United Nations: New Communications Head Thanks Information Committee Members for Confidence Expressed in Department, ’As It Strives To Tell The UN Story’
Saying he was heartened by Member States’ expressions of confidence in the Department of Public Information as it “strives to tell the UN story to the peoples of the world”, the new head of the United Nations Department of Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, said today that the Department was the window of the United Nations and, as such, it must be opened as wide as possible to the outside world.
The Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information had launched the Committee’s two-week session on Monday by pledging that the Public Information Department, like the Organization itself, would be guided by a policy of “reform with continuity” in a strategic approach that encompassed traditional media, new information technology, targeted delivery of information products, greater system-wide coordination and increased integration of the 63 United Nations information centres -- where the global message was given “a local accent”.
Today, Mr. Akasaka closed the Committee’s three-day general debate by saying that, whether on the web, through United Nations radio, television or print, the Public Information Department would strive to put a human face on the Organization and show how it was working for ordinary people everywhere in the world. Over the past few days, several delegations had reinforced the importance of ensuring that the United Nations story was told through the stories of real people on the ground and the impact the United Nations had on their lives. He said he agreed completely with that assessment.
He noted that many speakers had highlighted the important contribution that the information centres had made in the field, with the delegate from Nepal referring to the centres as the “lifeline” between the United Nations system and the public. To the request for increased resources, both in terms of funding and posts, he acknowledged that the Department’s financial constraints limited its ability to strengthen the work of existing centres or extend coverage to countries not currently included within the scope of the field offices. To those delegations that stressed the importance of evaluating the centres’ performance, he announced Department plans for such an assessment later this year.
Responding to the several positive statements about the active cooperation between the Public Information Department and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, he said a chief goal was to raise awareness of the significant contribution to global peace and security made by United Nations peacekeepers. The communications strategy implemented by the Department at Headquarters and with the peace operations had resulted in increased coverage of peacekeeping in troop-contributing countries. Peacekeeping missions would also encourage local media in troop-contributing countries to run feature stories on individual peacekeepers, in light of the upcoming International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on 29 May.
As for the Department’s role in promoting dialogue and understanding, he said that its “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar series, begun less than three years ago, had already left its imprint in the civil society and academic worlds. It was the focus of a recent op-ed piece in a leading daily in Bahrain. The most recent seminar on “Cartooning for Peace” had been followed by events on the role of political cartoonists, in Geneva, Brussels and Moscow. An exhibit of political cartoons had been held in conjunction with that event, and other exhibits at Headquarters had included “An Encounter of Civilisations”, organized in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Spain, as well as one entitled “A Palestinian Narrative”, and another on the situation of Roma and Sinti minorities.
Prior to the Under-Secretary-General’s statement as the Committee concluded its general debate, Israel’s representative had urged the Department to use its resources and energy to foster free press and combat the oppressive controls imposed on it in some areas of the world, on the eve of the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. He said, “People are only as free as the information transmitted around them.” Deeply troubled by the spate of abuse and violence directed at journalists in his region -- and around the world -- he called for freedom of the press, and for the protection and safety of journalists. He once again expressed concern about the implementation of General Assembly resolutions on the Palestinian Information Programme. By its very definition, he said, that programme promoted a one-sided narrative.
Senegal’s speaker, however, recalled that the General Assembly had renewed the Department’s decision on 1 December 2006 to organize international, regional and national meetings and symposiums with a view to sensitizing public opinion on the question of Palestine and to continue to assist the Palestinian people in training Palestinian journalists. He encouraged the Department to step up its efforts on that very important matter. He also encouraged it to actively follow the situation, to support to Palestinian civil society organizations, and to marshal even more solidarity and support from the international community for the Palestinian people, with the overall goal of promoting the exercise of their inalienable rights and for the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.
Also speaking today were the representatives of India, Kazakhstan, United Republic of Tanzania, China, Egypt, Bangladesh, Finland, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Libya, Peru, Morocco, Comoros, and Dominican Republic (on behalf of the Rio Group).
The Observer of Palestine spoke in right of reply.
The Committee will meet again formally at 3 p.m. on 11 May to conclude its session.
The Committee on Information met this afternoon to conclude its general debate. It was expected to hear once again from the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, on issues raised by delegations during the three-day exchange of views. For background, see Press Release PI/1768 of 27 April.
AJAI MALHOTRA ( India) said that perhaps the most important issue was how to make the work of the Department of Public Information as relevant and accessible as possible to the largest number of users, thereby enabling it to be an effective conduit for the flow of information between the United Nations and the peoples of the world. For that, it was essential that the widest possible spectrum of technologies be utilized, such as webcasts and podcasts, as well as cost-effective and more traditional forms of communication, such as radio and print media. Many countries simultaneously straddled several centuries in technical terms and it was vital that the product presented by the Department was disseminated through a wide menu of media channels. While he appreciated the efforts made thus far, there remained room for further improvement.
He expressed his full support for the emergence of a more linguistically equal world, in which information was disseminated not merely in the official United Nations languages, but also in other languages. On a related issue, he said that the United Nations information centres were crucial in enhancing the public image of the United Nations, particularly in the developing world. He agreed with the view expressed by many delegations that the goal should be to strengthen, rather than weaken, those information outposts. “Hub and spoke” models might appeal in certain managerial contexts where local sensitivities and regional variations need not be important. It made little sense, however, to employ them in a “people-intensive sector”, such as the media.
The argument in favour of a more relevant outreach effort was also related to the larger objective of creating more locally relevant content and greater local involvement in the United Nations work, he said. Also important was content management. Efforts being made to ensure that the information provided was relevant and meaningful were highly credible; however, those working on content management should be motivated by a constant desire for further improvement. While the Department’s programmatic products should cover the gamut of United Nations activities, the products must also improve their coverage of the most significant activities, particularly those that impacted most upon the lives of people, including humanitarian activities and peacekeeping in strife-torn lands. He urged the Information Department and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to work in tandem to further raise awareness about United Nations peacekeeping and to highlight the success stories. That would go a long way towards generating goodwill and projecting a better image for the Organization.
DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) praised the Department of Public Information team for the positive outcome of the second annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, despite the passion and enthusiasm of the Department’s team and related efforts, incitement persisted. Although the General Assembly adopted the Holocaust remembrance resolution last year and the resolution against Holocaust denial this year, both with the overall consensus of Member States, some leaders still projected hate rhetoric and waged campaigns of Holocaust denial. That was a deeply disturbing and dangerous phenomenon and a signal that Holocaust education programmes and outreach were more important now than ever. It remained the duty of the United Nations to “pass the torch of remembrance to the next generation”. In that regard, the Organization’s outreach programme played an integral role.
He, once again, expressed his concern about the implementation of General Assembly resolutions on the Palestinian Information Programme. By its very definition, that programme promoted a one-sided narrative. In the past, he had recognized Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor’s efforts to make the seminars and materials emanating from the Department as objective as possible. However, as a result of the Palestinian Information Programme, Israel continued to be the only Member State that was the target of such political bias. Especially at a time of United Nations reform and revitalization, that programme should be substituted, in due time, with a more balanced and constructive joint effort concerning peace in the Middle East, aimed at the promotion of tolerance, peace education, mutual understanding, and the prevention of incitement.
On the eve of the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, he reiterated his country’s commitment to a free press and the crucial role it played in a democratic society. He commended the protections given to the practice of a free press, and condemned the oppressive controls imposed on it in some areas of the world. He urged the Department to use its resources and energy to foster the former, and combat the latter. Indeed, “people are only as free as the information transmitted around them”, he said. In that regard, he was deeply troubled by the spate of abuse and violence directed at journalists in his region and around the world. He called for freedom of the press, and for the protection and safety of journalists.
MALICK THIERNO SOW (Senegal) said that the Department of Public Information’s restructuring had made it possible to project a new image and special vitality, and it had facilitated the dissemination of accurate, objective and fresh information about United Nations activities worldwide. The Department had admirably managed, in recent sessions, to disseminate information about its own work, as well as about the decisions of the most important United Nations bodies, in a way that made the information more accessible and better targeted. He urged the Department to continue along that path by strengthening its capacity and seeking to influence public opinion on the purpose and goals of the Organization. He was pleased that the Department was constantly seeking to improve the News Centre on the website. Also welcome had been the system-wide effort to improve the situation of multilingualism. He urged the Department to do what it could to implement the principle of respect for all languages.
Recalling that, on 1 December 2006, the General Assembly had renewed the Department’s decision to organize international, regional and national meetings and symposiums with a view to sensitizing public opinion on the question of Palestine and to continue to assist the Palestinian people in training Palestinian journalists, he congratulated the Department for its actions in that regard and encouraged it to step up its efforts on that very important matter. He also encouraged the Department to continue to actively follow the situation, to offer its cooperation and support to Palestinian civil society organizations, and to marshal even more solidarity and support from the international community for the Palestinian people, with the overall goal of promoting the exercise of their inalienable rights and for the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.
He also renewed Senegal’s support for the United Nations information centres in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Strengthening those centres would remain central to raising awareness about the goals and principles of the United Nations. He supported the establishment of a regional information centre in Dakar, which would look after the common priorities of the vast francophone community. At the same time, the Department should step up efforts to reduce the digital divide between the North and South. He appealed to the Department to promote the positive results of the Information Summit in Tunisia and provide implementation with the necessary financing. Clearly, the impact of information about the work of the United Nations had become a decisive vector on development. Today, it was easy to see the direct impact of information on all activities of human life. He supported systematic monitoring of the Department’s policies, with a view to increasing their visibility and effectiveness.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said her country supported the Department’s efforts and welcomed positive changes in its activities as a result of a recently implemented set of measures to rationalize and optimize its functions. There had been notable progress in disseminating information and decisions taken by the General Assembly and the Security Council, although information about the Security Council was not always accessible for Member States that were not part of that body. But, hopefully, the Department’s restructuring would continue to promote positive responses in the world. Kazakhstan particularly supported the use of Russian-language webcasts.
She said the Department’s potential in disseminating information on the United Nations had not yet been fully exploited. She hoped, for example, that the problems of the drying up of the Aral Sea, and that of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear testing at the former Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground, be kept under the Department’s review. To enable the Committee to form its own opinion, Kazakhstan invited them to visit her country.
She said her country was notable for being multi-ethnic and multi-faith in nature, with 130 peoples and 40 faiths that lived as “one big family”. The country was the initiator of unique international forums, such as the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and a Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia. Two such Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, with more than 40 delegations -- representing Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism, Hinduism and other faiths -- had been hosted in Astana, the capital.
She said that, to maintain a positive image of the United Nations in the world, it was important for the Department to disseminate information on the positive experiences of Member States. She was confident that the views expressed at the general debate, and the decisions taken at the session, would further promote efficiency in United Nations public outreach activities.
GRACE MUJUMA (United Republic of Tanzania), aligning herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said her country was encouraged by the Department’s continued focus and coverage on the Millennium Development Goals, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), violence against children, the Rwanda genocide, dialogue among civilizations, United Nations reform and others. She underscored the importance of the United Nations information centres, since their role of disseminating the Organization’s message to the people in developing countries was vital and relevant. The effective use of those centres would help mobilize support for the United Nations’ work at the local level, bearing in mind that information transmitted in local languages produced the strongest impact.
She reiterated that any rationalization of the work of the information centres should be undertaken on a case-by-case basis in consultation with host countries, those served by them and other interested parties. The centres also needed to be provided with enough resources. In addition, her country supported enhancing multilingualism, as well as keeping up the pace of distribution, so that a wide spectrum of the population could benefit from those messages, especially if they were the target.
Turning to peacekeeping, she said she was pleased to see the cooperation between the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. It was important for people in conflict areas to be made aware of the “sacrificial tasks” that were made to resolve those conflicts, and that their own positive contribution could make a difference. It was only through awareness that such a change could take place. Radio remained one of the most important, cost-effective and far-reaching traditional media available for reaching people, especially in developing countries where communications technology was not as advanced.
FENG YING (China), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said that the role of the Department of Public Information was indispensable; it shouldered the important responsibility of disseminating information about the purposes and activities of the United Nations. If the United Nations was a house, then the Department was its window. It was through that window that the general public got to know the Organization. Over the years, through thematic communications campaigns, press conferences, receiving visitors and holding exhibitions, the Department had shown to the world, in a comprehensive and multidimensional manner, the United Nations in three major areas –- development, security and human rights. The Department had also helped to reinforce the United Nations image. In China, for example, there was a growing interest in holding publicity and promotional activities in the United Nations, reflecting the Organization’s increasing public impact.
He said he appreciated the reform conducted by the Department to improve its work. In recent years, the Department had adopted a more strategic approach, focused on setting well-defined communications goals and identified target audiences. While achieving greater coherence within the United Nations system, it had given priority to mobilizing non-governmental organizations and other social forces in a joint endeavour to communicate the work of the United Nations. The Department had also integrated a “culture of evaluation” to more effectively measure its activities. Those reforms would lead to greater vitality and efficiency, and a more strategic approach to its work. That would ensure higher efficiency with limited financial resources and would be a powerful driving force for future work. Still, he sought improvement in the following two areas: enhanced parity among official languages; and closer relations with non-governmental organizations.
AMR KAMAL ELDIN ELSHERBINI ( Egypt) said the United Nations must sustain its plans to enhance international cooperation in the field of media, so as to narrow the gaps that existed among countries in terms of their access to information. Developing countries also needed support to strengthen their capabilities and “media structures”. Meanwhile, the United Nations needed to continue building its image; no doubt the Organization’s “ineffectiveness in finding radical solutions for long-standing conflicts” had cast a negative shadow. The United Nations should strive to counter that negative shadow through organized media campaigns that addressed the questions of its finance and management, as dealt with through reform and development plans.
As for multilingualism, he stressed the importance of parity among the United Nations official languages in all its activities and media use, in order to achieve “the required rapprochement among peoples” and to enhance the Department’s role in pushing forward greater understanding between civilizations and cultures. The media’s role was also important in helping achieve peace and maintaining friendly relations among States, and to help implement the Millennium Development Goals. As regards the information centres, he welcomed the Department’s stress on enhancing the lead role of those centres in Cairo, Mexico City and Pretoria. It also supported the Department’s emphasis on continuously expanding the United Nations media structure in various regions without downsizing, and observing the idiosyncrasies of each region -- achievable through improved use of fixed and additional resources.
He voiced appreciation for the diversity of activities that had developmental, cultural and socio-economic impacts and encouraged the Department to continue its interest in development-related programmes and activities, particularly in Africa. In terms of the website, he called for genuine language parity. He noted the insufficiency of posting information in a timely manner, in all the six official languages, including the posting of documents on the Official Documents System (ODS). Finally, Egypt looked forward to a United Nations media message that could push forward efforts to enhance dialogue and understanding among civilizations, and narrow the gap between the North and South.
MUHAMMAD A. MUHITH ( Bangladesh) said that information was growing exponentially but, for those who were not resourceful, it was also becoming harder to access. The Department of Public Information was providing a crucial service, as it strove to disseminate information for the benefit of the “un- and under-privileged” through its outreach programmes. Its role was indispensable in conveying information about the United Nations to the widest possible audiences, in order to achieve the greatest public impact. It was worthwhile, therefore, to support the work of that “pro-people” department of the United Nations. Flowing from the “overhaul” of the past five years, the Department was now focused on setting well-defined communications goals, identifying target audiences, assigning roles to various actors and re-disseminators and establishing ways to measure the impact of its activities. In that connection, he commended the quality of the reports before the Committee.
He said the Department was now playing an essential role more effectively than ever. Singling out one very important element of its work was the integration of the system of evaluation of its activities and products at all levels. That had been the result of a three-year pilot project carried out in conjunction with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Greater emphasis on evaluation would give the Department an edge in terms of improving its output in ever-changing situations. He agreed with previous speakers that the United Nations information centres were key to the Department’s work, as they gave its global work a “local accent”. He paid tribute to the exemplary manner in which the Centre in Dhaka had been operating, on a shoestring budget and without a director for nearly two decades. The Centre’s Bangla-language website and weekly newsletter had proven to be important vehicles for communicating global issues in a “local flavour”. The centre was also undertaking various outreach activities involving civil society, academia and non-governmental organizations.
Particularly laudable had been the Centre’s effort to develop a network among the United Nations and other international libraries in the country, he said. It had also been successful in securing additional air time from Radio Bangladesh. It was disappointing that the two weekly programmes had been reduced to one. He wondered about the criteria for producing radio programmes in non-official languages. Some had daily programmes and regular staff, where information from multiple sources was abundant; while others with wider audiences had only weekly programmes with no regular staff. The United Nations information centres, like United Nations country teams, were the Organization’s operational arms, the Department’s “local megaphones”. The Department did not operate in a vacuum but, rather, had to form an integral part of the overall effort of the United Nations agencies at the country level. Unless a clear synergy was developed between the information centres and country teams, the voice that would emanate would sound discordant. It was also important for the United Nations family, including the information centres, to address national priorities. The local population needed to share in the ownership of the United Nations programme, or it would lose its relevance.
HJALMAR W. HANNESSON ( Finland) expressed appreciation for the important work of the Department of Public Information, which was driven by clearly defined communications strategies that focused on targeted audiences. The Department also integrated the use of new information and communications technology in promotional campaigns and outreach activities. The emphasis on new and innovative programmes for civil society and education systems were notable. He welcomed the Department’s work to promote global awareness of the Organization’s priority areas.
He said the information centres had given the United Nations’ global work a “local accent”, and his country reiterated its support for that initiative. It was important to provide those offices with sufficient resources for their programme activities, in particular the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe in Brussels. As for his country’s Information Centre, it was supported by the Icelandic Government, and was being run by the Icelandic United Nations Society.
Turning to the website, he said it was an important source of information and seemed to be growing in popularity, as indicated in the Secretary-General’s report. Steps taken by the Department to make it more accessible to people with disabilities, including people with visual and hearing disabilities, were welcome. Iceland took note of the “significant progress”, outlined in the same report, in trying to reach parity among the official languages, which the Department should continue doing. Looking ahead, the Department should strengthen its efforts to meet the concerns of developing countries in terms of information and communications technology. The Department could play an important role in bridging the digital gap and helping developing nations gain access to those technologies.
ANA PIRES ( Cape Verde) said that there was more and more information on the role and efficiency of the United Nations being spread around the world, but the sources were not always impartial and reliable. That task of the Department, therefore, was very challenging. She was aware of the important work being done by the Department to ensure a high quality information service, in real time, to the whole United Nations membership, while conveying and building the United Nations positive public image. The Secretary-General’s reports provided useful information about those activities and possible ways for their further development. She took note of several aspects, including the activities linked to the new information and communication technologies, as well as the new strategic directions for the library services. She was also pleased with the reorientation process and its innovative improvements, and commended the good working relationship between the Department and the Committee.
Despite all the efforts deployed in recent years and the progress achieved in restructuring, she said that much remained to be done. A wide information divide between North and South persisted, as did marginalization in terms of access to information, especially in developing countries, owing to a lack of financial and technological resources. To reach the widest audience, efforts should be pursued to increase access to new information technology, while improving traditional communication means, as their important place was undeniable. In that context, cooperation with local broadcasters should be strengthened. She commended the work done by the Portuguese Radio Unit, particularly the increase in services produced, and the audience and broadcasting partnership. She urged the Department to review the staffing shortage. The need to achieve an optimal balance between addressing the information needs of specific regions and ensuring cost effectiveness was clear. The pursuit of the latter aim, however, should not be at the expense of effective outreach to the public in specific regions.
GUILLAUME BAILLY-NIAGRI ( C ôte d’Ivoire), aligning himself with the Group of 77, commended the Department for engaging in activities that favoured some of the world’s poorest people, and encouraged it to continue that important work. He acknowledged that much good work had been done by the Department to widen its reach through the United Nations information centres and by strengthening its relationship with other United Nations entities. It had also built partnerships with a worldwide network of civil society organizations. But, more needed to be done. In that regard, the information centres played a key role in providing a local character to the Department’s work. For that reason, his country emphasized the importance of providing those centres with adequate resources. As the Department worked on streamlining the network of information centres, it should bear in mind the unique needs of different regions.
He praised the Department for its work in promoting the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, through which that continent hoped to improve its access to information and communications technology, among other things. Regarding the website, he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call for parity between the official languages, as well as for increasing accessibility to the website and improving content management.
While the Department was to be congratulated on the “fine website”, visited by citizens of more that 212 countries, it was also important to support the work of United Nations Radio, which had a direct impact on the lives of people in crisis situations, he said. In several peacekeeping operations, radio played an active role in advocating peace, reconciliation and tolerance. MONUCI-FM, for example, promoted peace by striving to give a voice to all parties, and helped counter rumours and disinformation. Some 80 per cent of citizens in Côte d’Ivoire received their information from that radio station.
PRASAD KARIYAWASAM ( Sri Lanka) commended the Department of Public Information for its efforts to develop a more strategic approach to promoting global awareness and greater understanding of the work of the United Nations. Many developing countries lacked the resources and technical means to access information, and some were “information isolated”. The Internet sped up communication, increased the radius of contact and reduced the need for local libraries and paper publications; it promised extraordinary opportunities for developing countries, but that was not sufficient to close the knowledge gap. In that context, the United Nations websites were an essential tool by which the Department could improve accessibility through the use of local languages. At present, only 34 languages were reportedly used by United Nations information centres worldwide. He underscored the importance of including more languages, particularly from Asia. At the same time, use of the Internet did not reduce the need to address the information gap. Facilities should be provided that made traditional forms of communication readily accessible to all peoples.
He underscored the importance of the information centres and services as bridges for relaying information between the United Nations and the public on the ground. Without a doubt, those were a vital source of information at the grass-roots level. Local resources and capacities, both human and material, should be used in the work of the United Nations on the ground. In addition, there was a need to empower and promote local contributions in both intellectual and social terms, in order to make the message of the United Nations more acceptable and understandable at the local level, particularly in countries with long-held traditions. He reiterated his appreciation for the contribution made by the local professionals at the United Nations information centre. He also appreciated the Department’s efforts in providing specific support for United Nations peacekeeping operations in the field by developing and implementing a strategy to assist those missions. In that regard, closer cooperation between the Department of Public Information and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was of vital importance, if the success stories of peacekeeping were to be told globally and locally.
AHMED GEBREEL ( Libya) aligned himself with the Group of 77, saying that he did not have much more to add to what was already said by the Group Chair, Pakistan. He only wished to add one observation: while nobody questioned the Department’s vital role in transmitting the voice of the United Nations in terms of decolonization, promoting the culture of peace and tolerance, and bolstering dialogue among civilizations, including its treatment of the Palestinian question, the United Nations visitors’ tours did not address the question of Palestine very much. Among the purpose of those tours was to make visitors aware of the Organization’s peacekeeping operations and the disarmament issue. Yet, there were few murals and pictures dedicated to the Palestinian issue; in fact, that issue was relegated to a small corner. Hopefully, the Department would take into consideration the question of Palestine as a bigger part of the visitors’ tours.
LUIS ENRIQUE CHÁVEZ ( Peru) said that the regionalization process, begun in 2002 to establish single regional hubs in lieu of individual information centres, was now over and should no longer be a subject of the Committee’s consideration. That decision had flowed from a budgetary reality and had affected Western Europe, in particular, and not, for example, Latin America. The process had ended with implementation of another process. The new process was relayed in the Secretary-General’s report. It was not very fruitful to refer to past processes, which only generated division and kept the membership from moving forward. As for additional national information centres, there was irreplaceable national work that complemented the regional approach. As the Secretary-General acknowledged in his report, national information centres had comparative advantages and strengths in areas where their experience made them better prepared, even regionally, to coordinate with their peers. Those were centres that their regional counterparts could not replace.
Indeed, he said, cultural and historical realities, geographical proximity, and levels of technological development varied greatly among regions and subregions, particularly in Asia. It was crucial, therefore, to formulate an open, flexible and evolving scheme of networks, such as that glimpsed in Latin America. He supported the United Nations Information Centre in Lima and was grateful for its many activities, such as disseminating United Nations Radio countrywide and training Peruvian staff for peacekeeping operations. Turning to the Department’s electronic portals or web pages, he urged improved parity among the six official United Nations languages. Press releases, for example, should be disseminated in all official languages, and not just in English and French. He was satisfied with the major improvements made by the Department in terms of mechanisms for interaction with academics, civil society groups and others. Freedom of expression was a valued principle, especially in societies emerging from conflict and rebuilding their institutions. He reiterated his condemnation of violence against journalists, especially those working in conflict zones.
SOUAD ALAOUI ( Morocco), aligning herself with the Group of 77, said the Department should continue to relay the Organization’s history to the public in a creative way, so as to help carry the message far and wide. The use of new technology helped the Department reach a wider public, alongside traditional media like radio. In terms of language parity, however, much remained to be done. It was vital to provide the Department with adequate human resources to translate all documents released by the Organization into the six official languages, as per General Assembly resolution 60/109 B.
In terms of the information centres, she said the United Nations information centres had proven useful in disseminating information on the Organization’s local activities. The partnerships formed between those centres and various components of civil society were welcomed and encouraged. However, more resources were required to help the centres promote United Nations goals and consolidate its activities at the local level. Member States should support the information centres by increasing the resources they themselves allocate to those centres.
She noted that, in his statement, the Under-Secretary-General had said that the Department would focus on four themes: peace and security; climate change; the Millennium Development Goals; and human rights. She said due attention should also be given to issues such as the Palestinian question, migration and its causes, Africa’s development, and the dialogue between civilizations. Finally, the Department should help the Maghreb coordinate its information-related activities.
MAHMOUD ABOUD ( Comoros) said the Department had a unique and crucial responsibility to inform people around the world -- in a comprehensible and efficient way -- about the activities of the United Nations. In conducting its work, the Department should emphasize areas such as human rights, HIV/AIDS, decolonization, peace and reconciliation and climate change. He commended the Department for its effort to help bridge the gap between developing and developed countries. While it should “accentuate” its approach through the use of new technology, it should also continue to inform the public through traditional media. That was true of populations in remote areas, particularly the small island States where new technology was not available to all citizens. Most people in those areas were extremely poor and could not afford to pay more than a dollar an hour to connect to the Internet.
He suggested that the United Nations Radio Service increase its programming in other widely spoken languages. The Department was encouraged to make more audiovisual documentaries on the works and activities of the United Nations, and they should be distributed, by video, to people in remote areas. But, United Nations websites required much improvement -- for example, the web page for the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Committee on Information were provided only in English.
He said Kiswahili was the language of 100 million people and was spoken in Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Comoros, Mozambique and Somalia. Several United Nations peacekeeping missions were located in those countries. Important United Nations agencies could be found in Nairobi, where Kiswahili was an official language. At United Nations Radio, Kiswahili was the only African language to be broadcast, but was given the least amount of air time, limited to 30-minute, once weekly news programmes and a half-hour weekly feature. In contrast, other official and non-official languages had daily programmes. He believed increasing the Kiswahili programme was vital for circulating important information on the ground.
He also drew attention to a change made by the regulatory authority of electronic and postal communications in France, which changed the country code for Mayotte from “269” to “262”, which was the country code for Ile de la Reunion. Such a change was in flagrant violation of his country’s sovereignty. The country code of “269” had been assigned to it by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) upon its independence on 6 July 1975. A French country code violated international law and ran counter to the ITU. The Comoros condemned that change and had decided to refer the issue to the African Union, the United Nations and the ITU.
On behalf of the Rio Group, SULLY SANEAUX ( Dominican Republic) reiterated his delegation’s position with respect to regionalization of the information centres. That process, beyond not having produced the anticipated savings, had been very costly. Notwithstanding future studies, the Group understood that the regionalization process was now something of the past. He also reiterated his support for a meticulous study of all possible reforms, within reach, to enable the Department, in consultation with Member States and within the limits established by the General Assembly, to change its operation, in order to improve its service of public information and communication to the world.
Right of Reply
YUSSEF KANAAN, Observer for Palestine, replied to comments made by the Israeli representative on the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, saying those arguments were usually based on unfounded accusations of partiality or waste of resources.
He said the Department’s Programme on the Question of Palestine was useful for raising awareness among the international community on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. The Programme disseminated information on all United Nations system activities relating to the question of Palestine and issued publications on different aspects of the question, including on efforts being exerted towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The information distributed by the Programme was factual and impartial, and valuable for contributing to an atmosphere of dialogue that was supportive of peace efforts. It also offered an annual training programme for Palestinian journalists from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which was an opportunity that would not otherwise be available to them. Such activities were beneficial, positive and constructive, and should be supported.
He said the General Assembly resolution mandating the Programme received the overwhelming support of a majority of Member States each year. It was the Membership that decided which programmes were necessary and useful, and there was clear consensus that the Special Programme on the Question of Palestine was one of them.
He said the Programme was clearly in line with the permanent responsibility of the United Nations towards the question of Palestine until it was resolved in all aspects in accordance with international law. In that regard, it was incumbent on the United Nations to do its utmost to promote awareness of the question of Palestine to promote dialogue and understanding, and so promote the efforts to achieve a just, lasting and peaceful settlement.
Closing Remarks by Under-Secretary-General
KIYO AKASAKA, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said he was particularly grateful for the warm and generous welcome extended to him at the start of his tenure. The many positive and encouraging statements had indeed been heartening. “You clearly have confidence in the Department, as it strives to tell the UN story to the peoples of the world.”
Responding to delegates’ specific questions and comments over the three-day general debate, he began by agreeing with India’s representative who had said that the most important issue to focus on was how to make the work of the Department as relevant and accessible as possible to the largest number of users. As China’s representative had said, the Department was a window of the United Nations; it must be opened to the outside world as wide as possible. China and Bangladesh, together with many others, had welcomed the strategic approach that the Department had adopted in its work, the closer integration of its field offices with Headquarters, and the improvements in the coordinated delivery of information on priority issues that had been achieved with the help of the United Nations Communications Group. Indeed, that strategic approach was a way to ensure higher Department efficiency, as China had pointed out.
He noted that many speakers had spoken on the United Nations information centres, with one speaker calling it the “lifeline” between the United Nations system and the public. He acknowledged that the Department faced financial constraints, which limited its ability to strengthen the work of existing centres or extend coverage to countries not included within the scope of field offices. For that reason, the Department must “work creatively” to respond to Jamaica’s suggestion for an enhanced information component in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Kingston. While the Department was working to reinstate the post of Director at the Centre in Yemen, funds and posts were simply not available to open an Information Centre in Luanda, Angola, to serve the needs of five Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. However, the Department would continue to be guided by the Committee on that issue.
Germany, Switzerland and the United States had stressed the importance of evaluating the performance of the information centres, he noted, and the Department was currently planning to conduct a survey late in the year to assess the role of information centres within United Nations country teams.
He took note of comments raised by speakers on multilingualism on the website, and the importance attached to maintaining the quality of the United Nations Radio Service, and assured Member States that everything was being done to work towards those ends. Currently, the United Nations Radio was broadcasting not only in the six official languages, but also in Bangla, French Creole, Hindi, Indonesian, Kiswahili, Portuguese and Urdu.
He stressed that the United Nations Library shared information in the six official languages, through a specialized website called DHLink, enabling individuals to conduct research in those languages.
There was only enough funding to produce press releases in the two working languages, he said. Those languages were English and French -- a matter decided more than 60 years ago. Without additional resources, the Department was not able to recruit staff to cover meetings in Spanish. He said the Department would try to determine the technical and engineering requirements for Russian-language webcasts, and what it would cost. Access to iSeek would rest with staff, since it was designed as an internal tool for sharing information amongst staff.
Meanwhile, he added, the Department would continue to observe the guidelines outlined by the General Assembly regarding geographical balance among its staff, to retain its geographical and linguistic diversity. A World Information Society Day website would be created soon.
He then turned to the partnership between the Department of Public Information and Department of Peacekeeping Operations, through which it had encouraged peacekeeping missions to run feature stories on individual peacekeepers, in light of the upcoming International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on 29 May. The information centres would help target major troop-contributing countries in assisting with that endeavour. The Department currently produced and disseminated news stories on peacekeepers and peacekeeping via UNTV. Text stories were disseminated through the UN News Centre. With the help of the Department of Public Information, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had developed a standard operating procedure on crisis communications.
Further, United Nations information centres were helping build support among people in the regions where peacekeeping missions were operating.
He also touched on the Reham Al Farra Memorial Fellowship Programme for journalists from developing countries, where hosting was provided by outside institutions at no cost to the United Nations. He would ensure that each Member State eligible for consideration would have participated at least once. In addition, as a result of a strong partnership with civil society, the Department was able to conduct a communications campaign on tuberculosis, he said.
In terms of promoting dialogue and understanding, he remarked on the “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar series, which began three years ago and which had “left its imprint in the civil society and academic worlds”. The most recent seminar had been on cartooning for peace, and related events were held in Geneva, Brussels and Moscow. Exhibits had also been held on “An Encounter of Civilizations” and “A Palestinian Narrative”, as well as one on the Roma and Sinti minorities. Against the backdrop of the General Assembly’s debate on civilizations and the challenge for peace, the Department organized a globally televised discussion on inter-faith dialogue.
He agreed with the assessment of many delegates on the importance of telling the United Nations story through the stories of real people, he added.
He assured delegates that the four themes mentioned on opening day were umbrella themes, and would include a wide range of issues. Regions that had already received attention included the Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk areas. Topics that would continue to receive attention included the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Holocaust. He also touched on the criteria used in producing radio programmes in non-official languages.
He said that many had called for the Department to be given the resources it needed to be more effective and to effectively fulfil its mandate. Their statements of support were an indication of the value the Committee accorded to the Department’s work. Over the past few days, several delegations had reinforced the importance of ensuring that the United Nations story was told through the stories of real people on the ground, and that the United Nations had an impact on their lives on the ground. He had completely agreed with that assessment, and whether on the web, through United Nations radio, television, or print, the Department would strive to put a human face on the Organization and show how it was working for ordinary people everywhere in the world. Even though the formal debate had now come to a close, dialogue with members of the Committee would continue. He looked forward to the Committee’s strategic direction and guidance.
Closing Remarks by Committee Chairman
RUDOLF CHRISTEN ( Switzerland), Committee Chairman, said that, based on the three reports of the Secretary-General and the opening statement of the Under-Secretary-General, the Committee had had a rich and useful debate. He hoped that through the draft resolution, it would succeed in providing the Department with clear guidance on its continuing activities.
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