15 DECEMBER 2015


September 2015 was an outstanding opportunity to launch the Seventieth Anniversary of the United Nations. It started with a real bang as heads of state gathered at the UN headquarters in addition to an impressive visit by Pope Francis. The delegates, Secretariat officials, and civil society seemed ready to join together in leading a commemoration that would highlight the potential, at least, of a revived UN role.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was up to the task in September when he tirelessly received, consulted and mobilized as many visitors as physically possible, maintaining an impressive schedule and responding to persistent demands.

However, that collective splash was followed by an almost total silence. A long anticipated and earlier heralded blue lighting of buildings around the world including New York seemed to have been handled erratically, with awkward incompetence.

For example, it was puzzling that an obvious media event like lighting the Empire State Building was kept as a secret by someone in the Department of Public Information rather than advertised for all the public to know. Secrecy rather than open outreach seemed to be the guiding determination despite parroting talk about "horizontal and vertical communications."

The UN Day concert was another example. Instead of seizing the occasion to project the widest international participation by the world's most prominent artists, it ended up mainly with a Korean orchestra. A bungled explanation was given when asked - that the outgoing head of the Public Department of Public Information had arranged for the Vienna Symphony to be there, but plans changed as he was changed; a dubious explanation that could only be given by someone as incompetent and clueless as Mr. Maher Nasser, who apparently was in charge of special events in the Department of Public Information. Mr. Nasser had been lucky to have someone help him join that Department after years of desperately seeking to unsuccessfully join, as he was considered to have no experience either in management or in media. After having eventually found a way to get in, his main talent seems to be doing what he is told by those above while pressuring dedicated, hard-working staff below. Anyway, this is just a point to make among several others, including the fact that it seems like general policy to avoid highlighting UN symbols or positive actions, perhaps to avoid antagonizing whoever may be sensitive to a revived effective UN role.

It is a pity that such an opportunity was wasted. Those who have devoted their careers and often risked their lives for the UN would hope that the trend would change within the end of next year, in the hope that a new leadership would have a fresh look at that role.