Department Harnessing News Platforms, Worldwide Information Network to Tell Compelling United Nations Story, Acting Head Tells Committee on Information

PI/2199
24 April 2017
Thirty-ninth Session, 1st Meeting (PM)

Department Harnessing News Platforms, Worldwide Information Network to Tell Compelling United Nations Story, Acting Head Tells Committee on Information

Delegates Stress Need for Parity among All Official Languages, Importance of Maintaining Use of Radio, Other Traditional Media

The Department of Public Information was harnessing its multilingual news platforms, worldwide network of information centres and outreach efforts to communicate compelling United Nations stories to a global public increasingly accessing news through tablets and mobile platforms, its Acting Head told the Committee on Information today.

Maher Nasser, Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Head of the Department of Public Information, declared:  “We in [the Department] are already implementing changes to ensure that United Nations communications today are relevant, strategic and accessible in languages that people can understand and on platforms they can reach.”

Opening the Committee’s thirty-ninth session, he said the Department was upgrading its tools and platforms to reach people around the world, following the Secretary-General’s call to reform the United Nations communication strategy.  On the social media front, United Nations accounts had expanded exponentially in all six United Nations official languages, as well as in Kiswahili and Portuguese.  News products had become more multimedia oriented, and UN News would soon unveil its integrated web platforms in all the different languages, and with stories incorporating an array of digital content, he said.

Partnerships had also expanded, to 172 television partners and more than 900 radio associates, he continued.  Air Canada and Cathay Pacific were two of several airlines featuring United Nations multimedia materials on their flights, while the world’s biggest advertising, marketing and public relations firms had joined the “Common Ground” initiative to promote the Sustainable Development Goals.  On the strategic communications front, the Secretary-General had tasked the Department with leading strategic communications and outreach to support his new approach to preventing, reporting and responding to appalling crimes of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by United Nations personnel, he said.  To that end, the Department — in cooperation with the Office of the Special Coordinator, and the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support — was developing a system-wide plan to educate the public, enhance transparency in reporting and put procedures in place to communicate allegations as they came to light.

Incoming Committee Chair Jan Kickert (Austria) said that in a time of viral misinformation and “fake news”, effective public information was vital for realizing peace and security, human rights, justice and sustainable development.  “The United Nations cannot achieve the purposes for which it has been created unless the peoples of the world are fully informed of its aims and activities,” he asserted.

In the ensuing general debate, delegates called for the United Nations to better connect with the global public.  While several speakers cited successful campaigns around the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, others urged the Department to add decolonization issues to that list.

As in years past, the question of multilingualism was a key priority for many delegations.  Ecuador’s representative, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, urged a narrowing of the gap among the websites of the six official United Nations languages and requested that the Organization’s daily press releases be published in all six official languages.

Peru’s representative, speaking for the Group of Friends of Spanish, also pointed to the disparity between English and the five other official languages, calling for a progressive rethinking to “overcome the inertia of the lingua franca”.

Burkina Faso’s representative, speaking for the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, pointed out that the group was present on five continents and well represented within both developed and developing countries.  Such diversity “should not be glossed over” because it brought countries together, he said, declaring:  “Multilingualism is but a corollary of multilateralism.”

Senegal’s representative declared:  “Radio must keep its place at the UN,” noting that most people in developing countries were excluded from modern information and communications technologies.  Additionally, the United Nations message must be transmitted in the greatest possible number of languages if it was to be better understood, he stressed.

Several other speakers underlined the need to maintain traditional media such as television, radio and print in order to reach large populations without access to the Internet.  El Salvador’s representative, speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), expressed concern that electronic communications had widened the digital divide between developed and developing countries.

In other business today, the Committee elected, by acclamation, Jakub Chmielewski, Hajime Kishimori and Carla Rivera as Vice-Chairs for 2017 and 2018, with Mr. Kishimori also elected Rapporteur.  The Committee also adopted its work programme for its thirty-ninth session.

Other speakers today were representatives of Argentina, Costa Rica, Algeria, Iran and Japan, as well as the European Union.

Also delivering remarks was the outgoing Committee Chair.

The Committee on Information will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 April, to continue its thirty-ninth session.

Opening Remarks

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), outgoing Chair of the Committee, said the Department of Public Information continued to serve as the “clear and effective voice” of the United Nations.  There had been tremendous growth in such areas as social media in recent years, he said, while noting also the continuing importance of traditional media in attracting the widest possible public support.  Encouraging the Committee to continue to apply the principle of consensus in its deliberations and decision-making, he also emphasized the importance of consistent national positions, saying political support expressed in one committee should be supported financially in others.  He called for “consistency and clarity in thought and purpose” as the Committee continued its work.

JAN KICKERT (Austria), incoming Chair, outlined the Committee’s agenda for the next two weeks, noting that the public information provided by the Department addressed issues ranging from political issues to security matters to human rights, economic and social questions, international law, and institutional, administrative and budgetary issues of the Organization itself.  They all found expression in various forms, such as news output, websites, promotional campaigns, collaborations with partners in Government, civil society and the private sector, flagship magazines and research tools of the United Nations.  Those activities — conveyed via radio, Internet, print, photography, video and audio or in multimedia format — “are meant for the peoples whom we serve”, he said, noting that the Department’s audiences ranged from the global public to academics to youth, students, women, journalists, Government officials, citizens, refugees and host communities, as well as any combination thereof.

He went on to state that the Department’s work could be as ephemeral as press releases and social media messages meant for quick impact, or as long-lived as reference materials intended to inform generations to come about the accomplishments of the United Nations and areas in which it had not yet succeeded.  Meanwhile, United Nations information centres maximized the local effect of global campaigns and the Organization’s principal activities and concerns.  Noting that the 2017 observance of the annual World Press Freedom Day would fall during the Committee’s main session, he said that although the 4 May commemoration was not on its agenda, the Day would nevertheless provide an opportunity to celebrate and assess the state of the fundamental principles of press freedom around the world, defend media against attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty.  Indeed, the Department had been established 71 years ago in the knowledge that the “United Nations cannot achieve the purposes for which it has been created unless the peoples of the world are fully informed of its aims and activities”.  In a time of viral misinformation and so-called “fake news”, effective public information was even more important for realizing peace and security, human rights, justice and sustainable development, he said, pledging to work with the Committee towards a productive consensus that would provide the Department with the policy and activity guidance that was both expected and required going forward.

MAHER NASSER, Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Head of the Department of Public Information, said that, following the Secretary-General’s call for reform of the United Nations communication strategy, the Department was upgrading its tools and platforms to reach people around the world.  “We in [the Department] are already implementing changes to ensure that United Nations communications today are relevant, strategic and accessible in languages that people can understand and on platforms they can reach.”  Indeed, the Department was working to harness all its tools — multilingual news platforms, United Nations information centres and outreach partners — to ensure that more content was available on tablets and on mobile and social platforms where people were increasingly spending their time.

On the social media front, he said the Department had worked with the Secretary-General to launch his Twitter account, the first such account for a Secretary-General.  More broadly, it was strengthening the strategic direction of its multilingual social media capacity through improved planning of multilingual content linked to communications priorities.  United Nations accounts had expanded in all six United Nations official languages, as well as in Kiswahili and Portuguese, he said.  Over the last year, views on the United Nations Russian YouTube channel had increased by 275 per cent, while the French Twitter account had reached 3 million impressions in three months — compared to 320,000 during the same period in 2016 — and Chinese news coverage of the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum had attracted more than 7 million views on the Weibo and Miaopai platforms.

News products had also become more multimedia oriented, with teams sharing material across eight languages and in all formats, he said.  To meet changing consumer needs — and to make a compelling case for the value of the United Nations — the Department was producing shorter news stories in audio and video formats, he said, adding that UN News would soon unveil its new integrated web platforms in all the different languages, with stories incorporating an array of digital content.  More than 150 websites were already fully multilingual and accessible to persons with disabilities, he added.  Partnerships had also expanded to 172 television partners in 70 countries, as well as more than 900 radio partners in 137 countries.  Air Canada and Cathay Pacific were just some of the airlines featuring the Department’s multimedia materials during their flights, while the world’s biggest advertising, marketing and public relations conglomerates had joined the “Common Ground” initiative to promote implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On the strategic communications front, he said that following the 2016 Summit on refugees and migrants, the Department now supported the new Special Representative for International Migration and led the “Together” initiative endorsed last September to promote the social inclusion of those groups.  The Secretary-General had tasked the Department with leading strategic communications and outreach to support his new approach to preventing, reporting and responding to “appalling” crimes of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by United Nations personnel.  To that end, the Department, alongside the Office of the Special Coordinator, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support, was developing a system-wide communications plan to support the Secretary-General’s strategy.

He went on to state that a related action plan would educate the public, as well as troop- and police-contributing countries, host communities, United Nations staff and external partners on the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse.  It would also enhance transparency in reporting by using communications platforms and updates, and put procedures in place to communicate credible allegations as they came to light.  The Department was also working with peacekeeping missions to strengthen communications at the local level, having produced content on sexual exploitation and abuse in all six official languages.  It looked forward to working with the victims’ rights advocate, once appointed.

With the 2030 for Sustainable Development at the heart of its efforts, the Department would expand awareness of that framework at the first-ever High-level Ocean Conference, to be held at Headquarters in June, he continued.  In the lead-up, it would lead system-wide communications, with information centres co-organizing or supporting projects on the marine environment.  For the event itself, the Department would provide live and archived webcasting of the gathering in the six official United Nations languages.  Another milestone event would be the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, to be held at Headquarters in July, and for which the Department would draw attention to States presenting voluntary national reviews.

Turning to information products, he recalled that the Secretary-General had made clear that the prevention of crises must be the top priority.  As such, recent prevention forums organized by the United Nations Academic Impact initiative highlighted educational strategies for preventing conflict.  For the tenth anniversary of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a United Nations WebTV feature on the African roots of Cuba’s musical traditions had drawn more than 46,000 views on Instagram within 24 hours, he noted.  Africa Renewal had issued a special edition on youth, with a smartphone app showcasing the magazine’s content in two languages, he added.

He went on to state that plans were in place to translate the new edition of Basic Facts about the United Nations into Arabic, while the Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s efforts to share information had been amplified by the 360 United Nations depository libraries in 134 countries.  The United Nations iLibrary allowed anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection to search and share the Organization’s publications, he added.  He reported, however, that the proposed merging of the publishing activities of the Departments of Public Information and General Assembly and Conference Management, mentioned in paragraph 18 of the 2016 Committee on Information resolution, had proven impractical.  As encouraged in paragraph 95, UN Chronicle magazine was available online in all six official United Nations languages, he said.

Statements

HORACIO SEVILLA BORJA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the importance of the Department’s work could not be stressed enough amid calls for the United Nations to better connect with the global public.  Welcoming its communications campaigns around the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, he encouraged efforts to promote key international decisions and agreements, including those relating to decolonization.  While progress had been made on the question of multilingualism, there was need to narrow the language gap among the official United Nations websites as a matter of priority, he emphasized.

Calling for a strategy that would ensure delivery of daily press releases in all six official languages, he said the Group supported United Nations information centres disseminating information in local languages, and encouraged the Department to strengthen their staff and equipment.  While recognizing the importance of social media, he urged continuing use of traditional media, including television, radio and print.  Cautioning that information and communications technologies risked abuse, he deplored the dissemination of distorted information, stressing that such technologies must be compatible with the United Nations Charter.  He commended the annual training programme for Palestinian journalists, and requested that the Department maximize the benefits from the Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalists Fellowship Programme.  He also encouraged promotion of the United Nations Academic Impact initiative.

GERTON VAN DEN AKKER, European Union delegation, commended the Department’s efforts to maintain the momentum of its earlier achievements, such as its efforts to support the 2030 Agenda and Paris Conference.  There had been myriad public-diplomacy activities, from the campaign on migrants and refugees to the social media event on sustainable development and peace and stability in Africa, he recalled, while also commending communications and training initiatives on sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions.  Effective communication with all stakeholders, including civil society, was critical to implementing mandates, he said, emphasizing also the vital importance of developing strategic alliances with academia, the private sector and cultural institutions, which could serve as multipliers of the United Nations message.

Multilingualism also remained a priority, he continued, welcoming the Secretariat’s efforts to mainstream multilingualism into all its information and communications activities.  That would increase accountability, transparency, ownership, and sustainability.  On freedom of expression and opinion, he said that to attack journalists and media workers was to attack the cornerstones of all societies.  Underlining that all citizens had a right to live freely, whatever their opinions or beliefs, and that they should be free to seek, receive and act on information from any media, he said it was up to the United Nations to safeguard those rights and ensure the protection of all from violence based on ethnic or religious grounds.  The European Union welcomed efforts to promote press freedom, including the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, he said.

RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said the main goal of disseminating information must be the promotion of peace, cooperation and solidarity among peoples.  The Department could help to bring about a better understanding of sustainable development, decolonization, the new Urban Agenda, climate change and poverty eradication.  Further emphasizing the important work of the Committee on Information, he said its efforts were essential in establishing a more just global communications order.  While commending the limitless potential of electronic communications in distributing information, he expressed concern that it had also increased the digital divide between developed and developing countries.

He went on to underline that traditional means of news dissemination such as radio, television and print media must remain the main way to distribute information in developing countries.  Noting the role of United Nations information centres in disseminating information around the world, he said the CELAC would welcome the strengthening of support for their work, as well as an increasing role for the centres.  While information and communication technologies were important in promoting peace, development, social inclusion and economic growth, any use of such technologies against any Member State would be in violation of international law, he stressed.  As for multilingualism, he said it was essential to disseminate information in as many languages as possible, including Portuguese and indigenous languages, expressing concern that United Nations press releases were still not published in all official languages.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the grouping’s 20 Spanish-speaking countries were working to defend and promote multilingualism as a core value of the United Nations.  Emphasizing the language’s importance as the second-most widely spoken in the world and the second-most widely used on United Nations websites and other products, he said the growing interest of Spanish-speaking peoples in the work of the United Nations required the Organization to step up its efforts to respond.

Pointing to the continuing disparity between English and the other five official United Nations languages, he urged a “progressive rethinking” of the Organization’s working methods to “overcome the inertia of the lingua franca”.  The volume and quality of United Nations work should be the same in all languages, he stressed, calling also for the disaggregation of data by language and the streamlining of the United Nations information centres network on a case-by-case-basis.  In addition, the Organization’s daily press releases should be published in all six of its official languages, based on “creative use of resources”, as mandated by the General Assembly, he said.

YEMDAOGO ERIC TIARE (Burkina Faso), speaking on behalf of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said that information and communication were key pillars of the United Nations, given the Organization’s universal scope.  Recalling that la Francophonie had first launched a multilingualism initiative in the General Assembly during the 1990s, he emphasized that “multilingualism is but a corollary of multilateralism”, saying there was no better forum than the United Nations to demonstrate that link.

He went on to emphasize that La Francophonie — present on five continents and represented in both developed and developing countries — had a long tradition of celebrating diversity, he said, adding that such diversity “should not be glossed over” because it brought countries together.  In that regard, he emphasized the importance of pursuing linguistic parity in the Organization’s work and using local languages whenever possible.  While modern media offered endless opportunities to expand the Organization’s scope and reach, traditional media must also continue to be used in order to ensure no one was left behind, he said.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, urged the Department to continue to strengthen their structure in terms of both staffing and equipment.  Calling for the full integration of multilingualism into all activities of the United Nations, he urged the Department to move away from a “culture of translation” and towards creating content in all languages, taking into account their specificities from the outset.  With 29 per cent of all website users, Spanish speakers were the second-largest user group, he said, pointing out that Spanish social networks had also enjoyed significant growth in recent years.

In that regard, he expressed concern about the disparities in the use of the six official languages on United Nations websites, noting that not all materials were currently available in all languages.  Linguistic parity also required that daily press releases be made available in all six official languages, he said, pointing out that they were presently only published in two.  Urging the Department to step up its efforts in that regard, he went on to express concern that budgetary issues had been raised in that regard, recalling that the General Assembly had mandated that the current budget be equally distributed among all languages.

ROLANDO CASTRO CORDOBA (Costa Rica), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, noted with interest the Department’s various initiatives to empower young people and give them a voice.  He also pointed out that multilingualism was inherent to the United Nations, given its very nature, and called for “real multilingualism”, broadcasting webcast meetings and delivering news products and daily press releases, in particular, in all six official languages.  Despite the educational and socioeconomic disadvantages faced by many young people around the world, information and communications technology had the potential to generate new possibilities for empowering and including them, he said, noting that the Internet had become a “definitive tool” for drawing people closer together.

MOHAMMED BESSEDIK (Algeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, expressed support for the Department’s proposed strategic framework for the period 2018-2019, its coverage of events relating to the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and its publicizing of the aims and priorities of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  He called upon the Department to further educate its global audience about the General Assembly’s role in the “selection and election” — “not selection and appointment” — of the Secretary-General, so that the recommendation contained in Security Council resolution 2311 (2016) would not be seen as the end of the selection procedure.  More broadly, the Department should work to deepen public understanding of the Assembly’s role, he said, expressing concern over the potential for politicizing public information, as well as possible inappropriate use of information and communications technology to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States and destabilize countries and regions.  Calling for linguistic parity, he said that his delegation continued to observe discrepancies in United Nations press releases particularly in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).

ES’HAGH ALHABIB (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, emphasized the importance of the Department remaining the voice of the United Nations.  It had a critical role in disseminating information about Security Council reform, poverty eradication, dialogue among different peoples, peacekeeping, decolonization and combating terrorism.  Persistent modern dangers, spurred by violence, intolerance and extremism, must be met by the United Nations by all possible means, he said, emphasizing the Department’s role in raising awareness at all levels about the negative consequences of occupation, particularly in the Gaza Strip.  In that regard, he urged the Department to spare no efforts to help the Palestinian people.  Highlighting various initiatives and scholarship programmes offered by the Department, he said it would be well served by inviting more institutions of higher education, especially from developing countries, to participate in and contribute to the goals of the United Nations.

HIROYUKI MASE (Japan) said that without the Department’s instrumental work, the United Nations would be unable to garner the international support necessary to carry out its activities.  He emphasized the important role of United Nations information centres around the world, particularly the one in Tokyo, in disseminating information to the Japanese public, and welcomed the annual ceremony to mark the International Day of Peace, celebrated in the Japanese Garden at Headquarters.  He also recalled the many young children reading “The Story of the UN Peace Bell” aloud and learning about its history.  Peace could not be achieved solely by the Security Council, he said, adding that it could only be realized through the efforts of all peace-loving individuals around the world.  “Art and culture may not solve all the world’s conflicts, but they do inspire us to both envision and strive for peace,” he added.

ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal) emphasized that radio was the most efficient means to communicate political, economic, social and cultural information for countries of the global South, emphasizing that “radio must keep its place at the UN”, alongside television and the possibilities offered by the web.  Most people in developing countries remained excluded from information and communications technology and it was crucial that the United Nations take the appropriate measures to bridge that gap.  Attention must be paid to Africa’s priority needs in formulating effective information policies, he said.  Information centres disseminated information in close cooperation with Governments, civil societies, educators and journalists, and their success depended on the quality and diversity of the products they offered.  Recalling that Senegal had provided free facilities for the Dakar centre, he said that if the United Nations message was to be better understood, it must be transmitted in the greatest number of languages possible.  He welcomed efforts to improve multilingualism, urging the Department to ensure respect for all official languages.

For information media. Not an official record.