Baltic statement at the Committee on Information

Committee on Information, 46th Session, General Debate

Statement delivered by H.E. Viktors Makarovs, Special Envoy on Digital Issues, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia on behalf of the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

29 April 2024, New York

Mr. Chair, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates!

I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We also align ourselves with the statement delivered by the European Union.

As vice chair of the Committee on Information, let me also welcome new members of the committee – Uganda and Haiti.

At the outset, let me thank the Department of Global Communication and Under-Secretary General Melissa Fleming for strengthening UN public communication efforts. The work of the department is essential in providing precise, fact-based information, supporting the media around the world, conducting outreach activities and offering tools to address the issue of information integrity.

We welcome the DGC’s work on the Global Principles on Information Integrity, which are urgently needed to help safeguard the effectiveness of our democracies and the UN. It is important to address the responsibility of States to ensure a healthy information environment and refrain from using foreign information manipulation and interference and disinformation campaigns.

As we make preparations for the forthcoming Summit of the Future, it is imperative that we ensure the cohesive alignment of the “Global Principles of Information Integrity,” the “Global Digital Compact,” and the “Pact for the Future” to effectively tackle the challenge of disinformation. They must harmonize in their approach and mutually reinforce one another.

We hope to see strong communication around the Summit of the Future to raise awareness of the flagship summit of this year to revitalize multilateralism. We are committed to upholding our support for the United Nations to maintain its pivotal role in spearheading global communication solutions.

Mr. Chair,

Baltic States work to promote information integrity: an online environment that is free and open, but also safe and secure. Such environment is also a prerequisite for building resilience to misinformation, disinformation and other forms of information manipulation.

In order to achieve this goal, we work to promote media and information literacy both at the national and international level. At home, the Baltic States’ governments implement a broad set of measures. One of the key elements is involving media organisations and civil societies that implement innovative media literacy projects including outreach to schools, children’s books and media literacy games for young audiences. The Baltic Centre for Media Excellence   provides a bright regional example. It uses new approaches to developing media, journalism and media literacy in the Baltic States and beyond.

We also actively work to address this issue in international fora. Latvia was among the initiators of the United Nations General Assembly resolution on Global Media and Information Literacy Week which was adopted in 2021. It is the first UN General Assembly resolution on media and information literacy to also call for action against the spread of disinformation and misinformation. Now, every year the last week of October is designated as Media and Information literacy week. Numerous events and special sessions take place all around the globe to promote media and information literacy worldwide.

Mr. Chair,

Strengthening independent, pluralistic media should be at the center of our common efforts. At the national level, the independent Media Support Fund, is a practical measure helping ensure sustainability of media – a particular challenge in a small media market. At the international level, the Baltic States – both governments and civil society – support independent media in the European Eastern Neighbourhood, including Ukraine.

We are also concerned about the global spread of digital censorship and oppression. Therefore, we co-signed the Global Declaration on Information Integrity Online. One of the main tasks ahead is to address the AI-driven risks of information manipulation with effective rights-compatible policies.

Mr. Chair,

Democracies need to become better at addressing disinformation, especially by foreign actors who seek to undermine our institutions and societies. The Kremlin uses disinformation and propaganda to prop up its aggression against Ukraine. But let me be clear, Russia is the sole responsible country for its aggression against Ukraine. Only Russia is to blame for the global consequences this war of aggression has caused in terms of disrupted food supplies, logistic networks, price hikes and millions displaced people. And yet, Russia’s global information manipulation campaigns seek to justify the illegal invasion, to deny the crimes committed in its course, to shift the blame for its consequences and to threaten with use of nuclear weapons. We hear many of these outrageous false narratives on a daily basis at the UN.

One recent example of this are the outrageous and baseless claims of Ukraine’s complicity in the 22 March terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow. Another example: blaming Ukraine of threatening safety of its own nuclear power plants that are currently occupied by Russia. Just as we will continue opposing and condemning Russia’s aggression, we will continue calling out and opposing Russia’s disinformation.

As it wages its global information manipulation campaign, the Russian regime continues suppressing independent media and tightening the screws of digital censorship at home. Surely, imposing false, revisionist historical narratives, pushing deceitful justifications for the invasion in Ukraine must be easier when all the independent and dissenting voices are silent. And yet our countries host and support significant groups of independent media from Russia. Despite being banned, exiled and threatened with persecution, they remain strongly committed to serving facts and telling the truth to people inside Russia.

We urge the UN to do more to achieve a just and lasting peace in Ukraine, fully in line with the UN Charter, Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and the six UNGA resolutions.

The escalating tide of disinformation aimed at the United Nations, particularly targeting UN peacekeeping forces, special missions, and operations, demands urgent attention. Greater efforts are imperative to address and combat this pressing issue effectively.

Mr. Chair!

Let me turn to the impact of the rapid advances in artificial intelligence on our information environment.

The rising capabilities of generative AI are a cause for concern. The ease and affordability of creating synthetic digital content, commonly known as “deep-fakes,” pose a risk to societies and democratic processes, including elections. Use of AI to hypercharge dissemination of falsehoods can lead to an erosion of trust in the digital public sphere as a whole. Use of AI for algorithmic manipulation opens up for dangerous social engineering.

We should also be concerned about potential use of AI to infringe upon freedom of expression and to erode privacy. This includes online censorship and social surveillance. While the malicious misuse of AI poses a universal threat, its impact is particularly acute for developing countries with limited resources to address it. These vulnerabilities, often present in societies with fragile governance structures, magnify the risks and leave these nations disproportionately exposed.

We believe that collaboration between governments civil society and technology companies is vital to develop effective solutions that unlock the potential of AI while mitigating the risks. By fostering multi-stakeholder dialogue and facilitating exchange of knowledge and best practices across different regions we can ensure that no one is left behind. This is the way to safeguard online freedom, ensure focus on a human-centric approach to AI, and to promote responsible innovation.

Mr. Chair,

In conclusion, let me assure you that the Baltic States will continue to actively engage in the work of the Committee on Information. Promoting media and information literacy, safeguarding the freedom of expression and media independence, stepping up for information integrity worldwide, as well as ensuring resilience of vulnerable groups, societies and states are top priorities for the Baltic States.

I thank you!