14 October 2005
Need to Bridge "Digital Divide", Reducing Disadvantage of Developing Countries, Stressed in Assembly's Fourth Committee
Delegates also Seek Improved UN Image, Strengthening of Information Centres
NEW YORK, 13 October (UN Headquarters) -- As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of issues relating to information this morning, speakers stressed the need to bridge the "digital divide" between the developing and the developed worlds, underlined the importance of revitalizing the image of the United Nations, and called for the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) to be strengthened.
Pakistan's representative said that more than ever before it was imperative to strengthen the information and communication infrastructures of developing countries, which were badly handicapped due to paucity of resources. With resources far greater than the national budgets of many developing countries, large western media outlets dominated, and the flow of information became lopsided and unidirectional rather than being balanced and two-way, he said.
Agreeing that many people in the world were not just bereft of food, water, health, homes and education, but also of information, Singapore's representative said that it was the duty of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) to raise the torch of truth and unity to the world so that those in the dark and those who were oppressed might see it. However, while the DPI should maximize its outreach through new information and communication technologies, it should not neglect the traditional means of communication through United Nations Radio and Television.
Concurring, the representative of the Philippines said all available channels should be used in reaching out, not only to the mainstream outlets but also to the common man through the use of traditional media and native languages. Radio stations, community newspapers and cable television stations in areas outside national capital cities should be encouraged to tell the United Nations story. He called for the allocation of additional resources for the Information Centres, especially those in the least developed and developing countries of Asia and Africa.
Jamaica's representative also stressed that UNICs in developing countries should be helped to strengthen their impact. As part of the process of consultation and information sharing, she hoped additional resources would be found to hold workshops in all regions for the staff of the network of UNICs. Given the importance of UNICs in developing countries, any improvements in the context of rationalization must not be to the detriment or closing of existing UNICs worldwide.
Several speakers agreed that the aim of rationalization was to improve efficiency of UNICs and the activities of the DPI, and did not believe that reducing the number of information centres served this purpose.
Revitalizing the image of the United Nations was a great concern to many speakers, especially in view of the outcry against allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations, and the issues surrounding the "oil-for-food" programme. Myanmar's representative spoke of the indispensable role the Department of Public Information in promoting a positive public image of the United Nations by providing accurate, impartial, comprehensive and timely information of the Organization's activities.
Others said they would like to see the DPI and the information components of various missions speak with one voice, in immediately and effectively addressing any issues or concerns that may arise in the field. Such a quick-response mechanism should be complemented by a sustained public information drive to provide the host Governments and their peoples with a better understanding of the United Nations and its activities in their countries.
The image and credibility of the United Nations was not just the purview of the DPI, but also the co-shared responsibility of all those who worked for the United Nations, as well as the Member States, speakers stressed.
Also addressing the Committee this morning were the representatives of United Arab Emirates, Russian Federation, Malaysia, China, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Colombia, Republic of Korea, Algeria, Sudan and the Holy See.
The Committee will next meet tomorrow, Friday, 14 October, to conclude its consideration of issues related to information.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning continued its consideration of questions relating to information. For further information, see Press Release GA/SPD/318 of 12 October.
SAEED RASHED S. ALWAN AL-HEBSI (United Arab Emirates) extended condolences to the Governments and peoples of the countries hit by the earthquake in Asia. He said the role of modern mass media in influencing economic, political and social factors of societies required more than ever the further improving of information to serve the goals in the fields of peace and security and international development. The free flow of information in the Internet had brought about a growing divide between the developed and developing countries. The latter lacked the resources to benefit from communication and information technologies. There was a responsibility to assist the developing countries in acquiring the necessary technologies and improve human resources. Enhancing the role of the United Nations in confronting international threats contrary to the outcome document of the 2005 Summit required more than ever "conscripting the media and information". That was the main tool to help the Organization keep abreast of the situation, and shoulder its responsibilities.
He said that, while satisfied with the efforts of the Department of Public Information (DPI) in recent years, further efforts were necessary, including mobilizing necessary resources to improve the capacities of those working in the Arab units in order to enhance radio and TV transmission and to promote their position in the Internet. His country had pursued a balanced information policy, using the best technologies, in order to enable society to serve national and humanitarian interests and improve relationships with other civilizations and cultures, while retaining the precepts of Islam. While emphasizing the need to address the relationship between DPI and other United Nations bodies, as well as with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), he called for enhancing the role of the Department. Awareness should also be raised about Palestine and the Middle East crisis and the suffering of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation.
SERGEY TREPELKOV (Russian Federation) asked that the DPI continue its efforts in promoting the maintenance of international peace, United Nations reform, conflict prevention, and the fight against new threats to peace and security. He noted that the President of Russia, speaking at the United Nations Security Council summit meeting, had emphasised the need to use not only State resources but also those of civil society to oppose terrorist propaganda, racist ideology, and national and religious intolerance. A new step had been made when, during the World Summit 2005, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1624 which had outlawed not only terrorists but also those inciting terrorist acts. That decision would become a serious barrier for those who tried to use the media for propaganda.
An important contribution to the fight against intolerance had been made through a series of DPI seminars called "unlearning intolerance". His delegation had noted the success of such seminars on issues such as anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia. His delegation had also noted the work of the DPI in the field of public information and had followed its work in the development and improvement of the network of the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs). He noted the steady and efficient work of the UNIC in Moscow, which played a coordinating role in outreach activities. His delegation supported the suggestion of the Secretary-General to increase the role of UNIC Moscow at a regional level. The issue of releasing UNIC Moscow from the cost of rent and maintenance was currently under consideration.
He said the Russian Federation viewed positively the DPI's commitment to the principle of multilingualism and parity in official languages. He noted the successful functioning of the Russian version of the United Nations website which was becoming more and more popular among Russian users. He also welcomed DPI's efforts to improve the United Nations Chronicles, which were published in all official languages.
MOHD PUAD ZARKASHI (Malaysia), aligning himself with the statement to be made on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, and the statement made on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said he was pleased to note that the reorientation of the DPI had been completed. As a result, the Department was increasing its effectiveness in its ability to inform the world of the diverse functions and activities of the United Nations. The central role played by the DPI in disseminating information and its close collaboration with the major media had effectively educated the world on the need for reform of the United Nations. He was particularly pleased by the efforts of UNICs in making information available in numerous national languages. Those Centres played a crucial role in reaching out to the international community, as well as in promoting the Secretary-General's reform agenda and the Millennium Development Goals.
Turning to particular areas, he said he supported DPI's approach in conveying clear, simple and consistent message that would help the ordinary people in Africa to clearly understand their role and responsibility in the national development of their respective countries. He also supported the proposal to develop an advocacy and communications strategy by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa. Palestine remained an important focus for the DPI, which had organized the thirteenth annual International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East in Cairo, Egypt, on 13 and 14 June. He urged the Department to continue to highlight issues relating to the question of Palestine. He also encouraged the DPI to continue to provide the necessary support for the dissemination of information pertaining to the dialogue among civilization and the dialogue on the culture of peace.
He encouraged the Department to continue its endeavours in the field of multilingualism in all communication activities, especially in the website. Given the linguistic diversity of the world community, a wider outreach of DPI's new communication strategies could only be realized through a balanced and equitable use of the six official languages, he said. He was confident that the DPI would continue to play a major role in bringing the United Nations closer to the public. His country fully supported the new direction the Department had taken in order to become a more effective vehicle of communication between the Organization and the peoples of the world.
LAURO L. BAJA (Philippines) said the role of the DPI in promoting a positive image of the United Nations was indispensable. Doing so through the timely delivery of accurate and quality information was not an easy undertaking. Despite this, the DPI, as the public voice of the Organization, had risen to the challenge.
He saluted the DPI for its handling of the aftermath of the tsunami in South and South-East Asia last year, as well as its efforts to promote the Millennium Development Goals and other United Nations initiatives.
In the view of the outcry against allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations, as well as other negative publicity about missions overseas, the Philippines would like to see the DPI and the information components of various missions speak with one voice in immediately and effectively addressing any issues or concerns that may arise in the field. Such a quick response mechanism should be complemented by a sustained public information drive to provide the host Governments and their peoples with a better understanding of the United Nations and its activities in their countries.
The DPI should pay particular attention to the special needs and requirements of developing nations in the field of information and communication technology, he continued. All available channels should be used in reaching out not only to the mainstream outlets, but also to the common man through the use of traditional media and native languages. Radio stations, community newspapers and cable television stations in areas outside the capital cities should be encouraged to tell the United Nations story. The Philippines also called for the allocation of additional resources for UNICs, especially those in the least developed and developing countries of Asia and Africa, in order to bring good news about the United Nations down to the grass roots. Another way to enhance understanding of the Organization would be to further DPI's linkages with educational institutions, and explore the possibility of including a subject on the United Nations in the school curriculum.
KAROLYN POON (Singapore), aligning herself with the statement on behalf of ASEAN, said the right to freedom of opinion and expression also included the freedom to seek and receive information. Many people in the world were not just bereft of food, water, health, homes and education, but also of information. It was DPI's duty to raise the torch of truth and unity to the world so that those in the dark and those who were oppressed might see it. That was no easy task, she said, but she was pleased to note that the DPI had shown unwavering commitment to its duty of empowering communities across the globe with information.
In today's ever-changing landscape, the DPI would have to overcome some challenges in order to make its role even more relevant and important for the United Nations and for the world. The first challenge was the plethora of information sources all clamouring for one public "mindshare". There was an information overload, and new information technologies were inaccessible to people in less developed countries. There were the information-rich and the information-poor. While the DPI had been maximising its outreach through new information and communications technology, it had not neglected the traditional means of communication through United Nations Radio and Television. Continued strong support to DPI's partners in civil society would help them better disseminate the United Nations message to their constituencies.
She said another challenge was the one of biased information and sensationalism. The United Nations message would have to be clear, up-to-date, timely and well articulated. Above all, it must be accurate and credible. A third challenge was the image of the Organization, she said. More recently, the United Nations had been portrayed in a negative light. Media reports had largely revolved around the issues surrounding the "oil-for-food" programme and cases of sexual abuses in some peacekeeping missions.
The image and credibility of the United Nations, she added, was not just the purview of the DPI, but also the co-shared responsibility of all those who worked for the United Nations, as well as the Member States. She commended the Secretariat for setting up an Ethics Office. The lesson learned was that credibility was a "non-negotiable". The United Nations could not afford more scandals and must be staffed by professionals with ethics of the highest order; clear accountability was instrumental.
JANICE MILLER (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the efforts being undertaken by the DPI to integrate new information and communications technology at all levels and hoped that would lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness, and increase the outreach of the DPI. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that many of the target audiences in developing countries were not keeping pace in the information and technology revolution. The Department should, therefore, continue to take into account the special needs and requirements of developing countries in the field of information and communication technology so as to ensure an effective flow of information. That meant continuing to utilize many of the traditional methods of communication, including radio and print media.
Continuing, she stressed that UNICs in developing countries should be helped to strengthen their impact, including, if necessary, through strategic communications support. Moreover, as part of the process of consultation and information sharing, it was hoped that the additional resources would be found to hold workshops in all regions for the staff of the network of UNICs. The Group of 77 and China reiterated its position that rationalization involved only the improving of the effectiveness and efficiency of UNICs and the activities of the DPI. Given the importance of UNICs in developing countries and their core responsibility in transmitting the message of the United Nations, any improvements in the context of rationalization must not be to the detriment or closing of existing UNICs worldwide. The views of the host country should be taken into account on all proposals relating to its UNIC premises.
She said it was particularly important that efforts continued to counter negative publicity and to correct distorted stories and biased reports about the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Organization. She also mentioned that, especially in relation to controversial aspects of the current United Nations reform process, it was necessary for the Secretariat to maintain political impartiality and avoid imparting negative perceptions of positions taken by Member States in the negotiating process. A balanced approach which recognised the rights and interests of all Member States, in accordance with the principle of the sovereign equality of all States, was clearly required.
YAN JIARONG (China), aligning herself with the statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said she appreciated efforts of the DPI in outreach activities and press conferences in the context of the 2005 World Summit. The focus of United Nations public information should now turn to publicizing the consensus of the Summit. Top priority should be given to development and the particular needs of developing countries, especially in Africa. Confidence in the Organization's integrity, impartiality and ability to deliver must be restored. The DPI had an indispensable role to play in that regard. She looked forward to the Department's strengthened efforts to improve coordination within the United Nations system, so that the DPI would become a more powerful public voice for the Organization.
She said another good way to spread information on the United Nations was to have closer links with NGOs and with the public and private sectors. Currently, the DPI held weekly briefings for NGOs, as well as an annual orientation programme and other workshops. However, due to lack of funds, many NGOs from developing countries had been unable to be part of such activities. She hoped the United Nations would use mailings, the Internet and other means to strengthen communication with NGOs of developing countries. The United Nations Radio and website were important sources for information on United Nations affairs and their multilingualism capacity should be strengthened. She hoped that the departments concerned would take further steps to increase financial and human resources to allow all official languages to acquire full and equal usage.
She said UNICs in different countries had been instrumental in transmitting the message of the United Nations and mobilizing public support activities. On the question of rationalization of UNICs, she said it was necessary to conduct more consultations with the relevant Member States, taking into full account the specific conditions of the different regions. She thanked the DPI for assisting her mission to hold a "China-United Nations Photo Exhibition" at Headquarters.
HAYDAR ALI AHMAD (Syria) said special attention should be paid to developing a new world information system that would be more equal and influential. Such a system should be designed to reinforce international cooperation and peace. His delegation was confident that the DPI was the voice through which the United Nations should express its goals and activities. Focusing on matters contained in the various United Nations resolutions was a main task of the DPI, particularly in the fields of confronting foreign occupation, poverty and disease.
Given the importance of the role of information in building society and raising awareness, he said, Syria was preparing a new information law that would enrich its experience in that field. The new law would emphasize the importance of the freedom of information and the need for the collection of free information. His delegation had studied the reports before the Committee on this item and had taken note of the paragraphs about strengthening the relationships between the DPI, NGOs and the private sector. His delegation was fearful that such partnerships would be used in the interest of external information circles who could not be trusted to portray United Nations in an accurate manner
Continuing, he said he welcomed efforts made in supporting the United Nations website and efforts made to update it. However, information did not exist in an equal manner in the six official languages. The Arabic pages of the website needed further human and material support. More effort must be made to ensure full parity of languages on the website, and he recalled General Assembly resolution 58/277 which had called upon Secretary-General to strengthen the United Nations website. He asked that the DPI keep the Committee informed of the efforts being made to enhance the website.
TAREK ADEL (Egypt), aligning himself with the statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said change in the United Nations required an information policy for true and objective information to be delivered to all peoples in the world. In the context of the priority of linguistic diversity and balance among the official language, he said he looked forward to more diversity in order to achieve the greatest reach possible and to improve communication between cultures. He emphasized that the DPI must intensify its activities regarding raising awareness of the need for peace in the Middle East in a fashion that called for an end to the occupation. Egypt had hosted the successful international DPI seminar for peace in the Middle East, in which a large number of regional and international journalists had participated.
He said the information message of the United Nations must reflect the issues that the Millennium Declaration had identified as priorities, and progress on achievement of the Millennium Development Goals must be incorporated in the message of the DPI. The issue of UNICs remained an important one on the list of information topics. In that regard, specific terms of reference based on the relevant resolutions of the Assembly must be reaffirmed. He emphasized that the objective for UNICs must be the most efficient use of resources and new technological developments, in order to link the centres and distribute information as fast as possible. He looked forward to an increased role for the DPI regarding the intercultural dialogue and the dialogue on the culture of peace. The DPI should also endeavour to narrow the digital gap and to raise awareness of the difference between terrorism and the fight for self-determination.
HOSSEING MALEKI (Iran), supporting the statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said problems of a global nature, such as exclusion, unilateralism, poverty, lack of development, use of force, intolerance and terrorism, could not be condoned. All those problems required public awareness through dissemination of information. The DPI, as the impartial and unbiased voice of the international community, could and should take its responsibility in that regard. There was undoubtedly a crying need to have a strong DPI, if it was expected to project the image of the United Nations to the public. The Department's voice should be strengthened as much as possible by giving it the tools it needed. The UNICs should be strengthened. Reducing the number of Information Centres in developing regions would only weaken the voice of the United Nations.
He said that in today's "monopolized world of media", it was crucial to bring accurate information to the attention of the people worldwide. The DPI was a conduit for the flow of information between the United Nations and the people of the world. In combating biased information of all kinds in the world of the communications matrix, the Department could lead the march towards harmony within the domain of information, while maintaining its focus on areas of specific interest for developing countries.
By launching a series of seminars on the issue of the dialogue among civilizations and cultures, the DPI had made that item one of its priorities. He said he would encourage the Secretary-General to continue to give high priority to that important issue. While commending the role played by some UNICs in promoting the dialogue among civilizations during the past year, he said the capacity of all UNICs could be utilized to promote the issue in every country and region. For that purpose, the Centres deserved to be well equipped with modern communication technologies and adequate financial resources.
MARIA ANGELA HOLGUIN (Colombia) expressed her support for the activities of the UN Information Centre in Colombia. Her country had, and continued to request, a permanent office and opposed the regionalization plan that had begun some years ago. It was common knowledge that the proposed rationalization model had not provided the desired results and during the past session of the Information Committee it had been indicated that a gradual approach should be adopted in order to make the Information Centre more effective and efficient. The aim of rationalization was to improve efficiency of UNICs and the activities of the DPI; therefore, her delegation did not believe that the closing or transfer of UNICs served that purpose. Furthermore, any procedures or changes should be properly discussed with Member States and with countries hosting information centres.
The UNICs were and should continue to be a tool to inform the world not only of the benefits that the United Nations provided, but also of the accomplishments made by the Governments of Member States in different areas. Colombia contributed 81 per cent of the annual budget of the Information Centre in Bogotá and considered it of paramount importance that the Centre continued running from its current location. She said Colombia had the widest United Nations presence in Latin America; there were 21 United Nations agencies, programmes and funds. That was one more reason for the United Nations to maintain a UNIC in her country.
CHOI HONG-GHI (Republic of Korea) said at a time when the United Nations needed to enhance its visibility in the international community and among ordinary citizens of the world, the DPI had an essential role to play. He commended the Department for enhancing public information by adopting a client-based approach. He also welcomed the significant improvements that had been made to the website. It was to the credit of the DPI that the number of people using the website had continued to increase. He expected that the DPI would continue to highlight the reform process and the outcome of the Summit.
The Dag Hammarskjöld Library provided essential support to the Secretariat and the missions of the Member States, he said. He welcomed in that regard the reform efforts of the Library community and commended progress achieved so far.
NADJEH BAAZIZ (Algeria) said that information, science and technology were irreplaceable engines of progress. The transmission of knowledge in developing countries had facilitated progress, but there were still obstacles and there was still a great imbalance in the flow of information in those countries. The DPI must ensure that all countries had equitable access to the benefits of information technology in order to bridge the digital divide. Her delegation nurtured the hope that the UN World Summit on Information Society, to take place later this year, would help developing countries meet the challenges that they faced.
Her delegation was pleased with the work done by the DPI and welcomed efforts to revitalize the image of the United Nations. In this regard, they had been successful in heightening the Organization's profile, and the number of visitors to the United Nations website was growing. The respect for multilingualism remained among the concerns of a number of Member States. She called on the DPI to ensure that the six official languages were treated equally in terms of documentation and the material on the website.
AWAD MAOHAMED HASAN (Sudan) said considerable efforts had been made to improve the work of the DPI, in which the Committee on Information had played an important role. There was a need for updating information delivery and communication, in order to establish a new international information system that would reinforce intercultural information. He said the role of information was one of the pillars of development, and promoting the Millennium Development Goals was no exception. National performance could be tracked through information. The same was true in tracking progress, for instance, in respect for human rights.
He said people in many regions of the world still did not have access to the modern information technologies, and the DPI could assist in bridging the digital divide. Emphasizing the important role UNICs played in dissemination of information on the United Nations throughout the world, he said that role was a complementary one for peacekeeping operations. As his country had recently ended one of the longest wars in Africa, he looked forward to the role of UNICs in reinforcing peace in the post-conflict situation.
MANSOOR SUHALI (Pakistan) said the public must be informed and involved in the activities concerning the United Nations. There were vast disparities and imbalances between the flow of information in the developed and the developing world. More than ever before, it was imperative to strengthen the information and communication infrastructures of the developing world, which were badly handicapped due to paucity of resources. The information set-ups in developing countries were unable to effectively disseminate information to their people; they were overwhelmed by the powerful operations of the formidable media of the developed world. With resources far greater than the national budgets of many developing countries, large western media outlets dominated, and the flow of information became lopsided and unidirectional rather than being balanced and two-way.
He said information could serve as a bridge to enhance understanding, but this was being belittled and sacrificed. Information should be used to bring cultures together. That6 could be achieved by fortifying infrastructures in the developing world. The United Nations Information Centres needed to be strengthened, and their utilization maximized. They were extremely important in enhancing the public image of the United Nations and disseminating messages about the United Nations to local populations, especially in the developing world.
He said his delegation also attached importance to the traditional means of communications such as radio broadcasts. Urdu language broadcasts by the United Nations, for example, served a useful purpose in the dissemination of information about the United Nations system in his part of the world. The useful role performed by the News and Media Division, as well as the Radio and Television Service, deserved to be acknowledged. He said his delegation hoped that the Outreach Division could improve its service to ensure timely dispatch of their publications. He also requested that the DPI ensure equitable representation of journalists from developing counties in gaining access to the Secretary-General for interviews, in their placement in the United Nations press gallery and in their accreditations.
U NAY WIN (Myanmar), supporting the statement on behalf of ASEAN, said he appreciated the role played by the DPI in communicating to the world the process of revitalization and reform at a time when the Organization had been tarnished in the media. The Department would play an indispensable role in promoting a positive public image of the United Nations by providing accurate, impartial, comprehensive and timely information on the Organization's activities. He welcomed the Department's initiative to further integrate new information and communications technologies into its global communication infrastructure.
He said there was a pressing need to close the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds. Vast segments of the population in developing countries did not benefit from the present information revolution. He urged the DPI to play an active role in that regard. The UNICs in developing countries strengthened the flow of information and gave access to information and information technologies. Adequate resources should be allocated to ensure effective functioning and strengthening of UNICs in developing countries. The priorities of rationalization should be determined primarily on the basis of how essential an existing information centre was to a particular region. The availability of alternative means of access to United Nations information services in the same region should also be taken into account.
Archbishop CELESTINO MIGLIORE (Holy See) said the exercise of the freedom of communication should not depend upon wealth, education or political power. The right to communicate was the right for all. New technologies had an important role to play in the advancement of the poor. As with health and education, access to the wealth represented by communications would certainly benefit the poor --. as recipients of information, to be sure, but also as actors, able to promote their own point of view before the world's decision-makers.
Given the even increasing ease of access to information of every possible kind, he said, the Holy See also stressed the need to protect the vulnerable, especially in the light of increase of content featuring violence, intolerance and pornography. Perhaps the most essential question raised by technological progress was whether, as a result of it, people would grow in dignity, responsibility and openness to others. In that context, the Holy See had set up a unique continent wide initiative called the Digital Network of the Church in Latin America, which promoted the adoption of digital technologies and programmes in media education, especially in poor areas.
He said the Holy See hoped that the second phase of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society would lead to further concrete efforts to build a more inclusive digital society which would reduce the widespread "info-poverty". It would be helpful if a new dynamic were created which went beyond the political and commercial logic usually at play in these fields. Knowledge was essential in establishing presence in the international marketplace and was key to participating in the global economy.
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