Dedicated Social Media Team to Operate across Official Languages, Kiswahili, Portuguese, Says Under-Secretary-General
Describing multilingualism as essential for the dissemination of United Nations information, the Organization’s new information chief said it was a priority for the Department of Public Information, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its consideration of questions relating to information today.
Alison Smale, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said the Department had established a dedicated social media team across the six official languages of the United Nations, as well as Kiswahili and Portuguese. In the coming weeks, it would also launch a new integrated mobile-friendly United Nations News web platform in all eight languages. Those news portals would serve as “one-stop shops” for all documents and multimedia content, she added.
Recalling that the United Nations Digital Library had been launched in May, she said it was the first comprehensive global portal to preserve, search and retrieve digital United Nations content. It also offered multilingual content in the six official languages, as did the United Nations iLibrary, which was part of United Nations Publications. She recalled that during the General Assembly’s high-level period in September, she had witnessed a growing audience for the Department’s products and resources, including the Organization’s primary website, which had received approximately 6 million pageviews during that period.
Further emphasizing the concern over multilingualism, Hajime Kishimori (Japan), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, said it also remained a priority for many delegations. Speakers addressing at that subsidiary body’s last session had called for narrowing the gap among the websites of the six official United Nations languages and for issuing the Department’s press releases in all six official languages, he recalled. Several had also underlined the need to maintain such traditional media as radio, television and print, expressing concern that electronic communications had widened the digital divide.
In the ensuing general debate, many speakers expressed similar views, with El Salvador’s representative pointing out, on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, that multilingualism was inherently associated with the existence of the United Nations. It was therefore essential to disseminate information in as many languages as possible, including Portuguese, Dutch and indigenous languages, he emphasized.
In a similar vein, the European Union delegation’s representative noted that 24 languages were spoken amongst the bloc’s 28 members, adding that multilingualism was essential for accountability and transparency. It was therefore necessary to communicate United Nations programmes in different languages and media in order to attenuate the divisions in a world that often “feels more interconnected and yet more divided”.
Burkina Faso’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors of New York, noted that bringing information to people in the languages they understood best was more essential than ever in a globalized world. In that spirit, the Group of Ambassadors had added an item on multilingualism to the General Assembly’s plenary agenda, she said. She also pointed out that developing countries could not benefit fully from the positive impact of the digital revolution.
Indeed, Brazil’s representative concurred, urging the Department to continue to use a combination of traditional as well as Internet-based media.
Also speaking today were representatives of Iran, Venezuela, United Republic of Tanzania, Ecuador (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Indonesia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Peru (on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish at the United Nations), Argentina, Paraguay, Guatemala and Syria.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene on Friday, 20 October, to continue its general debate on questions relating to information.
Point of Order
The representative of India, on a point of order, requested that discussions scheduled for 19 October be postponed for one day in observance of Diwali, a formally recognized holiday within the United Nations.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Committee Chair, suggested postponing the discussions until Friday. Hearing no objections, he postponed the 19 October meeting until 20 October, pending further details.
Introduction of Report
HAJIME KISHIMORI (Japan), Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, introduced the report of that body’s thirty‑ninth session, saying that in addressing the substantive issues before the Committee, numerous speakers had cited successful campaigns around the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).
The question of multilingualism also remained a priority for many delegations, he said, recalling that speakers had urged a narrowing of the gap among the websites of the six official United Nations languages, he recalled. Additionally, they had emphasized the need to make the Department’s press releases available in all six official languages, he said, citing a perceived disparity between English and the other five official languages. Speakers had noted the importance of Spanish as the world’s second most widely spoken language, and the second most widely used on United Nations websites and other products, he said, adding that the growing interest of Spanish-speaking peoples required that the Organization respond.
He went on to recall that another speaker had noted that Chinese was a widely spoken language, yet relatively less used in the Department’s work. Others encouraged the use of such other languages as Portuguese, saying the mainstreaming of multilingualism would increase accountability, transparency, ownership and sustainability. Several speakers had stressed the need to maintain traditional media such as television and print, expressing concern that electronic communications had widened the digital divide. Speakers had also underlined the need to maintain the Department’s neutrality in disseminating news while others focused on the rise of disinformation. Representatives had praised the vital role of United Nations information centres in mobilizing support for the Organization’s work, and as an important link between people and the policies and activities undertaken by the United Nations.
ALISON SMALE, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Department of Public Information, said the Inspection and Evaluation Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was conducting an evaluation of the Department, focused on the relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of key outputs in the changing media and communications environment. Looking forward to its results, due in March 2018, she said that, in accordance with his broader reform effort across the Organization, the Secretary-General had tasked her with making United Nations communications more modern, streamlined, impactful and results-based. As such, the Department had begun a process of assessment and consultation in the context of meeting those aims. She also noted that the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, whose office resided within the Department, had taken up her post in July and would be a critical component in efforts to ensure that youthful voices were heard in United Nations processes and activities.
She went on to recall that during the General Assembly’s high-level period in September, she had witnessed a growing audience for the Department’s products and resources. The Organization’s primary website had received approximately 6 million pageviews during that period, she pointed out, adding that, for the first time, uninterrupted live streaming of the entire general debate had been provided on four platforms simultaneously — UN WebTV, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The Department had also partnered with Facebook to create videos showcasing the Secretary-General and other world leaders, she said, adding that related posts had been seen more than 40 million times. At a time of many major international news stories, including the massive humanitarian relief efforts in the wake of hurricanes in the Caribbean and earthquakes in Mexico, interest in the United Nations remained high nonetheless, she said. The Department had processed some 2,800 requests for media coverage of the general debate and it was also reaching out to young people by hosting 15 youthful journalists from developing and transition countries as part of the annual Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme.
Turning to the United Nations information centres, she reported that they had organized more than 3,400 activities to promote the Sustainable Development Goals among diverse audiences, especially youth. They also played a vital role in promoting United Nations peacekeeping locally through partnerships with Governments, non‑governmental organizations, educational institutions and United Nations entities, including through briefings for military personnel and outreach to youth and media. For example, the field office in Dar‑es‑Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, had arranged for Tanzanian peacekeepers to brief local students about their work. Such efforts aligned with the Secretary-General’s directive that the Department lead a sustained effort, in cooperation with the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, to highlight the contribution of troop- and police-contributing countries, she said.
On the Organization’s efforts to support Africa’s economic and social development, she said Africa Week was currently being observed at United Nations Headquarters under a theme related to financing infrastructure and agriculture. The Department had provided wide-ranging communications support for that initiative, by facilitating media interviews for key principals to promoting related events and activities on social media and more traditional platforms.
Multilingualism remained a major concern of the Department, she emphasized, recalling that in August, it had established a dedicated social media team across the six official languages, as well as Kiswahili and Portuguese. That realignment was intended to ensure that more strategic and coherent coverage was available across all social media platforms, in order to reduce duplication and improve editorial planning and guidance, she said. In the coming weeks, the Department would launch a new, integrated mobile-friendly United Nations News web platform in all eight languages. Those news portals would serve as “one-stop shops” for all documents and multimedia content.
In the context of demystifying complex intergovernmental processes, she said, the Department had created a series of short and simple “explainer” videos on such subjects as the roles of the United Nations, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General. Recalling that the United Nations Digital Library had been launched in May, she described it as the first comprehensive global portal to preserve, search and retrieve United Nations digital content. It offered multilingual content in the six official languages, as did the United Nations iLibrary, which was a part of United Nations Publications. Moreover, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library had developed 52 online research guides on topical issues in all official languages, she said, adding that they had been consulted 1.5 million times since March.
The representative of Iran asked whether the Under-Secretary-General had a specific priority in mind for her work.
The representative of Venezuela recalled the Under-Secretary-General’s reference to an assessment of the Department’s effectiveness, and asked what obstacles it must overcome in the short and medium term in order to fulfil its mandate. She also cited the concerns of several States about the use of information and communications technologies to interfere in their internal affairs, asking whether the Department could work towards responsible use of such technologies.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania asked how multilingualism had informed the creation of the social media team, expressing concern about the effectiveness of United Nations news if not done properly.
Ms. SMALE, Under-Secretary-General, responded to Iran’s delegate by pointing out that she had been in office only a few weeks and it would be rash to specify a goal at the present stage. However, it was absolutely crucial to bring young people into conversational spaces, she said, adding that she also remained focused on the message that the United Nations did well for billions of people every day. Those ideas would inform the Department’s work.
In response to Venezuela’s representative, she said she would not point to any specific obstacles due to her recent appointment, but the communications field was changing very rapidly, she said, expressing hope that the Department would change accordingly.
Responding to the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, she said preliminary figures measuring the impact of the social media effort indicated that it was helping the Department to reach a far broader audience.
DIEGO FERNANDO MOREJÓN PAZMIÑO (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China, encouraged the Department to promote key decisions and agreements on such issues as sustainable development, decolonization, the New Urban Agenda and peacebuilding. It should provide equal coverage of all summits, international conferences and high-level meetings mandated by the General Assembly, and provide information in all six official United Nations languages, he said, noting that there was a disparity in their use. He also called upon the Department to hire staff members from diverse linguistic backgrounds.
The Group of 77 supported the Department’s use of social media channels, but it should not be done at the expense of traditional media, namely print, radio and television, he emphasized. The Department should also adhere to the highest standards of accuracy, integrity and accountability since inaccurate reporting and distorted information could have a negative impact on nations and their citizens. He called for an end to the use of information and communications technologies in contravention of international law, and stressed the importance of using technologies that were fully compatible with the United Nations Charter.
PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said recent global events highlighted the role of information as a powerful tool that could inspire hope or cause indelible damage. Access to information was a critical pillar of development, she stressed, applauding the Department’s work as the main entity casting light on the Organization’s work. Central to that work were the many information centres that acted as the Department’s local and regional arms, she said, adding that the one in Trinidad and Tobago worked closely with all relevant partners to promote the work of the United Nations in the Caribbean.
Identifying young people as the “architects of the future”, she commended the Department’s efforts to involve them as key partners in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. Inclusivity remained essential to ensuring that all individuals were kept updated and engaged in the development process. To that end, robust efforts must be made to ensure effective use of existing communication platforms and to find innovative ways by which to incorporate emerging media trends, she said. CARICOM believed strongly that all official United Nations languages must be given equal consideration and resources, she said, adding that the Community wished to encourage the continued translation of information on the Sustainable Development Goals into local languages.
CARLA ESPERANZA RIVERA SÁNCHEZ (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), noted that the changing international situation called for innovative methods that would allow a better flow and increased precision in distributing information, as well as non‑discriminatory and inclusive access. While supporting spontaneous and agile electronic communication, CELAC reiterated that the United Nations must continue to use such traditional methods as television, radio, and print to transmit its message, given the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries.
Multilingualism was inherently associated with the existence of the United Nations, and it was essential to disseminate information in as many languages as possible, including Portuguese, Dutch and indigenous languages, she stressed. Reiterating CARICOM’s deep concern that the issuance of daily press releases had not been expanded to all the official languages, she called on the Department to design a strategy that would deliver the daily press releases in all six official languages through creative schemes and in a cost-neutral manner. Emphasizing the importance of parity and equal respect, she added that the financial and human resources provided to the Department should be properly distributed among all official languages.
MARIAME FOFANA (Burkina Faso), speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors of New York, emphasized that in a globalized world, bringing information to all its peoples in the languages they understood best was more essential than ever. In that spirit, the Group of Francophone Ambassadors of New York had added an agenda item on multilingualism to the General Assembly’s plenary. Multilingualism was a corollary of multilateralism and a prerequisite to effective political action in peacekeeping operations, human rights and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she stressed. All Secretariat departments must mainstream multilingualism and ensure parity among the six official languages.
Calling on the Department to ensure equal use of all six languages on the United Nations website, she said new information and communications technologies, including mobile Internet, provided new opportunities. However, in order not to leave anybody behind, it was important to continue focusing on those outside the reach of new media, and for whom traditional media remained as important as ever, she said, describing the digital divide as an obstacle to ensuring universal, just and equitable access to information. Developing countries could not benefit fully from the positive impact of the digital revolution. She also underlined the importance of strengthening the operations of United Nations Radio in the six official languages, and in the local languages of developing countries.
Speaking in her national capacity, she went on to state that despite remarkable progress in advancing communications technologies, certain populations such as that of Burkina Faso could not take advantage of them. Developed countries should share such technologies in order to make them more accessible to everyone. She went on to point out that the United Nations information centre in Ouagadougou, her country’s capital, was the only one in the entire Sahel region, serving four countries and playing an important role in raising awareness about important issues in the region. She called for maintaining and strengthening that particular centre’s capacities as well as the overall work of all centres.
DANNY RAHDIANSYAH (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), welcomed the Department’s focus on four main areas: promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development; maintenance of international peace and security; development of Africa; and promotion of human rights alongside effective coordination of humanitarian assistance efforts. While the promotion of justice and international law, disarmament, drug control, crime prevention and combating terrorism was also welcome, the Department should place greater emphasis on peacekeeping operations, he said, also encouraging efforts to help the public understand more about what was being done to make them more effective and robust.
Although social media were useful, not everyone had access to the Internet, he pointed out, emphasizing that the United Nations must therefore continue to use radio, television and print media to disseminate information. Further on digital communications, he noted that, with the rise of “fake news”, the Department should be a responsible messenger of the United Nations and provide factual, accurate, dependable and reliable information. On multilingualism, he said it was also important that the United Nations reach the widest possible audience with its message. The Department should also work with regional United Nations offices to translate publications, which would motivate people to participate more in United Nations efforts.
FREDERICO S. DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, said the United Nations must raise awareness and understanding about the work it undertook around the world, and encouraged the Department to continue its important work in as many languages as possible. It should continue to use a combination of traditional media as well as Internet-based media, he said, pointing out that digital access was limited in developing countries. The Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries encouraged the Department to reinforce its multilingual approach, he said.
The Community also supported the work of UN News Portuguese, which reached the service’s third largest audience and was the first Language Unit to have become a full multimedia operation, he continued. Underlining the importance of United Nations information centres, in particular the one in Rio de Janeiro and the United Nations Regional Information Centre in Brussels, he encouraged the Secretary-General and the Government of Angola to establish the Luanda information centre to help address the needs of Portuguese-speaking African nations. The Community also encouraged the Department to continue to interact with the academic community and non‑governmental organizations, he said, underlining the importance of civil society participation in the work of the United Nations.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the Group represented 20 Spanish-speaking countries from three continents, committed to defending and promoting multilingualism as a central value of the United Nations. The cross-cutting mandate of multilingualism would enable the international community to develop a truly multilateral dialogue, he said. Pointing out that Spanish was the world’s second most widely spoken language, he said 4.3 million individual users utilized the Organization’s Spanish-language website. The Organization must meet the increased interest in its work from the Spanish-speaking world.
Expressing concern about the disparity between English and the other five official languages, he called for a new strategic vision as well as progressive change in the Department’s working methods, taking the needs of a linguistically diverse world into account. Noting that the website was the first portal of access to the United Nations, he asked for more detailed information and for exhaustive statistics on web traffic and social networks. Campaigns for the dissemination of information must adopt a multilingual approach, he said, explaining that that was not merely about reaching more people, but about creating ownership of the message by giving people information that they could understand and with which they could identify.
GERTON VAN DEN AKKER, European Union delegation, said that the United Nations must evolve as the demands on the system changed to appropriately address threats to international peace and security and defend fundamental rights and freedoms. Regarding the Secretary-General’s reforms, he noted that changing organizational methods, standards and cultures were among the most difficult aspects of change management, but also the most important. The Union supported those initiatives, he stressed, noting that the area of communications had to be at the centre of any strategic reform initiative, to build support within the Organization and educate the public. Key messages should relate back to the vision for the change and senior leaders should serve as communicators to enforce those messages. Communication was also an effective method for helping people overcome resistance to change.
He went on to note that, amongst the 28 members of the European Union, 24 languages were spoken, adding that multilingualism was an essential tool for accountability and transparency. Therefore, it was essential to communicate about United Nations programmes in different languages and media. Such efforts were necessary to attenuate divisions in a world that often “feels more interconnected and yet more divided”, he said. In particular, the Union supported increased support and coordination of Regional Information Centres, which took a more cross-cutting and localized approach to raising awareness.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) associated himself with the Group of 77, CELAC, Group of Friends for Spanish at the United Nations and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors of New York. He said that in a world where audiences were faced with distinguishing between false and real news, the Organization must rise to the challenge of providing up-to-date information, without leaving behind those sectors of society without access to new information and communications technologies (ICTs). Stressing multilingualism as a fundamental United Nations value, he said that the Department of Public Information must move from being a translation culture with English as the first language to a truly multilingual culture that considered the specificities of each language at all stages. Welcoming the growth of the Spanish section of the Organization’s webpage, he urged the Secretariat to hire and contract staff that could meet the demand for up-to-date information by Spanish speakers. Noting that the daily press releases were often the only way to ensure transparency and institutional memory, he called on the Department to ensure their correctness.
JOSE OSVALDO SANABRIA RIVAROLA (Paraguay), associating himself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Group of Friends of Spanish at the United Nations, expressed concern about the digital divide, calling for increased efforts to reduce it. ICT had the potential to become a motor for better opportunities. That was especially true for States in special situations such as landlocked countries, he said, calling for capacity-building for them. On multilingualism, he stressed the importance of parity between the six languages, highlighting the need for making materials available in real time in Spanish. He went on to urge the Department of Public Information to strengthen integrated coordination on messages regarding the 2030 Agenda and climate change, among other important issues. It was also crucial the Department remain involved in special political missions and peacekeeping operations, whenever it was relevant for those missions, reiterating his country’s call for enough skilled staff to carry out those obligations. Despite technological progress, nothing could substitute for presence on the ground, he stressed.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77, said ICTs were effective tools in connecting peoples with different faiths and cultures, however social media could run the risk of misuse and abuse. He rejected inaccurate reporting and distorted information, and said the use of technology should be fully compatible with the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law, sovereignty and non-interference in States’ internal affairs. He encouraged the Department of Public Information to continue to promote important decisions and agreements by the international community and all initiatives aimed at maintaining international peace and security. In that regard, he noted the importance of the campaigns titled “a world against violence and violent extremism” and “United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations” as led by his country in previous General Assembly sessions. His Government supported efforts to raise awareness around the occupation and embargo on the Palestinian people, and commended the information and training programme for Palestinian journalists, among other initiatives. Similarly, Iran also supported the work of the information centres and Academic Impact. He additionally noted the contribution of multilingualism and called for the dissemination of information in other languages, including Persian.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala), acknowledging the value of new technologies in disseminating United Nations activities, he said that must not jeopardize the dissemination of information through traditional media. Noting that peacekeeping operations were among the emblematic activities of the United Nations, he noted that the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had stepped up their communication activities, with increased support from the Department of Public Information. Calling for parity among all official languages, he said it was necessary to change the information structure of the Organization. Creative and efficient use of resources for public information was vital, now more than ever, he emphasized, reiterating concern that the daily press releases were not being issued in all six official languages.
MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) noted the growing importance of the media, which not simply reported news, but sometimes created it. That was a cause for concern because some media outlets voluntarily distorted reality in service of a narrow political agenda instead of promoting a culture of peace and dialogue. He stressed the need for the United Nations to rely on credible journalistic sources that were impartial and would not spread false information. Numerous international media sources had shed light on the truth of what had happened in his country, he said. Most notably that included the activities of armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaida, whose recent attacks had not spared media facilities or journalists. He called for the Department of Public Information to redouble its efforts on Palestinian issues in line with relevant resolutions. It was also necessary for the Department to strive towards parity between the six official languages, placing more prominence on Arabic on its website. He went on to emphasize that freedom of expression was a universal right, but said it was unacceptable to use that right to attack the beliefs and heritage of others.