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Media support UN's work in combating intolerance, senior communications official says

Media support UN's work in combating intolerance, senior communications official says

Shashi Tharoor, (DPI)
The media can support the work of the United Nations in promoting tolerance and respect for human rights, Shashi Tharoor, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said today.

Addressing a panel discussion at the Conference on Promoting Tolerance and Human Rights through Education and the Media, being held in Nürnberg, Germany, Mr. Tharoor cited examples of how journalists support the work of the world body by serving as both a watchdog and as a source of information. "The media plays a vital role in 'naming and shaming' countries which fail to uphold the human rights of their citizens," he said. "The media can build pressure at those moments when the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must refrain from direct finger-pointing."

Drawing a distinction between the media in rich and poor parts of the world, he said the media in developed countries must take a deeper look at the issues covered, going beyond the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality, while developing countries need to open up to the outside world, liberalize the mass media, and resist government control and censorship.

The Under-Secretary-General noted that what passes for international culture "is usually the culture of the economically developed world." In terms of the Internet, the digital divide between North and South – "the dividing line is not just the poverty line but the fibre-optic and high speed digital lines" – remains stark. "There are more Internet connections in Manhattan than in the whole of Africa."

The international community will have an opportunity to make progress in this area next year at the first-ever World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Geneva, with a second segment in Tunis in 2005. "Between now and that Summit it is vital that we lay down some of the basic principles of the global information society we want to achieve," he said. "It should be universal and empowering; it should bring the world together instead of adding new divisions; and it should create a more just and more harmonious environment for the peaceful development of all peoples."

Mr. Tharoor said he is currently exploring with a number of media organizations the possibility of organizing a World Electronic Media Forum in Geneva in December 2003, parallel to the Summit, on the subject of the world media in the information society.

Quoting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Tharoor said, "There are those who argue that [freedom of speech] threatens stability and endangers progress? Let us put this argument once and for all to the only test that matters: the choice of every people to know more or know less, to be heard or be silenced, to stand up or kneel down."