the network of information centres, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to make proposals in that direction, including through the redeployment of resources where necessary.

The Assembly would, by other terms, reaffirm that rationalization of UNICs must be carried out on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with all concerned Member States in which existing information centres are located, the countries served, and other interested countries in the region, taking into consideration each region's distinctive characteristics.

Stressing the importance of taking into account the special needs and requirements of developing countries in the field of information and communications technology, the Assembly would also stress that DPI, through its network of UNICs, should continue to promote public awareness of, and mobilize support for, the United Nations work at the local level, bearing in mind that information in local languages has the strongest impact on local populations.

The Assembly would further stress the importance of efforts to strengthen the United Nations outreach activities to Member States remaining outside the information centres network, and encourage the Secretary-General, within the context of rationalization, to extend the services of the network to those Member States.  It would also stress that DPI should continue to review the allocation of both staff and financial resources to the UNICs in developing countries and encourage the UNIC network to continue to develop web pages in local languages.

In the section of the text on library services, the Assembly would acknowledge the role of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, as part of the Department's Outreach Division, in enhancing knowledge sharing and networking activities to ensure access to the vast store of United Nations knowledge by delegates, permanent missions, the Secretariat, researchers and depository libraries worldwide.  It would also take note of the proposal to rename the library to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and Knowledge Sharing Centre, reflecting its new direction.

Regarding the Department's role in United Nations peacekeeping, the Assembly would request the Secretariat to continue to ensure DPI's involvement from the planning stage of future peacekeeping operations through interdepartmental consultations and coordination with other Secretariat departments, in particular with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  Stressing the importance of enhancing DPI's public information capacity in the field of peacekeeping operations, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of the peacekeeping gateway of the United Nations website, and request DPI to continue its efforts in supporting the peacekeeping missions to further develop their websites.

By further provisions of the text, the Assembly would request DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to continue their cooperation in raising awareness of new realities, successes and challenges faced by peacekeeping operations, and request the two Departments to cooperate in implementing an effective outreach programme to explain the Organization's policy against sexual exploitation and abuse.

Regarding new services, the Assembly would stress that the central objective of news services implemented by the Department 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.  It would request that the Department ensure that all news-breaking stories and news alerts are accurate, impartial and free of bias.

On traditional means of communication, the Assembly would stress that radio remains one of the most cost-effective and far-reaching traditional media available to DPI and an important instrument in United Nations activities, including development and peacekeeping, with a view to achieving a broad client base around the world.  It would request the Secretary-General to continue to make every effort to achieve parity in the six official languages in United Nations radio production and request DPI to continue building partnerships with local, national and regional broadcasters to extend the United Nations message to all the corners of the world in an accurate and impartial way.

By the terms of draft resolution A, entitled "Information in the service of humanity", the Assembly would urge all countries, organizations of the United Nations system and all others concerned to cooperate and interact with a view to reducing existing disparities in information flows at all levels by increasing assistance for the development of communication infrastructure and capabilities in developing countries, with due regard to their needs and the priorities attached to such areas by those countries to develop their own information and communication policies freely and independently, and increase the participation of media and individuals in the communication process.

Countries would be urged also to, among other things, ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of their professional tasks and condemn resolutely all attacks against them; provide support for the continuation and strengthening of practical training programmes for broadcasters and journalists from public, private and other media in developing countries; and enhance regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, as well as cooperation between developed and developing countries, to strengthen communication capacities and to improve the media infrastructure and communication technology in the developing countries, especially in the areas of training and dissemination of information.

Prior to action on those texts, the Committee also approved the draft report of the 2006 session (contained in documents A/AC/198/2006/L.1, L.2 and L.3), as orally amended.  Introducing the draft report, Committee Rapporteur Muhammed A. Muhith ( Bangladesh) said the first document introduced the Committee's work and organizational questions relating to the session, the second provided a summary of the debate, and the third contained the two draft resolutions and the draft decision.

By approving the draft decision, the Committee decided to increase its membership from 108 to 110, appointing Dominican Republic and Thailand as Committee members.

At the outset of the meeting, the Committee decided to hold one additional meeting at a resumed session, on a date to be determined, to consider DPI's strategic framework for 2008-2009, with the specific purpose of providing the Secretary-General with a recommendation that would be forwarded to the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) at its August-September session.

Several delegations made comments regarding the Committee's work.

The representative of South Africa, on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said the draft took into account the views of Member States and was action-oriented.  It was important that mandates in resolution were made clear so that the Secretariat was left with no ambiguity on the wishes of Member States.  In his report on the revision of mandates, the Secretary-General alluded to ambiguity in the drafting of mandates.  In the negotiations, the Group had insisted on the use of precise language that clearly specified what was expected of the Secretariat.  Therefore, changing words from "encourage" to "request" was a matter of principle, not semantics.

Austria's representative, on behalf of the European Union, took the floor to welcome the consensus adoption of the drafts before the Committee.  He also thanked the Committee's Chairman for his leadership, as well as the Bureau and the Secretariat for their support.

China's representative also thanked the Chairman, the Bureau and the Secretariat for their excellent work.  The interactive dialogue had left a deep impression and had proven useful for all members.  The Committee's current session had coincided with a panel discussion in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.  While the panel had not belonged to the Committee' official proceedings, she nevertheless wished to express concern about the discussion.  Panel discussions should be constructed in a positive spirit.  Panellists should embrace a responsible attitude to the task entrusted to them.  The topics covered by them should be based on adequate evidence.  She hoped that, in the course of organizing future events, DPI would make greater efforts in ensuring that preparations were more meticulous.

Cuba's representative, also addressing the 3 May panel discussion, expressed concern over the use of the United Nations Building as a rostrum for non-governmental organizations that gave a distorted image of the real state affairs in certain countries and carried out politically motivated activities of Member States.  Organizations, moreover, that did not even have consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.  During the panel -- which was informal but still in the Journal -- some speakers had made negative, offensive statements regarding various Member States.  While no reference was made to her delegation, statements made during the discussion were unacceptable.  One of the speakers represented an organization that drafted selective and politically motivated reports corresponding to one very powerful country.  Such activities should not take place again as it distorted the feeling of cooperation that should prevail within the United Nations.

Mexico's representative said she wished to comment on the Rapporteur's statement.  While she commended the coordinators of the Group of 77 and the European Union for their hard work at reaching an agreement, other members who were not part of those negotiating groups had participated in the negotiations, including her delegation.  Other members had participated in the negotiations and their contributions should be recognized.

Committee Chairman Mihnea Ioan Motoc (Romania) recognized the essential contribution of those delegations and assured Mexico's representative that her clarification would be reflected in the Committee's final report.

In a concluding statement, he said the Committee had met at a sensitive and crucial time.  Aware of the challenges the United Nations faced, members had called for a stronger, more effective and more united world body.  They had also expressed the clear need for a strong DPI, which was able to tell the United Nations story effectively to a global audience.  The draft resolution had expressed those views in the strongest terms.  In draft resolution B, the Committee had unanimously reaffirmed that the United Nations remained the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world, and that its voice must be heard in a clear and effective manner.  It had also emphasized DPI's essential role.  That was a clear reiteration of the Committee's strong confidence in the leadership of Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor.

Noting that the draft resolution had been the result of intense negotiations among delegations, he expressed appreciation to the coordinators of the Group of 77 and the European Union, as well as the Committee's members, for their active involvement and professionalism.  As the Committee concluded its deliberations, he said the Committee had provided DPI, the Organization's public voice, with clear guidance on how to tell the United Nations story to the widest possible audience worldwide.

In concluding remarks, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor congratulated the Committee on the successful conclusion of its session.  The draft resolution would serve as a clear road map for DPI to take its work forward.  With quite a distance to cover, having such a road map would clearly make that journey an easier one.

Responding to the issue of World Press Freedom Day, he said he had taken note of the concern expressed by delegations.  Though the Day was an important event, it was not part of the Committee's official meeting schedule.  Panellists spoke in their private capacity, on behalf of their respective institutions.  Over the years, a wide variety of institutions had been invited with differing points of view.  In previous years, some points of view had been extremely critical of other Member States.  However, whatever was said by individual speakers in that context carried no endorsement by the Organization, the Secretariat or DPI.  The purpose of the event was to develop a constructive discussion of the principles behind press freedom.  In the past five years, the Department had never wavered in its desire to have a constructive dialogue.

Continuing, he said the growing partnership between the Committee and DPI had been a key element in redefining DPI's role in a complex and evolving global media environment, paving the way for its renewal.  He had been particularly moved by the Committee's strong vote of confidence in DPI's work as the Organization's "public voice".  One speaker had even described DPI as the Organization's "bullhorn", trumpeting a "pivotal role" for it at the current sensitive stage.  The DPI had taken note not only of members' approbation, but also critical comments.  It would honour both the letter and the spirit of the Committee's recommendations.

Five years ago, he had urged his colleagues to join him in a journey in which DPI would be radically transformed, he said.  "We may have gone through the hardest part of our journey and reached many of our targets, but like life itself, this journey is renewed everyday.  We know the lessons we take will come from the journey itself, not the destination", he added.

The Committee on Information will meet again at a date to be announced.

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