Closing Session, Committee on Information Approves Texts Urging Greater Cooperation to Fight Disinformation, Build Developing Countries’ Communications Infrastructure
The United Nations Committee on Information — concluding its forty-fifth session today — approved two resolutions detailing Member States’ priorities for the Department of Global Communications, from combating disinformation, misinformation and information manipulation to reducing disparities in information flows by enhancing assistance for developing countries.
Acting by consensus on the final day of its annual session, the Committee approved two draft resolutions contained in the report of its forty-fifth session (document A/AC.198/2023/L.4), which will be forwarded to the General Assembly for adoption. The report, approved by consensus, also contains three other chapters titled “Introduction” (document A/AC.198/2023/L.1), “Organizational questions” (document A/AC.198/2023/L.2) and “General debate” (document A/AC.198/2023/L.3).
By the terms of draft resolution A, titled “Information in the service of humanity”, the Assembly would urge all countries, organizations of the United Nations system and others to reaffirm their commitment to the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, as well as to the freedom of the press, freedom of information and the independence, pluralism and diversity of the media. It would also, among other things, urge them to cooperate to reduce existing disparities in information flows at all levels by increasing assistance to developing countries to build communications infrastructures and capabilities.
Through draft resolution B, titled “United Nations global communications policies and activities”, the Assembly would emphasize that the contents of public information and communications should be placed at the heart of the strategic management of the United Nations and that a culture of communications and transparency should permeate all levels of the Organization to inform the peoples of the world of its aims and activities. It would stress that the Department’s primary mission is to provide accurate, impartial, comprehensive, balanced, timely, relevant and multilingual information to the public on the Organization’s tasks and responsibilities, reaffirming the crucial role of the Department in addressing the spread of misinformation, disinformation and information manipulation.
By that same far-ranging text, the Assembly would also express serious concern at attacks and violence against journalists and media professionals, bearing in mind that ensuring accountability for crimes committed against them is a key element in preventing future attacks. It would also reiterate its request to the Department and content-providing offices of the Secretariat to ensure that United Nations publications are produced in all six official languages and reiterate its growing concern that the issuance of daily press releases has not been expanded to all official languages, as requested in previous resolutions.
Presenting the chapter of the report devoted to the Committee’s general debate, Liliana Veronica Baños Müller (El Salvador), Rapporteur, said many delegations highlighted the crucial role of the United Nations in obtaining reliable information for all, against the backdrop of myriad challenges, including the proliferating misinformation and disinformation surrounding climate change, and information manipulation regarding the war in Ukraine. Several delegations emphasized the need for the Organization’s communications to be more rapid, strategic and comprehensive.
Speakers welcomed the Department’s efforts in spearheading several campaigns and initiatives to combat the information crises, and praised the work of the United Nations information centres, which published information in 134 languages in 2022, including Braille and sign language, she continued, adding that many delegates emphasized the need for the Organization to continue to lend them support in providing information to the most vulnerable populations. She also noted many delegates’ appreciation for endeavours, such as the Verified initiative, the Shireen Abu Akleh Training Programme for Palestinian Broadcasters and Journalists and the Service and Sacrifice campaign.
While many speakers commended the Department for its use of social media and digital campaigns and initiatives to disseminate the work of the United Nations, they also expressed concerns about the growing digital divide within and among countries, the Rapporteur said. Many speakers urged the Organization to work towards securing greater Internet connectivity, especially in developing countries. Highlighting a key topic raised by several representatives, including those representing large groups — the importance of multilingualism in disseminating content on the Organization’s web and social media platforms — she noted that many of those speakers emphasized the need for a more balanced use of the six official languages, and for proper resource allocation for multilingual efforts within the Department. Moreover, several representatives also noted the prominent growth of the Spanish- and French-language audiences and asked the Department to consider that factor when allocating resources, she added.
Outlining their views on the contents of the Committee’s report, many delegates commended the work of the Department, and its crucial role as a source for factual, neutral information, and urged it to widen its efforts to combat misinformation. Several speakers emphasized the importance of multilingualism, and in ensuring official meetings and reports are translated into all official United Nations languages.
The representative of Cuba, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, who led the negotiations on the texts, welcomed its adoption by consensus and in all six official languages — demonstrating the commitment of all delegations to multilingualism as a fundamental value of the Organization. The negotiations serve as an example of the positive results that can be achieved when there is political will and commitment, he said, adding that, in such circumstances, “Member States are able to make the most of what unites us and leave aside elements which divide us.”
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also welcomed the consensus, noting that all delegations worked in a spirit of compromise to provide the Department with the guidance in a rapidly evolving information environment. Despite both nuanced and substantially different views among certain delegations, the Committee was able to find a compromise in the interest of the United Nations and the international community, he added. Underlining the importance of having all official meetings and reports translated into the Organization’s official languages, he said that multilingualism is not negotiable.
The delegate of Mexico, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the broad nature of the adopted document. However, he said that the document — comprising 160 paragraphs and provisions — waters down the impact of the Committee’s messages, and urged the sponsors to consider shortening it to tangibly reflect the importance of the Committee’s work. “Not everything can be a priority,” he stressed.
The speaker for the Philippines, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, commended the work of the Department in protecting truth and overcoming differences and urged it to continue positioning United Nations content as a source for authoritative, factual, neutral and trusted information, issued for the global public good. He also urged it to expand its efforts to combat misinformation, including on climate change and hate speech.
The representative of Italy, associating herself with the European Union, said she could not be prouder of being a member of the Committee’s Bureau at such a critical time for the global information environment. She reiterated her commitment to address pending challenges and to build resilience towards future ones.
The representative of the United States, noting that the previous day was World Press Freedom Day, honored the work of journalists who endure daily repression while reporting on human rights violations and war crimes around the world. He spotlighted in this regard the plight of United States journalist for The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, who was jailed by the Russian Federation just for doing his job, stressing: “Journalism is not a crime.” The charges against Mr. Gershkovich are baseless, he said, calling on the Russian Federation to release him immediately. The Russian Federation spreads disinformation via proxies for varied objectives around the world, which indirectly reflect the Kremlin’s foreign policy, allowing Moscow a level of deniability, he said, adding that the Russian Federation sometimes does so through the Wagner Group, which also carries out covert operations abroad, including in Mali, Libya and Ukraine. On that note, he welcomed the approval of additions to the resolution of language highlighting the negative impact of misinformation and disinformation on peacekeepers’ safety and security, which also stressed the Department’s important role in strengthening their safety and security. Clarifying his delegation’s position, he said that references to principles in international law do not oblige States to act in accordance with them.
The representative of Iran, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, welcomed the adoption of the draft by consensus. He reiterated his concern about the detrimental impact of the prevalent monopoly in communications technology and unilateral coercive measures, which block technological transfers to some developing countries, impeding their pursuit of sustainable development.
Meanwhile, the delegate of the Russian Federation said that the representative of the United States added a “confrontational agenda” to the meeting, which dealt with the adoption of resolutions by consensus. He wished to point out that all unfounded allegations against his country had been responded to during the general debate, and in previous rights of reply.
Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division of the Department of Global Communications, delivered closing remarks on behalf of Under-Secretary General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming. He welcomed the Committee’s ability to reach consensus in the spirit of cooperation, which demonstrates a shared recognition of the need for a strong, vibrant communications function at the United Nations. Thanking all delegations, high-level officials and negotiating partners for ensuring the negotiations’ success, he quoted the Secretary-General’s message on the World Press Freedom Day: “Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy.” Fighting misinformation, disinformation and information manipulation is at the core of the Department’s work, he said, spotlighting in this regard the forthcoming launch of the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on Information Integrity on Digital Platforms.
During the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September, the Department will highlight the work of the Committee and renew its efforts to advance the 2030 Agenda, he said. Turning to multilingualism, he welcomed that the Committee’s informal interactive meetings benefited from full interpretation, and promised to ensure this was the case during forthcoming sessions. Finally, he announced that the Department won the multilingualism category in the United Nations Secretary-General Awards for 2022 for its news service, both in its content and work environment, adding: “Communicating globally is a challenging task, but we will continue to strive to communicate, connect, inform and inspire.”
The Committee on Information, chaired during its forty-fifth session by Mohammad Aamir Khan (Pakistan), is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly that deals with questions relating to public information. It oversees the work of the Department of Global Communications and provides it with guidance on its policies, programmes and activities.