Press Releases

    GA/SPD/294
    21 October 2004

    In Time of Challenge, Public Information Critical to Maintaining Support for UN Mandates, Under-Secretary-General Tells Fourth Committee

    Despite Budgetary Constraints, Efforts Being Made to Sharpen Focus, Seek New Advances, Use New Technologies, Engage Civil Society

    (Issued on 20 October 2004.)

    NEW YORK, 19 October (UN Headquarters) -- In a time of great challenges to the United Nations, public information was critical to maintaining support for the Organization’s mandates, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as he introduced the Report of the Secretary-General on questions relating to information.

    He said that task was particularly difficult within tight budgetary constraints and in “a world in which many discordant notes were struck by competing voices”.  The United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) had risen to the challenge by honing its communication tools, sharpening its focus and reaching out to newer audiences, using new technologies and forging closer partnerships with civil society.

    Among current challenges, he noted that the loss of faith in the Organization after the United States-led intervention in Iraq continued.  There had also been a recent spate of media attacks on the United Nation’s integrity and that of its leadership.  He said that “crude and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption in the oil for food programme, and ill-informed and muddle-headed criticism of the United Nations over events in Darfur” had also undermined efforts to rebuild public trust in the Organization.

    On the budgetary side, he said, serious difficulties had been faced in covering the General Assembly this year due to the freeze on recruitment of General Service staff.  In addition, the unexpected decision by the General Assembly to slash the operational budget of United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) had offset the savings gained by the rationalisation process they were undergoing, and thus hobbled the effort to enhance the UNIC network, especially in developing regions.

    In light of those challenges, Mr. Tharoor said the Department had developed new and innovative ways to engage more people and touch more hearts, within a results-based framework.  Such innovations included the launch, in May of this year, of a listing of “Ten stories the world should hear more about”, which came about because news on Iraq seemed to be eclipsing all other important stories.  Included were such stories as those on the brutal lives of child soldiers in Uganda, AIDS orphans in Southern Africa and the comprehensive Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, all of which affected the lives of millions of people.  The stories eventually garnered worldwide coverage in a variety of media.

    It was particularly difficult to get coverage of development issues, since the media was mainly interested in conflict, he said.  Because of that, the Department would continue to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through the media but it also was speaking directly to people by putting the MDGs at the centre of this year’s annual DPI/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) conference.  A series of related communications and networking systems had also been set up, and posters and a web portal for youth on the MDGs had been created with various partners.

    Describing new developments in other areas, he spoke of ongoing improvements in the DPI’s strategic work with Peacekeeping and other Secretariat Departments, and capacity-building in the area of media monitoring and analysis.  The Department had also taken steps to strengthen its information presence in the Arab world, and to counteract intolerance as part of the dialogue among civilizations.  In addition, an intensive review of library services had been undertaken, he said, and the web site and news centre had expanded their multilingual services and international usage.

    Through such efforts and the necessary restoration of resources -– especially for the UNICs -- he expressed hope that, as the United Nations turned 60, people around the world would gain enough understanding of the Organization to embrace it as their own.

    In the discussion that followed, speakers welcomed many of the new measures taken by the Department.  In the light of new efficiencies, however, some stressed the need to preserve outreach to developing countries along with efforts to bridge the so-called information gap, and to continue to expand services through all the official United Nations languages and beyond.

    There was cautious approval of the rationalization of the UNIC system.  The representative of the Netherlands, speaking for the European Union, said that the consolidation of the European UNICs was a good first step toward reducing costs and increasing the efficiency of information operations.  He hoped that the lessons-learned would be useful to implement the rationalization process in other regions of the world.

    Qatar’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that it was still too early to judge the effects of the rationalization of the UNIC system.  Further regionalization, however, had to be taken on a case by case basis and should not affect developing countries in a negative way.  The Group was also concerned about the results of the lack of funding to support the core functions of UNICs, which had resulted in their frequent inability to sustain regular activities and provide for multilingualism. 

    Also speaking today were the representatives of Iran, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Iceland, Burkina Faso, Kuwait, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Ukraine.

    The Rapporteur of the Committee on Information introduced its yearly report and that Committee’s Chairman also made an introductory statement.

    The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 20 October to continue its discussion of questions relating to information.

    Background

    When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin consideration of “Questions relating to information”, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the issue (documents A/59/221 and Corr.1), covering the activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI) from July 2003 to June 2004.

    According to the report, the activities of the Department, as a result of the 2002 reform proposals, are now organized within its four subprogrammes:  strategic services; news services; library services; and outreach services. Regarding the Department’s strategic services, the report highlights activities undertaken in:  thematic communications campaigns; the World Summit on the Information Society; HIV/AIDS; migration; needs of the African continent; human rights; decolonization; question of Palestine; and the United Nations Communications Group.

    Guided by the priorities of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the DPI has emphasized peacekeeping in Africa and the surge in demand for United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide, the report continues.  The DPI has also placed special emphasis on promoting the Organization’s work in countering terrorism.  It continued its work on disarmament-related issues on the United Nations agenda, and in explaining and promoting the Organization’s political and humanitarian roles in Iraq.  The Department had a central role in coordinating the Organization’s public response to charges relating to the “oil-for-food” programme.

    The report notes that the DPI had closed nine United Nations information centres in Western Europe, and established the Regional United Nations Information Centre in Brussels, Belgium.  However, the significant reduction in operational funds, as a result of the $2 million cut in the budget for the current biennium, has severely limited the ability of the information centres to maintain the level of outreach to the audiences in the countries served.  In response to the Secretary-General’s recommendation to strengthen the Organization’s information outreach in the Arab world, the Department organized its first three-day workshop for the Middle East and Arab region in September 2003.

    Regarding news services, the report states that United Nations Radio produces daily news and current affairs programmes in the six official languages and Portuguese.  According to a 2002 survey, requested by Member States, about 133 million persons listened to the daily broadcasts at least once a week.  Since then, the Department has added 46 new partner broadcasters, raising the total number of partners to 160, with approximately another 75 million listeners.  United Nations Radio also continues to produce weekly programmes in eight non-official languages.

    The Department continued to provide coverage through the United Nations Television of meetings, press conferences and special events at Headquarters.  Television feeds were also available in live webcasts from Headquarters.  The weekly feature “UN in Action” was distributed in six languages to broadcasters in more than 100 countries.  The talk show “World Chronicle” was rejuvenated and aired on major cable stations in some 15 countries.  Also, the Department launched a new project in April, entitled “Ten stories the world should hear more about”.  Information on United Nations activities at Headquarters and abroad is also disseminated through traditional print media.  The report also describes the activities of the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

    The United Nations web site recorded 2,151 million accesses during 2003, up from 1,695 million during 2002, according to the report.  To further increase the availability of material other than in English on the web, the Department has expanded its partnership with the academic community worldwide to translate information materials.  From June 2003 to June 2004, the highest growth in terms of page views was registered by the Chinese web site, which saw a 272 per cent increase.  Other languages also saw increased use.  However, the overall level of resources will continue to constrain the pace at which progress towards full parity across all languages is made.

    The report goes on to describe the Department’s activities regarding the United Nations Libraries and outreach services, including outreach to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and for educational purposes.  It also describes activities in the field of public relations, including guided tours, exhibits, special events at Headquarters and a training programme for journalists from developing countries, and highlights activities regarding partnerships, sales and marketing, and external publishing.

    As part of a three-year collaborative project with the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the report continues, the Department has enabled its managers to be increasingly competent in assessing results, while ensuring accountability, through an annual programme impact review.  At the present half-way point, DPI managers are in the process of applying lessons learned to refine their self-evaluation methodologies.  Programme managers have successfully measured reach and client satisfaction with the quality of the Department’s products and activities.  The next step would be to collect feedback through large-scale audience research worldwide.

    Through the reorientation process, the DPI has acquired the tools needed to deliver on the challenges set for it in the 2002 report on the strengthening of the United Nations, the report concludes.  The Department is ready to apply the lessons learned, as well as its new-found confidence, to further improve the products and services it offers.  Working with ever-dwindling resources, the Department has sought to maximize its efforts by making better use of the new information and communications technologies and the use of traditional means of communications to address the needs of targeted audiences.  By reaffirming their support for the new direction the Department has taken, Member States can play a key role in bringing the United Nations closer to people around the world.

    Also before the Committee is the Proposed strategic framework for the period 2006-2007, Programme 23, Public Information (document A/59/6 (Prog. 23)), which states that the DPI’s strategic framework seeks to promote global awareness and enhanced understanding of the diverse functions of the United Nations.  To that end, and using the Millennium Declaration as its guide, the Department will focus on priority issues such as:  eradication of poverty; conflict prevention; sustainable development; human rights; HIV/AIDS; combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations; and the needs of the African continent.  The Department works closely with the substantive offices of the United Nations system to deliver effective and targeted information programmes on the aforementioned key areas.

    The report states that the Department strives to reach global audiences, particularly influential opinion leaders and youth, through intermediaries such as the media, governmental and non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, business and professional organizations, and other segments of civil society, including through enhanced partnerships.  Special efforts will be made to ensure that gender mainstreaming is incorporated into the design of public information products and activities.  Increased use is being made of the latest technology, in both the traditional and electronic media, including the Internet.  The report also lists strategies for the Department’s four subprogrammes:  strategic communication services; news services; library services; and outreach services.

    The Committee also had before it the Report of the Committee for Programme and Coordination on its forty-fourth session (7 June-2 July) (document A/59/16), of which it would consider the section on Public Information in the proposed strategic framework for the period 2006-2007 (Chapter II, Section C, Programme 23).  The Committee for Programme and Coordination, according to the report, recognized the important role played by the United Nations information centres and encouraged the DPI to continue their important work to fill the gap in the telecommunication area in their respective regions.

    The Committee also encouraged the DPI to continue the use of its radio broadcasts, since that was still the means to reach a great majority of the people, particularly in the developing world.  The Committee also expressed its concerns regarding the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds.

    Also before the Committee is the Report of the Committee on Information on its twenty-sixth session (26 April-7 May) (document A/59/21), which contains two draft resolutions and one draft decision.  A summary of those texts can be found in Press Release PI/1579 of 7 May.

    Statement by the Under-Secretary-General

    SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said that many more people now realized that public information was a critically important element in the success of the United Nations, given the challenges of the past year.  The task of the Department of Public Information (DPI) was to convey to the world at large a sense of the Organization, what it was doing and why, and to advance United Nations values and promote United Nations issues.  That task was particularly difficult in a world in which many discordant notes were struck by competing voices, and the Department of Public Information had risen to that challenge by honing its communication tools, sharpening its focus and reaching out to newer audiences, using new technologies and forging closer partnerships with civil society.

    Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on information, he highlighted some recent developments and addressed issues raised by Member States.  He recalled that at the twenty-sixth session of the Committee on Information, in April of this year, he had mentioned the communications challenge that the Security Council’s disagreements on Iraq and its aftermath posed for the United Nations.  One consequence of that chain of events was a loss of faith in the United Nations among those who supported the United States-led intervention and those who opposed it -– “the former because we did not help the war, the latter because we could not prevent the war”.  There had also been a recent spate of media attacks on the United Nation’s integrity and that of its leadership.  Crude and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption in the oil for food programme, and ill-informed and muddle-headed criticism of the United Nations over events in Darfur had also undermined efforts to rebuild public trust in the Organization.

    Those developments, he said, had driven home the absolute need to speak clearly, loudly and often about what the United Nations does and why it does it. Public information was essential to maintain the support needed to fulfil all United Nations mandates, and consequently had an impact on the security of field staff as well.  He said the DPI’s founding objectives remained the promotion of an “informed understanding” of the work and purposes of the Organization, among the peoples of the world, but the challenges have grown significantly.  With a shrinking resource base and ever-expanding mandates, the Department had learned to be strategic –- to target its messages and prioritize its options, focusing on effective delivery and measurable results.  The department had added new communications technologies to traditional ones and relied much more on partners -- from within the United Nations system, the private sector and civil society -- to broaden its scope and reach.

    Recently, he said, the Department had developed new and innovative ways to engage more people and touch more hearts.  Those included the launch, in May of this year, of a listing of “Ten stories the world should hear more about”, which came about because news on Iraq seemed to be eclipsing all other important stories.  Included were such stories as those on the brutal lives of child soldiers in Uganda, AIDS orphans in Southern Africa and the comprehensive Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which affected the lives of millions of people.  All 10 were available at www.un.org/events/tenstories.  Following some scepticism in the press, interest in the stories quickly spread around in the world, through many of the media.  It was a small start, but one that could be built on, and another list would be launched on World Press Freedom Day 2005.

    The lesson from the Ten Stories, he said, was that innovative and creative approaches could get messages across to wider audiences.  Other recent examples of such approaches included a new “client consultation” process with substantive Secretariat departments, with the result that most of them now routinely included information considerations in their planning.

    Of particular difficulty, he said, was getting coverage of development issues, since the media was mainly interested in stories of conflict.  Because of that, the Department would continue to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through the media but it also was speaking directly to people by putting the MDGs at the centre of this year’s annual DPI/NGO conference.  A series of related communications and networking systems was also set up, including webcasts of the conference and parallel conferences in other locations.  Universally understandable posters on progress toward the MDGs had been produced with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the first web portal for youth on the MDGs was being developed by the DPI Cyberschoolbus with European Schoolnet.

    Other innovative DPI approaches, he said, were illustrated by a map that highlighted a pan-Asian highway project, and the Secretary-General’s Global Media AIDS Initiative, a partnership with more than 20 major global media companies, managed by the DPI along with UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation.  The distribution of United Nations video had been improved through the trial engagement of an Internet-based distribution service and the production, in partnership with United Nations Children’s Fund, of 10-minute packages of UN TV highlights to be distributed daily by satellite to more than 500 newsrooms around the world.

    Turning to other developments, he said that the UN Chronicle, read by students and teachers, was now available in all six official United Nations languages.  The “Unlearning Intolerance” programme was launched in June, with its first seminar focusing on anti-Semitism; the next, on Islamophobia, would take place on 7 December 2004.  Development of communications strategies with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations continued, as did DPI participation in assessment missions for new or expanded peacekeeping missions. Support for information components of existing missions was improving, and a rapid deployment training programme was initiated to effectively establish public information components in initial stages of peacekeeping operations.

    In an attempt to sharpen its focus, the Department was placing greater emphasis on delivering measurable results, he said.  Establishing a results-based framework was no easy task in the field of public information because external media monitoring and analysis companies were extremely costly.  The only viable option was to build up in-house capacity to monitor and analyse media.  To that end, training of staff at all levels was ongoing.

    On a pro bono basis, Zogby International had agreed to include six questions relating to the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations in a public opinion poll covering Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  The poll, conducted in May 2004, showed that about half those polled in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon had a favourable view of the United Nations. However, that dropped to less than a third of those polled in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  The Department had taken steps to strengthen the Organization’s information presence in the Arab world, including by establishing a focal point for Arab Media.

    As for the services rendered by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, Mr. Tharoor said the library now had a new head librarian, who had launched an intensive review of its activities with the goal of developing a more responsive, user-focused service.  The Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries was working on a revised United Nations Library Policy, and several collaborative initiatives had already been achieved.

    Turning to the United Nations web site, he said increasing numbers of visitors were now tapping into the web site in all official languages.  Although vastly more people still accessed the English language material than the material on other language sites, the gap was slowly shrinking.

    A number of innovative steps had been taken to make news and DPI products available in all United Nations languages, he continued.  The United Nations News Centre was now multilingual.  A ground-breaking application developed in-house had allowed for production of multilingual versions of DPI’s daily news Bulletin.  New database-driven sites for United Nations Radio would be launched in all languages by the end of the year.  Webcasting had been enhanced in order to include one language in addition to the floor language.  Options were explored to ensure that all new and revised pages met recognized standards for accessibility by persons with disabilities.  However, the biggest obstacle faced in efforts to reach parity on the web and beyond was inadequate funding.

    Serious difficulties had been faced in covering the General Assembly this year due to the freeze on recruitment of General Service staff, preventing DPI recruitment of more than 35 temporary General Service staff.  As a result, there might be delays in providing press releases, photos, and audio and video tapes.  Delays might be experienced by some Committees during peak periods.  Every possible step had been taken to mitigate the impact of the freeze on the services provided, including assigning additional responsibilities and longer hours to existing staff.  While those measures would help, they were unlikely to solve the problem.  “I hope that Member States will give consideration, in the appropriate legislative bodies, to lifting the freeze”, he said.

    Turning to the rationalization of the United Nations information centres, he said a centrepiece of the rationalization plan, which he presented in 2003, was to strengthen United Nations Information Centres (UNIC) in developing countries, and upgrade the Web site operation and evaluation activities with the anticipated savings from the amalgamation of the centres in Western Europe.  And then came the unexpected decision by the General Assembly to remove $2 million from the operational budget of UNICs, without consultation with the Department.

    The infusion of money anticipated from the rationalization process would have given the network of information centres, especially in developing countries, a much needed boost.  Now that money was gone.  The rationalization process was designed to improve the DPI’s ability to undertake its mandates –- to make better use of scarce resources -- not to save money.  “Yet we now face a situation where the sensible long-term options may not be available to us, because we simply cannot afford to maintain Centres in certain locations in the present circumstances of rising cost and no resources”, he said.

    In 2005, the United Nations would turn 60, he continued.  In 2005, Member States would debate the report of the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.  They would also review the Millennium Development Goals.  Therefore, the sixtieth anniversary year would be a crucial one, and the importance of effective public information would continue to grow.  2005 would also mark the centenary of the birth of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.  A few months before his death, Mr. Hammarskjöld said, “everything will be all right -- you know when?  When people… just people… stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves.”  The best tribute to Secretary-General Hammarskjöld was to help people understand that picture and see that it was their own work.  “I am convinced, together we can do that”, he said.

    Introduction of Report

    JANICE MILLER (Jamaica), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced the report on the twenty-sixth session of the Committee on Information, held from 26 April to 7 May.

    IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), Chairman of the Committee on Information, said that during the past two sessions of the Committee on Information, dialogue between the DPI and the Committee had broadened.  The efforts of the Department’s leadership had buttressed its capability to spread the United Nations story.  The renewal of the DPI, launched with a major structural overhaul two years ago, had begun to yield concrete and positive results.  The DPI was now more strategic, its messages were sharper and targeted audiences were better defined.  As a result of its emphasis on a culture of evaluation, it was now better equipped to measure the results of public information.

    He said that the Department continued to confront serious challenges with its initiative to rationalize the network of the United Nations Information Centres.  The kind of road bumps the Department faced had not been anticipated.  The resource crunch, resulting from action by the Fifth Committee, as well as the devaluation of the dollar and rise in costs, had had a serious impact.  Unless action was taken to address that problem, the DPI would be left with bigger holes and its ability to deliver the messages of the Organization would be undermined.  “The work of DPI is far too important.  For our own sake we cannot allow this to happen”.

    He agreed that the Department should proceed cautiously on further rationalization of UNICs.  He said there was clear unanimity on the principle of rationalization as a strategic move, not as a cost-cutting exercise.  He would make best efforts to continue to act as a bridge between the DPI and MemberStates in order to help reach a consensus on the goals that had been set, and on the directions that needed to be taken.  “This is a journey that we have embarked upon together, and together we hope to reach our common destination”, he said.

    Statements from Member States

    NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that in carrying out its role, the Department should focus on strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the United Nations, in order to bring the Organization closer to people around the world.  The challenge of the DPI was not only to ensure a wider outreach of the communication strategies, but also to contribute to the “concretization” of the goals of the Millennium Declaration and the Medium-Term Plan, in particular in promoting priority development issues such as poverty eradication, sustainable development, HIV/AIDS, dialogue among civilizations and cultures, and the needs of African countries, as well as preventing and combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.  The Group of 77 would like further information in that regard.

    He said the Group attached the utmost importance to the information policies regarding peacekeeping operations.  The closing of the “information gap” between the new realities and successes of peacekeeping operations and the perceptions by the public should be an objective of the Department.  He reiterated the Group’s commitment to strengthening the United Nations information system, especially in developing countries.  While the process of establishing the Regional United Nations Information Centre in Brussels was not complete, it was premature to carry out a judicious evaluation about whether a similar process was warranted for other regions.  Any further regionalization had to be considered on a case by case basis.  He drew in that regard attention to the existing differences in information and communication technologies between Western Europe and other regions, especially developing countries.

    He said the Group was concerned about the results of the lack of funding to support the core functions of the UNICs, a matter that had resulted in their frequent inability to sustain regular activities and provide for multilingualism.  More resources should be allocated to achieve equality among all official languages in the United Nations web sites.  Traditional means of communication such as radio broadcasting continued to have a positive impact in remote areas, particularly in developing countries.  In many cases, those means were the only way to reach large numbers of people.  He therefore emphasized the importance of preserving and consolidating those means.

    LEX GERTS (Netherlands), speaking for the European Union and associated States, said at a time when the United Nations involvement and the ideals inspiring its purposes were sometimes questioned, it was extremely important to enhance the information supply.  On 1 January 2004, the nine UNICs in Western Europe had merged into the Regional United Nations Information Centre (RUNIC) in Brussels.  That Centre would eventually provide Western Europe with valuable information and documentation.  Regionalization would, in the long run, reduce costs and increase the efficiency of information supply.  The European Union reiterated its strong support for that concept and hoped that the lessons-learned would be useful to implement the rationalization process in other regions of the world.

    He welcomed the DPI efforts to enhance multilingualism.  The United Nations News Centre web site was now becoming accessible in various languages.  He said 53 UNICs now had web sites in their local languages.  Recognizing the importance of lifting the language barriers, he urged the DPI to continue that process.  He also welcomed improvement in the quality of the United Nations web site.  The news on peacekeeping operations was especially important, since it had become obvious that there was a considerable gap between the public perception and the reality in that regard.  The DPI must continue to play the main role in providing that crucial information.

    He said that, although the Internet was growing fast, there were still millions of people who did not have access.  In that regard, he stressed the responsibilities of the developed countries to prevent nations from falling behind on the technological highway.  He also underlined the importance of radio broadcasting.  In those parts of the world where technological development still had a long way to go, radio had proved to be the most cost-effective and far-reaching media.

    He said that in too many countries freedom of expression was still a distant prospect, though it was a universal right.  Too many authorities attempted to control and influence media.  The European Union strongly condemned those practices.  Freedom of the press was fundamental for any society.  Also, too many journalists today still faced incredible challenges when trying to carry out their profession.  The Union had the greatest respect and admiration for the numerous journalists who put their lives at risk on a daily basis in order to provide reliable information, and commemorated those who sacrificed their life for that purpose.

    HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77,  said there was no doubt that the voice of the United Nations as the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world must be heard in a clear and effective way and be stronger than ever.  The Department of Public Information (DPI) must be able to project the image of the United Nations to the public in a correct and precise way.  The developing countries had special needs in the information and communication technologies (ICT) field and it was regrettable that the gap between the developed and developing world continued to widen in that regard.  Some countries were taking advantage of their monopoly of modern communications to distort the realities of developing countries.  It was imperative to increase assistance for the development of communication infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries.

    On the issue of regionalization, he said a more careful study should be done to avoid hasty decisions that might negatively affect outreach activities.  As long as the developing countries -– the most populous part of the world -– suffered from the lack of a suitable communication infrastructure, the Department could not achieve its goals without the United Nations Information Centres.  Their closure of would only deepen the lack of information about the United Nations in the countries concerned.  In today’s “monopolized world of media”, accurate information was crucial and in combating biased information of all kinds, the Department could lead the march towards harmony within the information domain, with a view to maintaining its focus on areas of specific interest for developing countries.

    Regarding the Department’s training activities, he commended the annual training programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries, which contributed to the promotion of capacity-building in those countries.  Iran also emphasized the dissemination of information in local languages and encouraged the allocation of resources and technical facilities to those languages.  It was hoped that the current restructuring of the Department’s activities would strengthen its role in areas of special interest to developing countries.

    ABDULLA MOHAMMED FADEL AL-NUAIMI (United Arab Emirates) said that the growing impact of media on the formation of economic and social trends had contributed to positive global trends.  However, it had also widened the “digital divide” between developed and developing countries, which had marginalized developing countries.  A comprehensive strategy must therefore be developed to build capacity in those countries.  In that context, it was a matter of concern that Western media had been attacking the culture of Islamic countries.  A code of communications should be developed to promote positive goals among cultures and to avoid extremism.

    Expressing satisfaction with the Department’s activities in keeping up with its responsibilities in the face of increasing challenges, he said it should increase activities pertaining to the digital divide, development, international security and enlist the participation of civil society in those efforts.  Regarding rationalization of information centres and processes should proceed cautiously so that information responsibilities stipulated and General Assembly resolutions were carried out, particularly in regard to the Palestinian question.  For that reason, as well, the United Arab Emirates proposed enhanced information services for the Middle East.

    SERIK ZHANIBEKOV (Kazakhstan) said his country supported actions to strengthen the United Nations public information system, including efforts to expand its reach and its target audiences.  In that light, Kazakhstan also supported the consolidation of information centres into regional hubs in order to rationalize them and improve the efficiency of their overall advocacy efforts, which should be undertaken in close coordination with Member States.

    In that regard, he said the Department should cover more extensively the degradation of the environment in the Aral Sea region and the dire humanitarian consequences of many years of nuclear tests at the former Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground.  Kazakhstan was grateful to Japan, the United States and other donors for their attention to those problems, though multilateral cooperation would have been more effective.  Activities in the information sector were meant to instil a new technological culture in the economic, administrative, cultural and social fields, he added.

    CHUN YUNG-WOO (Republic of Korea) said that his country attached great importance to the work of the DPI.  He welcomed the Department’s efforts to maximize the use of its dwindling resources through new strategic directions.  One of its most important challenges was the information gap between those countries whose native language happened to be an official United Nations language and the rest of the world, which included the Republic of Korea.

    He welcomed the rationalization process for the UNICs, but said that it should be used to strengthen the Organization’s outreach to those Member States currently outside the scope of the field information capacity of the DPI, and not as just an end in itself.  Concerning traditional means of communication such as radio, the DPI should pay more attention to populations who do not use official languages.  He expressed encouragement over the growing utilization of the Internet and supported efforts to improve language capacity, webcasting, timely posting and “searchability” of the United Nations web site.

    Regarding language parity among official languages on the web site, he said that relative parity that took into account levels of demand was more relevant than absolute parity.  Finally, he encouraged the DPI’s continuous dialogue with the media in all parts of the world, its engagement with the NGOs, academia and civil society, and its partnerships with other members of the United Nations family and Member States.

    HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland), aligning himself with the statement for the European Union, said his country was honoured to have been accepted as a new member of the Committee on Information.  Informing the world about the United Nations was central to the future of the Organization.  The DPI had done outstanding work and was adjusting to a changing environment.  Positive about the Department’s new mission statement and supporting the new operating model and organizational structure, he said his Government had increased support for the United Nations Association in Iceland and its information activities.  Reaching out to those that had not yet had the fortune to be informed should be a priority.  Reaching out and communication with new generations was a cornerstone for the future of the United Nations family.

    He said the issue of the digital divide must be addressed, as there was an increasing division between the “knows” and the “know-nots”.  It was a challenge for future development cooperation projects to take that issue head on.  Reaching and teaching new generations should have a priority.  It was encouraging that the DPI had been a great support to educational programmes like the Model United Nations and the Cyberschoolbus.  The United Nations should not be afraid to embrace new technology.  The young generation was certainly not afraid of adopting the latest tools of information technology and neither should the Organization.

    MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the statement made by Qatar on behalf of the Group of 77, said that reform throughout the United Nations was important but could not become an end in itself.  In the reorientation and restructuring of the DPI, it was essential that it never lost its role in re-establishing balance in information at the global level, with the overall goal of strengthening international peace and security.  The Department should also remember that many people in developing countries relied on it for much of their information.

    In that light, restructuring of information centres should be done only on a case-by-case basis, in conjunction with the Member States involved.  He said the UNIC in his country served many functions and he underscored his country’s commitment to it.  In general, as more demands were made on the DPI, it was incumbent on the international community to provide support to its important functions.

    MANSOUR AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said he welcomed efforts of the Committee on Information to bridge the information gap between developed and developing countries.  In the course of recent years, technological changes had been made that had facilitated the free flow of information and the DPI had been modernized.  Information flows should be free and not be used to sow discord and must be used to ensure that information helped all.  The Palestinian issue should be highlighted.  Arabic should be used equally in all activities.

    He said all Member States must meet their pledges in full and on time, with a view to ensuring that the level of activities was not affected.  Success in communication depended on the partnership between the Organization and governmental and non-governmental organizations.  He thanked those countries that had assisted in making the conference to be held in the General Assembly hall on United Nations Day possible.  He informed the Committee that Kuwait had granted land and money for construction of a United Nations House that would combine all offices of the United Nations in Kuwait in one building, saying that his and other countries in the region would be assisted by such an organization.

    SONG SE IL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said that information played an important role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and implementing the agreements reached at the World Summit on Information and Society.  In that light, it was essential to reject the abuse of information media in the infringement of State sovereignty and interference in internal affairs.  It was also no longer tolerable that some countries abused developing countries by keeping exclusive possession of communications and information technology.

    Some countries, he said, had turned their use of information away from development and toward political gain by slandering other countries and imposing their ideological values, using a huge amount of funds and other resources.  The abuse of information for psychological warfare and ideological penetration was in defiance of international demands.   In addition, to bridge the information technology gap, he urged the United Nations and other international organizations to increase assistance to developing countries in such areas as the training of experts, transference of technology and provision of equipment.  He expressed appreciation to the DPI for its efforts already taken in that regard.

    YURIY KHOMENKO (Ukraine) underlined, in the context of strategic communications services, the important role of the DPI in consolidating peacekeeping and peace-building efforts and said he supported the Department’s strategy to publicize new peacekeeping activities, particularly in Africa.  On the issue of UNICs, he emphasized their important role in maintaining direct contacts between the United Nations and local communities.  He supported integration of UNICs with field offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), particularly in countries with economies in transition, in order to achieve closer coordination and effectiveness in their activities and to save funds by using shared resources.  He said the DPI would continue to play a central role in drawing the attention of the international community to such issues as the problem of terrorism, conflict prevention, sustainable development and the environment, including the problem of Chernobyl.

    He commended the Department for its continuing efforts to update the United Nations web site in line with the principle of equality of all six official languages, and to make it more informative, functional and visually attractive.  The e-mail news services was a feature that could help journalists, researchers, the public at large and a variety of other audiences to get quick and easy access to the latest news regarding the United Nations.  He also supported efforts to achieve a more modern, highly integrated and efficient system of library services within the United Nations.   In conclusion he said that the DPI should be given sufficient time and resources to implement its plans.

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