Delegates Welcome Code of Conduct Initiative, Call for Mainstreaming Multilingualism, as Committee on Information Continues Session
Denouncing the epidemic of misinformation and disinformation proliferating during the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and the rising geopolitical tensions, delegates welcomed today an initiative by the Department of Global Communications to draft a code of conduct to promote integrity in public information while urging it to mainstream multilingualism into its activities.
As the Committee on Information continued its annual session, the United Kingdom’s representative declared: “People are looking to the United Nations now more than ever as a source of trusted information.” Emphasizing that the ideals enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations cannot be realized in a world where truth is obscured by State propaganda and media freedoms are muzzled, and called upon the Committee to ensure that its guidance to the Department accurately captures the reality on the ground in 2022.
The Russian Federation’s representative, noting the unprecedented disinformation campaign against his country, said that when the targeted “infodemic” occurs within the United Nations, it poisons not only the atmosphere of mutual trust and professional dialogue, but also politicizes the Organization’s agenda and paralyses its work. Expressing concern that United Nations structures, agencies and officials refer to fake data obtained from unreliable, compromised sources, he called upon the Department to cover events in a balanced manner, especially when a country is in a difficult humanitarian situation, to ensure that the focus remains on the humanitarian aspects of the Organization’s work.
Ukraine’s representative, however, said Moscow’s powerful propaganda machine is disseminating “fakes” and disinformation about Ukrainians, labelling the entire nation as so-called “neo-Nazis”. Russians committed mass atrocities, killing thousands in Mariupol, Bucha and many other Ukrainian cities and villages, he noted. Expressing alarm that the United Nations has been a platform for the dissemination of fake and falsified information, he asked how the Russian Federation’s actions correspond with the Committee’s mandate to promote a new, more just and more effective world information and communications order.
Iran’s representative, expressing concern about intolerance and hate, urged the international community to combat Islamophobia and the violation of the basic human rights of Muslims. The Department must continue to counter hatred of Islam and Muslims by commemorating 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, he emphasized. Iran commends the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine, including its training programme for Palestinian journalists, he said. Underscoring the growing demand for content in languages other than the official United Nations languages, he encouraged the issuance of media products in all official and non-official languages, including Persian, pointing out that more than 120 million people around the globe speak the language, and that it is widely regarded as a source of understanding and solidarity among several nations.
Similarly, Nepal’s representative noted that linguistic and cultural diversity are integral to multilateralism, commending the Department’s publication of information in 125 languages, as well as Braille. The Kathmandu United Nations Information Centre likewise deserves admiration for its videos in Nepali sign language focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, encouraging the Department to include Nepali, spoken by millions of people, in its basket of languages used to reach wider audiences. Moreover, the information centres need strengthening with technical and infrastructural capabilities to reach greater audiences, he emphasized.
Egypt’s representative echoed many other delegates, calling for equal use of the six official United Nations languages and the additional use of others. He noted that, in spite of many General Assembly resolutions underlining the important role of information centres, the Secretariat recently reduced the budget of the Cairo United Nations Information Centre without first consulting the Government. He went on to point out that social media platforms are being used to spread violence, hatred and extremism in the Middle East, and emphasized the need for balance between protecting the critical right to free expression and the safety and security of individuals. “Information in all its forms represents a double-edged sword,” he cautioned.
Israel’s representative said disinformation campaigns began long before the pandemic, pointing out that Holocaust denial is now often spread on social media platforms. He praised the work of the Department’s Holocaust Outreach Programme in promoting education and remembrance, noting that disinformation and hate speech by Palestinian extremists have targeted Israel. He went on to express regret that one-sided meetings, biased committees and unfair resolutions at the United Nations continue to target his country, calling upon the Department and the wider United Nations to recommit to the principles of impartiality, credibility and integrity.
The representative of Belarus expressed concern that the Department takes a selective approach to its coverage, saying political stories are now crowding out many core United Nations themes. There is no coverage of the unilateral coercive measures sparking food insecurity around the world, he said. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to include “value judgments” — hasty and emotional conclusions not backed up by facts — in its information materials, often distorting the facts on the ground, he added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Portugal, Jordan, Lebanon, United States, Philippines, Bangladesh, Mexico, Venezuela, Republic of Korea, Côte d’Ivoire, Argentina, Japan, Armenia, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Romania, China, Senegal, Algeria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
An observer for the State of Palestine and a representative of the Organisation de la Francophonie also delivered statements.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United States, Russian Federation and Ukraine.
The Committee on Information will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.
EDUARDO MANUEL DA FONSECA FERNANDES RAMOS (Portugal), associating with the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates how information manipulation is used in an attempt justify an illegal, unprovoked military aggression. To counter this trend, States must work together in a whole-of-society approach that involves digital platforms, media, civil society and national regulators. “We need to ask ourselves why, in an ‘information society’ such as this one, more and more citizens are distancing themselves from the reliable sources of information,” he said. “The answer is trust.” He commended efforts carried out under the “Verified” campaign to counter false information, as well as the fact that United Nations information centres disseminate information in 125 languages. As the Portuguese language is an asset in the promotion of multilingualism, he strongly encouraged the Department to expand its use, citing the cost-neutral media partnerships forged by the Portuguese Unit of UN News. He commended the Department for its elaboration of a new global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information and looked forward to its publication.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal), noting that linguistic and cultural diversity are integral parts of multilateralism, commended the Department for publishing information in 125 languages, as well as in Braille. The Kathmandu United Nations Information Centre likewise deserves admiration for videos in Nepali sign language focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, encouraging the Department to include Nepali, spoken by millions of people, in its basket of languages used to reach wider audiences. He went on to note the success of the multilingual multimedia campaign entitled, “Service and Sacrifice” and encouraged the Department to devise more effective communication strategies that highlight the contributions of troop- and police-contributing countries in an equitable manner. He likewise expressed support for the Woman Police Officer of the Year award, presented in 2022 to a Nepali police officer working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More broadly, information centres should be strengthened with technical and infrastructural capabilities to reach greater audiences. In Nepal, the Central Library of Tribhuvan University — a designated repository for United Nations publications — disseminates information to students, intellectuals and researchers, he said, noting that it needs modernization and encouraging the Department to explore innovative financing options, in addition to the voluntary contributions, to maximize its public outreach efforts.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan) welcomed the Department’s efforts to promote the United Nations goals, as well as its cooperation with other agencies and departments, such as the Department of Peace Operations. Member States, together with civil society and other actors, should continue to use the Organization’s information products to promote peace, human rights and development. Praising the work of the “Verified" initiative, he went on to express concern over the growing digital gap between developed and developing countries, which severely impacted the latter during the COVID-19 pandemic. He advocated full respect for General Assembly resolutions urging support to the United Nations information centres, as well as for more consultation with host countries, while warning against budget reductions. He also encouraged the Department to continue its media campaigns on the Palestinian issue, including its international seminars and media development assistance provided to Palestinian journalists, despite restrictions and intimidation by Israel.
AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon) said the worlds of communications and technologies are shaping a new future, with social media platforms redefining journalistic rules, practices and ethics. Amid the flood of social media content, the first casualty is truth. “Disinformation is the biggest threat to knowing the facts,” she warned. With information now “increasingly shaped by billionaires and other wealthy dynasties”, as expressed by The Washington Post, and platforms controlled by Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, people are decrying the danger of free speech. Disinformation is a threat to democracy, targeting children and posing a threat to peace and security. By way of example, she cited a disinformation campaign against the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ukraine aimed at tarnishing its neutrality and reputation, which placed people’s lives in danger. Stressing that the Department’s efforts have been instrumental in raising awareness of the problem and fighting the infodemic, she pressed the United Nations to continue to lead, as its global campaigns have unparalleled credibility and reach. It must also partner with Member States and organizations at the forefront of this challenge. To preserve free speech, democracy and peace, “the war against disinformation and fake news must be won by all working together,” she stressed.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, condemned the misuse of information and communications technologies (ICT), noting the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation by certain countries against Iran. He urged the Department to continue raising awareness about the negative economic, commercial and financial impact of unilateral coercive measures on the populations of affected countries. Voicing concern over the climate of intolerance and hate towards Islam and Muslims provoked by anti-Muslim media outlets, he urged the international community to combat Islamophobia and the violation of Muslims’ basic human rights. The Department must continue to address that phenomenon by commemorating 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. He commended the Department for its special information programme on the question of Palestine, including the training programme for Palestinian journalists. Underscoring the growing demand for content in languages other than the official United Nations languages, he encouraged the Secretariat to ensure the issuance of media products in all official and non-official languages, including Persian, which is spoken by more than 120 million people around the globe, and widely regarded as the root of great culture and civilization and a source of understanding and solidarity among several nations.
CHRISTOPHER LU (United States) said respect for freedom of expression is a bedrock value for his country and a cornerstone of free societies around the world. “Vibrant political discourse, scientific inquiry and equitable and sustainable development all depend on the free exchange of information and the freedom to debate ideas,” he added. The Internet and technology have nevertheless allowed disinformation and misinformation to proliferate, compounding the most pressing global challenges, he noted. Citing rumours and conspiracy theories that erode public trust in institutions, with serious impacts on public health, he said the Department’s Verified initiative is critical to amplifying trusted, life-saving advice about COVID-19 in languages spoken across the world. He went on to express deep concern over the spread of disinformation in conflict areas, saying it puts the safety and security of United Nations peacekeepers at risk, erodes public trust in the Organization and obstructs efforts to implement peacekeeping mandates. He deplored the Russian Federation’s use of disinformation to obfuscate and push false narratives in attempting to justify its unprovoked war in Ukraine, while welcoming the rejection of its efforts to propagate lies by many Member States.
ENRIQUE A. MANALO (Philippines), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, commended the Organization’s “Pause” and the proposed global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information. He expressed interest in obtaining more details from the Department. Noting the importance of countering the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation related to COVID-19, he called upon Member States and other key stakeholders to continue to responsibly harness the power of information to promote peace, inclusivity and development against the backdrop of increasing political cleavages, social inequalities and macroeconomic fragilities. Stressing that any information released by the United Nations and its agencies must be properly “triangulated”, with Member States receiving the opportunity to provide their side, he expressed concern about the insufficient vetting of information from third-party sources, saying it leads to inaccuracies and has a negative impact on Member States.
MD MONWAR HOSSAIN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said raising awareness of the United Nations’ work is crucial in the challenging context of socioeconomic recovery from COVID-19. Welcoming the work of the Department in such areas as climate action, fighting racism and promoting sustainable development, he commended the creation of a dedicated website for the upcoming International Migration Review Forum. He also praised the Department’s efforts on multilingualism, saying the United Nations Information Centre Dhaka promotes the languages of many ethnic minorities and reaches out to diverse partners in Bangladesh. He called for greater resources for information centres and urged the Department to restore many of its pre-pandemic activities, such as the promotion of sustainable development and the culture of peace. It should also continue to highlight the activities of United Nations peace operations in an equitable manner and better disseminate information on past genocides, such as the crimes committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar, he emphasized.
BRUNO RÍOS SÁNCHEZ (Mexico), associating himself with the Group of Friends of Spanish, spotlighted the Department’s work to provide inclusive and timely coverage aimed at a wide public. Its information on migration, in particular, is impartial and accurate, he added, also calling for the strengthening of the Department’s information on human rights and emphasizing the importance of mental health. Briefings for civil society are particularly critical to disseminating the work of the United Nations, he added, stressing that Mexico will continue to advocate for a greater presence of non-governmental organizations at the United Nations. He went on to underline the need to go beyond translating content produced in English in order to respect the subtleties of communication in other languages.
JOAQUÍN A. PÉREZ-AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the policies of aggression advanced by some Powers and expressed through unilateral coercive measures undermine national efforts to develop information and communications technologies. Urging the Department to raise awareness of the harmful effects of sanctions, he called for their complete and immediate repeal. Emphasizing the importance of multilingualism, he rejected attempts to limit the right to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas freely as a result of the recent censorship and media blockade, including on social networks, for purely ideological reasons. He also condemned the decision by the United States to approve more than $50 million, and the United Kingdom’s decision to approve hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling, to finance a “supposedly independent media” in continuing their interventionist policies aimed at violating social peace in Venezuela. He went on to express concern about a growing trend by the UN News portal and its Twitter account to editorialize and hope for a prompt resolution of the matter to preserve the credibility and professionalism of the United Nations.
LEE HYUN GOO (Republic of Korea) said that while accurate information based on science can save lives, the spread of dis- and misinformation can be as dangerous to public health as the pandemic itself. She expressed deep concern over the manipulation of information to justify unlawful and unprovoked military aggression against other Member States, also emphasizing that free speech and expression cannot be sacrificed to counter disinformation. She strongly condemned any attempt to exploit disinformation to justify serious violations of international human rights law. Commending the Department’s “Verified” campaign and its whole-of-society approach, she expressed hope for robust efforts to engage young people, pointing in particular to the 2021 Sustainable Development Goal Moment that involved BTS, known as the Bangtan Boys.
DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN G. IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, welcomed the Department’s timely initiatives to combat the spread of false news about both COVID and the vaccines. Noting that the virus highlighted the importance of new information and communication technologies in all aspects of life, he emphasized, however, that despite all efforts, a large number of people around the world still do not benefit from those tools — an even more worrying situation in developing countries, where massive investments are needed to reduce the digital divide and improve Internet service. He noted that despite the adoption of several General Assembly resolutions on multilingualism, the gap between the use of English and that of the five other official languages continues to widen. Reiterating calls for equitable use of all six languages, he also called for strengthening the capacities of the United Nations information centres, and of strategic communications in the areas of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and special political missions by taking linguistic skills into account when in the recruitment of mission personnel.
FABIÁN ODONNE (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the United Nations must continue to offer objective information, while adapting its message to new tools and formats, and including those who lack access to new technologies. Lauding the Department’s efforts to produce and disseminate multilingual content on the impact of COVID-19, and its great ability to respond to an extraordinary situation, he underscored the importance of fully incorporating multilingualism in all United Nations activities. “The Department must continue to move forward, beyond a culture of translation that takes English as a base language, to an authentic multilingual culture,” he stressed. The particularities of all languages must be reflected in all stages of communications, including from when information campaigns are conceived. He urged the Secretariat to take into account the growing demand for Spanish-language content when internally designating existing resources, especially staff. Expressing appreciation for the work of the Spanish-language UN News Centre team, he underscored the importance of partnerships with information centres in Latin America to produce content that emphasizes the contributions of countries in the region. He pointed out that not all material is available in all six United Nations official languages and that some sites are not updated as frequently as others.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) welcomed the Department’s efforts to return to pre-COVID-19 conditions, including lifting limitations on conducting in-person meetings at United Nations Headquarters. Noting that certain actions by the United States have disrupted his country’s participation in this meeting, he called on the Secretariat to undertake the measures necessary to ensure this situation does not reoccur. He went on to point out that the freedoms of expression and opinion have undergone unprecedented corrosion and that, in recent months, the Russian Federation has been targeted by a disinformation campaign of similarly unprecedented scope. This targeted infodemic — when it occurs within the United Nations — not only poisons the atmosphere of mutual trust and professional dialogue, but also politicizes the Organization’s agenda and paralyzes its work. The United Nations is an essential conduit of verified information, and it is concerning that its structures, agencies and officials refer to fake data obtained from unreliable, compromised sources. Against that backdrop, he called on the Department to cover events in a balanced matter — especially in countries home to a difficult humanitarian situation — to ensure that the focus remains on the humanitarian aspects of the Organization’s work.
KIMURA TETSUYA (Japan) said COVID-19 remains one of the greatest concerns for human security, affecting individuals across all borders. Commending the Department’s tireless efforts over the last two years, he welcomed its continued online outreach, including to combat the scourge of disinformation. Japan was active participant in campaigns such as “Pledge to Pause”, he noted, adding that it strongly supports all such measures to curtail the ongoing infodemic. He went on to commend the vast global network of United Nations information centres and Resident Coordinator Offices, which disseminate information on the Organization’s activities in local languages, he declared: “They are instrumental in reaching out directly to the people of the Member States, telling human stories on the work of the United Nations and its core values.” He praised the information centre in Tokyo, in particular, and acknowledged the Department’s exceptional efforts in supporting the work of revitalizing the United Nations.
SOFYA MARGARYAN (Armenia) encouraged the Department to reach out to various audiences in as many languages as possible, stressing that the fight against racism and discrimination must remain an essential priority, as they threaten democratic values, social stability and peace. United Nations information centres meanwhile should interact with users in various areas and work to ensure that people have access to information on both digital and traditional platforms in various languages, including through direct Internet broadcasting and web translation in all official languages. She went on to say that, as misleading information and weak fact-checking mechanisms exponentially contribute to the proliferation of false, manipulated narratives, it is important to respond by providing factual, timely, targeted, clear, accessible, multilingual and science-based information. Further, competencies to seek, receive and impart information — particularly in the digital realm — must be improved.
Mr. ZAFARTI (Israel), while welcoming the Department’s role in countering disinformation, expressed regret that disinformation campaigns started long before the COVID-19 pandemic. One example is Holocaust denial, which is now often spread on social media platforms. Recalling the General Assembly’s unanimous adoption of a resolution condemning the denial and distortion of the Holocaust in January, he also praised the work of the Department’s Holocaust Outreach Programme in promoting education and remembrance. In recent weeks, disinformation and hate speech by Palestinian extremists have targeted Israel, inciting tensions. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, one-sided meetings, biased committees and unfair resolutions continue to target Israel. Voicing regret over that situation, he said the Department — like the wider United Nations — is expected to uphold the principles of impartiality, credibility and integrity. Urging the Organization to recommit itself to those principles, he said the historic Abraham Accords that recently normalized relations between Israel and several countries in the region can serve as an important lesson on how information can be used to bridge cultures.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) said the ideals enshrined in the Charter cannot be realized in a world where truth is obscured by State propaganda and media freedoms are muzzled. He welcomed the initiative to create a global code of conduct on integrity in public information, saying “people are looking to the United Nations now more than ever as a source of trusted information”. Emphasizing the need to expand United Nations efforts to combat disinformation on crises and conflicts, he noted that the Committee has a duty to ensure that its guidance to the Department accurately captures the reality on the ground in 2022. He said that since its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been in “overdrive”, using hostile information operations to undermine the neighbouring country’s sovereignty, create false pretexts for its invasion and deny war crimes. “This offensive against truth has global consequences,” he assured, recalling the exposure just this week of a Russian campaign using a “troll factory” to spread lies on Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok. Targets included audiences in the United Kingdom, South Africa and India, he added, stressing that her delegation intends, through the Committee and the Department’s leadership, to mount a robust global response to disinformation and preserve the space for impartial, accurate reporting.
LUÍS GUILHERME PARGA CINTRA (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, said one of the missions of his country’s Foreign Ministry is to promote its cultural expressions and language abroad through the Brazilian Cultural Network. Present in 24 countries in five continents, its initiatives include courses in Portuguese, he said, adding that the network of lectureships and teaching posts offered to Brazilian university professors in foreign institutions promote Brazilian Portuguese language and culture, including at Stony Brook University in New York. Portuguese is an official language to approximately 260 million people around the world, he pointed out, adding that it is the most widely spoken language in the Southern hemisphere. On 5 May, he noted, World Portuguese Language Day will be celebrated at the United Nations and at the United Nations International School, which holds Portuguese-language classes in a joint initiative by Portugal and Brazil. In that regard, Brazil is donating children’s books in Portuguese to the school library, he said. Affirming his country’s support for United Nations information centres and UN News Portuguese, he noted that the number of downloads from the latter’s website has more than doubled in only a year, and that access to the YouTube and Soundcloud platforms have each experienced a surge of about 100 per cent.
HANA NORDIN (Malaysia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, expressed concern about the spread of disinformation and misinformation, cautioning it can be used to mislead and incite violence, hatred, discrimination and hostility. “In today’s world, information wars can bring instability and pose a threat to peace and security,” she said, noting the Department’s important role — with support from partners and cooperation from Member States — in disseminating factual, timely, clear, accessible and evidence-based information. She went on to emphasize that promoting multilingualism will ensure inclusivity, diversity and tolerance while increasing the participation of all parties in the work of the United Nations and driving better outcomes. She called upon the United Nations to foster positive appreciation of diversity in languages, not only the six official ones, but also local languages.
NITISH BIRDI (India) said his country has not only actively participated in the Department’s news and social media campaign for vaccine equity, but also made considerable efforts to bridge the “vaccine gap” by supplying vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. In support of multilingualism, India has partnered with the Department since 2018 to mainstream and integrate news and multimedia content in Hindi on the UN News portal and social media, he added. Through its voluntary contribution in the last five years, India has also strengthened the Department’s ability to reach a vast section of the global audience, and the Hindi edition of UN News has seen its brand grow among audiences. The United Nations Hindi social media accounts have also enjoyed a massive following, he said, encouraging the Department to look at similar innovative ways to expand its content in other non-official languages. India’s partnership with the Department in the last two years to virtually commemorate the International Day of Yoga was instrumental in promoting yoga as a valuable tool to fight social isolation and depression during the pandemic, he recalled, expressing hope that in-person Yoga Day celebrations will be held in person this June, with the Department’s full cooperation and support, as normality returns to the United Nations premises.
MARIAM SHAIKH (Pakistan), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that in an era where fake news travels faster than the truth, it is important to discern the ways in which information can be misunderstood. She described General Assembly resolution 76/227 as the path to addressing disinformation, noting that some countries, driven by the ambition to diplomatically isolate others, have compromised their own credibility, making the issue of fake news and disinformation an issue warranting attention by the United Nations. It is also important that social media companies not allow their commercial objectives to undermine human rights, particularly by allowing their platforms to be used for spreading disinformation, she emphasized. Noting that Islamophobia has emerged as a new form of racism, characterized by hate speech, discrimination and violence against Muslims, she urged the Department to raise awareness of the phenomenon and to promote messages of tolerance, peaceful coexistence as well as interfaith and cultural harmony among all religions, races and nations.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to the statement delivered by the Russian Federation’s delegate, urged individuals seeking entry into his country to submit their visa applications as early as possible — preferably at least a month in advance. Visa records are confidential, he said, adding that he is therefore not at liberty to discuss the one mentioned by the Russian Federation’s. He noted that “it is a sad irony” that the Russian Federation is using the Committee on Information to spread misinformation, while the body’s very purpose is to strengthen peace and understanding.
The representative of the Russian Federation, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply to the delegate of the United States, reiterated that the Western world is the main factory for “fakes” and misinformation — and also their main consumer. Responding to the United Kingdom’s representative, he said media outlets in that country long ago stopped being a standard in truth-telling and have now become the exact opposite. He cited that country’s decision to block the Russian news outlets Sputnik and RT, while noting that baseless allegations against the Russian Federation’s leadership have become a hallmark of the United Kingdom’s interventions at the United Nations. He went on to reject the assertion that the Russian Federation’s delegate selectively manipulated the text of the Committee on Information’s founding document in its intervention on 3 May, pointing out that instead, he quoted verbatim from that text.
SERHII DVORNYK (Ukraine), endorsing the statement delivered on behalf of the European Union, said a powerful propaganda machine designed by Moscow to incite hatred is disseminating “fakes” and disinformation about Ukrainians, labelling the entire nation as so-called “neo-Nazis”. Russians committed mass atrocities, with thousands killed in Mariupol, Bucha and many other Ukrainian cities and villages, he added. The Russian Federation, denying all attempts by Ukraine’s Government for a peaceful resolution, fuelled the artificially incited conflict in Donbas to finally use it as the main pretext to attack the entire country, he asserted. Expressing alarm that the United Nations has been a platform for the dissemination of fake and falsified information, he asked how the Russian Federation’s actions correspond with the mandate of the Committee of Information to promote the establishment of a new, more just and more effective world information and communications order.
Offering condolences to the families of the 22 media workers who were killed, he noted that the non-governmental organization Institute of Mass Information has registered 243 crimes against media and journalists committed by the Russian Federation over the two months since its large-scale invasion began. Russian forces accord priority to switching off Ukrainian broadcasting, mobile networks and Internet services in the occupied territories, he emphasized, warning that the Russian Federation is transplanting its own widely used practices to the occupied areas of Ukraine. They include censorship, closure of all independent media, blocking of social networks, fake new laws aimed at cutting off Russian citizens from alternative information about the war — a prohibited term in the Russian information space, he said. Expressing concern over the deteriorating situation of free expression and of working conditions for journalists in the Ukraine’s occupied Crimean Peninsula, he stressed that, given the erosion of security and flare-up of warmongering rhetoric, delegations must condemn aggressive propaganda in a document they will be discussing over the next 10 days.
MOHAMED KAMAL ALI ELHOMOSANY (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said successful communication requires respect for multilingualism in all of the United Nations activities. Calling for the equal use of the six official languages — and the additional use of other languages — he said that, despite many General Assembly resolutions underlining the important role of United Nations information centres, the Secretariat recently reduced the budget of the Centre in Cairo without first consulting with Egypt. He also pointed out that social media platforms are being used to spread violence, hatred and extremism in the Middle East — particularly by terrorist groups — and called for a balance between protecting the critical right to free expression and the safety and security of individuals. “Information in all its forms represents a double-edged sword,” he cautioned, calling for the better harnessing of ICT.
MARIA-IULIANA NICULAE (Romania), associating herself with the European Union, reaffirmed support for tools to counter misinformation in upholding humanity’s most important common principles. The United Nations should regularly provide accurate and verified information to the public on climate action, which requires the active involvement of the whole of society. Underlining the important role of media outlets and civil society in that regard, she said Romania supports efforts to effectively counter misinformation through a common and coordinated approach. As a candidate for Human Rights Council membership for the 2023-2025 period, Romania pledges to support freedom of the press, and would play an active role in increasing the resilience of United Nations and Member States to disinformation. Meanwhile, she said, the unprovoked and unjustified Russian aggression against Ukraine has further underscored the importance of a free press, and those who have attacked media workers in that conflict must be held accountable.
YUANCHUN MA (China), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, pointed out that the international community is facing many challenges, including the pandemic, geopolitical conflict, slumping economies, the development gap, climate change and the rampant spread of misinformation. As the United Nations is the central platform for tackling global issues, people across the world must hear its voice, propositions and values. The Department should address the most pressing issues and set an example for news outlets in all countries by ensuring impartiality and objectivity in its work. Further, it should leverage both traditional and new media platforms, and take advantage of modern technology and devices. She also called on the Department to overcome bottlenecks in funding and staffing to eventually eliminate the imbalance between the use of English and other official languages. Noting that the Chinese language has the most speakers in the world — but United Nations information products in that language are on the low side — she called on the Department to address this issue.
FATIMATOU FAYE (Senegal), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, welcomed the Department’s regular campaigns pertaining to the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, human rights and fighting disinformation. She stressed, however, that today’s “infodemic” remains just as dangerous for human health and security as the COVID‑19 pandemic. The spread of misinformation, fake news and doctored videos is dividing communities, and spurring a worrisome rise in xenophobia, racism and intolerance. The United Nations provides reliable information on priority issues, and it must work to mobilize populations by calling for collective action to tackle global challenges, especially given their transnational nature. She went on to underscore that each Member State must be able to participate on equal footing and promote their position in the language of their choice. Better services in the working language of French should be provided, and linguistic factors must also be considered in the context of peacekeeping operations, she added.
ISMAIL MERABET (Algeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the lack of access to ICT is hindering developing countries’ ability to benefit from knowledge and information. Also, the spread of misinformation through social media, radio and television poses a danger for people living under security threats, armed conflict and occupation, and without freedom of expression. In that regard, Member States must double their efforts, in cooperation with the Department of Global Communications, the United Nations commissions, missions and resident coordinators, to support those oppressed by providing transparent information on their situation and access to ICT. Given the growing dangers related to electronic means of communication, especially social media, a comprehensive legal framework must be created to limit negative consequences and to foster peace and security.
KIM IN CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said some developed countries with technological supremacy in the information sector are pursuing sinister political purposes in formulating information policies and undertaking related activities. Under the pretext of freedom of expression and the press, they are attempting to create fraudulent propaganda, defamation and ideological and cultural disruptions — mainly against independent countries to incite social disorder and subversion. In that regard, a fair international information order must be established without delay whereby impartiality and objectivity of information are properly ensured and information activities substantially contribute to international peace. Moreover, technology must not be used to spread misinformation or disinformation in favor of one party’s interests, to impose ideological and cultural values or to interfere in the internal affairs of others. To bridge the technological divide, the United Nations, international organizations and developed countries should enhance international cooperation, including in the transfer of advanced technology, personnel training and the improvement of information infrastructure, towards developing countries. Also, measures should be taken to prevent developed countries from obstructing or restricting developing countries’ access to advanced ICT with unwarranted conditions, he said.
EVGENY SHAEV (Belarus), while welcoming some of the Department’s work, voiced concern that it takes a selective approach to the themes it covers. Political stories are now crowding out many core United Nations themes, he said, also pointing to a lack of coverage of the unilateral coercive measures that are sparking food insecurity in many parts of the world. Indeed, some countries are trying to impose their will upon others, going beyond what is acceptable, and the United Nations continues to remain silent. Drawing attention to other topics that receive insufficient attention from the Department, he noted that the European Union has built physical barriers and nuclear storage facilities near its border with Belarus that are causing environmental damage. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to include “value judgments” — hasty and emotional conclusions that are not backed up by facts — in its information materials, often distorting the facts on the ground. Rejecting allegations that Minsk has been participating in the Ukraine conflict, he drew attention to the searches and arrests of bloggers and the closure of the Sputnik news service by several European States.
LOUREEN SAYEJ, observer for the State of Palestine, associating with the Group of 77 and China, said the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine effectively and objectively raises international awareness about Palestine, including the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence. Recalling that the question of Palestine was born in the halls of the United Nations, and remains the longest-standing “question” addressed by the Organization, she said the programme is an investment in justice and peace. She denounced inflammatory rhetoric against the programme as part of Israel’s 75-year campaign to erase Palestinian history, present and future, applauding the Department for organizing the annual International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, the permanent exhibit on the Question of Palestine, the various activities related to the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and the annual training programme for young Palestinian journalists.
IFIGENEIA KONTOLEONTOS of the Organisation de la Francophonie praised the work of the Department and cited the key contributions made by multilingualism towards achieving the United Nations core goals. Much more must be done in that regard, especially given the spread of fake news. Content should not just be translated from one language to another, but should be created in each language in order to better reflect cultural diversity. Emphasizing that far too many United Nations events today give the impression that the United Nations is monolingual, she spotlighted a new report on the use of French around the world which found that more than 320 million people speak the language. In that context, the Organisation is assisting the United Nations in the development of strategic guidance on multilingualism and training to combat language prejudice in international organizations. It is also supporting United Nations efforts to counter disinformation, with an emphasis on fact-checking in the French language, she said.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Russian Federation, responding to his counterpart from Ukraine, said the Russian Federation shares the world’s common victory over Nazism — an ideology that is still glorified in Ukraine. There have also been hundreds of recorded crimes committed against journalists in Ukraine, with only 1 out of 12 cases finding their way to the courts. He therefore recommended that the Ukrainian representative study statistics about his own country before accusing others. Rejecting allegations that the Russian Federation is using disinformation to justify its special operation in Ukraine, he said “fakes” are in fact the domain of Western countries. The Russian Federation will hold an Arria formula meeting in the Security Council on 6 May, to which journalists from the region will be invited, and will recount their real stories.
The representative of Ukraine, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, pledged to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes committed in Bucha and elsewhere across Ukraine, adding that the war will end with the aggressor’s defeat.