15 MAY 2017


Why doesn't the media appropriately cover the varied, widespread activities of the new Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres?

An accomplished leader in his own right, taking over the world's only inclusive organisation, our new Secretary-General deserves much better coverage, including in the host country.

It is sad to note that a Portuguese singer winning the recent Eurovision music contest received wider coverage in Europe than the U.N.'s new Portuguese leader, a former Prime Minister and head of the U.N. Secretariat, received during his recent visit to the European Parliament and meetings in Switzerland with all his senior representatives and envoys.

All the reports and releases produced at U.N. Headquarters hardly seem to find their way into the mainstream media at this time.

Incidentally, an accomplished U.N. supporter with the best of intentions to find out more about the new Secretary-General, used a popular Internet search engine for recent research. Oddly, the top three references did not include Mr. Guterres' name, and the image results only showed photos of former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon!

The new Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres deserves better outreach talent. He took over at a delicate time of change not only at the host country but worldwide. In addition to growing immigration problems and peacekeeping challenges, extensive fragmenting conflicts are spreading while the U.N. role and credibility are at stake.

Particularly in the Arab world, where Mr. Guterres was initially fairly popular as a former Prime Minister of friendly Portugal and a dynamic caring UNHCR chief, several recent events challenged his credibility with the Arab public. Naturally he was politely and diplomatically welcomed during the April meeting of the Arab Heads of State at the Dead Sea, Jordan. That was mostly due to traditional courtesy towards a distinguished official guest. In fact, most senior Arab officials would not be in a position to direct popular sentiment. A potentially positive perception of his new leadership was seriously affected by his forced withdrawal of the candidature of the former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, but more drastically by the resignation of ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf over a report which gave her wide publicity while eroding the Secretary-General's position.

A third element was a number of statements made by Mr. Guterres which even a mainstream supportive paper like Al-Hayat criticized in a front page comment.

Every Secretary-General has had to deal with such challenges mostly through effective action by senior staff and professional media experience by staff concerned, including those with qualified media background and acquired contacts particularly -- at the time -- within the Department of Public Information. Normally, they managed to respond, often averting negative comments or preempting them, while contacting certain opinion makers within the media and generally performing professional work in support of the U.N. leader.

Regrettably, no similar current real action has been initiated. While senior and other staffers are cautiously awaiting differing appointments, extensions and career moves, no serious outreach has been taken by, for example, the Department of Public Information (DPI), perhaps because the presumably outreach director, Maher Nasser, who apparently is current DPI officer in charge, has no professional communications experience nor has the personal aura to make any impact anywhere. Someone with institutional memory would recall how that current official had been turned down from earlier DPI average assignments for lack of professional qualifications.

Let's look forward to an impressive new head of DPI who will work creatively and professionally to project a more vibrant image of the Secretary-General and more credible role for the Organisation, not only in one particular region but worldwide.