21 April 2005
Information Centre Rationalization, Website, Library Modernization Among Issues Addressed in Information Committee Debate
NEW YORK, 19 April (UN Headquarters) -- As the Committee on Information continued its general debate on Tuesday, speakers addressed a wide range of topics, among them the further rationalization of the United Nations Information Centres (UNIC) network, efforts to make the United Nations website available in all six official languages, and progress towards library modernization and integrated management.
Several speakers said the UNIC network should be strengthened to expand the scope and effectiveness of public information campaigns and activities. Tunisias representative said the local United Nations presence provided by UNICs was essential to maintaining the Organizations credibility and usefulness as a tool for collective security, development and human rights. Closing centres in developing countries, where UNICs usually enjoyed rent-free or low-rent space, was not cost-effective and would make it difficult to meet those nations information requirements. Closing nine UNICs in Western Europe had cost more than to maintain them, he said, adding that the General Assemblys decision to reduce UNICs 2004-2005 budget by $2 million was worrisome.
Irans representative agreed, saying UNICs were venues for promoting dialogue and providing comprehensive and timely information, particularly in developing countries with large information technology gaps. The Organization should allocate adequate funding to upgrade communications equipment in those regions.
The United States representative said, however, that he was not convinced that the rationalization process would have continued to move forward to the extent necessary to effect real change, even if the budget had not been cut. He pointed out that the budget had been cut with the agreement of all participants in the negotiations and added that, for a variety of reasons, the system continued to be in need of further rationalization. Icelands representative added that he welcomed the regionalization of the Centres in Europe and expressed regret over the financial limitations that had hindered the further rationalization plan.
Many speakers discussed the Department of Public Informations (DPI)s recent efforts to make the United Nations official website fully multilingual by providing public information in the Organizations six official languages. The representative of the United States noted that DPIs report on these efforts revealed a 26 per cent jump in 2004 of pages viewed and the consistent increase in pages viewed across language sites. However, the report, he said, should have gone a step further by providing a statistical breakdown of those numbers by official language and by section for analysis and tracking purposes. He called on DPI to circulate such figures.
Singapores representative said the more than 2 billion visits to the United Nations website annually showed that the Organization was far from becoming irrelevant in the public eye and on the world stage. Lauding DPIs steps to make the website multilingual, the Russian Federations representative said the number of Russians accessing the United Nations News Centre and other parts of the website had increased threefold. Russian State Radio was broadcasting United Nations radio programmes in Russian to some 40 million listeners.
Speakers also supported DPIs efforts to modernize the Organizations library system through integrated management and technology upgrades. Switzerlands representative said steps to make libraries more proactive in servicing users would indeed result in better dissemination in the public eye of Untied Nations functions and accomplishments. He commended the libraries efforts and plans to incorporate new digital technologies, train staff and increase service, thus enabling them to more effectively fulfil their functions.
Bangladeshs representative said the library restructuring process should be balanced in order to service all users. The libraries should introduce high-tech electronic services, while maintaining their traditional role of providing books, magazines and other print materials for public consumption.
The representatives of Syria, Republic of Korea, Algeria, Ukraine, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Israel, Japan, Yemen, Philippines and Burkina Faso also made statements.
The Committee on Information met today to continue the general debate of its twenty-seventh session. (For background information, please see Press Release PI/1641 of 15 April 2005.)
FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), supporting the statement made by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that the Department of Public Information (DPI) was duty-bound to deliver its message to all parts of the world, focusing on issues related to resolutions. Those included issues in development, as well as the end of conflict and occupation. Expressing regret over the campaign against the image of the United Nations, he said his country was intent on getting the right information to its people and the world at large.
Noting efforts to improve the website in all official languages, he said that this effort brought more visitors to the site. He supported full parity of official languages and, in particular, improvements on the Arabic page in a way that was consistent with the unique features of the language. For that purpose, he requested that departments make their material available in all languages.
He reaffirmed the importance of the United Nations information centres (UNICs), along with outreach to non-governmental organizations, in conveying the message of the Organization. He urged the Department to increase its focus on the situation of Palestinians. Transparency and fairness in information, he said, was of paramount importance in all of DPIs activities.
BAHK SAHNG-HOON (Republic of Korea) supported DPIs reorientation efforts and its comprehensive review of management and operations. Lauding the Departments new strategic communications approach, he called on it to continue improvement efforts aimed at bringing the United Nations closer to the global population. Media outreach efforts to illustrate the United Nations response to global challenges should be further strengthened. However, there was a severe information gap between audiences whose native language was one of the United Nations six official languages and other audiences. Greater attention in strategic communication should be given to the latter group.
While lauding the rationalization of UNICs, he said the process should not automatically lead to closing of centres. Rather, it should focus on making information outflow more effective and accessible to a wider audience. At present, approximately one quarter of Member States was outside the Organizations scope of information capacity. The rationalization process should bring them into the fold. DPIs promotional campaign of the Top 10 stories that the world should hear more about was innovative and very useful. He encouraged the United Nations Communications Group (UNCG) to further develop this and other initiatives, serving as strong unifying tool of public information. He added that the supply of information materials on the United Nations website should correspond with demand. A greater percentage of United Nations resources should be earmarked for the most heavily accessed web pages than for those less visited.
NADJEH BAAZIZ (Algeria), aligning her statement with that of the Group of 77 and China, promised full support to the DPI for its work. She said that the United Nations should work towards closing the digital divide in the effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. She welcomed DPIs work in conveying information about United Nations activities and in countering the negative accounts against the Organization.
Praising DPI initiatives related to the website and broadcast media, she reiterated wishes that full parity be achieved in all official languages. In regard to UNICs, she said that further changes in the system should be made only in close consultation with host countries.
KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) lauded DPIs strategies to cover and promote the forthcoming five-year review of progress of the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations sixtieth anniversary. In recent years, DPIs role had become all the more important as media attacks on the Organization had challenged its role and effectiveness. DPIs new strategic approach should be a promising response to the current and future needs of public information and image. The fact that more than 2 billion users had visited the United Nations website last year was extraordinary, he said, encouraging efforts to expand and promote the sites scope in English and the Organizations other five official languages.
He expressed concern over the UNIC rationalization process, particularly the General Assemblys decision to reduce UNICs 2004-2005 budget by $2 million. The UNIC in Brussels, which replaced nine centres in Western Europe, should have served as a model for rationalization in other regions. However, it had proven more costly to close those centres, which had high rents and maintenance fees, than keep them open. Rationalization in developing countries, where UNICs usually enjoyed rent-free or low-rent space, was not cost-effective and would not enable the United Nations to meet the information requirements of developing countries, where a local presence was essential to maintaining the Organizations credibility and effectiveness as a tool of collective security, development and human rights. Rationalization should focus on strengthening existing UNICS.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), associating himself with the statement made by the representative of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that DPI was, indeed, the voice of the United Nations. It must be strengthened to provide precise, impartial, comprehensive and timely information to the international community on the tasks and responsibilities of the Organization.
For that purpose, he said that effective UNICs were needed, especially in the developing world where a gap persisted in information technology. In that regard, it was important that adequate financial resources be provided to UNICs to upgrade their communications equipment. The host countries were a valuable source of evaluation concerning the efficacy of UNICs annual activities.
The UN information centres, he continued, should also be considered as venues for promoting dialogue among civilizations and respect between peoples. Praising the active role of the new director of the Tehran UNIC, he said, however, that this UNIC should make dialogue among civilizations a priority on its agenda.
DAVID TRAYSTMAN (United States) lauded DPIs report on library modernization and integrated management, saying it set the stage for transforming the Organizations libraries from repositories of information to proactive facilitators providing direct support services to help staff and delegations carry out their duties. He was surprised, however, that the report on the United Nations website: progress towards parity among official languages (document A/AC.198/2005/6) had not assessed the impact of the integration of the Official Document System (ODS) with the website.
While noting the 26 per cent jump in 2004 of the number of pages viewed and the consistent increase in pages viewed across language sites, he said the report should have included a statistical breakdown of those numbers by official language and by section of the website rather than generalized percentages, for analysis and tracking purposes. He called on DPI to circulate such figures. He also requested data on which sections of the website were accessible to the visual and hearing impaired, and the status of the project to launch an inter-agency-wide site and search engine.
YURIY KHOMENKO (Ukraine) welcomed DPIs new strategic approach and supported the Departments focus on meeting the needs of its clients. He also welcomed the achievements of the website, saying that Russian language stories produced by the News Centre were finding their way into multiple media outlets. The News Centre and United Nations Radio maintained a good balance between international and local coverage.
He also supported efforts to create a more modern library system that could be accessed electronically. Underlining the important role of DPI in support of United Nations peacekeepers, he welcomed the commemoration of the International Day in their honour. He expressed confidence that DPI would continue to play a central role in drawing world attention to issues such as terrorism, conflict prevention, sustainable development, AIDS, and the environment, including the problem of Chernobyl. In closing, he expressed appreciation for the considerable progress made in DPIs reform and pledged Ukraines continued support for its work.
TAN YORK CHOR (Singapore) lauded DPIs strategic communications efforts, saying it had clearly mainstreamed public information operations and was moving in the right direction. The more than 2 billion visits to the United Nations website annually showed that the Organization was far from becoming irrelevant in the public eye and on the world stage. DPIs initiatives to expand its outreach to the public, institutions and civil society were commendable, as were its steps to form partnerships to build on activities and resources.
While DPI had made progress in raising the public profile of the United Nations, it must do more to address criticism of the Secretariats effectiveness and other negative critiques that had received wide media attention. The media was a powerful and popular image shaper. Bad news tended to receive more coverage and have a more lasting effect than good news. He encouraged DPI to continue its public information efforts and for Member States to work with the Department in that regard.
HAN SONG RYOL (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) said that the realization of DPIs information mission was not yet satisfactory. Information was often used for aggression by some countries that possessed sophisticated information technology against others.
Sovereignty of States must be respected, he said. Communications technologies should not be used to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. The United Nations information resources should guard against all kinds of information activities that were opposed to impartiality. In order to remedy the problem, the technology gap in the field of information should be erased. In addition, information activities in the United Nations should focus on sustainable development activities in developing countries.
HJALMAR HANNESSON (Iceland) said that DPI was a model department, succeeding in catering to its clients needs, responding to changes in the environment and technology, while maintaining traditional means of reaching a range of audiences. Welcoming the regionalization of UNICs as was done in Brussels, he expressed regret over financial limitations that hindered the rest of the rationalization plan.
He also welcomed the proposed increase of access to library information and the ODS, which was an important step towards an open and transparent process of governing the United Nations. Similarly, he was pleased to learn of the work of the UNCG in integrating all United Nations communications resources. Finally, he advocated the sharing of information and communications technology worldwide, and targeting information to achieve core United Nations objectives.
B.N. MALAKHOV (Russian Federation) lauded DPIs reorientation process, saying its new strategies and priorities were appropriate and its report on the subject illustrated that the measures adopted to implement those goals had already been successful. He supported close cooperation between DPI and the Secretariats functional divisions, particularly the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. DPIs steps to make the United Nations website multilingual were commendable and should be further pursued. The number of Russians accessing the United Nations News Centre and other parts of the Organizations website had increased threefold. Russian State radio was broadcasting United Nations radio programmes in Russian to some 40 million listeners.
Rationalization of the UNIC network should take into account the countries and regions concerned, as well as financial issues, he continued. In recent years, the UN Information Centre in Moscow had strengthened partnership links with other United Nations institutions in the country and had coordinated the Organizations outreach activities with the resident country coordinator. Noting that the Secretary-Generals report had applauded the Centres effectiveness in disseminating information to neighbouring nations where Russian was spoken, he supported the proposal to expand UNIC-Moscows regional role in the future.
DANIEL CARMON (Israel) said that DPI had the important duty of enlightening citizens of the world about the activities and ideals of the Organization. The power of information must be used wisely, however. He commended the Departments progress on the website, the library system and public communication. Those were steps towards realization of the immense promise of communications technology in improving the world.
He said he was also pleased by such initiatives as the Unlearning Intolerance seminar on anti-Semitism and the special session of the General Assembly on the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. He suggested that the session be used as an educational tool to keep the world from forgetting the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, he said, certain States were still seeking to further their political agendas through DPIs conferences, summits and reports, while allowing other States to be unwarrantedly singled out. The DPI should foster a flow of information free from politicization. In the Middle East situation, as elsewhere, credibility for the United Nations lay in truthful objectivity. He urged DPI and the international community to struggle for press freedom and against incitement and hatred from government-supported media.
EIICHI OSHIMA (Japan) said that contrary to many media reports, the United Nations was not obsolete. On the contrary, its significance and usefulness was growing stronger as the world faced new threats and challenges. Reform of the Organization was essential to meet these challenges. In light of the September review summit, it was incumbent upon DPI to publicize the need for organizational reform to the global public, promote the United Nations new role in maintaining international peace and security, and showcase its accomplishments. Improvements to the United Nations website had increased site usage. Those, and other DPI efforts to reform and improve public information strategies and activities, should be continued.
The UN Information Centre in Tokyo was among the list in the Secretary-Generals report of UNICs in high-cost, developed countries. Despite severe budgetary constraints, the Japanese Government had contributed as much as $350,000 this year to UNIC Tokyo, a 70 per cent increase since 2002, to ensure that the Centres operations did not absorb a large percentage of DPIs resources. UNIC Tokyo, the only Centre providing information in Japanese, was vital to raising the United Nations profile among the Japanese. The Japanese Government was working closely with the Centre to promote the Global Compact initiative and encourage Japanese companies to participate.
MOHAMED ALI SALEH ALNAJAR (Yemen), endorsing the statement of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, concurred that information was a key factor in the success of the United Nations. Through communication, harmony and mutual respect could be promoted and hatred rejected. To reach those objectives, DPI must be impartial, while reflecting the agenda of the United Nations.
He endorsed the general idea of rationalization of UNICs, through which the UNICs in the Arab world would be retained. The UNICs were very important in the region, since its people were sceptical of the Organization. The Sana UNIC was a particularly important regional centre. In addition, he supported parity for all official languages, along with training for journalists, which he said would help reduce the communications gap between developed and developing countries.
MUHAMMMAD MUHITH (Bangladesh) lauded the growing partnership between DPI and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in raising public awareness of the role of United Nations peacekeepers in the field and the need for their rapid and effective deployment. In that regard, the UN Information Centre in Dakar had been quick to convey pertinent information following attacks in February, which claimed the lives of nine peacekeepers from Bangladesh. He expressed hope for continued collaboration to broadcast success stories of United Nations peacekeeping around the world. The DPI had become more focused, its strategies better defined and more effective. More resources were needed for DPI to carry out its mandate.
The UNIC in Dhaka was a vital resource and tool for generating public interest and awareness of the United Nations, including the Millennium Development Goals. The Bangladesh Government had allocated substantial funds to support UNIC-Dakars operations. He commended DPIs efforts to maintain a balance between high-tech communications and traditional information tools such as radio, television and print materials, so as not cut off the flow of information for people with limited Internet access. United Nations libraries should indeed introduce more electronic services, but their traditional role of providing books, magazines and other print materials for consumption should be maintained.
ELMER CATO (Philippines), associating his statement with that of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that DPI had done everything it could to address negative publicity, given the resources it had. Now it should move forward by adopting more proactive measures, along with strategies to complete its reorientation. He expressed satisfaction at DPIs efforts to build partnerships with world media, its handling of the response to the tsunami disaster and its efforts to promote the Millennium Development Goals.
He concurred with the need for closer coordination between DPI and other entities of the United Nations, particularly the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. In regard to UNICs, he supported regional consolidation, if it was done in consultation with Member States and if additional resources were allocated to UNICs in the least developed countries. He supported multilingualism if done pragmatically, in view of resource constraints, and pointed also to the importance of local languages in developing countries.
Efforts to improve library services should take into account previous agreements, he said. In addition, links with educational institutions should be broadened. He suggested that DPI consider working with national education ministries on including the study of the United Nations in school curricula.
RUDOLF CHRISTEN (Switzerland) supported DPIs use of modern and interactive media combined with traditional media, saying that, if properly targeted, such information tools could achieve maximum impact. That strategy was important for DPI to effectively generate awareness of such major United Nations activities as financing for development and the millennium review summit in September. The DPI will indeed be able to show its full competence in covering these events. DPIs reorientation process launched in 2002, including rationalization of the UNIC network, should continue. The rationalization process must be more flexible, taking into account each regions circumstances and information needs. Local and regional media played an important role in shaping the United Nations image around the world, he said, stressing that information campaigns should be undertaken within reasonable physical priority of those media in order to be effective.
The restructuring of the United Nations library network was encouraging, he continued. Steps to make United Nations libraries more proactive in servicing users would indeed result in better dissemination in the public eye of United Nations functions and accomplishments. He commended the libraries efforts and plans to incorporate new digital technologies, train staff and increase services, saying such steps would indeed enable them to more effectively fulfil their functions.
JACQUELINE OUBIDA (Burkina Faso), aligning herself with the position of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that rationalization of UNICs in Europe had not resulted in the financial benefits for the UNIC system that had been anticipated. Since developing countries were deprived of many of the benefits of the technological revolution, UNICs were particularly important. They were especially crucial for the poorest sectors of the population.
She favoured a prudent approach to rationalization of the UNIC system, that is, waiting for an evaluation of rationalization in Europe. Reports thus far showed that further rationalization was impossible. To support UNICs they host, governments were allocating personnel and premises to UNICs because of the paramount role they played. The UNIC in Burkina Faso played a particularly important regional role, in a region that had great concerns in development. The Ouagadougou Centre also had an important role in supporting UN actions in such crises as that in the Côte dIvoire. The Government had provided the Centre with free premises and access to broadcast facilities. The Centre deserved strengthening in terms of both financing and staffing.
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