Why on earth do they do it? I refer to the United Nations’ plan,
reported in PR Week on 20 August, to be more open with the media.
Secretary General Kofi Annan’s somewhat slow-to-sweep new broom will
encourage more direct contact between UN policy-makers and the media -
provided they concentrate on their own field, provide only facts, eschew
comment, leave politically sensitive issues to others and make no
pretence of speaking on behalf of the boss.
My first professional reaction is to ask who on earth will ring them
once the novelty of the factually-communicative UN official wears
Journalists are much less interested in boring facts which are readily
available than in those which are not. They also find discretion
That is why to maintain interest - and a reputation for an ’open’ UN -
these poor officials will have to be pretty free with their
And will they be told to inform press officers of their media contacts
so the UN’s presentational machine is in a position to attempt a measure
of co-ordination? If not, I can see the whole thing breaking down into a
recriminatory mess. My experience of ’open’ officials is that they
become even more secretive internally because they seek to run their own
media relations to the exclusion of the press office. This is
understandable: they are not operating for the benefit of the
organisation, but for themselves.
’Openness’, I fear, can turn out to be anything but in
This perverse result is so familiar to those with any practical
experience of media relations that one wonders what possesses
organisations to advertise their ’openness’ policies. They are bound to
disappoint. There isn’t an individual or organisation yet born or
launched which is ever going to live up to its own billing. Just look at
our own Government. It was so enthusiastic for ’openness’ that it put
every one of its press officers on the record. We now know less than we
probably ever have done about who is responsible for the eternal
rubbishing of its ministers because journalism depends not on open, but
private, secure relationships. In opposition, our Government was also
committed to a Freedom of Information Act. It is a long time coming.
The plain truth is that every organisation - from Women’s Institute to
UN - is all in favour of openness, so long as it delivers good
Bad publicity quickly exposes its commitment to ’openness’ for what it
is. This is - or ought to be - the first law of that branch of PR called
media relations. The second law is - or ought to be - that any
organisation which relies on a professional press officer with a
positive approach to communication will prove to be consistently more
open than those which don’t. My advice to Mr Annan is to get himself a
good chief press officer.
Then the UN’s reputation for openness will look after itself.