COVID-19 Infodemic ‘Immediate Test Case’ for Global Communications Department’s Vision of Peaceful, Equitable World, Under-Secretary-General Tells Information Committee
Speakers Highlight Role of ‘Verified’ Campaign in Combating Misinformation Concerning Pandemic, ‘Only Together’ Initiative Promoting Global Vaccine Equity
The massive spread of misinformation and disinformation and surge of hate speech that has coalesced to undermine global public health during the COVID-19 crisis presents an “immediate test case” for the United Nations Department of Global Communications and its vision of a world thriving in peace, dignity and equality, its chief told the Committee on Information today, as delegates began their annual session.
Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Global Communications, said this “infodemic” gained momentum just as the Department was debuting its new Global Communications Strategy. As an approach that is organized around the “three W’s” of cause communications — What? Why care? Why now? — it can be applied to any issue.
“We are not satisfied with the approach of merely conveying information,” Ms. Fleming said, or engaging one-way with global audiences. “Our objective is for the United Nations to lead the narrative, to inspire people to care and to mobilize them for action.” Regardless of theme, the Department is striving to reach audiences in the languages they speak, on platforms they use with tailored content.
In response to the pandemic, she said the Department created the “Verified” campaign — a multilingual initiative to combat misinformation and ignorance, working with its partners, including the public, to share trusted, science-based information and stories of solidarity. She described the results as remarkable and a reminder of the appetite worldwide for clear facts and positive stories. The related “Only Together” initiative is promoting global vaccine equity.
Beyond these efforts, she said the Department’s broader COVID-19 communications have aimed to position the United Nations as the leading voice on pandemic response, with a web portal in the six official languages, extensive internal communications and promotion of the Secretary-General’s policy briefs as examples of how it is working to build trust with global audiences.
Importantly, the Department is also adapting its structures and processes, she said, with the creation of a dedicated climate communications team and “climate lab” of professionals, working across United Nations agencies to implement the climate communications strategy. These efforts are particularly crucial in the run up to the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November.
She said a similar approach will be deployed for the Food Systems Summit in September, as well as high-level events on biodiversity, oceans, energy and transport. The approach applies as well to communications on peace and security and human rights, and in advancing a solutions-focused narrative for Africa’s economic, political and social issues, reinforcing messages through digital communications and broader collaborations. Throughout, the Department is telling people-centred stories as a way of inspiring audiences to care.
Turning to racism, she acknowledged that “no one is immune, including the United Nations,” and expressed pride that the Department is helping to lead the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Addressing Racism and Promoting Dignity for All. More broadly, the Department is working with the Secretary-General’s Executive Office and network of United Nations focal points to develop the first-ever disability-inclusive communications guidelines and similarly keeping gender equality atop its priorities.
As for how Member States can support its work, she pointed to the urgent need to preserve the United Nations print history, currently housed in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, and the Department’s request for $10.5 million to cover a five-year work plan.
Drawing attention to results, she said the Department’s delivery of fresh, original content was rewarded by incredible growth in its multilingual audiences. The number of users who viewed the UN News website soared in 2020 to 41 million — and to 70 million page views across the nine languages. This compares to 10 million users, and 25 million page views in 2019. The main United Nations website saw a similar surge: between July and November 2020 alone, it registered 102 million page views. “The data illustrate that more and more, people turned to us to be informed about global issues,” she assured.
At the same time, she conceded that “we still lose something when we cannot reproduce the intangible connections generated by an in-person event,” a challenge faced by its flagship outreach and education programmes on the Holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, the Rwanda genocide and the question of Palestine. Quoting the Saint Lucian poet Derek Walcott, she stressed that in efforts to strengthen a fractured world, the Department will foster the care required for the task — through content that is verified, misinformation that is paused and the concert of response made possible only when undertaken together.
At the meeting’s outset, newly elected Committee Chair Cristian Espinosa Cañizares (Ecuador) acknowledged that United Nations outreach and communications campaigns must continue across multiple media platforms as the world tackles the enormous impact of COVID-19. “Reliable, neutral and objective information is vital,” he stressed, and the Committee has an essential role to play, as the very same information that allows for smooth and participatory communications can be corrupted to spread falsehoods, rumours, fear and ultimately violence.
Recalling that General Assembly resolution 69/324 recognizes that multilingualism promotes unity in diversity, he said it behooves the Committee to support the integration of its principles into all United Nations communications activities. He acknowledged the Department’s work to ensure that its services and outputs are truly multilingual, pointing to the joint celebration of Spanish Language Day and English Language Day on the same date — 23 April — as a sign that “we are destined to co-exist on equal footing,” rather than hierarchy. One year after the onset of COVID-19, the world is not out of the woods but it is stronger. “The United Nations must not waste the opportunity to establish optimism as the basis of relationship between its members,” he declared.
In that context, outgoing Committee Chair Omar Hilale (Morocco) credited the inspired leadership of the Under-Secretary-General, acknowledging that “a general who wins a war is best placed to secure the peace”.
In other business today, the Committee approved the work programme for its forty-third session. It also elected as Vice-Chairs Angelito Ayong Nayan (Philippines) and Darren Camilleri (Malta) for 2021 and 2022, with Mr. Camilleri also serving as Rapporteur. The Committee postponed consideration of Vice-Chairs representing the Group of African States and the Group of Eastern European States, pending nominations. Delegates also approved the request of Latvia to join the Committee,
The Committee also launched its general debate, during which delegates took up the Secretary-General’s reports on the Department of Global Communications strategic communications services (document A/AC.198/2021/2); news services (document A/AC.198/2021/3); and outreach and knowledge services (document A/AC.198/2021/4).
AHMED TIDIANE SAKHO (Guinea), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide and, while advanced communication technology has been adopted across much of the world, challenges in capacity and capability have left half of the population disconnected. He stressed the importance of addressing such gaps and urged the Department of Global Communications to promote and facilitate international cooperation to develop media, information and communication facilities and technologies in all countries. Pointing to the recent proliferation of misinformation, he underscored the necessity of disseminating factual, timely, targeted, clear, multilingual and science-based information. To this end, he said the Department must continue to provide credible information from authoritative sources within the United Nations system and guard the same against distortion.
He also called on the Department to mainstream multilingualism into all of its communication and information activities, within existing resources on an equitable basis. Noting the growing demand for content in languages in addition to the Organization’s official languages, he encouraged the Secretariat to explore issuing various media products in all official languages and non-official languages, including Portuguese, Hindi, Kiswahili, Urdu, Persian and Bangla. Calling on the Department to cover on an equal basis all summits, international conferences and high-level meetings mandated by the General Assembly, he expressed concern over the disparities existing between developed and developing countries and between English and other languages in United Nations global communications materials. He stated that the consequences thereof affect media and individual efforts to disseminate information and communicate effectively.
SÉBASTIEN BRABANT, European Union, said that the Department’s work relating to COVID-19 has been key in providing accurate information and dissipating public concern about the safety of vaccines. Noting the pandemic’s demonstration that misinformation can kill, he said that disinformation is also used to mislead, to violate human rights and to incite violence, hatred and discrimination both online and offline. He underscored the importance of ensuring public access to information, protecting fundamental freedoms — including those of opinion and expression — and recognizing the fundamental contribution of journalists and media workers in countering the spread of misinformation.
Turning to multilingualism, he said that the same is a necessary condition for the United Nations to promote its work to the global audience and for the transparency of the multilateral system. He called on the Department to ensure equitable treatment for all official languages in all Organization activities and to disseminate information in the other languages used by the Department. He also stressed the importance of seizing all opportunities to uphold multilingualism as a United Nations strength, including within the Department’s personnel through recruitment and training.
GUILLERMO FERNÁNDEZ DE SOTO (Colombia), speaking for the Group of Friends of Spanish, said his delegation promotes use of Spanish within the Organization and as a pillar of multilingualism. “Full implementation of multilingualism is a responsibility we must shoulder,” he said. Welcoming the new Global Communications Strategy and its related “Verified” campaign, he underscored the importance of the “Pledge to Pause” campaign in stopping the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Given the complexity of challenges ahead, he asked that the Secretary-General’s appeals, policy briefs and sectoral reports be made available in a timely fashion in all six official languages. He highlighted in particular that page hits on United Nations Spanish websites increased two-fold over 2019, welcoming as well as efforts by the United Nations Information Centres to integrate multilingualism into their work.
“Communicating the Organization’s work through story telling can constitute an effective means to involve wider audiences,” he said, pressing the Department to broaden the scope by telling those stories in other languages, moving beyond translating content to producing it in all six official languages. He underscored the principle of language parity, stressing that “we cannot postpone the balanced allocation of existing resources to respond to the demand for information by Spanish speaking countries.” The Department must have the means to respond to this growing interest in the United Nations work. He called for the appropriate use of Spanish language in all its richness and diversity, expressing support for references in the resolution to multilingualism as pillar of multilateralism. It is important to explore the use of voluntary contributions in that regard and ensure a constant dialogue with Member States in fulfilling the Department’s mandate.
JOSÉ LUIS ROCHA (Cabo Verde), speaking for the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, said the sharing of language among its members reinforces their mutual understanding, solidarity and cooperation. The Community promotes use of the Portuguese language in the national and international context, strengthening multilingualism and reaffirming the importance of both cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. Promotion of the Organization’s message beyond the six official languages reinforces the importance of informing a broad public as the world deals with an unprecedented pandemic. “More than ever, the provision of correct, impartial, comprehensive and multilingual information is an imperative service to international audiences,” he said, praising the United Nations Information Centres for their development of COVID-19 crisis communications, notably the Pledge to Pause campaign.
In Cabo Verde, the covid19.cv platform, created by a group of young innovators with United Nations support, is the main information channel for COVID‑19 issues, comprising several information modules that are integrated with official sources of public administration and security services, and even a crisis management hotline, he said. It was named “best technological innovation in the world to combat COVID-19” by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Moscow Innovation Agency. He expressed support for the Department’s willingness to reform by ensuring greater outreach to larger audiences in more places.
ENRIQUE AUSTRIA MANALO (Philippines), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said in the age of big data and cybersecurity concerns, many invisible forces are at work against the backdrop of an ever-evolving landscape of international relations and diplomacy. “We must work to ensure that a connected world promotes harmony instead of discord, especially in a pandemic context,” he said. Recognizing the Department’s innovative “Global Media Compact” initiative, he said that for Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member States, leveraging the media’s power and influence through information and communications technology (ICT) could propel the bloc towards a digitally-enabled secure, sustainable and transformative economy. Any information released by the United Nations and its agencies should be properly triangulated. Member States should have the opportunity to provide their position in such releases, he said, noting certain instances in which sweeping allegations and generalizations are made against a Member State due to information received from unsubstantiated sources. He stressed the importance of triangulating and substantiating all information — in the spirit of transparency and impartiality — given concerns about misinformation and the “post-truth era.”
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Spanish, along with the Group of Francophone Ambassadors who will deliver a statement on 27 April, pointed out that around 1 billion people — 15 per cent of global population — live with some form of disability and said that the Secretariat can improve coverage of United Nations bodies by facilitating simultaneous interpretation in the six official languages and in sign language. She also noted that no archived videos of Organization proceedings contain subtitles, which prevents the hearing-impaired from accessing their content. Turning to multilingualism, she urged the Secretariat to increase the amount of Spanish-language content it produces given the high demand for it, noting that the number of page views in Spanish had increased 63 per cent since 2019 and that Organization’s Spanish-language website is the second most widely visited. She urged the Secretariat to implement the requisite reforms to respond to the growing demand for Spanish-language content and to fully implement relevant Assembly resolutions.
OSUGA TAKESHI (Japan) said that while meeting virtually “might save the budgets”, the depth of mutual understanding is doomed to wither amid more opportunities for misinformation. Since the shutdown, Permanent Missions and the Secretariat have struggled to navigate through online meetings. “This vital task of the Department cannot be achieved without the global network of United Nations Information Centres,” he said, which are instrumental in reaching out directly to people around the world, telling human stories and communicating the values embodied by the Organization. He commended the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo as the Department’s only outpost for keeping Japanese informed about United Nations efforts during the crisis. Since before the pandemic, it has been instrumental in mobilizing the public, including the corporate sector, around the concept of “leaving no one behind”. He emphasized the importance of the United Nations system delivering as one, both in its assistance and its messaging at the country level, expressing the expectation that the Centres would continue to collaborate with Resident Coordinators and country teams. The same applies to Centres in non-programme countries, like Japan, where Resident Coordinators do not exist.
AMARNATH ASOKAN (India), stressing that people are looking for trusted information sources during the pandemic, welcomed that the Department has shouldered this critical need, including through its crisis team. The United Nations has earned the trust of citizens for communicating accurate COVID-19 information, seen in the triple-fold increase in visitors to its website. He commended the Department’s innovative use of social media to promote the Verified campaign, also citing the significant contributions of the United Nations Information Centres in these efforts. Engagement with new and traditional media will be important. Drawing attention to a campaign that promotes COVID-19 vaccination as a global public good, he said fair and equitable access is an immutable requirement in this regard. Answers to questions around whether vaccines are trustworthy are critical, and he urged the Department to place a greater focus on vaccine safety as a way to shore up public confidence. On the topic of multilingualism, he said India has partnered with the Department since 2018 to consolidate content in Hindi, and over three years it has seen interest grow exponentially, with Hindi social media accounts generating a massive following. Against that backdrop, he encouraged the Department to look at expanding content in other non-official languages.
FRANCISCO DUARTE LOPES (Portugal), aligning himself with the European Union and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, said that immediate action must be taken to prevent the spread of disinformation and hate speech and to preserve hard-won gains in protecting the freedom of speech to prevent the information environment from growing too toxic. To this end, he stressed the importance of initiatives such as the Verified campaign in disseminating reliable, credible information. He also underscored the need to contest the spread of misinformation regarding Organization efforts, particularly in the peacekeeping context as some consistently portray such efforts in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo in a negative light. He also said that multilingualism must be a communications priority, underlining the quality and relevance of the work carried out by the Portuguese-language service of UN News that provides important information to more than 250 million people.
MARIAM SHAIKH (Pakistan), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, pointed out that the majority of the global poor lack reliable, affordable Internet access and are further denied the benefits of technology during the COVID-19 crisis that has seen increasing reliance on devices and systems dependent on internet connectivity. She called on relevant United Nations entities to continue to devise innovative strategies to bridge this digital divide. Noting, however, that the Internet has given fake news an unprecedented scope and outreach that transcends borders, she welcomed the Department’s efforts in recognizing the challenges confronting the United Nations system in curbing false information about COVID-19, particularly through its Verified campaign. She called on the Department to increase multilingualism in its promotional campaigns — requesting this aspect be included in future programme budget proposals for the Department — and for the “sharply reduced” coverage of United Nations meetings to be restored to the normal level.
DENIESE AVA-LOU SEALEY (Jamaica), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the Department’s innovative approach to expand and intensify its ability to reach people, everywhere, throughout the pandemic, bearing in mind the loss of revenue and imposition of physical distancing requirements. She pointed to continued efforts through the Verified and Pledge to Pause campaigns, noting that Verified has provided more than 1 billion people with critical public health information and guidance, while also combating misinformation and disinformation. The resolution titled “Global Media and Information Literacy Week”, passed during the pandemic by the Assembly, comes at a time when it is increasingly urgent to ensure widespread media literacy for all. She went on to express support for the Department’s continued collaboration with Member States, the broader United Nations and academia to educate the public about the horrors of slavery, recommending deeper collaboration with the African diaspora on this important issue. Commending the United Nations Information Centres on the development of crisis communications strategies, she drew attention to the “Build Back Better” podcast series initiated by the Centre in Trinidad and Tobago in that context, recommending greater collaboration among the Centres, United Nations country teams and host countries throughout the Caribbean, nonetheless expressing concern over the Department’s scant attention paid to some aspects of its mandate related to the International Decade for People of African Descent.
SONG KIM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, commended the Department for its high performance and expressed hope of seeing action plans that prove to be significant in addressing emerging issues. Stressing that global information activities should be carried out in ways that respect diverse cultures, he said only when they are based on the principles of sovereignty and non-interference can they guarantee international peace and security, promote sound socioeconomic development and foster fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals. He expressed regret over the incitement of conflict by mass media for regime change purposes, noting that developed nations have devised advanced information tools to do so under the pretext free expression, slandering the political systems of other countries. Such sinister acts should be terminated, and the Department should instead prioritize a fair information order, based on the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and impartiality. It also should increase cooperation efforts to improve the information structure in developing countries, he said, noting that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea attaches great importance to healthy information activities that are conducive to socioeconomic development and people’s cultural life.
RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, called on the Department to continue disseminating the Organization’s ideals and activities in as many languages as possible, taking into account the linguistic diversity among countries and their varying degrees of digital development. Further, the Department should continue using a combination of Internet-based media and traditional communication such as television, print and radio, as these latter mediums are available in many households in developing countries with limited internet access. He also said that United Nations global campaigns and messaging must be adapted to different local contexts and encouraged the Department to reinforce its multilingual approach in the promotion of the Organization’s work and principles in languages including Portuguese, Kiswahili and Hindi. Detailing the success of the Organization’s communication strategy for the Verified campaign in Brazil — with all materials translated into Portuguese and campaigns centered around some of Brazil’s national passions — he stressed that such special attention to local characteristics is of utmost relevance to the international community’s approach to public information.
BEN BOURGEL (Israel) underscored the importance of accurate, reliable information in fighting against the recent proliferation of half-truths and falsehoods spreading through social media and other modern technology. Emphasizing that the Department’s role is more important than ever in a time where lies spread so easily, he welcomed its promotion of science-based information. He pointed out, however, that misinformation and factual distortion are not new phenomena, as Holocaust-denial continues to plague the world today. This denial, along with concomitant anti-Semitism, are a danger to everyone and must be combated. He also described the prominence of misinformation regarding the situation in the Middle East, stating that Israel is unfairly singled out by one-sided resolutions and actions. He questioned how the international community can hope to build peace in the region if the factual foundation on which such peace is to stand is so tilted to one side.
MOHAMED KAMAL ALI ELHOMOSANY (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the Department has addressed the COVID-19 crisis with “a great degree of professionalism”, citing its strategic communications, news services and outreach services in particular in fighting misinformation and disinformation. He underscored the importance of ensuring that the United Nations Information Centres have the resources needed to support communications goals related to peace and security, climate change, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. He called for preserving multilingualism in all its activities, stressing that media platforms have been used to spread false information, perpetuating conflicts. While Egypt cannot envision the imposition of limits on free expression, misuse of this right — and the resulting consequences — requires a balance between protection of free expression, on one hand, and maintenance of peace and security on the other. He also advocated adherence to international law, and the principles of non-interference and sovereignty in confronting false information and the spread of hatred, violence and extremism. “Information can be a double-edged sword,” he acknowledged, calling for its optimal use to ensure that all peoples enjoy peace and prosperity.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), associating herself with the European Union, said that in this digital age, people can transfer large amounts of information from one part of the world to another, opening the door for opportunities, as well as the spread of misinformation and disinformation. “We therefore need to remain vigilant to make sure that our citizens have access to factual and accurate information,” she said, calling partnerships with civil society, the private sector and social media giants crucial. She advocated redoubled efforts to make safe, affordable Internet access for all a reality, urging the Department to counter misinformation and disinformation around vaccine use. She went on to express deep concern about the rise in racism and hate crimes during the pandemic and pressed for greater efforts to address it. On the topic of multilingualism, she welcomed that outreach efforts in local and ethnic languages are being made and said investments in accessibility are needed to ensure that people with disabilities can access verified and factual information. If Malta is elected to the Security Council in 2023-24, the topic of literacy will be among its main priorities, she said, stressing that education provides a path to peace and stability. “By investing in literacy, we will also be investing in societal resilience,” she assured.
JAMES ROSCOE (United Kingdom) said that the Department’s response to communications challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic can be measured by impressive media and digital engagement numbers between July and November 2020, including: an increase of 2 million followers across all flagship social media accounts; the largest ever increase in audiences visiting the Organization’s website; an increase in UN News users from 5.6 million to 15.6 million; and 62 million video views of virtual meetings and events across streaming platforms. He said that this surge is largely due to global demand for accurate, impartial, comprehensive and multilingual information about the pandemic. He also welcomed the Department’s work through the Verified campaign to inform global audiences on the pandemic and tackle the proliferation of misinformation. Noting the recent rise in pandemic-related intolerance, racism and xenophobia, he urged the Department to continue its support across the United Nations system to eradicate all forms of hatred, intolerance, discrimination, harassment, racism, hate speech and xenophobia. The Department’s outreach and collaboration with civil society and the private sector is essential to the international community’s ability to tackle the “infodemic” and to emphasize the Organization’s value to global audiences as the world looks beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA (Cuba), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that United Nations Information Centres are playing a crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing multilingual public-health information and guidance and combating disinformation relating to the novel coronavirus. He also welcomed the Department’s commitment to multilingualism in its news service but cautioned that its use of emerging technology should not eclipse traditional communication tools like television, radio and print. He expressed regret that, in a world constantly developing new communications technology, 773 million people remain illiterate. For its part, Cuba is digitizing its society by investing in telecommunications services and infrastructure. However, progress on this front has been hindered by the illegal, unilateral blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States that, between April 2019 and March 2020, has caused economic losses in the amount of $5.57 billion. This negatively impacts the development of necessary communications infrastructure and services as the ICT sectors alone have suffered over $64 million in damages as a result of these measures. Detailing illegal broadcasts sent from the United States to Cuba, he stressed that the use of communications technology must comport with the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia), aligning himself with the European Union, said that his country is “glad and honoured” to become the latest member of the Committee on Information. He welcomed the Department’s communication efforts — especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — including the many stages of the Verified campaign and the Department’s decision to partner with social media platforms. He also underscored the importance of strengthening communication in low-density languages. Pointing to an increasing need to fight misinformation both online and offline while safeguarding fundamental freedoms such as those of opinion and expression, he detailed various cross-regional partnerships with which his country is involved towards this end. These efforts include the recent introduction of a resolution on Global Media and Information Literacy Week — adopted by the General Assembly on 29 March — and he called for robust implementation of this timely resolution.
SERHII DVORNYK (Ukraine), aligning himself with the European Union, said that attempts to weaponize information are now a routine element of the global security landscape and, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Ukraine has observed efforts to use the pandemic as a new instrument for misinformation activities both domestically and abroad. Vaccination has become a new target for such attacks and must be protected from the danger of public distrust, he said, praising the Department’s efforts in this area, including the initiation of the Verified and Only Together campaigns. Recalling, on the thirty-fifth anniversary of the worst-ever nuclear disaster, the history of Chornobyl and the related response by Soviet authorities, he said that this story is “a powerful reminder that disinformation, just like radiation, is an invisible killer.” He welcomed recent developments within the United Nations framework that strengthen the focus on countering this dangerous phenomenon, particularly the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on Global Media and Information Literacy Week. He also called for a global, systemic approach to tackle fake news, but cautioned that success will only be possible if freedom of expression is respected and free, independent and pluralistic media is protected. On this, he expressed concern over deteriorating freedom of expression for journalists in the temporarily occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas.
YASSER HALFAOUI (Morocco) said the uptick in disinformation underscores the need for reliable, neutral and objective information, commending the Department and the World Health Organization (WHO) for their harmonized crisis communications. The infodemic required a robust response, in the form of the Verified and Pledge to Pause campaigns, he said, noting that the pandemic allowed for accelerating implementing the new communications strategy, with a focus on climate action, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations and the twenty-fifth anniversary of resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, among other issues. Commending the United Nations Information Centre in Rabat for its pandemic response, he said Morocco looks forward to the launch of the website for the International Day of Argan. On peacekeeping, he highlighted Morocco’s contribution as a major troop-contributing country since the 1960s, noting that the Organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary coincided with that celebrating Morocco’s contribution to peacekeeping. Support is needed for the digitalization of the United Nations Library. Alongside these efforts, he expressed support for continued efforts around multilingualism, coverage of high-level events and the three pillars of the United Nations.
ASBINA MARIN SEVILLA (Venezuela) expressed concern over the spread of false and misleading information, calling for redoubled efforts to disseminate reliable information underpinned by science. She commended the United Nations Information Centres and WHO in this regard, while also urging States to democratize the use of ICTs and highlighting the importance of both press and audiovisual media as the main information sources in developing countries. The United Nations must help to build capacity in all countries. The misuse of ICTs contravenes international law and she rejected the publication of incomplete information by United Nations networks and any editorialization of news. The Organization should promote objectivity, impartiality and the responsible use of ICTs without media sensationalism. Otherwise, it conveys the impression that it is being used to attack sovereign States. Linguistic equity is a priority, she said, calling for balanced use of the six official languages and underscoring the relevance of Spanish as the second most used language on websites.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of United Nations global communication policies and activities in addressing a complex crisis. She welcomed the Department’s work on strategic communications to this end, particularly through its Verified campaign that created specific, multilingual messages for each country to achieve a greater impact on local audiences. She also called on the Department to make use of best practices and lessons learned to continue responding to related challenges — such as ensuring just, equitable and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines — and to make use of media accessible to all given the digital divide within and between countries. Noting the exponential growth in views and audience participation in the Organization’s news services on all platforms, she pointed out that Spanish-language services saw the greatest proportional increase in duration of visits and greatest growth in audience share. She stressed that, while multilingualism is a fundamental value of the United Nations and a crucial component for inclusion and cultural diversity, significant challenges remain in ensuring parity between the six official languages.
FABIÁN ODDONE (Argentina), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that the pandemic taught the world a painful lesson — that disinformation can kill — and he supported Department efforts that introduce and disseminate accurate, multilingual content and campaigns relating to COVID-19. Noting that multilingualism is a fundamental value of the United Nations, he urged the Department to move away from its “culture of translation” — which treats English as the base language — towards a true multilingual culture that accounts for the particularities of multiple languages at all stages of the communications process. He welcomed the continued growth of Spanish-language searches for United Nations services and called for this to be taken into account when distributing existing resources. Expressing concern regarding the unequal use of the six official languages, he said that not all material is available in such languages across the Organization’s online presence and, further, that some websites do not update their content in the six languages at the same pace. He also underscored the value of the Department’s coverage of official meetings of the General Assembly, Security Council and their subsidiary bodies as the only way of ensuring transparency, accountability and institutional memory while noting that such records are only available in two of the six official languages with no normative justification for this discrimination. Audiovisual archives of such meetings should be made available in all six official languages.
HENRY JONATHAN VIERA SALAZAR (Ecuador), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish, drew attention to questions posed by people outside the United Nations about how to end extreme poverty, address climate change, and how multilateralism supports women in its work. The culture of communications at the United Nations ensures that “culture is connected to the people,” he said, championing the use of various information channels to reach the greatest numbers of people. He especially called for strategies to meet the needs of young people and, pointing to the digital divide, called for continued use of traditional communications technologies. He also highlighted the disparity in the use of English and French in United Nations communications and the other official languages, urging the Department to consider audiences’ “decisive” use of Spanish — conveyed by the data — in the design of its strategies and campaigns.
JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, highlighted the propagation of misinformation and disinformation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting the need for the diffusion of science-based, reliable information, he commended the United Nations for its COVID-19 communications response initiative and, in particular, for the Verified campaign announced by the Secretary-General in April 2020. Voicing concern about the digital divide, which has significantly increased due to the pandemic, he pointed out that many developing countries are not benefiting from the currently available technologies. Calling on the Department to take steps within its means to help to close this gap, he also recognized multilingualism as a core value of the Organization and encouraged initiatives that promote the universal dissemination of the Portuguese language.
YUANCHUN MA (China), endorsing the statement by the Group of 77 and China, said the pandemic and scourge of misinformation has brought about unprecedented challenges that have been effectively confronted by the Department. She recommended that the Department mobilize resources, integrate communications tools and focus on the implementation of United Nations priority agendas, such as the response to COVID-19 and ensuring equal access to vaccines. It should lead communications on the core issues, uphold professionalism, use multimedia and multilingual platforms to provide fair, balanced projects and work to fight racism. Moreover, she called on the Department to deepen its cooperation with Member States and media organizations, as well as to uphold multilingualism and enhance equal use of the six official languages. Resolutions on multilingualism meanwhile should be implemented, she said, adding that personnel resources for Chinese should be augmented. Noting that 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of China’s seat at the United Nations, she said her country will work to advance the United Nations core values.
RABAB FATIMA (Bangladesh), highlighting the Department’s initiative for building trust and combating misinformation through its Verified campaign to dispel misinformation in the wake of COVID-19, said that the value of strategic communication cannot be underestimated. In her country, continuous awareness-raising activities were crucial for ensuring the vaccination of approximately 11 million people. Turning to the observance of International Mother Language Day on 21 February, she said it promotes respect for pluralism and multilingualism, especially at a time when numerous small languages are on the verge of extinction. Lauding the work of the United Nations Information Centre in Bangladesh in promoting ethnic languages, she welcomed its publication of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Chakma language and called on the Department to promote Bangla in its news service. Acknowledging the Department’s support for the observance of the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, she recalled the genocide that took place in her country in 1971 and called on the United Nations to mobilize public opinion against such crimes.
INDIRA GOHIWAR ARYAL (Nepal), associating with the Group of 77 and China, cited the Verified campaign as an effective platform for advocating equity and commending its use of reliable statistics and best practices related to communications concerning drugs, diagnoses and guidelines. While the Department adopted hybrid communications modalities, she encouraged it to be mindful of the digital divide, which has widened during the crisis, and called for better international cooperation to help developing countries build the capacity to take advantage of ICTs. She encouraged the Department to continue its promotional services and campaigns regarding peacekeeping operations, emphasizing the contribution of troop- and police-contributing countries and peacekeepers. She similarly welcomed efforts by the United Nations Information Centres, translating the Organization’s materials into 123 languages and raising awareness about social challenges in local languages. Welcoming such efforts by the Centre in Kathmandu, she encouraged the Department to include Nepali in its global campaign products and services, and to seek voluntary contributions for financing some aspects of its broader work. She also advocated for more partnerships with civil society.
DANIEL PRADA (Spain), aligning himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of Spanish, praised the flexibility and agility that allowed the Department to become a reference point for communication during an unprecedented health crisis without compromising its work in other areas such as climate change and the empowerment of women and girls. Pointing out that multilingualism plays a key role in making the United Nations effective, inclusive, transparent and participatory, he stressed that there is room for improvement in this area. Recalling a virtual United Nations concert during the week of 18-24 April celebrating the Spanish language, he said that all information regarding this event was only available in English on the Organization’s website — all the more striking given the impetus behind this celebration. He called on the Department to approach multilingualism not by translating information, but instead by having true multilingual teams that design multilingual communications content from planning to development to implementation. Pointing out that the Organization’s website and social media provide the entry point for those trying to understand what the United Nations does for the world and how they can be a part of a better future, he called on the Department to close the gap between demand for Spanish-language content and the content currently available therein.
SUPRIYANTO SUWITO (Indonesia), endorsing the statement by the Group of 77 and China, commended the Department’s dissemination of key messages in the fight against COVID-19, notably around vaccine equity. He expressed concern over the spread of hoaxes, fake news and misinformation, highlighting Indonesia’s co-authorship of the Cross-Regional Statement on the infodemic, endorsed by 132 countries in June 2020, and calling on the Department to mainstream multilingualism in all of its work, including through use of local languages such as Bahasa Indonesia, which is spoken by 270 people. He also called for the expansion of outreach initiatives, partnerships with regional organizations and promotion of activities by United Nations peacekeepers, as well as troop- and police-contributing countries. He similarly urged the Department to facilitate international cooperation and capacity-building programmes in the areas of media and ICTS, particularly with developing countries.