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Assembly committee focuses on 'digital divide,' UN communication efforts

Assembly committee focuses on 'digital divide,' UN communication efforts

The challenges of bridging the digital divide between the developing and industrialized countries and the search for the most effective ways to communicate the United Nations story to global audiences were among the issues topping the agenda of the UN General Assembly's Committee on Information that opened today its session in New York.

Speaking at the outset of the general debate on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, the representative of Venezuela, Domingo Blanco, said that the "dizzying speed" of changes in the field of technology had left some countries out, thereby broadening the digital gap between the rich and poor. One major challenge, he stressed, was to reduce differences and reverse the trends that threatened to further broaden that divide. As for the work of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), he noted that it was crucial that the UN made use of traditional means of communications and welcomed efforts made to improve the radio and television components of the Department.

Addressing the 98-member panel on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Spain, Augustin Galán, emphasized the need for a communications culture to permeate all levels and all departments of the UN Secretariat and the Organization as a whole. The Millennium Declaration should guide the Department in orienting its work towards major issues, he said. In addition, the DPI should work primarily through intermediaries, move towards a new "evaluation culture" of increased performance management, and rely, to a greater degree, on existing external media to reach the public.

For his part, Committee Chairman Milos Alcalay of Venezuela said that the current session was of fundamental importance. Indeed, the Committee must play a vital role in the twenty-first century since the efficiency of a public organization depended upon an effective communications policy, he stressed. In particular, the Organization must have an information policy capable of disseminating the shared values of peace and democracy with all peoples of the world.

Echoing these thoughts, the Interim Head of DPI, Shashi Tharoor, underscored that the Committee was meeting at an unusually interesting time in the history of the Secretariat as the UN repositioned itself for even greater relevance as the indispensable global institution of the twenty-first century, and the Department had a key role to play in that effort.

Mr. Tharoor noted that the Committee had before it a report outlining Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision on how to reorient DPI and position it for greater impact. Mr. Tharoor explained that in an attempt to more effectively allocate resources and achieve greater effectiveness in programme delivery, some hard decisions and choices had to be made. Some activities might need to be discontinued, drastically reduced or transferred elsewhere within the UN Secretariat, he noted.

"Now it is up to you, members of the Committee, to give us your thoughts on these matters, to tell us what you expect from DPI," he said. Repositioning DPI would not come without some "transitional pain", and a certain amount of "re-learning", he added, but that was the best way to ensure that the United Nations has the most effective communications mechanisms in place, and to ensure that DPI became a leading voice in communicating the work of the UN to the world's public.