Speakers Argue Over Special Information Programme Addressing Question of Palestine, as Information Committee Session Continues
As the Committee on Information entered the second day of its forty-first session today, speakers took opposing stances on the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine — which the Department of Global Communications oversees — while also spotlighting the potential negative impact of fake news on international relations.
Israel’s representative said the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine has presented a dishonest narrative of the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a biased account of the current situation in the Middle East. Pointing to a public exhibition in the General Assembly building, he said it fails to address the conflict’s root cause — the ongoing refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, as recognized in General Assembly resolution 181, adopted in 1947.
Echoing that view, the representative of the United States said initiatives, such as the Special Information Programme, promote one-sided representations of Israel, give ammunition to that country’s enemies and harm the Organization’s credibility. She called on the Department of Global Communications to address that concern and ensure that anti-Israel messages are not part of its activities.
Iran’s delegate, on the other hand, said the United Nations bears an important responsibility to raise awareness regarding the question of Palestine and the negative consequences of the occupation of Palestinian territories. He commended the Department’s work in that regard, including training for Palestinian journalists. Welcoming the Department’s initiatives combating violent extremism and promoting dialogue between civilizations, he urged it to contribute to raising awareness of the negative impact of unilateral sanctions on targeted countries.
The representative of the Russian Federation — who noted that her country played host in 2018 to a seminar organized by the Department on peace in the Middle East — spotlighted the issue of fake news, saying it is being used by some countries or groups of countries to counter alternative points of view. Media resources are meanwhile being subjected to antagonism and confrontation, creating a dangerous situation reminiscent of the cold war period. She called on all States to combat fake news and for the Department to involve itself in that cause.
Also speaking today were representatives of Trinidad and Tobago and Saudi Arabia, as well as an observer of the League of Arab States.
The Committee on Information will meet again on Wednesday, 1 May at 10 a.m. to continue its forty-first session.
ANDREA STANFORD (United States), voicing her support for the Department of Global Communications’ work, said she looked forward to negotiating the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) resolution titled “Questions relating to information”. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of American democracy and the United States is committed to helping all societies develop capacities for the free flow of and access to information by all people. She applauded the Department’s promotion of multilingualism across outreach platforms and its adoption of new technologies. However, “this is not business as usual”, she stressed, underscoring that the Department must conduct its work in the most effective and efficient way possible, including through optimizing its many United Nations Information Centres and leveraging technology. It was also important to eliminate anti-Israel bias across the United Nations system. Initiatives such as the Department’s Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine promote one-sided representations of Israel, give ammunition to that country’s enemies and harm the Organization’s credibility. She called on the Department to address that concern and ensure that anti-Israel messages are not part of its activities.
Mr. NAVEH (Israel) said that his country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on 1 May not only remembers the 6 million Jewish people murdered by the Nazis, but also marks a warning of what can happen when the idea of racial or national supremacy is supported. As well, the Day illuminates how the world order must be based on mutual respect and the recognition of nations’ rights to exist in peace, determine their own destiny and defend themselves, which is why the international community should continue commemorating the Holocaust internationally here at the United Nations. The Charter of the United Nations guarantees all nations’ rights to self-determination and self-defence and facilitates peaceful international cooperation. Yet, its principles are being challenged and threatened by some States’ destabilizing behaviour. Some decisions, resolutions and programmes originating from the United Nations itself, including the Department, are incompatible with the Charter’s principles.
He went on to say that the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine has presented a dishonest narrative of the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a biased account of the current situation in the region. The public exhibition Question of Palestine, displayed in the General Assembly building, fails to address the conflict’s root cause — the ongoing refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, as recognized in General Assembly resolution 181, adopted in 1947. The Palestinians have not, to this day, accepted the resolution because they do not want to allow the Jewish people to seek self-determination, he said, and he called for a different information programme on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that reflects the truth.
MARIA ZAKHAROVA (Russian Federation), describing her country’s day-to-day cooperation with the Department, spotlighted the international seminar on the problem of peace in the Middle East, held in the Russian Federation last year, and a photo exhibition at Headquarters on the blockade of Leningrad, among other events. The Department’s reforms should reflect the latest trends in information and communications technologies and prioritize awareness-raising of the Organization’s agenda. Innovations should take into account the views of Member States, she said, requesting more frequent informal briefings with the Under-Secretary-General as well as information about budget costs that could lead to a loss of services. However, she noted that multilingualism is starting to be seen as an anachronism. News services should serve the general public, not targeted audiences. As well, fake news is being used by some countries or groups of countries to counter alternative points of view. Media resources are meanwhile being subjected to antagonism and confrontation, creating a dangerous situation reminiscent of the cold war period. Noting that World Press Freedom Day is being celebrated this week, she called on States to combat fake news and for the Department to be involved itself in that cause.
PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago) commended the Department for finding new ways to reach target audiences through advancements in all languages and new communication technology. Highlighting activities organized by the United Nations Information Centre in Port of Spain — particularly media workshops on the Sustainable Development Goals — she called for further support for the Centre to develop and expand its information technology capacity. That would enable it to increase its operational efficiency and extend its outreach efforts. While repositioning the United Nations development system and merging the Information Centres and resident coordinator offices will result in cost savings and increased efficiencies, she reiterated the importance of ensuring that the transition preserves the gains achieved.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the misuse and abuse of social media to disseminate disinformation is negatively impacting States and peoples. The use of such technology must be compatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law, including national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States. Welcoming the Department’s initiatives in the areas of combating violent extremism and promoting dialogue between civilizations, he urged it to contribute to raising awareness of the negative impact of unilateral sanctions on targeted countries. The United Nations also has an important responsibility to raise awareness regarding the question of Palestine and the negative consequences of the occupation. He commended the Department’s work in that regard, including training for Palestinian journalists. He also encouraged the Department to keep the strengthening of United Nations Information Centres on its agenda and to include the Persian language in its efforts to expand multilingualism.
MOHAMMAD ABDURRAHMAN S. ALKADI (Saudi Arabia), emphasizing that productive cooperation must be the basis between States and the Department, questioned why the meeting was not being recorded and transmitted live. That situation made it difficult to cover proceedings. Moreover, it is also very difficult to access recordings, which sometimes are not posted with interpretation. To rectify this, he suggested a feature on the website to record meetings and access statements in a timely manner. Despite the potential of the eDelegate website, not all events are posted, thus impeding access to statements and the names of participants. Making such information accessible will ameliorate services, he said, expressing hope that the Department will rely on accurate information and not fake reports.
Ms. FLITTI, an observer for the League of Arab States, said United Nations coverage of activities and events is a critical tool to disseminate information worldwide, including on promoting the Sustainable Development Goals. The League has launched activities in the region, including developing an electronic platform to monitor States’ work towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In addition, communication channels play a critical role to inform the region’s people, particularly efforts made to prevent terrorists from using the Internet in their recruitment campaigns.
For its part, the League’s Cairo office has opened all channels of communication in the region to intensify cooperation, hold training sessions and exchange experiences in areas of concern, she said. Using Arabic as a working language — like English and French — at international and regional levels would help that goal. With 541 million people in the region, Arabic is now the third most used language, after Chinese and English. As such, efforts on regional and global levels must reflect this.