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India Tells DPI Not to Spin, How Evaluate Ladsous Grabbing Mic of UNTV?

By Matthew Russell Lee, CoI Day 2

UNITED NATIONS, April 23 -- Is the UN Department of Public Information's job to make people think better of the UN, to play Western journalist, or to tell the truth?

  The issue was raised Tuesday in the UN Committee on Information, by India's Deputy Permanent Representative Manjeev Singh Puri among others.

  Manjeev Singh Puri said the the UN's meeting coverage should not, when a resolution is not adopted in the Security Council, use the word “failed.”

  That of course is the way most Western media reported it, when two resolutions on Syria were vetoed. But shouldn't the UN Secretariat answer to all of its members, not just the Western ones?

  This issue has also arisen in connection with the UN's withholding of its reports from the public, granting largely Western wire services 48 hours to spin the reports before they go online. Inner City Press spoke with more ambassadors on Tuesday, who criticized this practice.

  Most said that the UN should put the reports online as soon as they are finished, to avoid this type of spin, which hurts the UN's credibility. The issue has been raised, including to DPI, and that answers are forthcoming has been promised.

  Tuesday morning among other speakers, Iran complained that some of its TV channels are blocked by other countries. In the afternoon Cuba spoke of illegal broadcasts into its country, interfering with its duly registered stations.

  Russia spoke of the need to continue reporting on World War Two -- ironic in light of a recent “urgent” inquiry by DPI into a single tweet mentioning #WW2 -- and concluded its presentation by speaking in Chinese, in the spirit of multi-lingualism.

  Argentina bragged that Spanish is the Number Two language in which the UN is accessed online. One wondered about the “working language” of French and of its costs, as has The Economist.

  Lebanon's representative cited Tawakuul Karman of Yemen, again ironic given DPI's formal censure of Inner City Press for having signed her into the UN as a guest, and her subsequently daring to speak at the UNTV stakeout as the Security Council considered her country, Yemen.

 For the record, the stakeout rule cited can be respected - but what of DPI adopting other, pro journalist rules like due process in the accreditation and complaint process?

  UNESCO spoke of a UN Plan to protect journalists, which would be much needed. Not enough has been said about the editor in Mali facing charges for reporting on the windfall to coup leader Amadou Sanago.

  It's unclear what the UN did while a reporter was in danger in Central African Republic recently. And what of Prageeth, disappeared in Sri Lanka? These are only examples.

  DPI's chief, only in place since August, spoke last and addressed questions member states had raised, including some we reported yesterday as not having been substantively answered.

  On how DPI evaluates itself, reference was made to “results based management” -- polling done by UN Information Centers after their briefings, whether participants' “opinion of the UN improved after attending briefings.”

Should that be the measure? Certain it would be for the public relations department of a corporation. But is the UN different? Might it be DPI's job to simple increase information about the UN and to answer questions?

  Think, for example, of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's and his top lawyer Patricia O'Brien's decision that legal claims the UN inadvertently brought cholera to Haiti was “not receivable.”

  One approach -- actually adopted by the UN -- might be to stop answering questions about the decision, and hope it is simply not written about as much. But doesn't “Public Information,” as opposed to “Public Relations,” connote that answers should be given?

  And isn't there a theory in which addressing problems ultimately is better for an institution than refusing to answer them?

Who in the UN system evaluates the effectiveness of the communications strategy of UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous? He refuses to answer including on DPI's UN Television any questions from Inner City Press, for example about the 126 rapes in Minova by the Congolese Army, then later spoon-feeds half-answers to friendlier media.

  How should the effectiveness of this communications strategy be evaluated? This wasn't answered on Tuesday.

  On UNTV, in fairness, while for months it would not stream on the Android platform and so one stopped even checking, Tuesday once prodded and checked, it works. So there's one improvement.

  There remain more than 10 reforms proposed by the Free UN Coalition for Access back in February, and after-arising questions about how photos taking while DPI was in control of Inner City Press' office were shared and then leaked to BuzzFeed, right after that publication contacted Ban's spokesperson about the raid. One hopes and expects that the answers promised include that one.

  Public Information means or should mean answering questions, and in the long run that is the best approach. Watch this site.

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