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EU Statement – UN Committee on Information: General Debate

3 May 2022, New York - Statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States delivered by Ambassador Silvio Gonzato, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the United Nations, at the Committee on Information (44th Session) - General Debate

Mr. Chair, Madam Under-Secretary-General, distinguished colleagues,

 

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

The Candidate Countries North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EFTA country, Norway, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, and Andorra, align themselves with this statement.

Let me start by thanking you, Mr Chair and the entire Bureau, as well as the staff of the Secretariat for convening this General Debate. As the UN forum dealing with public information, this Committee has a major responsibility: to provide guidance to the Department of Global Communications and to address the immense challenges posed to the information of citizens, everywhere. This requires adapting to the ever-changing information environment while keeping the rights and interests of all citizens at the centre of our action. Needless to say that we have much work ahead of us.

In the last two years, we have appreciated the DGC's increasing agility and effectiveness in modernizing and strengthening the UN's communication, underpinned by the Global Communication Strategy 2020 and the 3W approach (what, why care, what now). We commend your crisis communications during the Covid-19 pandemic, without additional funding or staff. We particularly wish to praise the department's innovative actions and partnerships, including with youth and civil society organisations, and we look forward to further engagement with these stakeholders, not just as audiences but as essential contributors to our work.

At a time of shrinking space for civil society and youth, it is more important than ever to make sure that these voices are present at the UN. The EU supports the OCA’s recommendations for a more inclusive UN. 2022 marks the European Year of Youth and we have taken concrete action to strengthen youth participation in our external action. We are proud to be the main contributors to the PGA Fellowship for Hope, promoting youth engagement in multilateralism from underrepresented countries at the UN, and we are happy to announce that we will launch next September a new EU/UN Youth Delegates programme. Together with our MS, we are committed to meaningfully including civil society and youth in our delegations to main UN events, as we already do for CSW. You can count on the EU’s support in this endeavour.

In order to move forward on these activities, multilingualism, a core value of the UN, plays a key role to achieve an environment respectful of the principles of diversity and inclusion. For this reason, it is critical, particularly in these times of rampant disinformation, that the DGC ensures the equal treatment of all six official languages. We therefore call on the DGC to consistently mainstream this cross-cutting principle in all its operations and to be consistent in the way it messages about it. We see this as a means to improve the Organization’s efficiency, performance and transparency. We also commend the DGC’s continued efforts to disseminate information in other languages, especially in an effort to target audiences at the local level. The work of all UN information Centres, including the Regional Information Centre, is more important than ever in this context.

Monsieur le Président,

Nous soutenons la communication du département de la communication globale à travers l’ensemble des piliers de l’action de l'Organisation. Sur l'action climatique et environnementale et sur la mise en œuvre de l'agenda 2030 en particulier, nous saluons les messages du Secrétaire général qui reflètent l’urgence d’agir, et appelons à ce que cette dimension soit également exprimée par l'ensemble du système onusien. Nous encourageons également fortement le Département à continuer de communiquer sur l’ensemble des droits humains, ainsi que sur la lutte contre le racisme et toutes les formes de discrimination et de violence.

Asimismo estamos decididos a luchar contra la manipulación de la información y la interferencia, incluida la desinformación. El Departamento de Comunicación Global desempeña un papel fundamental para que las Naciones Unidas sean una fuente de información fiable en un entorno informativo altamente contaminado. Elogiamos la determinación del Secretario General para abordar este reto. La Iniciativa Verificado ha sido determinante para salvar vidas durante la pandemia, y apoyamos firmemente su ampliación para contrarrestar la desinformación y la información errónea en otros ámbitos.

Freedom of opinion and expression, including media freedom, are fundamental human rights to be universally protected. We, therefore, need to better equip citizens around the world to identify information manipulation and interference while ensuring the respect, promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. Investing in media literacy, education, and awareness raising is essential. DGC and UN Member States should make full use of the international week for Global Media and Information Literacy proclaimed last year in a consensually adopted GA resolution. The Transformative Education Summit in September will also be an opportunity to make considerable progress in this regard.

The SG’s proposal of a global Code of Conduct on the integrity of public information can be a game changer if it is undertaken through a whole-of-society approach involving all stakeholders, including independent regulators, civil society and the private sector among which are also social media platforms. It should also encourage the responsible behaviour of states in the information environment. The EU stands ready to share our experience, including with the EU Code of Practice on disinformation and the new Digital Services Act.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown how disinformation on the virus itself can kill, but Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, enabled by Belarus, has shown how information manipulation and interference, including disinformation, is used by an aggressor to deceive its own population and the international audiences in an attempt to enable and justify a military aggression against another state. We unequivocally condemn such deliberately false narratives. By doing so Russia also abuses the UN system, exhausting and diverting its resources and attention from the actual emergency – its war of aggression and its dramatic consequences for Ukraine and for the world. It is the blockade of Ukraine’s seaports in the Black Sea by the Russian army that is causing a dramatic food insecurity crisis and this must be addressed urgently. The EU and its member states urge the whole UN system to communicate in line with resolutions of the General Assembly and with the SG's statements on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. 

On this World Press Freedom Day, we are gravely concerned by the growing number of journalists and media workers killed or wounded in Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russian forces have also destroyed civilian infrastructure in Ukraine that is critical for access to information. In territories under Russian military control, Russia imposes media censorship, war propaganda, hate speech, and incitement to violence against Ukrainian people. Censorship, suppression of independent media, as well as attacks against journalists and media workers are also escalating in Russia.

We support and encourage DGC to continue communicating about the role of the General Assembly, including in peace and security matters and on UN peacekeeping operations in coordination with relevant UN departments. 

The follow-up to the OCA is also an opportunity to improve digital cooperation, by maintaining an open, free and secure digital space to enable the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for all. The EU’s new Global Gateway strategy is our offer to help partner countries put in place the necessary infrastructure and regulatory framework to attain an inclusive digital economy, universal access to digital networks, and promote technology transfers that protect human rights online and offline, whilst avoiding internet fragmentation and  helping counter disinformation.

Madam Under-Secretary General, dear colleagues, we have many challenges ahead of us, but you can count on the EU and its Member States’ commitment to work with you all for a strong UN at the service of our citizens.

Thank you for your attention.