UN communication efforts continue to miss the mark

NEW YORK: The United Nations, which made a conscious effort last year to embrace the media (PRWeek, August 16, 1999), once again seems to be sinking in a sea of PR mediocrity.

NEW YORK: The United Nations, which made a conscious effort last year to embrace the media (PRWeek, August 16, 1999), once again seems to be sinking in a sea of PR mediocrity.

NEW YORK: The United Nations, which made a conscious effort last

year to embrace the media (PRWeek, August 16, 1999), once again seems to

be sinking in a sea of PR mediocrity.



Witness the PR dilemma created recently when Senate Foreign Relations

Committee chairman Jesse Helms issued a challenge to the UN’s Security

Council to stop imposing ’its presumed authority on the American

people.’ In response, the organization had little to say, and thus came

across as ineffectual and timid.



Getting better PR for the UN presents a difficult challenge, several

industry insiders said last week. Perhaps the biggest problem is that

diplomats and bureaucrats - rather than professional communicators -

manage the UN’s official information office.



Michael Stopford, who ran the DC outpost of the UN information center

from 1992 to 1995, blames the PR problems on its organizational

model.



’If governments run the UN, then how is the UN supposed to speak

directly to the people?’ he asked.



Stopford, now senior assistant to the president of American University,

also believes too much effort tends to be concentrated on elite media

outlets such as The New York Times. While Stopford made an effort during

his UN tenure to travel around the US in order to meet with editorial

boards of other media outlets, he was stymied by the restrictive budget

of his office.



The UN’s flailing PR may well be saved - just like everybody else - by

the growth of the Internet. The United Nations Association (UNA), a

non-partisan citizens group, is not encumbered by diplomatic rules and

thus obviously finds communication an easier task.



Like other internationally oriented groups, the UNA is shifting the

focus of its PR efforts towards grass-roots advocacy. ’It’s incumbent

upon us to conduct a dialogue on the points Senator Helms made,’ said VP

Steve Dimoff.



Despite its weak PR, the UN could be in worse shape, according to

American Enterprise Institute public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman:

’Americans don’t think about the UN much, but to the extent they do,

they are inclined favorably.’



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