15 MAY 2017


When mainstream print media like The New York Times, London Times, and Le Monde have shifted efforts to electronic digital issues, and one of the world's most prestigious dailies, The Washington Post, was actually bought by the head of Amazon, the U.N. Bookstore, run by the Department of Public Information's Publishing Section of its presumed "Outreach Division," has gone primitively counter the current trend.

For decades, until recently, the U.N. Bookstore -- as its name indicates -- was a welcoming central location for all varieties of books about the U.N., whatever its expressed views or production source. Diplomats, staff and visitors explored -- indeed, enjoyed -- reviewing opinions supporting the U.N. next to those criticizing their countries, even the Secretary-General.

Hard-cover, illustrative, colourful publications adorned the store, together with the store's blue diplomatic directory, symbolic souvenirs, even some musical CDs. Regrettably, we were informed that two years ago it was decided to limit the U.N. Bookstore to publications only from official publishing houses, which, we were told, could ensure certain editing (and supervision) of acceptable titles. When prominent commercial bookstores are actually closing shop in key cities like New York, it seems irrational for the U.N. Secretariat to block books distributed by Amazon and similar world-wide communications operations.

Obviously, that is what happens when someone with no professional media communications background, nor any successful professional management experience, is allowed to head a U.N. "Outreach" Division, then placed as officer-in-charge of the U.N. Department of Public Information and Communications, which requires a credible professional to actually promote, rather than demote, supportive U.N. efforts and inspire confidence in the role of a new Secretary-General, particularly during a changing, challenging time.

Arbitrary, uninformed action, taken or withheld, even like the case of tampering with the U.N. Bookstore, counter-productively erodes the positive perception of the U.N. and the role of its Communications Department. It also deprives the U.N. Secretariat from one of the very few sources of potential income.