A positive PRO would serve the UN better than being ’open’

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.

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

off.



Journalists are much less interested in boring facts which are readily

available than in those which are not. They also find discretion

tedious.



That is why to maintain interest - and a reputation for an ’open’ UN -

these poor officials will have to be pretty free with their

briefing.



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

bureaucracies.



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

publicity.



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.



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