|THE PRIVATIZATION OF U.N. PUBLIC INFORMATION. WILL PUBLIC
FUNDS FROM CLOSING EUROPEAN CENTRES GO TO PRIVATE P.R. FIRMS? TO PROMOTE WHOM?
Anxious staff of U.N. Information Centres were told over six months ago that "the train had
left the station," but no clear indication was given about its destination. The message
circulated at the outset that the closure of the Centres, particularly in Europe, was being
done under pressure by some powerful government turned out to be inaccurate; they may have
agreed to what was being presented to them as money-saving effective reform, but it was the
Secretariat which -- for the first time in 58 years -- was taking such action. Staff who spent
the prime of their career life in the field, in Centres like Madrid, Lisbon, Athens, Rome or
Paris -- were wondering what was next for them.
Ambiguous drafting only resulted in more confusion and more demoralization. "Reform" changes
-- and the phasing out of most of those with institutional memory about the Centres -- fed the
impression that they no longer mattered. Clearly those in the Centre Services in New York care
and try to present the extent of what are the achievements of the field offices. But at the
Director's level and above, the intention seems to be quite different.
With the opening of the Committee on Information debate, it became clear that several European
governments are not keen on the proposed approach (whatever it may end up), and, with the
possible exception of London, the proposal to have the regional "hub" in Brussels did not
find enthusiastic support. By the time a consensus decision is agreed and presented to the
next Assembly session, there are some well-informed people who perceive a trend to privatize
some aspects of work of the Department of Public Information. Private public relations firms
with special influence within the Secretariat (and Department) at this period are likely to have
urged dispensing with official U.N. offices particularly where budgets are high and redeploy
at least a bulk of the money to public relations companies in specific key countries to
undertake special service agreements. What, or more precisely whom, will they really promote
and for what purpose? A question is being floated at this time, pending a further search for
answers. A starting test may be in London. Let's wait and see.