MIL-OSI United Nations: Committee on Information

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Source: United Nations 4

Note: Complete coverage of today’s meetings of the Committee on Information will be available Wednesday, 4 May.

Opening Remarks

CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador), Chair of the Committee’s forty-fourth session, outlined the history and mandate of the Department of Global Communications, noting that in recent decades technological developments have radically changed the way people send and receive information while also posing a range of new challenges.  The coronavirus pandemic changed the world again, showing that the same tools that can disseminate accurate, neutral and reliable information can also start rumours, spread fear and even spark violence, he said.  Emphasizing that the need to promote United Nations values is more urgent than ever, he expressed hope that the Committee’s efforts during the present session will be successful and productive.

Statement by Under-Secretary-General

MELISSA FLEMING, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, particularly for the one third of the world’s population that has still not received a single dose of vaccine.  The Department continues to call attention to the many people around the globe still suffering from the devastating health, economic and social effects of the disease, she said, adding that it is also fighting the “epidemic” of mis- and disinformation that continues to threaten truth and knowledge and to undermine established facts, thereby posing an existential risk to humanity.

She said that since her last briefing to the Committee, inequalities have widened, the climate crisis worsened and the war in Ukraine is now killing civilians, destroying towns and cities and driving 10 million people from their homes.  Some 1,450 United Nations colleagues in that country are working to ease the suffering, and the Secretary-General is working for peace and to save lives, she added.  Noting that the invasion has sent shockwaves around the world — driving food, energy and commodity prices to historic highs and fuelling hunger and possibly unrest — she said it is also putting the principles underpinning Charter of the United Nations “under the greatest strain since the Organization’s founding”.

The Department is working on a communications response that is strategic, coordinated, audience-based and impact-focused, she continued, noting that it aligns United Nations communications through “cells” to speak in one voice and respond with agility.  Since the invasion started the Department has worked around the clock from New York, Ukraine and across the region to cover its repercussions.  There has been a massive uptick in media coverage of the United Nations and a significant increase in the number of people visiting the Department’s platforms, she said, pointing out that the News Centre continues to feature breaking news and human-centred stories in English, Russian and seven more languages.  Since 20 February, the English News website has enjoyed a 35 per cent increase in visits and the Russian News website saw a 130 per cent rise, compared to the same period in 2021, she noted.

During the past critical months, the Department also provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of Security Council meetings, registering millions of views on United Nations Web TV and the Organization’s YouTube Channel, she said.  For example, a single Council meeting on 17 March to consider “Humanitarian Situation in Ukraine” recorded more than 1.2 million views on YouTube alone, she reported.  Social media posts related to the war have also seen unprecedented levels of engagement, with a post on the adoption of a General Assembly resolution gaining 5.7 million views across platforms.

Turning to climate change, she recalled that the Secretary-General has sounded a “Code Red” for the planet and warned that millions of poor and vulnerable people are one shock away from doomsday.  The Department has responded with a two-pronged communications approach, highlighting the severity of the issue based on science, while offering hope and concrete solutions, she said.  It extensively promoted the two recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with content that was significantly picked up by major news outlets, as well as influencers on social media.  In late 2021, it deployed a dedicated team to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, United Kingdom, she recalled.  More than 8.2 million people visited the News Centre in nine languages during the Conference, while the podcast series “No Denying It” garnered well over 2 million interactions, she said, describing COP26 content as among the top-performing content on social media in 2021.

She went on to outline additional activities to bring attention to the climate emergency, including a partnership with Netflix in connection with the film Don’t Look Up, and an effort with Google to ensure that trustworthy United Nations content appears when users search for terms related to “climate change”.  Stressing that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains the centrepiece of the Department’s work, she said that, in an effort to diversify partnerships and strengthen outreach on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Department engages with the global publishing industry through the SDG Publishers Compact, through which publishers commit to furthering the Goals by implementing sustainable business practices and publishing related content.

Describing the Department’s efforts to elevate the critical voices of young people, she said they included the launch of a first-of-its-kind Youth SDG Dashboard, support to Model United Nations programmes, and the United Nations Academic Impact’s virtual SDGs Workshops.  Meanwhile, the Verified initiative remains the backbone of the Department’s response to COVID-19 and has now reached millions of people around the world, she added.  With distribution partners in 60 languages, Verified has produced more than 2,000 pieces of content and has collaborated with partners on the creation of thousands more — from “low-fi” memes to music videos, she noted.  The Department also continues to communicate with internal audiences, keeping staff connected through the United Nations Intranet, known as iSeek.

Recalling the Secretary-General’s stark warning that human rights and the rule of law are under assault, she said the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is therefore one of the Department’s key priorities for 2022, with a broad communications initiative focused on combating hate speech and a new platform encouraging action.  A multilingual campaign soon to be launched under the hashtag #NoToHate will be relevant ahead of the inaugural International Day to Counter Hate Speech, 18 June she said.  She cited other observances, ranging from International Holocaust Remembrance Day and International Women’s Day, as well as the Department’s related public programmes.

“In view of the multiple and multilayered challenges of our time, our Department tries to benefit from existing opportunities, while testing new technologies and activities, pushing boundaries and moving faster,” she affirmed.  It supported the participation of the United Nations at Expo 2020 in Dubai, receiving more than 100,000 visitors at the Organization’s hub and generating more than 400,000 commitments in support of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda and climate action.  A state-of-the-art television studio was launched in 2021, thanks to a generous donation by the Netherlands, and has since been used for live and hybrid events focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals, she added.

Acknowledging that bad actors use digital platforms to spread dis-information — with the most provocative, outlandish and often misleading posts rising to the top of social media feeds — she insisted that those tools can still best serve humanity’s interests of peace, dignity and the rule of law.  The Department is therefore developing a code of conduct on integrity in public information and will be seeking input from delegations in the coming months, she said.  In addition, the Department will mark World Press Freedom Day with its annual celebration via the United Nations Webcast on 4 May, she revealed, encouraging delegates to participate.  “With your support, our Department of Global Communications will continue to deliver our duties with compassion and solidarity to protect truth and overcome indifference.”

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, declared:  “The United Nations remains the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world — its messages must be heard in a clear and effective manner.”  Describing the Committee on Information as vital in that regard, he said that following the challenges of the last two years, many countries now face the serious threats of food, energy and supply chain disruption.  Meanwhile, the world at large faces severe stress due to proliferating conflicts, a new arms race, rising xenophobia and hate speech, violence and disinformation, he noted, adding that, against that backdrop, the Department has worked relatively well.  He went on to emphasize that the growing trend of “fake news” and disinformation on online platforms demands that the Department intensify its support for efforts across the United Nations system to fight disinformation while disseminating factual, clear, accessible, multilingual and science-based information.  It must also pay greater attention to the promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development, in accordance with relevant resolutions and commitments, he said.

The Group of 77 is deeply concerned about digital disparities emerging as a new form of inequality between and among States, he continued, stressing:  “The international community, led by the United Nations, should take the necessary steps in rectifying the imbalances.”  He called for efforts to leverage digital technologies to enable socioeconomic development and facilitate more effective and efficient governance as well as delivery of public services, saying the Department remains well-positioned to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries in the crucial field of public information and communications.  He went on to underline that multilingualism and cultural diversity are cardinal values of multilateralism, enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  In that regard, he encouraged the Department to mobilize adequate resources to promote multilingualism an maximize its outreach at the grassroots level, including by exploring innovative financing options and voluntary contributions.  While welcoming the Department’s promotional campaigns and the work of United Nations information centres, he urged it to further strengthen partnerships with new and traditional media around the world.

FRANCISCO GUTIÉRREZ (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said it comprises 20 member States on three continents and advocates for the full implementation of the Spanish language in the work of the United Nations, as well as the defence of multilingualism.  That would enable the Organization to be a source of reliable information, reaching its objectives of disseminating knowledge, fighting disinformation, and reaching the widest number of people as possible, he noted, emphasizing the crucial role of the Organization’s website and social media networks as sources of objective and impartial information for the world.  Stressing that the drafting and development of content must be done in an equitable and fair way among the different official languages, he urged the Department to avoid the auto-translation of content.  He went om to acknowledge its use of different online tools and campaigns to expand outreach, while calling for more specific campaigns to reach different public audiences with innovative use of digital platforms.

Expressing concern about the substantial differences in content among the six official languages, he said people, especially the youth, must be able to access information in a multilingual capacity.  The Group of Friends calls on the Department to adapt content to public preferences, improve accessibility, and update information in real time, in the six official languages to guarantee linguistic parity, he emphasized.  Acknowledging the important contributions of United Nations information centres in preparing and adapting content to local audiences, he said “campaign laboratories” must be made up of native speakers of the six official languages.  Projecting a long-term trend, he said the Spanish-language website was the most visited of the United Nations websites in 2021 and stressed the need to respond to the growing interest of Spanish-speaking people in the Organization’s work.  In light of the continuing disparity between English and the five other official languages, he urged the Department, in coordination with the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management and the Coordinator for Multilingualism, to guarantee parity among those languages in the publication of documents, decisions and policy reports, among others.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said the United Nations must be a model of accessibility and inclusion, reducing barriers to communication, particularly for those in vulnerable situations, he emphasized.  The guidelines for the inclusion of persons with disabilities, developed by the Department in cooperation with the accessibility office of the Secretary-General, would make it possible to guide people on how to make communications more accessible to all, he said, stressing the importance of impartial and reliable information for all.  He expressed regret that videos published on UN Web TV lack subtitles and are thus inaccessible to the hearing-impaired.  Encouraging the Department to “leave no one behind”, he also urged it to continue to broadcast factual information in multiple languages offline and online, and to raise awareness and educate among present and future generations about the work of the United Nations.

YOUSSOUF ADEN MOUSSA (Djibouti), speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said it is strongly committed to defending the principles of multilingualism and cultural diversity across the United Nations.  Against the backdrop of threats to core multilateral principles and proliferating disinformation, “we must make the voice of the United Nations heard,” he affirmed.  Noting that the francophone space is not safe from those worrying developments, he said all strategies, documents and public statements developed to inform Member States must be disseminated in the six official languages on an equal footing.  Since language is known to have an impact on both substance and policy, it is crucial not just to translate English into other languages, but also to create content in those languages from scratch, he said, emphasizing that the same requirements must be applied to content produced by United Nations social media, with the appropriate funding.  Meanwhile, traditional communication channels must also continue to be used in order not to leave behind a public that lacks access to digital channels, he stressed.

Speaking in his national capacity, and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, noted that today marks Djibouti’s first address to the Committee as a brand new member.  He went on to commend the Department’s discharge of its responsibility in line with the United Nations global communications strategy, including during a difficult time for the world.  “Any disinformation has a negative impact on our ability to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to deliver on the [Sustainable Development Goals] and the 2030 Agenda,” he said.

MARIA DE JESUS FERREIRA (Angola), speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, underscored the importance of providing correct, impartial, comprehensive and multilingual information to global audiences.  She encouraged the Department to continue to disseminate United Nations activities in as many languages as possible, through both Internet-based and traditional media.  She welcomed the Department’s efforts to make the United Nations Information Centre in Luanda operational, helping to meet the needs of Portuguese-speaking African countries.  She went on to highlight the work of the information centre in Rio de Janeiro, saying it disseminates news in Portuguese on the United Nations country team website, reaching some 10 million people each month.  The Portuguese-language Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube accounts, meanwhile, reached more than 2.4 million people as of mid-November 2021, she noted.  Encouraging the Department to continue to promote the Organization’s work in Portuguese, Kiswahili and Hindi, she pointed out that Portuguese is the official language of 260 million people worldwide — the most widely spoken in the Southern Hemisphere.

SILVIO GONZATO, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the Department has a responsibility to adapt to the ever-changing information environment while keeping the rights and interests of all citizens at the centre of its action.  “Needless to say that we have much work ahead of us,” he said.  Welcoming the Department’s increasing agility and modernization — as well as its increased partnerships with civil society and youth — he underscored the importance of multilingualism in order to achieve an environment respectful of the principles of diversity and inclusion.  It is vital that the Department ensure the equal treatment of all six official languages, he said, calling for the mainstreaming of that cross-cutting principle across its work.

He said the Department has a crucial role in making the United Nations a trusted source of information amid a “much-polluted information environment”.  With regard to the development of a code of conduct in on the integrity of public information, the European Union stands ready to share its experience on its own Code of Practice on disinformation and its new Digital Services Act.  He went on to express concern that the Russian Federation’s information manipulation and interference — including disinformation — on the war in Ukraine is being used to deceive the Russian population, as well as international audiences, and to justify a military aggression against another State.  He also urged the United Nations system to communicate in line with resolutions of the General Assembly and with the Secretary-General’s statements on Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine.

ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia), associating himself with the European Union, said the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine — enabled by Belarus — is much more than just another crisis with global consequences.  “For our work, it is crucial to realize that Russia is using information as a weapon against Ukraine, and against the [United Nations],” he said, noting that the disinformation which Moscow uses to justify its armed aggression is killing people in Ukraine just as disinformation about the COVID-19 kills people.  In fact, for years, the Russian Federation’s propaganda machine has deliberately spread messages to radicalize public opinion about Ukraine.  Now, during the invasion, Russian armed forces target and destroy television towers and Internet transmitters, and indiscriminately target civilians, including journalists and other media workers.

Noting that most independent media outlets have been shut down in the Russian Federation and many journalists were forced to flee — including to Latvia — he strongly condemned the further tightening of censorship, in particular as the world marks World Press Freedom Day.  He urged the United Nations to use the proper terminology, stemming from the three General Assembly resolutions related to the aggression against Ukraine, including calling the conflict either an “aggression”, “invasion” or “war”.  It should use all its communication channels and means, in all six official languages, to provide information about the war, as well as continue to address disinformation through mutually acceptable, comprehensive and multi-stakeholder solutions, he said, voicing support for the Department’s development of a code of conduct on the integrity of public information.

JOSÉ BLANCO (Dominican Republic), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish, welcomed the Department’s efforts to tackle disinformation in the context of COVID-19.  He called for continued efforts related to the economic recession in developing countries and the significant challenges they face in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, lauding the Department’s initiative to steer a global code of conduct to promote the integrity of public information.  Stressing the importance of multilingualism in the work of the United Nations, he said the measures adopted by the Department must be strengthened.  Specific content in accordance with the needs of its audience must be produced to reach a wider public, especially those in developing countries.  He expressed support for the Department’s efforts to meet the demands of emerging communications crises, noting the importance of strengthened capacity, specialized knowledge and broader and more effective partnerships in that regard.

VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), associating herself with the European Union, welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal for a global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information.  Despite the scientifically proven global consequences of the climate crisis, efforts to address the issue are being hindered by disinformation.  The war in Ukraine has shown how disinformation can be used to justify an illegal, unprovoked military aggression against a sovereign State, she said, calling on the international community to counter the distortion of the truth.  While the Internet, social media and other digital communication means are important, traditional means — such as print, radio, and TV — must not be neglected.  Efforts to close the digital divide also must be redoubled, she stressed, adding that partnerships with civil society, the private sector and social media companies are crucial in that regard.  Access to verified and factual information must also be ensured for people with disabilities.  If elected to the Security Council, Malta will focus on the links between literacy and international peace and security, as literacy can serve as a whole-of-society tool for peacebuilding and conflict prevention, by empowering people to counter agendas that call for violence.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), praising the Department’s success in increasing its visibility over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, said innovations have allowed it to ensure continuity and counter mis- and disinformation.  The sharing of knowledge, along with media coverage of the United Nations work, are of special importance in today’s exceptional times.  “We need neutral, objective, reliable information,” he stressed, noting that new variants and outbreaks of COVID-19 have also led to degraded public trust in institutions.  Calling on all stakeholders to become more vigilant in addressing the impact of the pandemic, he said the promotion of universal values and key themes — including climate action, human rights, economic and social conditions, development and conflict — are crucial.  The United Nations Information Centre in Rabat, Morocco, remains committed to those goals and works in 125 local languages as well as the Organization’s six official ones, he said, voicing support for multilingualism and drawing attention to the important role being played by United Nations peacekeeping operations.

MATHU JOYINI (South Africa), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, praised the quality of the Department’s efforts to provide virtual coverage and interpretation of United Nations activities despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.  She said that in an age of rising disinformation and misinformation, United Nations information centres are able to restore calm and raise awareness by giving global messages a local resonance and bringing the Organization closer to the people it serves.  She recalled the General Assembly resolution recognizing COVID-19 vaccines as a “global public good” and welcomed the Department’s initiatives to highlight the importance of equitable distribution of, and access to, safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 vaccines around the globe.  She went on to emphasize the responsibility to mainstream multilingualism into all communications and information activities of the United Nations, within existing resources and on an equitable basis, while calling for the reversal of the growing digital divide within and between nations.

PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said it is unfortunate that in the century of new information and communication technologies (ICT), illiteracy is still affects 781 million young people and adults globally, with the gap increasing since 2021 due to impact of COVID-19.  Despite the unjust and illegal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, Cuba is working intensely to digitize its society by developing telecommunications, infrastructure and services.  The economic harm caused by the blockage to the communications and high-tech sectors is estimated at $37,520,578, he said, noting that the United States uses cyberspace to attempt to submerge Cuba’s legal and political system and ideologize content that calls for the overthrow of its constitutional order.  Condemning the ongoing radio and TV attacks against Cuba’s administration, he said the use of ICT must comply with international law and the United Nations Charter.

EGRISELDA LÓPEZ (El Salvador), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the Department’s coordinated approach to COVID-19 — strengthening global outreach and coordination with Resident Coordinator offices and United Nations teams in all countries — must be applied to all United Nations communications activities.  Highlighting the  “Service and Sacrifice” campaign, she encouraged the Department to continue to produce multilingual content, which highlights the contributions to international peace and security made by countries providing contingents and police forces to peacekeeping operations.  Noting the growing interest of the Spanish speakers in the work of the United Nations — as evidenced by the increasing number of visits to its Spanish website, in particular, the Spanish website of UN News — she called for the strengthening of those sites and adapting content to meet public preferences.  Two higher education institutions in El Salvador have joined the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, she said, adding that, as co-chair of the Special Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly, El Salvador calls for enhancing the Assembly’s visibility in the media.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to statements by the representatives of the European Union and Latvia, noted that the latter spent seven minutes of his 10-minute statement outlining his own view of the situation in Ukraine.  That contradicts what is required of the Department of Global Communications, namely impartiality and objectivity.  Expressing regret that those core values are no longer important for some members of the Committee, he said that while some believe the Committee to be yet another battlefield in the campaign against the Russian Federation, the session’s real purpose is to review the Department’s work.  As such, he voiced hope that negotiations on the Committee’s draft resolution will be constructive.

For information media. Not an official record.

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