Assembly's information committee urged to send message that 'UN matters'

Assembly's information committee urged to send message that 'UN matters'

Shashi Tharoor
A top United Nations official today urged the UN's Committee on Information to send a strong message to the General Assembly and the world that the Organization mattered and its voice must be heard at a time of increasing divisions between peoples and cultures.

Opening the Committee’s 2003 session, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said the panel was meeting at a time when the recent and ongoing events in Iraq had seriously challenged the United Nations. Questions had been raised about the Organization’s future. Some had declared that the United Nations was “irrelevant,” while others were genuinely concerned about a perceived failure by the UN to prevent the war and the consequent weakening of the Organization.

The Committee, which makes recommendations to the Assembly on the policy and activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI), is scheduled to meet through 9 May on a number of other major issues, including the strengthening of multilingualism at the United Nations, reviewing the closing of United Nations Information Centres and the impact of radio broadcasts.

Faced with the great challenge of finding ways to increase awareness and understanding of the UN's multiple roles in the Iraq crisis, the Department of Public Information (DPI) had succeeded in conveying the message that success or failure in any one area, however important, did not "make or break" the United Nations, Mr. Tharoor said. Ensuring that the immediacy of the situation in Iraq did not overwhelm communication of what the United Nations was doing in other areas had been no less challenging.

While he said he could not speak of a "new DPI," he could speak of a "renewed DPI." There had been a great deal of change over the last year regarding the Department's activities and implementation of the Committee's recommendations. DPI had further refined its mission, which was "to help fulfil the substantive purposes of the United Nations by strategically communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to achieve the greatest public impact."

Committee Chairman Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh said the Committee was meeting against the matrix of an extraordinarily trying time, in which the resolve and commitment that had originally led to the creation of the United Nations was being tested. The session also coincided with an important period of reform of the Organization. The Committee thus had the onerous responsibility to ensure that the voice of the United Nations was heard around the world, through both traditional and the latest online technologies.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China (G-77), the representative of Morocco, Mohamed Bennouna, said DPI’s dynamic role was to both be informed and inform. It must be strong, reactivated and restructured, with the capacity to elaborate coherent communication strategies, which allowed the developing world to benefit from the new communications technologies, he said. Restructuring, however, should not be at the expense of the communications programmes concerning development, conflict prevention, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, dialogue among civilizations, and the wide-ranging needs of Africa.

Acknowledging DPI's "courageous" efforts to meet the demands of an efficiency-oriented environment, George Psiachas, the representative of Greece, on behalf of the European Union, said the extraordinary opportunity provided by the Department's new strategic direction would maximize the use of its resources and enhance its political visibility. With its new organizational structure - launched on 1 November 2002 - DPI now had all the necessary tools to carry out is mandates. Prioritization of activities was crucial, and the Department should present its proposals in a clear, strategic and measurable way.