|For information only - not an official document.|
|15 November 2000|
Committee Hears of United Nations Efforts to Bridge "Digital Divide"
As Communications Technologies Expand
Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Reviews
NEW YORK, 13 November (UN Headquarters) -- Reflecting the central role of public information in all United Nations activities, the Department of Public Information (DPI) concentrated much effort this year on building support and visibility for the Millennium Summit, which received widespread coverage, Kensaku Hogen, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning as it began its consideration of questions relating to information.
The Under-Secretary-General said that as a lead-up to the Summit, the Department had inaugurated a long-term, system-wide campaign under the slogan “The UN Works” to communicate that the Organization had a positive impact on the everyday lives of people around the world. Over the next year, seven major conferences on crucial issues had been scheduled, with an emphasis on generating public support, mustering political will among governments and other key actors, and mobilizing resources.
Summarizing the Department’s main activities and outlining plans for the future, he said that enhanced information support was planned for the Secretary-General’s Global Compact initiative, and the Economic and Social Council’s efforts to bridge the digital divide. In the area of peace and security, the Department had widely disseminated the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, opened a new disarmament exhibit at Headquarters, and launched a related documentary. In addition, the Department was providing media-related support for next year’s observance of the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations through the information network and a Web page to be launched on the United Nations Web site shortly.
To better serve the world news media and ensure the United Nations message was heard, the DPI had expanded briefing programmes for journalists, he said. The News Centre had become a gateway to the electronic media, providing daily stories and visuals, and possibly television footage shot on location around the world. As announced last year, the United Nations broadcast radio project had been launched in six official languages with a daily news and current affairs programme to provide international audiences with news from both Headquarters and field operations. It would be disseminated through various transmission methods, including the Internet.
Noting that there had been a growing demand from television organizations for video services and products, he invited delegates to attend the fifth United Nations World Television Forum late this week. An estimated 1,000 television industry representatives were expected to participate. Thematic sessions, including the Secretary-General’s address at the opening, would explore ways in which the traditional media could help bridge the digital divide.
Among speakers as the debate began, the representative of the Netherlands stressed the need for the DPI to address the challenges posed by the new technologies. The importance of the Web site would continue to grow, and its further development should be seen as integral to all other departmental activities.
Malaysia’s representative noted that besides the economic and technological divides between developed and developing countries, a divide persisted within societies between the information and knowledge-empowered and the information and knowledge-disenfranchised. While the information age promised a new world of shared prosperity, it also held out the danger of economic exploitation, societal devastation and a new era of imperialism and colonialism.
The representative of Colombia, on behalf of the Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, stressed the need to maintain traditional channels of information, such as radio and television, which had greater coverage in the developing countries.
The Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, Yayan Mulyana (Indonesia), introduced the report on the Committee’s 2000 session.
Also speaking in this morning’s general debate were the representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Libya, Thailand, United Republic of Tanzania, and Yemen.
A representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also made a statement.
Also this morning, the Committee took note that the representative of Guyana, during the Committee’s voting on draft resolutions relating to the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices on Friday, had inadvertently abstained instead of voting in favour of one text.
The Fourth Committee will continue its general debate on questions relating to information when it meets again at 3 p.m. today.
Committee Work Programme
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today began its annual consideration of United Nations information issues. The Committee had before it the Secretary-General's report on questions relating to information (document A/55/452). In his report, the Secretary-General notes that since the last report (document A/54/415), the Department of Public Information has continued to strengthen the communications function within the United Nations and its offices in the field, in order to build broad-based global support for the Organization. The Department is working to project the United Nations as an effective and indispensable institution capable of facing the challenges of the times. The recent Millennium Summit provided a unique opportunity to galvanize public interest in that role.
The report says that at the heart of the Department's planning has been the development and implementation of communications strategies aimed at explaining how the United Nations is addressing the main challenges of the twenty-first century, particularly those relating to peace, economic and social development and human rights. Key to the success of all the Department's public information outreach is its commitment to embracing new communications technology as a means of exponentially enhancing the productivity of staff and widening the impact of its activities.
According to the report, the Department’s focus is one of making the United Nations a more active player in the 24-hour global news cycle, in order to increase the amount of reporting worldwide on the Organization’s aims and activities. To help bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries in their ability to access United Nations news and other information materials immediately, the Department embarked on a project to create a direct link with journalists worldwide by alerting them via electronic mail to new developments emanating from the United Nations system.
In a related activity, the report says, the Department is currently executing a pilot project to enable United Nations Radio to produce and deliver to radio stations around the world daily 15-minute news bulletins in all six official languages.
The Secretary-General’s report also contains information on the United Nations millennium communications campaign; the United Nations Web Site; general public information activities; thematic information programmes; United Nations information centres; library and cartographic services; publications board and marketing of publications; and publishing activities.
Also before the Committee was the report on the twenty-second session of the Committee on Information (document A/55/21), which reports the results of meetings held at United Nations headquarters from 1 to 12 May 2000. It summarizes the general debate and the consideration of substantial questions before the Committee, as well as relevant reports submitted by the Secretary-General.
KENSAKU HOGEN, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, summarized the main activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and outline its plans for the future. This year, he said, the Department had concentrated much effort on building support and visibility for the Millennium Summit, gaining widespread coverage. As a lead-up to the event, the Department inaugurated “The UN Works”, a long-term, system-wide campaign that communicated how the United Nations had a positive impact on the everyday lives of people around the world. The campaign included visual materials and a Web site, and was utilized at the 2000 World Exposition in Hanover, Germany.
Over the next year, he said, seven major conferences on crucial issues had been scheduled, with an emphasis on generating public support, mustering political will among governments and other key actors, and mobilizing resources. In that vein, enhanced information support was planned for the Secretary-General’s Global Compact initiative, and the efforts of the Economic and Social Council to bridge the digital divide. In the area of peace and security, the Department widely disseminated the report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (the Brahimi report), opened a new disarmament exhibit at Headquarters, and launched a documentary on disarmament. Developed jointly with the Department of Disarmament Affairs, the latter two activities were examples of a continuing partnership with other Secretariat departments. In addition, the DPI was providing media-related support for the observance of the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations in 2001, through the information network and a Web page to be launched on the United Nations Web site this week (16 November).
To better serve the world news media and to ensure that the United Nations message was heard, he said, the Department had worked with senior officials to improve transparency, and had expanded briefing programmes for journalists. The News Centre had become a gateway to the electronic media, providing daily stories and visuals, and possibly television footage shot on location around the world.
As announced last year, he went on, the broadcast radio project of the United Nations had been launched in six official languages, with a daily news and current affairs programme that provided international audiences with news from both Headquarters and field operations, disseminated through a wide variety of transmission methods, including the Internet. Its success, though, depended on the support of the Member States and their broadcasting facilities, to reach national audiences around the world.
He said that there had been a growing demand from television organization for video services and products. In that regard, he invited delegates to attend the fifth United Nations World Television Forum, which would take place later this week (on 16 and 17 November), with the expected participation of around 1,000 television industry representatives. Thematic sessions, including the Secretary-General’s address at the opening, would explore ways in which the traditional media could help bridge the digital divide.
Television, radio and digital media, he said, had all converged on the United Nations Web site The Millennium Summit made it evident that live television, radio broadcasts, continuous textual news updates, and the full text of speeches in the language provided, had become a staple on that site. A guideline for Internet publishing had also been approved by the Publications Board, further strengthening the Department’s coordinating role in that area, as it would govern Web pages by units in the Secretariat and regional commissions, as well as peacekeeping missions and information centres. The Web site had incorporated feedback to be more easily used by all groups and, in consequence, recorded its first “three million access” day on 2 October. This was record access so far for the year 2000.
He said the partners and audiences of United Nations information centres had developed from merely being governments and media, to include a whole range of civil society and business. In addition to their traditional role of disseminating information received from Headquarters, the centres now also worked closely with the country team to develop strategies aimed at local audiences to promote system-wide goals, for example, using the “UN Works” concept to highlight local endeavours. The centres also worked with the various United Nations offices to develop joint strategies, and had incorporated new technologies in both receiving and disseminating information.
At Headquarters, he said, the DPI had continued its efforts to improve the visitor’s experience at the United Nations. Exhibits along the tour route had been updated. The Department was particularly focused on outreach to young people, both through tours and through web-based education projects. It continued to seek co-sponsors for the joint holding of special events and exhibits at Headquarters. It was also continuing to help provide training for journalists and broadcasters from around the world.
He said a training programme for Palestinian media practitioners was currently taking place, and the twentieth Annual Training Programme for Broadcasters and Journalists from Developing Countries had been held at Headquarters in August, with participants from 18 countries.
The Dag Hammarskjold Library at Headquarters was bringing information to an ever-growing audience, through a focus on electronic delivery of information, multilingualism and outreach to some 384 depository libraries worldwide. The Library’s premiere database, UNBISnet, was launched on the Internet in September. In addition, the Library was serving as an advocate to increase Member States’ access to other United Nations databases. And through training programmes at sites worldwide, it was creating a culture of self-reliance in accessing information.
The Department’s publication programme continued to grow and evolve with new technology, he said, citing developments at Africa Recovery, UN Chronicle, and UN Development Business. In sales and marketing of United Nations publications, the Department had been able to develop broad promotional outreach to the general public for many facets of the Organization’s work. Maps, and geographic information in particular, played an important role as a decision-support mechanism throughout the Organization, and an inter-agency Geographic Information Working Group was formally established in March.
In planning the future activities of the DPI, he said, the guidance of Member States would be crucial, since the objectives and activities of the Organization were inseparably linked to a common future in a globalized world. He therefore invited ideas and suggestions from the representatives.
ANDREW RADOLF, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the agency was playing a pioneering role in many zones of conflict by contributing to the promotion of an independent news media. For more than six years in the Balkans region, UNESCO had provided assistance to independent media, anxious to safeguard their freedom of expression, a sine qua non condition for their ability to provide non-partisan information to the local populations. That type of action had since been extended to other regions of the world.
Moreover, he said, UNESCO had taken several initiatives to set up places for exchange and cooperation between media professionals belonging to national, ethnic or religious antagonist groups, so that they may together examine their perceptions of each other. Thus they could create, through dialogue, an atmosphere of understanding conducive to reconciliation and the easing of tensions. Two examples were the establishment of press houses in Rwanda and Burundi, and the creation in Latin America of the “REDIPAZ network.”
He said UNESCO had already been involved in establishing a number of community radio projects and setting up multi-purpose community “telecentres” throughout the developing world. Now, as part of the Global Knowledge Partnership, it had been proposed as the lead agency for development of multimedia community centres seeking to take advantage of the possibilities offered by converging community radio with information and communication technologies.
He said UNESCO also continued to maintain a strong commitment to the development of traditional media -- television, radio and print -- through its promotion of training programmes and its International Programme for the Development of Communication. At its session last March, it was announced that the Programme had spent more than $1.8 million on projects in developing countries and emerging States, as well as $140,000 to support training activities. Many of those projects and activities had been specifically earmarked to provide training and career opportunities to women in the field of communication.
MOHAMMAD JUMAA AL-RUMAITHI (United Arab Emirates) stressed the need for a new multi-dimensional world communication system that would be able to serve the cause of peace and security as well as ensure sustainable development. He said the present system ignored the questions and problems affecting developing countries, not to mention attempts to deliberately distort their history, culture and beliefs. International agencies had a duty to assist those countries to develop their human resources in the information and communication fields, and to help them acquire the necessary technologies.
He said the United Nations had made significant contributions in helping to find solutions to the world’s cultural, economic, environmental and other problems. More than ever it was necessary to mobilize information as a tool to achieve those noble goals. There was a need for human development capacity-building in regional centres.
Turning to the web sites, he emphasized the need to develop the Arabic-language site on an equal footing as the other official languages. The Department of Public Information must make people more aware of its programmes. It must also explain such issues as the question of Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people, as a result of the blockade and other policies undertaken by Israel which were costing several lives every day.
RANI ISMAIL HADI ALI (Malaysia) said that the total embrace of information and communication technology by the DPI and its commitment to operate within a digital environment should be applauded. However, given the great digital divide between developed and less developed countries, the traditional means of information dissemination via radio and, to a certain extent, television should not be forsaken. Strategies must continue to be developed and strengthened towards that end. For many countries, the digital revolution was still awaited. It meant little to poor families when the constant struggle was to put food on the table. Computerization meant nothing when there was no electricity.
While many countries had undeniably begun to make progress on their own towards closing the gap, few developing countries were in a position to do so, he said. Malaysia had created the Multimedia Super Corridor to exploit the opportunities presented by advances in information technology. However, few developing countries were in a position to exploit those opportunities. If one removed the so-called miracle economies from the equation, a different picture emerged.
He said there was an even greater information and knowledge gap between the technologically-empowered countries and the “have-nots”, compared to the income gap between the backward and developed world. The poorest societies were more starved of knowledge, even as they lagged behind in national wealth. Knowledge had always meant power and power had invariably led to wealth. In an increasingly technological age, it would be virtually impossible for the technologically-backward developing countries to catch up with those that were technologically-empowered, let alone surpass them.
Besides the economic and technological divides, a divide persisted within societies between the information and knowledge-empowered and the information and knowledge-disenfranchised. For many countries, that was the most urgent issue to confront. For the sake of the world the economic and development gap, the information and knowledge gap and the great divide within must all be bridged.
PETER MOLLEMA (Netherlands) said that not all parts of the world were benefiting from new information technologies. In any case, those technologies would not in themselves solve all the problems of developing countries, so cooperation for development meant giving digital development its proper place. The rapid change in information technology also meant that old ideas on information policy had become obsolete. However, the use of violence to control or influence the media must continue to be condemned.
At the Department of Public Information, he said, the challenges posed by the new technologies needed to be addressed. The importance of the Web site would continue to grow, and its further development should be seen as integral to all other activities of DPI. He encouraged the Department to apply its resources to ensuring that the message of the United Nations was delivered with the right technology to the right audiences, with an appropriate mix of communications tools. In addition, he said, DPI needed to develop indicators for evaluating the extent to which it reached its objectives.
He said he also fully supported the linguistic diversity of information through United Nations communications, implemented in a cost-effective manner. Information on peacekeeping efforts was also important. In order to convince the nations around the world that peacekeeping was necessary and worthwhile, the message of the United Nations needed to be heard more clearly. That did not necessarily mean more funding, but rather a reordering of priorities.
ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia), on behalf of the Rio Group Latin American and Caribbean countries, expressed support for the increasing use of the new communication and information technologies. The Rio Group saw it as making use of a means of information dissemination that had grown exponentially in recent times. However, in order for that dissemination to truly achieve the universality sought by the United Nations, more effort was needed to achieve parity between the six official languages. While the Rio Group noted with satisfaction the expansion of the Spanish language Web site, there should be greater parity in the content of each site in the six official languages.
Not all people in the Rio Group countries had access to the information and communications technologies, he said. That was why the Group considered it important to maintain traditional channels of information, such as radio and television, which had greater coverage in the developing countries. The Rio Group nations therefore welcomed the initiatives announced in the Secretary-General’s report concerning the expansion and improvement of United Nations radio programming in different languages. They commended the Organization for its live broadcasts, particularly those in Spanish, which were widely heard through radio stations that had re-broadcasting agreements with the United Nations.
He said the Rio Group attached great importance to the work of the local United Nations information centres, which continued to do an outstanding job. They not only promoted the Organization’s activities, but also created greater awareness within national communities of the different issues the world body dealt with in the political, economic and social fields, as well as in the areas of disarmament and the promotion and protection of human rights. He said the merging of the information centres with local offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had achieved mixed results and should be examined on a case-by-case basis and always in consultation with the host authorities.
HAZAIRIN POHAN (Indonesia) said that, in the current era, information and its technologies were essential prerequisites for development and the empowerment of people around the world. The existing imbalances might be further accentuated unless developing countries were assisted in acquisition and capacity building. Language differences must be addressed as well. Careful responses to the digital divide were demanded. However, in some cultures information and communications technologies had boosted the marginalization of women, and widened the gap between rich and poor.
He quoted figures that he said showed the breadth of the digital divide. Only five per cent of the world could claim “connectivity” to digital communications. He supported United Nations initiatives to increase connectivity and capacity-building in information technology, and called for their intensification in a multidimensional way, in a spirit of international cooperation.
He called for multimedia access to United Nations news, and said DPI also had a role to play in focusing world attention on development issues. It should facilitate the introduction of information and communication technologies into the work of various United Nations organs and information centres. Providing access to information in post-conflict situations was also important, following principles such as impartiality and objectivity. Cooperation between the DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was essential in that area, on all levels including the choice of the spokespersons of missions.
SIFAW HAFIANA (Libya), said the developed countries used the information media to serve their own interests, echoing their “hegemony” over those media. They had been undertaking intensified information campaigns against Libya to distort the truth under the pretext of good intentions.
If the world were to enjoy the benefits of the information technology revolution, there must be a communications culture within the United Nations, with the necessary instruments to promote understanding between different peoples and cultures. That would require an end to the grip on knowledge that violated the rights of some people. There must be good relations among those peoples and cultures. The people must have the right to increased awareness of United Nations activities, including peacekeeping.
Stressing the need to support the Department’s capacity, he said it must use that capacity to enhance the role of the United Nations in maintaining peace and security. He praised the Department’s work and the role of UNESCO in training. The enrichment of United Nations Web sites in all official United Nations languages, including Arabic, was also important.
KULKUMUT SINGHARA NA AYUDHAYA (Thailand) said the need for the United Nations to explain its role to people had never been greater. Any government’s intended participation in a given United Nations activity must be well-known and supported by the domestic public. It was imperative, therefore, for both Member States and the United Nations to employ all means at their disposal to help educate the public on the relevance of the United Nations so they would appreciate the benefits they would receive from its activities. That was particularly important in the case of peacekeeping operations requiring both financial and personnel contributions from Member States.
He said that the experience of Thailand, in deciding to contribute a substantial number of troops to the United Nations operations in East Timor, was a clear example. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was launching a promotion campaign in support of United Nations activities. But those national activities could only supplement the role of the United Nations information agencies. Not enough resources were being devoted to the work of the agencies for a proactive strategy targeted at people at a grassroots level, in their languages. He said the United Nations must reach out to the people, before the people would look up to the United Nations as a world body.
M. W. Mangachi (United Republic of Tanzania) expressed support for the views expressed by the Committee on Information that the traditional means of disseminating information, particularly through radio, print and television, should continue to be used, especially in the least developed countries which still depended on those media.
He said his delegation also supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve the Dag Hammarskjold Library at Headquarters, including enriching its stock of relevant books and journals, and ensuring that United Nations information and other necessary materials became accessible, both electronically and through traditional means, to a growing number of readers and users.
He said the United Nations information centres, should continue to disseminate information on United Nations activities and accomplishments in the areas of economic and social development, poverty eradication, debt relief, health, education, gender issues, children’s rights, environmental issues and other questions of relevance. If the centres were to perform those tasks effectively, they must have adequate resources.
He expressed appreciation for the DPI’s practical training programmes in some developing countries, and called for the intensification of those programmes and for their extension to cover as many developing countries as possible.
HAMED OBADI (Yemen) said the media had become essential for liberty, democracy, and development. The information gap between countries continued to widen and the United Nations must play a major role to reduce that gap, through information centres, training programmes for journalists, and other kinds of assistance and capacity-building. He appreciated the DPI’s role in that regard.
He commented on the integration of DPI offices with those of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) around the world. The centre in the Yemeni capital of San’a had played a crucial role in disseminating information in both English and Arabic. He said he was aware of the financial difficulties of the United Nations, but he did not understand why the information centre needed to be integrated into the UNDP structure, where it was much less effective. He hoped that the role of the centre could be increased, in view of the importance it could have in strengthening democracy in Yemen.
He said he was under the impression that host countries would be consulted when such changes were considered. He would hope that the centre at San’a would merit greater attention from the DPI, and that a full-time director would be appointed as quickly as possible.
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