Expressing concern about widening global inequality and deepening divides between peoples, speakers addressing the Committee on Information today urged the Department of Public Information to position itself as a critical resource for — and advocate of — the world’s most marginalized communities, as the 115‑member body concluded its general debate.
“Our effort to tell this story even more compellingly, and to shape the narrative still more effectively, informs our efforts to effect meaningful changes in the Department’s conduct of its responsibilities,” said Alison Smale, Under‑Secretary‑General for Global Communications, in closing remarks.
Noting that equality and gender parity would be both goals in themselves as well as intrinsic principles in the Department’s reform and future working methods, she said efforts would continue — despite budgetary limitations — to pursue the ideal of multilingualism, which must extend beyond a finite set of languages. She also spotlighted efforts to take the linguistic dimension into account in the Department’s social media work, and to use its more precise analytics dashboard to identify ways to better reach diverse audiences.
Delegates spotlighted the special needs of refugees, migrants and displaced persons, as well as people living under colonial occupation and in extreme poverty, among other groups. Several speakers emphasized that those communities often lacked access to information and communications technology, such as the Internet and social media, and risked being left behind. Others urged the Department — the United Nations main communications organ — to reach out to marginalized groups through appropriate platforms and in a wide array of languages, while also amplifying their voices across a global media landscape that too often overlooked them.
The representative of Cuba, for one, voiced concern that only an estimated 2.7 billion of the world’s 7 billion people were currently Internet users, while others remained excluded from the vast resources available online. “Unequal access to these technologies increases the digital divide between developed countries in the North and underdeveloped countries in the South,” she said, warning that would only serve to deepen inequality and the lack of social justice around the globe. It was “derisory” to think that millions of people living in extreme poverty could even consider accessing new technologies. The newly launched process to reform the Department should aim to promote a new, more equitable and just world information and communications order, she stressed.
Brazil’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese‑speaking Countries, also underlined the continued importance of traditional media platforms. Agreeing that developing countries’ access to the Internet remained limited, he said that, in contrast, radio was available to 75 per cent of all households in those countries. He also urged the Department to continue to disseminate the United Nations ideals in as many languages as possible, taking into consideration the linguistic diversity among countries. He voiced particular support for United Nations News Portuguese, which reached the third‑largest audience of the news programme’s eight languages.
Liberia’s representative was one of several speakers recounting his country’s own challenges in accessing digital content in today’s rapidly evolving media sphere. While digital media was taking over the communications sector, use of traditional media, especially radio, remained high, and was often the only means available in rural areas of developing countries. Noting that Liberians had learned much about the United Nations role in the country’s peace process through radio broadcasts produced by the recently concluded United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), he encouraged the Department to build partnerships with national broadcasters, especially through its global network of information centres.
Several speakers, including the representative of Bangladesh, spotlighted the plight of the world’s most excluded, persecuted minorities, including the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and the 1 million that had fled across the border into his country. The Department must remain engaged with the crisis, even when the issue “did not find its place in international headlines”. Noting that the Security Council had recently visited Bangladesh and Myanmar to understand the situation, he said the Department had a role to play in amplifying the voice of Rohingya in realizing their aspirations.
Another community to which several speakers drew attention was the Palestinian people, with some delegates underscoring the special need for outreach to populations living under foreign occupation. The representative of the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, for her part, voiced appreciation to the Department for its Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, its training programme for Palestinian journalists and its permanent exhibit on the question of Palestine. Condemning all attacks on journalists — including the killing by Israeli soldiers of reporters wearing clearly marked press jackets during a recent protest in the Gaza Strip — she said the 3 May celebration of World Press Freedom Day was an opportunity to salute journalists for their courage and the risks they took to convey the truth to people everywhere.
Israel’s representative, however, expressed serious concern about inaccurate and biased information emanating from the Special Information Programme, which perpetuated a misleading narrative about the situation in the Middle East under the United Nations banner. Strongly condemning the Holocaust‑denying, anti‑Semitic content of a speech delivered on 1 May by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — which had been broadcast live on television — he warned against one‑sided, biased projects that featured only participants and speakers aligned with the Palestinian cause. “These activities do nothing to help end the hostility and hatred,” he stressed, adding that they also undermined the United Nations integrity, impartiality and credibility.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Japan, Pakistan, Costa Rica, Armenia, India, Iran, Jamaica, Paraguay and South Africa, as well as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.
Speaking in exercise of right of reply were the representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel.
YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) expressed support for efforts to reform the Department of Public Information, including to change its name to the Department of Global Communications, which he said would be more than cosmetic. It would require a reallocation of responsibilities, and changes would be implemented in a cost‑neutral manner. Existing resources, such as those from the United Nations information centres and at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, should be reviewed for further utilization. Partnerships with outside stakeholders should be further explored, and United Nations operations and information should be aligned. Spotlighting the work of the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo, which also functioned as the Organization’s Resident Coordinator in Japan, he said its projects included collaboration with one of Japan’s largest entertainment industries to spotlight the Sustainable Development Goals at comedy shows and the Okinawa International Film festival. He also drew attention to the important work of the Department’s Academic Impact unit, which worked to align institutions of higher education with the United Nations, and to fruitful partnerships exemplified by the work of its News and Media Division. Among other things, Japan was currently collaborating with the Department on such activities as the “Peace Is…” initiative launched in 2017.
ANAYANSI RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that despite the Department’s important work, “there is still a long way to go”. An estimated 2.7 billion people worldwide were Internet users, but others remained excluded from the vast resources available online. “Unequal access to these technologies increases the digital divide between developed countries in the North and underdeveloped countries in the South,” she said, warning that would only serve to deepen inequality and the lack of social justice around the globe. Urging the international community to address the scourges of hunger, poverty, and lack of opportunity more effectively and decisively, she described it as “derisory” to think that millions of people living in extreme poverty could even consider accessing new technologies. Underlining the importance of multilingualism and parity in the United Nations six official languages, she expressed concern that daily press releases remained unavailable in all languages, despite repeated General Assembly resolutions to that effect. Emphasizing that the use of information and communications technology must always be consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law, she voiced concern about the United States continued radio and television aggression against Cuba. Welcoming efforts to reform the Department, she stressed that the Committee must play an important role in that process, which should aim to promote the establishment of a new, more equitable and just world information and communications order.
MASOOD ANWAR (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said large movements of refugees and migrants trying to escape conflict and strife had rightly engaged the attention of and elicited the deep concern of the international community. However, situations of protracted refugee presence — where persons remained displaced for decades — must not be forgotten. Recalling that Pakistan had hosted millions of Afghan refugees for more than 40 years, he urged the Department to focus on such situations, also drawing attention to his country’s renaissance in music, art and film. Young Pakistanis were breaking stereotypes, and society now reflected modernity and vibrancy rooted in the country’s ancient civilizational roots. As Pakistan was one of the main troop‑contributing countries to United Nations peacekeeping operations, he said it was working with other contributors on norm‑building discussions — including on the reform of that key United Nations enterprise — and urged the Department to bolster its efforts to support that project. In addition, he asked it to further highlight situations of grave violations of human rights, especially those committed against the Rohingya community fleeing Myanmar, the people in Indian‑occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the Palestinian people.
ROLANDO CASTRO CÓRDOBA (Costa Rica), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, welcomed the creation of a Sustainable Development Goals media zone during the Assembly’s seventy‑second session. Costa Rica was exploring new alliances with Governments, civil society, media, educational institutions and information centres. It was of great importance that there were initiatives to empower young people, notably the Model United Nations programme, in which some 12,000 had participated. He welcomed the Department’s integrated news platform, where text, photos and videos could be published, which allowed news to be disseminated as fast as possible. Stressing the importance of multilingualism, and insisting it be present in all organizational flows, he said webcast was very important to be disseminated in the six official languages during the United Nations most relevant meetings. Archive meetings must also be available in languages. He regretted press releases were not published in Spanish, and said there was a long way to go before achieving linguistic parity. He recommended that the Department hold consultations with Member States on proposed reforms.
TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, saw merit in some of the Department’s reforms, notably the United Nations News app. He underscored the importance of consulting with Member States in facilitating the reform process. On the humanitarian front, Bangladesh hosted 1 million Rohingya refugees, and he urged the Department to remain engaged with the crisis, even when the issue “did not find its place in international headlines”. Noting that the Security Council had recently visited Bangladesh and Myanmar to understand the situation, he said the Department had a role to play in amplifying the voice of Rohingya in realizing their aspirations. In addition, the Department could play a role in explaining the notion of “sustaining peace” and its links with sustainable development. Voicing concern over the safety of peacekeepers, he urged the Department to continue its work to highlight their contributions to the people they served, as well as to continue raising awareness about the concerns of countries graduating from the least developed country category. Expressing support for suggestions to advance multilingualism, he said that on the issue of cybersecurity, he endorsed the relevant proposals and flagged the importance of highlighting the work of United Nations entities in that regard, notably the Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Counter‑Terrorism Executive Directorate.
YARON WAX (Israel) said accurate information was crucial to understanding global issues and historic events. Recalling that Nazi soldiers had attempted to burn documents providing evidence of their unspeakable crimes, he said a generation of survivors had nevertheless preserved their own memories, which were now carried on through the Department’s Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme. Strongly condemning the Holocaust‑denying, anti‑Semitic content of the speech delivered yesterday by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — which had been broadcast live on television, and in which Mr. Abbas had blamed Jews for their own persecution — he said national leadership driven by such an ideology was unacceptable and could not be tolerated. Also expressing concern that some of the Department’s information — especially that emanating from its Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine — was neither accurate not unbiased, he said that programme continued to offer a misleading narrative about the situation in the Middle East, circulated under the banner of the United Nations. Related conferences, debates and panels held throughout the year were also one‑sided, with the majority of speakers aligned with the Palestinian cause. “These activities do nothing to help end the hostility and hatred,” he said, warning that they also undermined the United Nations integrity, impartiality and credibility.
RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese‑speaking Countries, encouraged the Department to continue to disseminate the United Nations ideals in as many languages as possible, taking into consideration the linguistic diversity among countries. He advocated continued use of traditional communication means, as well as Internet‑based media. It was important to bear in mind that developing countries’ access to the Internet was still limited, while radio was available to 75 per cent of all households in those countries. It was fundamental that traditional media — and radio broadcasting in particular — continue to receive special attention in strategic planning. Voicing support for United Nations News Portuguese, which reached the third‑largest audience of the eight languages of UN News, he also welcomed that social media activities had been enhanced and said they must also be produced in eight languages. He reiterated support for the United Nations information centres, particularly in Rio de Janeiro and Brussels, and expected that Portuguese‑speaking Africa could soon count on a centre in Luanda. He also welcomed communication campaigns organized around the Paris Agreement on climate change and the International Decade for the People of African Descent.
SOFYA SIMONYAN (Armenia) said linguistic and cultural diversity helped to foster pluralistic, equitable, open and inclusive societies. United Nations information centres played a key role in that regard and she supported efforts to bolster their work, notably in developing countries. The Department should improve the quality and broaden the scope of both its digital and traditional media materials, she said, welcoming the campaign to celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Also welcoming the call by the Special Rapporteur on the prevention of genocide for universal ratification of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, she urged the Department to organize commemorative activities and said Armenia had continuously supported efforts to buttress the support for the Convention. It would hold a third global forum on the prevention of genocide. Armenia also would host the next summit of La Francophonie on 11‑12 October, titled “Living Together”, which would reflect on the aspirations of member countries. She said Azerbaijan had disseminated lies about the issue of Nagorno‑Karabakh, which was an affront to the notion of free speech. That country’s record on human rights was well documented: freedom of the press was routinely and systematically violated, while authorities continued to detain journalists and bloggers. Military aggression was accompanied by the murder of civilians.
SURYANARAYAN SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) rejected attempts by some speakers to deliver comments that were totally extraneous to the work of the Committee. Commending the Department for its efforts to bring the work of the United Nations closer to the peoples of the world, he nevertheless voiced concern that declining resources had constrained its ability to carry out mandated tasks, especially in non‑official languages. The Department therefore need to explore innovative ways to raise resources, beyond regular budgetary allocations, including through voluntary contributions. Welcoming its continued emphasis on campaigns to promote the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change issues, he said the creation of media zones — aimed at sparking conversations about sustainable development — and the promotion of dedicated social media accounts were positive initiatives. The Department’s close cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was also critical, he said, drawing attention to the “Service and Sacrifice” campaign which focused on individual countries and the contributions of their peacekeepers. Also welcoming a partnership to build a redesigned peacekeeping website with an improved user experience, he expressed support for the Department’s efforts to promote counter‑terrorism efforts, including the production of a documentary titled “Surviving Terrorism: Victims’ Voices”, which spotlighted the survivors of the 2011 terror attack in Norway.
MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, attached great importance to the Department’s work. While information and communications technologies were useful for connecting people of different faiths and cultures, there was a risk of abuse, and his Government rejected such behaviour from a belief that their use should be in line with the Charter, in particular the principles of sovereignty and non‑interference in internal State affairs. It was of paramount importance to provide people with accurate and factual information about the causes of problems and help them have a clear picture of what was happening. He encouraged the Department to continue to promote international decisions and agreements, and to focus on issues with direct impacts on global peace and security, such as occupation, violence, extremism, poverty eradication, climate change and terrorism. He commended the Department for its Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, including the training for Palestinian journalists. Strengthening of United Nations information centres should be on the agenda. He noted that the United Nations Academic Impact had developed relationships with 25 Iranian universities.
DIEDRE NICHOLE MILLS (Jamaica) said the United Nations must continue to be seen as a source of objective and credible information. Voicing support for efforts aimed at enabling a more strategic and integrated communications platform, she said that must be done in a manner that recognized disparities within and across regions between traditional and new media platforms. Also expressing support for the Department’s focus on young people, and for the work carried out by its information centres around the globe, she encouraged further work in that regard, emphasizing that such centres as the one located in Trinidad and Tobago provided value for both regions and subregions. In addition, she voiced support for the Department’s Remember Slavery programme.
ANA SOLEDAD SANDOVAL ESPÍNOLA (Paraguay), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish, reiterated the importance of producing objective information on global issues, such as poverty eradication, climate change and disarmament. It was fundamental that communications activities adapt to new information and communications technology without losing sight of the digital divide between developed and developing countries, as well as within countries. It was important to conserve traditional media, while also identifying the most appropriate platforms for transmitting messages. Multilingualism was an essential question, she said, noting that Spanish and Guarani were officially used in her country. Such parity was linked to respect for cultural diversity. She recommended that the Department step up its work to produce communications in various languages, including indigenous ones, stressing that any proposed reforms be communicated to Member States in enough time for them to offer their views. She reiterated Paraguay’s support for the Department.
ISRAEL CHOKO DAVIES (Liberia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the Department’s work was more crucial today than ever amid a surge in media. He welcomed thematic campaigns on the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, human rights and peacekeeping, and that the Department was striving to keep pace with a varying field of information. Multilingualism was a “main promoter of unity” and international understanding, as well as a core United Nations value, he said, urging the Department to address the linguistic disparity in its public information materials. Liberia had difficulty accessing full videos of official meetings and noted that excerpts of speeches by United Nations officials had been posted, rather than full videos. While digital media was taking over the communications sector, use of traditional media, especially radio, was high and often the only means available in rural areas of developing countries, he said, noting that Liberians had learned more about the United Nations role in the country’s peace process through radio broadcasts of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and encouraging the Department to build partnerships with national broadcasters, especially through its information centres.
OYAMA MGOBOZI (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country worked with the Department in the global promotion of Nelson Mandela International Day, dedicated to the late leader’s service to humanity and the values he espoused, notably conflict resolution, race relations and the promotion and protection of human rights. He welcomed the important role of the United Nations information services in highlighting issues related to peace and security, sustainable development and climate change, among other issues. He welcomed the revitalized campaign titled, “Sustainable Development Goals: 17 Goals to transform our world”, as well as that around the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a developing country, South Africa attached great importance to the United Nations information centres and commended them for their translation of the Goals into 61 languages. He agreed on the importance of integrating modern technologies into the dissemination of information, mindful that many parts of the world lacked access to the same technologies.
SAHAR SALEM, observer for the State of Palestine, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the Department’s dissemination of diverse, human‑centred content on such issues as the 2030 Agenda, the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the global compacts on migration and refugees. She also expressed appreciation for the efforts of its Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, which effectively and objectively contributed to raising international awareness of the issue in a manner that was consistent with international law and United Nations resolutions. The International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East provided an opportunity for civil society, academia and others to engage in dialogue with policymakers and discuss prospects for peace in the region. The Department also ran a valuable training programme for Palestinian journalists and a permanent exhibit on the Question of Palestine. Condemning all attacks on journalists — including the killing of reporters Yasser Murtaja and Ahmad Abu Hussein, who were wearing clearly marked press jackets, by Israeli soldiers during the recent Great March of Return protest in the Gaza Strip — he said the celebration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May was an opportunity to salute journalists for their courage and the risks they took to convey the truth to people everywhere.
NARJES SAIDANE, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, associating herself with the concerns raised by the Group of Friends of Spanish and the Community of Portuguese‑speaking Countries, said multilingualism should be at the heart of the Department’s work. Her organization’s calls for multilingualism converged with those overall reform objectives, which sought to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness and build confidence in the United Nations among the countries of the world. Also welcoming the reform vision presented by Under‑Secretary‑General Alison Smale, she stressed that “the stakes are high”, as the Department’s work could contribute to preserving multilateralism as well as the values and credibility of the United Nations. Expressing concern about the lack of production of content in French and other official languages of the Organization, she said translation from English should not be seen as a substitute for the currently almost non‑existent use of other languages. “We all know that language is a way to understand the world,” she said, underlining that the United Nations messages must be spread in languages other than English. She also voiced concern about messages disseminated through social media, where — on such platforms as Twitter — no United Nations communications were delivered in languages other than English. Webcasts of the Organization’s meetings should also be equally available in all six languages, and radio content — critical for many francophone nations — must be produced in multiple languages.
Right of Reply
The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his counterpart from Armenia had created an insulting narrative against his country. Disinformation was a deliberate policy of Armenia to cover for its illegal use of force against Azerbaijan. The political crisis in Armenia stemmed from an undemocratic policy. Armenia conducted ethnic cleansing. Azerbaijan had faced one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the Second World War because of those abuses. Calling Armenia the only mono‑ethnic country in the world, with racial supremacy an official policy, he voiced regret that the glorification of Nazism was another official policy of that country.
The representative of Armenia said human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, had called for an investigation into suspicious money from Azerbaijan influencing international forums. A 10‑month inquiry by the Council of Europe had revealed that its parliamentary assembly members had conducted corrupt activities in relation to Azerbaijan. International human rights organizations had found that the repressive environment in Azerbaijan had reached unprecedented levels. Recent data from Reporters Without Borders had found that, since 2014, Azerbaijan had waged a relentless war against freedom of speech. That regime had a record of kidnapping and attacking its critics. That repressive environment had contributed to a culture of self‑censorship, she said, pointing to Azerbaijan’s crackdown on critics and independent voices.
The representative of Israel, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the Palestinian delegate had failed to issue any clarification about the shockingly anti‑Semitic remarks delivered by President Abbas. Instead, she had only levied more baseless allegations against his country.