The Committee on Information, which oversees the work of the Department of Global Communications, concluded its annual session today with the adoption of its report to the General Assembly, which includes two resolutions for formal adoption by the 193-nation organ.
The report, approved without a vote, contains four chapters titled “Introduction” and “Organizational questions” (document A/AC.198/2021/L.1), “General debate” (document A/AC.198/2021/L.2) and “Preparation and adoption of the report of the Committee to the General Assembly at its seventy-sixth session,” which contains draft resolutions A and B (document A/AC.198/2021/L.3).
By the terms of draft resolution A, titled “Information in the Service of Humanity”, the Assembly would urge all countries, the United Nations system and others to cooperate and interact with a view to reducing disparities in information flows by increasing assistance for the development of communications infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries. It would also, among other things, urge them to ensure for journalists the free and effective performance of their professional tasks and condemn all attacks against them.
Through draft resolution B, titled “United Nations global communications policies and activities”, the Assembly would emphasize the need for all Member States to stand together to address the challenge of disinformation and misinformation, including on the Internet. It would re-emphasize the importance of ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms, including freedom of opinion and expression, and the freedom of the press. It would call on the Department to intensify cooperation with the United Nations system for the effective dissemination of scientific knowledge, best practices and information regarding, among other things, new diagnostics, drugs and COVID-19 vaccines.
By that same far-ranging text, the Assembly would urge the Department to promote initiatives by Member States, international organizations and vaccine producers to make COVID-19 vaccines available to those who need them most. It would urge the Department to support efforts by the United Nations system to eradicate all forms of hatred, intolerance and discrimination. It would underline the Secretariat’s responsibility to mainstream multilingualism into all its communication and information activities, within existing resources on an equitable basis. It would also request the Secretary-General to make further proposals for rationalizing the worldwide network of United Nations information centres, which must be carried out in consultation with concerned Member States.
Presenting the chapter of the report devoted to the Committee’s general debate, Darren Camilleri (Malta), Vice-Chair and Rapporteur, said that many delegations noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for United Nations communications to be more rapid, strategic and comprehensive. Speakers commended the Department’s efforts in tackling this problem, with many expressing appreciation and support for the “Verified” initiative to combat misinformation and disinformation amid the pandemic. They also commended the Department’s “Only Together” and “Pledge to Pause” campaigns, as well as the Assembly’s proclamation of a Global Media and Information Literacy Week from 24 to 31 October.
While many speakers commended the Department’s use of social media and digital campaigns, they also discussed the digital divide within and between nations, which many noted has grown during the pandemic, the Rapporteur said. Many delegates condemned the proliferation of hate speech, expressed concerns about freedom of expression and highlighted the need to protect journalists and ensure public access to information. Many stressed the importance of multilingualism and language parity in the Department’s work, with one delegate saying that it must shift away from a culture of translation towards true multilingualism. Various speakers said that communications must always be compatible with the Charter of the United Nations and international law, especially the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.
The representative of Hungary disassociated her country from operative paragraph 11 of resolution B, which refers to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. She explained that Hungary did not participate in negotiations on the Global Compact nor is it engaged in its implementation, adding that migration policies are a national concern.
The representative of the United States voiced support for the Department’s efforts to counter disinformation and misinformation, encourage scientifically sound communications to address vaccine hesitancy and highlight ways in which the world can build back better and greener. The United Nations and the Department are advancing a dialogue that is critical for defeating the pandemic, combatting climate change, preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons, supporting peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts and delivering humanitarian assistance, she stated.
The representative of Guinea, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that it is pleased with the Department’s awareness-raising efforts during the pandemic, including the Verify campaign. It also welcomes the Organization’s first comprehensive communications policy and supports the work undertaken by United Nations information centres to disseminate information in local languages. The Group is concerned, however, about digital disparities between States and the use of digital technologies for purposes incompatible with the Charter of the United Nations, he said. He went on to say that, despite some progress, disparities in the use of all official languages in the United Nations global communications media, including in peacekeeping missions, remains a matter of deep concern.
The representative of the European Union, conveying the bloc’s support for the Department, said that the resolutions approved today were “rightly coloured by the challenges of our time”, including the pandemic. Important elements about disinformation and misinformation, the safety of journalists and media literacy are included in the text, which also underscores the freedom of expression and media rights.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that, during negotiations, some comments and proposals were made which featured language that does not enjoy consensus. He also thanked the Department for providing Russian-language media support for an exhibition that marked the anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, delivered closing remarks, saying that she was encouraged by how many delegates commended the Department on continuing its role as a source of reliable information during the pandemic. “We have provided the world with information on not just COVID-19, but also promoting the Sustainable Development Goals, human rights, peace and security, climate action and the struggle against intolerance and xenophobia, among many other priority subjects,” she said, adding that, in doing so, the Department is focused not only on describing problems, but also on identifying solutions and empowering the public through people-centred storytelling.
She assured delegates that the Department remains staunchly committed to producing print, television and audio content alongside digital media. It is also deeply committed to producing content in all six of the Organization’s official languages — Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish — as it strives to mainstream multilingualism in its work. The Department still faces serious resource limitations in its efforts to enhance multilingual capacity, but it will keep exploring innovative ways to expand its multilingual products and services, she said. “I was heartened to hear so many of you say that DGC’s [Department of Global Communications’] work is needed now more than ever,” she said, adding that this year will be pivotal for the global community as the Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and the struggle to overcome the pandemic continues.
The Committee on Information, chaired during its forty-third and forty-fourth sessions by Cristian Espinosa (Ecuador), is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly that deals with questions relating to public information. It oversees the work of the Department of Global Communications and provides it with guidance on its policies, programmes and activities.