Speakers Highlight Rich World’s Dwarfing of Poor Countries in Access to Internet
Many delegates expressed concern about the digital divide between developed and developing countries, calling for balanced use of both new and traditional media to ensure democratic engagement with the United Nations, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its general debate on questions relating to information.
Cuba’s representative noted that while information and communications technologies had provided new spaces for managing and disseminating information, they had also exacerbated the persistent digital divide between developed and developing countries. In Europe, she noted, the proportion of households with Internet access amounted to 84 per cent, compared to only 15 per cent in sub‑Saharan Africa.
Agreeing, Nigeria’s representative said the reach of the Department of Public Information was constrained by underdevelopment. As such, many developing countries with limited access to robust Internet infrastructure were excluded from real time engagement with the United Nations, which had digitalized the dissemination of programmes and activities.
Echoing that sentiment, the Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that the Organization’s presence in print, television and radio should not be underrated. In most countries, the popularity of those media forms and their unique influence on public opinion remained important, he pointed out.
Sri Lanka’s representative suggested that, in order for the benefits of communications technology to reach all populations, more scholarships could be offered for media personnel from developing countries, local languages could be used more often, outreach to traditional media could be maintained, and affordable broadband promoted around the world. However, she also cited the challenges of utilizing electronic media while countering its use for purposes of misinformation and incitement.
Several delegates expressed support for the new Office of Counter‑Terrorism and for the efforts of the Department of Information in that field domain. India’s representative said the creation of multiple United Nations counter‑terrorism bodies was timely since terrorism remained the single biggest security issue worldwide.
Saudi Arabia’s representative said his country had established a global anti-extremism centre that used innovative software to reverse extremist thinking and disseminate principles of tolerance. Through both traditional and non‑traditional media, the Government wished to bolster transparency, dialogue and peace, he added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Egypt, Bangladesh, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Venezuela, Libya, Qatar, Madagascar, Portugal, France, Ukraine, Myanmar, Tunisia, Algeria, United Arab Emirates and Costa Rica.
Representatives of Israel, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 October, to conclude its general debate on questions relating to information. It is also expected to consider related draft resolutions.
AHMED ABDELRAHMAN AHMED ALMAHMOUD (United Arab Emirates), Committee Vice-Chair, said that in light of the amendment to the draft resolution “United Nations public information policies and activities” (document A/72/21), proposed by the United States, members would take action on the texts contained in the report of the Committee on Information at the Fourth Committee’s next meeting, on 24 October.
AHMED ELSHANDAWILY (Egypt), associating himself with the “Group of 77” and China, highlighted the Department’s importance in the fight against terrorism and the crucial need for multilingualism across its range of activities. He expressed concern over abuse of media and information technology, especially in terms of inaccurate and intentionally misleading reporting and the consequences of such misinformation. Egypt supported draft resolutions A and B as originally contained in document A/72/21 without amendments, he said, explaining that the original draft was the result of weeks of negotiations and struck a delicate balance between Member States. That balance should not be altered or disturbed, he emphasized.
TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) commended the Department’s coverage of the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar and urged it to maintain its focus on that issue. However, the overriding priority was for the United Nations and the international community to engage with the Myanmar authorities in creating a safe environment in Rakhine State that would encourage the displaced population to return. The Department must promote objective, fact-based information on United Nations peacekeeping operations to negate misinformation and misplaced expectations, since they were the Organization’s flagship activity, he said. The Department could also contribute to counter-terrorism efforts and migration issues, he said, encouraging it to continue promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and forging global partnerships.
Mr. ALDHABAAN (Saudi Arabia) said his country was trying to remain in step with media developments through the 2030 Vision and to ensure that its people were citizens of the world. Its Media Centre was involved in digital communications, which kept the country in the vanguard of social media progress in the region and among the top five in the world. In that context, Saudi Arabia had established a global centre for combatting extremism which used innovative software to reverse such thinking and disseminate principles of tolerance. Through both traditional and non‑traditional media, the Government wished to bolster transparency, dialogue and peace, and also strengthen the role of women in media, he said. Saudi Arabia hoped the Department could shoulder its responsibilities in terms of strengthening the role of media in advocating for peace and stability and combatting messages that were damaging to other countries.
MICHAEL O. OKWUDILI (Nigeria) noted that the Department, as the public voice of the United Nations, strove to develop and deepen understanding of the Organization’s ideals and purposes by providing an interface between it and the global community. However, the Department’s reach was constrained by underdevelopment, he said, adding that many developing countries had only limited access to robust Internet infrastructure. They were excluded from real time engagement with the United Nations, which had digitalized the dissemination of programmes and activities. He called for care in ensuring that the media chosen for dissemination did not leave less developed countries out.
ROI ROSENBLIT (Israel) cautioned that that information could be misused as a weapon and a mechanism for falsifying facts and bolstering bigotry. That was why Israel saw great importance in the Department’s Holocaust Outreach Programme, which educated young people about that atrocity and fought anti‑Semitism. Citing the Secretary-General’s comments on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, he warned that hate speech and anti‑Semitic imagery across the Internet constituted an engine for anti‑Semitism. The same tool must be used to combat online terrorism, incitement and the spread of hateful information, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations had a moral obligation to act in accordance with its own values and purposes. In that context, Israel regretted the Department’s “Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine”, he said, adding that it contained false narratives. That type of activity incited an already flammable Palestinian society, he said, stressing that no United Nations platform should be exploited to promote hatred and violence. Israel urged the Department to consolidate all political media platforms under one authority, he said, adding that it was willing to help in formulating a more balanced approach.
SONALI SAMARASINGHE (Sri Lanka), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, affirmed her delegation’s support for the Department’s efforts to disseminate the values of the United Nations Charter and welcomed advances in multilingualism, partnership and youth outreach. However, she also cited the challenges of utilizing electronic media while countering their use for purposes of misinformation and incitement. In order for the benefits of communications technology to reach all populations, she suggested, more scholarships should be offered to media personnel from developing countries, using local languages more often, maintaining outreach in traditional media and continuing to promote affordable broadband worldwide. There was still much to be done to bridge the digital divide, she continued, saying that her country had made great strides in that area by increasing access and multilingual initiatives.
ANAYANSI RODRIGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), associating herself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of 77, said that while information and communications technology had provided new spaces for managing and disseminating information, they had also exacerbated the persistent digital divide between developed and developing countries. The proportion of households with Internet access amounted to 84 per cent in Europe, but only 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, she noted. Cuba’s efforts to develop information-related skills and knowledge were undermined by the “unjust economic, commercial and financial blockade” imposed on the nation by the United States for more than five decades, depriving the Cuban people of access to the necessary technological infrastructure for health, education and biotechnology. She demanded the immediate and unconditional lifting of the blockade as well as cessation of the radio electronic aggressions of the United States, reiterating that the use of information and communications technology should be fully consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.
COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica) echoed other delegates in underlining the importance of using both traditional and modern communications media in disseminating information about the United Nations. Jamaica recommended that the Department embrace “a suite of communications media”, which would elicit wider public engagement and demonstrate in practical and vivid terms the tangible benefits of the Organization’s work. He underscored the need to maintain support for the Department’s Remember Slavery Programme and to increase support for the United Nations information centres.
HAJIME KISHIMORI (Japan) said the Department’s primary objective to increase awareness should be achieved by improving efficiency and transparency through rationalization of its current resources and ensuring that its activities were carried out in a cost-neutral manner. Commending the Strategic Communication Division’s management of field offices and United Nations information centres, particularly the one in Tokyo, he went on to highlight the “Spotlight on SDGs” photo exhibition, a partnership to promote the Sustainable Development Goals with the help of Japanese comedians, as well as partnerships for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “Art and culture may not solve all the world’s conflicts, but they do inspire us to both envision and strive for peace,” he said, highlighting in that regard the “Peace is…” initiative seeking to promote the objectives of the United Nations through art.
Ms. RODRIGUEZ (Venezuela), associating herself with Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Group of Friends of Spanish at the United Nations, said that she welcomed support for the Secretary-General’s new Office of Counter‑Terrorism. That Office would help the public learn how to prevent violent extremism, adding that the issue should not be related to any region, nationality or ethnic group. Regarding the 2030 Agenda, she welcomed bringing youth into efforts to promote it, because they would be responsible for future compliance with the Goals. Turning to the importance of the Department’s work in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, she encouraged it to continue advocating for human rights such as through the TOGETHER campaign against xenophobia, World Autism Day and the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, among others. While information and communications technologies (ICT) were valuable tools, she expressed concern about the digital divide which affected countries of the global South and separated developed and developing States in terms of access to those systems. She encouraged the democratization of such technologies, especially in developing countries. Regarding multilingualism, she called for the balanced use of the six official languages.
EZZIDIN Y. BELKHEIR (Libya), associating himself with the Group of 77, highlighted the role media played in shaping societies. He pointed out that modern media was more concerned with disseminating information rather than verifying content, an issue that was having adverse effects on audience consciousness. He called upon the Department of Public Information to help audiences in dealing with modern media so they could assess pieces of information and the objectivity of that material. In other words, the Department should play a leading role in setting media ethics, he said. Specifically, media was abused by terrorist organizations as members of those groups were professionally trained to target and confuse audiences through news channels and social media. The Department must enhance the awareness of that target audience in line with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Regarding development activities, the Department should communicate with least developed nations to raise public awareness and to better understand the needs of those countries. In doing so, the Department could help identify the missing link in development projects. That would allow the United Nations to turn development into a culture rather than a policy. That rationale applied to all United Nations goals, he said, noting that communication with concerned countries was crucial for gaining a fundamental understanding of their problems. Concluding, he said that his country recognized the need to achieve language parity across the six official languages.
Ms. AL-NASR (Qatar), associating herself with the Group of 77, said that the Department of Public Information played a paramount role within the Organization because it strengthened the reputation of the United Nations. Information centres should be transparent and neutral, and reflect language equality. Communication needed to focus not just on delegations but also on the people on the ground of concerned countries, she continued. She went on to highlight the importance of digitizing key documentation and historical information and making it universally accessible. To that aim, her country had supported the United Nations digitization programme. The misuse of information, or fake news, was dangerous, as was the abuse of new technology through hacking, she said, noting that the Qatari Information Agency website was the victim of a hacking operation. In closing, she congratulated the Department on its role in relaying correct information that reflected positively on the United Nations.
The representative of Madagascar, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors of New York, welcomed the adoption on 11 September 2016 of General Assembly resolution 71/328 on multilingualism, adding that the issue contributed to promoting peace and security. He encouraged the Department to continue its efforts to ensure that all communications were disseminated in the six official languages, and expressed support for all steps taken to reduce existing gaps in that respect. As such, Madagascar had chaired the Sixteenth Summit of La Francophonie in November last year in Antananarivo, where it had also launched a reference guide to the international use of French. He went on to note that his delegation welcomed the use of new information and communications technology, while highlighting the importance of traditional media. The digital divide was a major obstacle, he noted, underlining the intrinsic link between ICT and development.
SURYANARAYAN SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) said there had been an explosion in the volume and scale of communications and the variety of platforms being used for global interaction. Developments in one region had multiple impacts on others, requiring a quick and proactive response. However, he warned, information overload raised the bar for assessing the credibility and authenticity of content, particularly when news trends could change perceptions on the ground. His delegation was pleased the Department of Public Information was focusing on promoting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, adding that the wide variety of promotional activities undertaken by the United Nations information centres around the world in support of the Goals was particularly impressive. At the same time, the Department’s work in highlighting the United Nations multiple counter‑terrorism bodies was timely as terrorism remained the single biggest security issue worldwide, he said. India also supported the Department’s efforts to expand its social media presence in order to reach young people, who were increasingly dependent on it for their news content.
CRISTINA MARIA CERQUEIRA PUCARINHO (Portugal) aligned herself with the European Union and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries. Underscoring the importance of Portuguese as one of the world’s most spoken languages, she called on the Department of Public Information to expand its use of the language. Her country valued the work of the Portuguese Unit of the United Nations News Centre and hoped it would fulfill its goals in reaching a broader audience. She also praised the significant work of United Nations information centres, especially the Regional Information Centre for Western Europe and the Centre based in Rio de Janeiro. Approximating the United Nations to the peoples of the world through communication meant honouring the spirit and values of the United Nations Charter, she said, and supported a more inclusive, transparent and accountable action of the Organization. If the communication strategy of the United Nations was to be truly global, it must strengthen the core value of multilingualism.
JACQUES LAPOUGE (France), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors of New York, said that since the Department was responsible for disseminating information on the entire Organization, its selection of languages and framing of important issues were significant. The use of media needed to be varied and adapted to more effectively target the populations it wished to reach. Though the potential of new media was undeniable, as a universal organization the United Nations could not disregard the digital divide. People who found it difficult to access the web must be able to find information through traditional media outlets. Multilingualism was also vital, he continued, saying there remained an imbalance in the use of English and the five other official languages, especially regarding the Internet and social media. He suggested an adjustment of hiring criteria within the Secretariat to encourage the mastery of several languages by staff members as that would help address the issue of multilingual communications.
OLEH NIKOLENKO (Ukraine) praised the Department’s new social media strategy as an essential step in keeping up with modern developments. Ukraine was committed to improving the environment for a free media, he said. Legislative measures had been taken to keep journalists safe and Ukraine had been upgraded ‘five notches’ on the Press Freedom Index. Despite its efforts, there remained two areas of the country that struggled with media freedom. Those were Crimea and the Donbas and Luhansk regions, which were occupied by Russia. Human rights abuses in those areas were being concealed from the international community, he said, as reporters there were routinely harassed, detained and banned. His Government condemned Russia’s treatment of Ukrainian journalists and their massive campaign of hatred against his country’s people. Violations of free media like that were a direct threat to United Nations values and thus all bodies should respond and redouble efforts to identify and hold to account those who engage in propaganda wars.
FEDOR K. STRZHIZHOVSKIY (Russian Federation) recalled that one of the goals of recent reforms at the Department of Public Information was the development of a common information policy, cautioning that the common editorial policy established as a result of that process should not lead to a simple duplication of the English language segment. The language and regional localization of news should become one of the main objectives of United Nations media entities. He emphasized that United Nations presence in print, television and radio should not be underrated. In most countries, the popularity of those forms and their unique influence on public opinion remained important, he observed, expressing support for United Nations efforts to establish partnership relations with various media holdings at regional and international levels. On multilingualism, he said the principle of equitable resource support for all six official languages had sometimes been openly disregarded. Despite enquiries by several delegations, the Secretariat had not managed to provide the regular distribution of press releases in all languages, he recalled, calling for the Department to achieve language parity and increase the quality of Russian publications.
HMWAY HMWAY KHYNE (Myanmar), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that information connected people across the world without any boundaries. The dissemination of effective, reliable information was essential for realizing peace and security. It was vital to be aware of the harmful effects and consequences arising from “fake news” that could spread words of intolerance, hatred and hostility, she said. There were also threats of inappropriate use of modern information and communication technologies and potential for the politicization of public information. It was important therefore for the Committee on Information to mobilize the Department of Public Information in global efforts to promote factual and accurate information.
NASREDDINE NAOUALI (Tunisia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said the United Nations should adopt multilingualism in all areas of work. He encouraged all media, conventional and modern, to broaden access to information and welcomed the efforts undertaken by the Department in raising awareness of the United Nations role. Developing countries should have access to information and communications technology without any discrimination. Partnerships with civil society played a crucial role for implementing the objectives of the United Nations, and he welcomed the initiative of the Secretary-General for access to information for people with disabilities. He recommended stepping up efforts to promote a culture of dialogue and said that the Department could contribute to attaining that objective.
MOHAMMED BESSEDIK (Algeria), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that, in a time of “viral misinformation and so-called fake news”, effective public information was vital for realizing peace and security, promotion of human rights and sustainable development. He reiterated the request to the Department to reflect facts accurately, particularly as they related to the work of the Fourth Committee. The Department should not be focused on the “number of press releases or the number of pages published”, but on how to address discrepancies between press releases in different languages. Furthermore, he asked the Department in charge of press releases to refrain from introducing their own comments and faithfully reflect the debate proceedings. He also requested the Department to be in line with the principles guiding the work of the United Nations.
Mr. ALHAMMADI (United Arab Emirates), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, emphasized the need to protect multilingualism in order to ensure the objective coverage of United Nations activities, especially in Arabic. To that end, the United Arab Emirates had a role in the revitalization of the General Assembly programme of meetings and the Journal, which were available in all six official languages. The United Arab Emirates had also produced a host of Arabic‑language educational materials that would be available to millions of students throughout the Arab world. Calling attention to the role of media in the incitement of hatred and youth recruitment on the part of terrorists, he said the United Nations and the international community must create media platforms that would dismantle their rhetoric and reveal the sources of terrorism. He welcomed the Department’s role in the efforts of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, yet underscored the importance of continuing to raise awareness of Palestinian suffering and the role of Israel in violating their human rights.
JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA GARCÍA (Costa Rica), associating himself with CELAC, CARICOM and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said interdepartmental cooperation with the Department was vital, especially in communicating the activities and goals of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Costa Rica was pleased that the Department continued to modernize with apps and new multilingual websites providing positive results. Multilingualism was inherent to the Organization’s existence, he said, emphasizing that it should be exercised in all communications of the United Nations, including through its web broadcasts, daily press bulletins and archives. An open, transparent and participatory flow of information was vital for the Organization’s health, and as such, the Department must endeavour to cover all summits and high-level meetings on an equal footing. In closing, he highlighted the importance of engaging young people in the pursuit of United Nations objectives.
Right of Reply
The representative of Israel, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, asked Saudi Arabia to stop resorting to fake news in its campaign to mislead the public. He recommended that his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere “face the real problems of the region” instead of talking about torture.
The representative of Myanmar responded to her counterpart from Bangladesh by saying her country’s Government was committed to peace and development for all communities within the State. Myanmar would implement the commitment made until progress was achieved, she emphasized, adding that no one could understand the situation in her country better than they could. Warning against the dangers of “fake news and the politicization of public information”, she praised the Department of Public Information as a “responsible messenger” of the United Nations, providing independent and reliable information. She reiterated Myanmar’s commitment to work with Bangladesh on their neighbourly relations.
The representative of Saudi Arabia said the delegate of Israel should refer to the international community’s opinion off the Israeli occupation. Calling upon the Department to shed light on the occupation, he recommended that his Israeli counterpart “see the reality of the Palestinian people”, stressing that the media should play a vital role in that regard.