Committee on Information Disscuses Multilingualism, SDG's and Refugees at Opening Session

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26-Apr-2016 02:32:18
Sustainable Development Goals and the refugee crisis are among department’s key focus areas, Under-Secretary-General tells Committee on Information during the opening of the thirty-eighth session.

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Funding shortfall cited for ‘curtailing’ impact of multilingualism effort.

Disseminating information on the Sustainable Development Goals, building awareness around the need for a humane global approach to refugees, and explaining the impacts of the work of the United Nations during its upcoming leadership change were three priorities for the Department of Public Information in 2016, the Committee on Information heard today, as it opened its thirty-eighth session.

In opening remarks, Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, called on delegates in the 115-member body to make this year one of action. “The need for action on the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] that you adopted last September also extends to the Paris Agreement on climate change that so many of you signed last Friday, and the crisis faced by refugees and migrants worldwide.”

Together, the themes formed a single integrated narrative, she said, with markers that presented communications opportunities. The Department had coordinated messaging across the system with major external partners and media. The 63 United Nations information centres had taken the lead in translating the Sustainable Development Goals into at least 45 local languages, while the Department’s year-round promotion of issues driving the World Humanitarian Summit, to be held in May in Istanbul, would include a unified, multilingual web presence.

While the multilingualism “thread” ran through all Department efforts, she said limited resources had curtailed its impact. The Secretary-General’s budget submission for the 2016-2017 biennium had included a request for additional language posts to ensure language parity; however, the General Assembly had rejected the proposal, approving instead non-post resources for multilingualism.

With that in mind, Committee Chair Kaha Imnadze (Georgia) said the body owed it to itself to ask whether its resolutions sought to be politically attractive even if practically unsustainable. He asked whether Member States were doing their utmost to ensure that staff who dealt with budgetary matters lent their support to plans for carrying out Committee decisions.

He advocated for greater consistency in the mandates authored by the Committee and more consultations — within each mission — between staff involved in information and those involved in resolution implementation. In the coming days, he encouraged the Committee to put forward a resolution that was “inspirational and practical”, and that once adopted, delegates would defend within their missions.

In the ensuing general debate, delegates stressed the importance of the Department’s work amid calls for the United Nations to better connect with the global public, with some pointing to its pivotal role in creating a more just global communications order.

In that context, the European Union’s representative said the Department would play a key role in “keeping the momentum” during implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement. His delegation would support the Department, focused on ways to streamline administration and implement cost-effective communication between Headquarters and field offices.

The integration of multilingualism into all activities was a common concern, with Thailand’s representative, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, one of many delegates urging the design of a strategy for publishing daily press releases in all six official languages of the Organization.

The representative of Mexico, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, echoed calls to end the language disparity, noting that the lack of resources should not impede solutions. Argentina’s delegate voiced concern about linking the issue to budgetary matters, as the Assembly had stated that the question should be resolved through the equitable distribution of resources.

India’s representative, while welcoming radio programming in Hindi, Urdu and Bengali, said there were millions of other major languages on the subcontinent. He supported the establishment of a language development centre to reframe content for a wider, more diverse audience.

While several speakers supported the use of new technologies, such as Twitter, to reach wider audiences, most urged continued support for United Nations information centres and use of traditional media, such as television and radio, to reach those still excluded from such innovations. On that point, Venezuela’s delegate emphasized the need for training programmes.

Also speaking today were representatives of the Dominican Republic (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Burkina Faso (on behalf of the Francophone Group of New York), Egypt, Cuba, Iran and Côte d’Ivoire.

The Committee on Information will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 27 April, to continue its thirty-eighth session.
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