15 May 1997

PI/1010


GAP BETWEEN DEVELOPING AND DEVELOPED COUNTRIES IN COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY MUST BE CLOSED, INFORMATION COMMITTEE TOLD

19970515The need to close the gap between developing and developed countries in communications technology and to address the needs of developing countries in disseminating information on the United Nations was stressed by several speakers this morning, as the Committee on Information continued its general exchange of views on United Nations information policies and activities.

Although advanced communications technologies offered many benefits, most people lacked access to them, the representative of Indonesia told the Committee. The representative of Egypt stressed that many societies depended totally on such media as radio and television, adding that computers could not take their place in informational efforts there.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea representative expressed concern about distorted information on the realities in developing countries being disseminated in the mass media and misused by individual countries for political purposes. Similarly, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said that attempts to distort the religious, economic and political realities of developing countries must be stopped.

A number of speakers stressed that any proposed changes in the Department of Public Information (DPI) must not interfere with its ability to carry out the mandates given to it by the General Assembly. The view was expressed that the Task Force on reorientation of United Nations public information activities should take account of the views of States and ensure that its recommendations were in the interest of all countries.

Statements were also made by Argentina, Morocco, Sudan, Ecuador and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 16 May, to continue its general debate.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on Information met this morning to continue its general exchange of views on United Nations public information policies and activities. (For background on reports before the Committee, see Press Release PI/1005 of 8 May.)

Statements

VITALY V. MARKAROV (Russian Federation) said the Committee was one of the main forums for discussion of international information issues and for the development of democratic information standards. It was regrettable that the spirit of consensus, on which the Committee had based its work since 1990, was compromised last year. He hoped that would not bring about the polarization of views and approaches and the confrontation that used to characterize the Committee's work. The conflict within the Committee and between certain groups of States reflected the serious imbalances that existed in the sphere of international information. Developing countries were dissatisfied with the status quo and concerned over the lack of change in recent years.

Under the Secretary-General's restructuring and reform proposals, the Department of Public Information (DPI) would become an Office for Communications and Media Services, he said. Such measures were intended to accentuate the quality of information services, modernize them and make sure that major United Nations programmes and activities received better coverage by the mass media. The Russian Federation fully endorsed those measures. Efforts to bring a new momentum to DPI information activities were already under way, including expanded use of the Internet, proposals to fully computerize the distribution of press releases and "video conferencing" between Headquarters and the United Nations Information Centres.

It was very important for the Task Force on the Reorientation of the United Nations Public Information Activities to work with, and maintain close contact with senior DPI officials, he said. The Task Force should also keep in contact with the Committee and take its ideas into account. It would make sense if a representative from the Task Force was present at the Committee's meetings. Its Chairman or one of its chief executives could be invited to attend.

He said the use of the Russian language in United Nations publications and information services remained pretty limited. His Government would hate to see further cuts in the use of the Russian language as a result of slashes in appropriations expected in the framework of reform. The staffing of the United Nations information centre in Moscow should be strengthened and the post of its Director raised from the current P-5 level to the D-1 level, the rank of other centre directors in the capitals of world Powers.

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FERNANDO ENRIQUE PETRELLA (Argentina) said that a breakdown in the Organization's chain of information could have serious consequences. While he fully supported the Secretary-General's efforts for reform, concern over DPI's future was natural, considering its importance to the Organization's functioning. Such reform should enhance DPI's services. Reform could only be successful to the extent that it reflected the diversity of demands made upon the Department. At the same time, it must increase efficiency and be guided by the Organization's financial constraints. The Committee had conveyed its concerns to the Secretary-General and was ready to cooperate with the him in dealing with those concerns.

He said he hoped the Task Force would work with proposals to strengthen DPI's commitment to meeting the needs of peoples and countries. The presence of Ambassador Juan Somavia of Chile on the Task Force was a source of pride and reassurance, as he would contribute a system-wide overview of the Organization's needs. The Task Force must bear in mind that the Organization's public image was essential to its survival. The work done by the United Nations information centres was crucial; they were far more than mere repositories of information. The work of the United Nations radio and television was of great importance, both in developed and developing countries. He commended DPI's work in Spanish, the second most spoken language in the world. The Department's work had tremendous political ramifications, and accredited media representatives had agreed that it provided important assistance to them in their professional efforts.

He said his country had made serious efforts in support of total freedom of the press and information, including the privatization of all television channels and the restriction of foreign investment in media. It had been a great surprise when The Economist recently described Argentina's press as only partially free. There were no panaceas for managing communications media. The measures needed for each society reflected its own unique characteristics. Nevertheless, the United Nations had a universal message, and DPI had an important role to play in promoting it.

ANTONIUS AGUS SRIYONO (Indonesia) said that although advanced communications technology offered many benefits, most people lacked access to it. The gap between developed and developing countries was widening and must be addressed. Media should enhance understanding between peoples, not perpetuate divisiveness. The United Nations should continue to promote a more just information and communication order. The Charter should be consistently upheld and public information made available to all. It should not be left to the media of a few developed countries to impose their own perceptions. A free and responsible press enriched culture and stimulated development.

As the Organization's main body for the dissemination of information, DPI played a critical role, he said. It was imperative that the reform of DPI

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enhance its capacity and that it be implemented in a transparent manner. It was hoped that the Secretary-General would report his recommendations to Member States during the second part of the Committee's session, in September.

The United Nations information centres had played a crucial role in presenting the Organization's image, particularly in developing countries, he said. The links forged between DPI and diverse media had been of tremendous value in promoting understanding of the Organization's goals. Its publications concerning development and briefing papers on the Organization's activities were of particular importance. The Dag Hammarskjold Library's efforts to update and expand it use of information technology was also commendable. Efforts by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote an independent and pluralistic press were important. It was hoped that resources would be made available for the continuing development of communication.

JERYONG HONG (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said the reform of DPI should take account of the views of Member States. The Task Force should bear in mind that any recommendations should be in the common interests of all States. Its focus should be on enhancing DPI's future role, not on cost- cutting. All Member States should have an equal opportunity for access to information. There must be transparency and openness in the deliberations on reform.

The integration of the information centres with field offices of the information centres with field offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) should be carried out in consultation with the governments concerned and on a case-by-case basis. His country attached particular importance to the United Nations role in establishing a just and effective world information and communication order. Despite discussions in the United Nations and UNESCO on redressing the imbalance between countries in the field of information and communications, the problem persisted. Distorted information on the realities in developing countries was disseminated in the mass media and misused for the political purposes of individual countries. The establishment of international information centres would help expand the flow of information among the developing countries, train information officials and improve mass media.

MOHAMMAD J. SAMHAN (United Arab Emirates) said advances in communications technology had created a new global reality in which peoples of all cultures were being brought together. His country had affirmed the importance of the media through legislative actions designed to encourage freedom of the press in conformity with his society's culture and religious heritage. Credibility and transparency were important in presenting world events. Attempts to distort the religious, economic and political realities

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of developing countries must be stopped. Mandatory rules and regulations could ensure respect for all peoples.

He expressed appreciation to DPI for its work to inform the peoples of the world of global events and universal challenges. Information must continue to be disseminated about the question of Palestine during the present interruption of the Middle East peace process, which was largely a result of Israel's refusal to comply with agreements. The need to streamline the Organization should not adversely affect DPI. The United Nations had a legal and humanitarian responsibility to assist in the achievement of a just and lasting settlement that would end the suffering of the people of Palestine.

He said DPI played an important role in allowing access to information and in strengthening links between developing countries. Technological cooperation should be further strengthened. It was to be hoped that the Committee's recommendations would lead to a constructive reform of DPI. There must be a world information system that would reduce the gap between developing and developed countries.

SOLIMAN AWAAD (Egypt) said reform of United Nations public information services should not be an end in itself, nor should it be undertaken because it suited one country or a group of countries. Reform must be a dynamic process with clear-cut objectives, ensuring top output at minimum cost. It was essential to overcome shortcomings in performance and to recognize DPI's essential role; it could not be shunted to the sidelines in any reorganization or restructuring effort.

The Committee's approval was required before any reform ideas could be implemented, he said. Any reorganization of DPI's priorities would have to take account of its role in assisting the Assembly in implementing its resolutions on such important issues as the question of Palestine, peace- keeping and development. The ultimate goal must not be to reduce or wipe out any programmes. Such a move would run counter to the Assembly's specific recommendations.

While making use of new information technologies, it should be remembered that there were societies which depended totally on such media as radio and television, he said. Computers could not take the place of other forms of distribution. Drawing attention to the dissemination of information in the Arabic language, he said the reform process must recognize the importance of making use of the official languages of the United Nations.

AHMED SNOUSSI (Morocco) said DPI's work was crucially important in promoting the right image for the United Nations. Its role in such areas as economic and social affairs, human rights and peace-keeping efforts must be strengthened. He supported Egypt's views on the importance of use of the

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Arabic language. The United Nations information centres must be further developed, as they sensitized peoples to issues of international concern. Any shrinkage of the resources allocated to them which might adversely affect their functioning should be avoided. The Secretary-General should provide an assessment of the impact budgetary restriction might have on the centres.

The DPI was doing an outstanding job, he said. It promoted awareness and understanding among peoples through the dissemination of information. The diversity, complexity and many facets of its work could provide a challenge to its efficacy. Efforts for restructuring and enhancing DPI should be supported, but the process of reform gave rise to concern. Many of DPI's functions had been mandated by the General Assembly. Changes that might affect those mandates required the input of the largest number of Member States. He said he had full confidence in the Secretary-General's abilities and those of his Task Force and was sure they would consult with Member States. His country supported the proposal by Mexico to hold a "mini" general debate during the second part of the Committee's current session, following issuance of the Secretary-General's reform proposals.

He said the evaluation of the Dag Hammarskjold Library had reaffirmed its crucial value to Member States. It was hoped that appropriate resources would be allocated for its functioning. The vital importance of DPI's work required no further demonstration. Any discussion of reform should begin from that premise. Since DPI's work required a combination of flexibility and financial constraint, transforming it to a United Nations office might be worth considering. However, there should be no reduction or elimination of the Department's work, which was of utmost importance to all Member States.

TARIQ ALI BAKHIT (Sudan) said the gap in information technology between developing and developed countries would only lead to the further marginalization of many countries. His country had opened its own web page on the Internet so the world might have accurate information and to prevent misinformation about Sudan. His Government rejected the disinformation campaigns against it which used such items as ethnic and religious struggles. The Sudan was alarmed and deeply regretted the disinformation campaigns aimed at spreading an incorrect picture of Islam. No religion could be held responsible for terrorism, which was a transborder phenomenon.

The Department of Public Information played an important role in spreading the message of the United Nations, as well as news on its activities, he said. The information centre in Khartoum had been invaluable, not only in spreading knowledge about peace-keeping operations, but in making local communities aware of issues relating to development and culture. One of the most important political events in his country -- the recent signing of a peace agreement which ended the hostilities in the south of Sudan -- had not received the media attention it deserved. He appealed to DPI to ensure that

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such information was made available in a transparent manner and praised the Department's programme of training for media professionals in developing countries.

EMILIO IZQUIERDO (Ecuador) said freedom of expression was a cornerstone of democracy. For that reason, his country had enshrined the right to freedom of opinion and expression in its Constitution. Knowledge and timely access to information were invaluable tools; they enhanced economic and social development.

He said the Organization must promote the broadest possible awareness of its work and of the components involved in urgent problems. The publications of DPI were particularly important in that effort and deserved unreserved support. It would be useful for the Committee to have an opportunity to express its opinions on the proposals for reform as they were put forth by the Task Force. Such proposals should aim at strengthening application of the purposes enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

There was a definite link between the management of information and academic training and preparation, he said. Education was required to process data and make use of new technologies. There must be greater cooperation in the field of technology. United Nations broadcasts provided access for the most diverse populations. Those broadcasts should be enhanced and new programmes designed to strengthen national and international civil society.

DONKA GLIGOROVA (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said the scope and quality of United Nations publicity was not satisfactory. Growing interest in the Organization's work meant a corresponding increase in the need for information. Currently, that information was too fragmented. While a great deal of information was disseminated through such means as the Daily Highlights, special bulletins, documents and press releases, the material was not well organized for efficient use. The Organization should have a weekly publication covering only the most important information. The Task Force's recommendations could enrich DPI's activities and improve the flow of information regarding the United Nations.

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