Triangulating Italy: UNIC Rome, Radio Chief, FAO Pow-Wow


The lively, colorful Italians might be wondering what was going on at the UN that they devoutly love and generously support. Who is whom and what decides what? Three issues that recently arose led some to question the whereabouts of Ambasssador Paoli Fulci when he was needed. First, and most political, was the venue for the FAO General Conference. As it is based in Rome, the impression was that it was going to be held at headquarters. The new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, began having doubts after the turmoil of the G-8 summit in Genoa. An opinion was floated that since the main topics were food and hunger, it would make more sense to hold the summit in a developing country, like Senegal, which happens to be the country of FAO Director General Jacques Diouf. Somehow, Steffan Demistura, who operates in South Lebanon but still guards his function as "Director, UNIC Rome," made a statement expressing doubts about holding the conference. That unsolicited view raised many Roman eyebrows, including those of Italy's Foreign Minister former WTO chief Reggioro, who supported holding the FAO meeting as planned. Secretary General Kofi Annan had to make a statement confirming his own attendance of the conference in the Eternal City. A terse statement to the Italian press said that the opinion expressed by the personal representative in South Lebanon regarding the World Food Summit in Rome was "non erano autorizzate ne giustifcate" and "non representano la posizione del secretario generale," adding that now Annan "ste informendo Demistura." The summit was eventually postponed for one year.

In the contest for UNR Rome, it took one influence to chase out another. After the post of Director UNIC, Rome was announced and the applications closed, there were initial indications that the appointment might take some time, to accommodate a desire of Steffan Demistura to remain officially in that post while operating in Beirut. He had very much wanted to join the Secretary General during the G-8 meeting in Rome, not only for the "ceremoniale" or "carnavale" but also to be able to impress the Lebanese by having just rubbed shoulders with the heads of state of the most powerful countries together with the Secretary General. Then, when the request was turned down, an agitated "Director UNIC, Rome" wrote from Beirut that the Secretary General should take nobody else with him. Word was that Jim Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank and former Norweigan Prime Minister, Director General of the World Health Organization, Gru Bruntland, were coming along, so Mr. Demistura strongly advised against it. They went anyway, of course. Now, a director for UNIC Rome was selected. While the frontrunner was Tayseer Mustapha , who speaks fluent Italian and headed UNFPA Information Service for years. Yet the choice went for Shalini Dewen, a former (and experienced) DPI and UNICEF press officer who is currently deputy director of FAO Information office headed by the outstanding Christina Engfeldt. The Appointment and Promotion Board had added the name of another woman, who was recently appointed in Herrera. Mr. Dewan had also served in Vienna and New York. An element of surprise was that she is not fluent in Italian , which would have been an asset, though not an official requirement. She will have solid backing from professional colleagues at headquarters.

Another matter that is tacitly linked is the appointment of a Chief of Radio and Television, which has been pending since January. The previous and current Italian governments have been strongly advancing the appointment of Professor Carlo Sartori, a solid TV/Radio personality who headed RAI programming and its novel digital section. He was also a powerful force behind the UN TV forum in its heyday and continued to play some role after it dwindled into a bureaucratic event. He is indeed qualified for a higher job. For various reasons, at a recent Board meeting the submission of that post was returned to DPI on the grounds that there were discrepancies between the job description and other presented documentation. A delay would most likely await a response await a response by the Italian government agreeing to the nomination of the newly proposed UNIC director. Word has it that the two names have already been cleared, putting an end to the "ceremoniale carnavale."